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February 3, 2011

After taking a break, during which Lilly smiled and panted wildly but refused to drink any water, we took her back into the training pen. EXCEPT, this time I got the chance to be the shepherd. Goodness help us and the goats.

Clearly, I could not muddle my way through my first attempt at herding with Lilly AND shoot video footage at the same time. A friend who had hoped to meet us out on the farm for Lilly’s herding lesson ended up stuck in a meeting, so there is no video coverage of what came next.

I’ll do my best to paint the tableau.

Up On a Hill Lived a Clueless Goatherd

I did NOT expect to be working inside the training pen with Lilly any time soon. Honestly, what do I know about herding?

Um, pretty much nothing.

BUT, Cathy thought perhaps the sniffing and walking away we saw in yesterday’s video might stem from Lilly simply NOT having a bond with her, so she wanted to see how Lilly and I worked together.

Her advice was essentially this: Walk toward something with purpose.

So, I tried, and I tried, and I tried.

The goats did indeed follow, with Lilly bringing up the rear, but she didn’t keep the requisite distance, so the whole herd kept bunching up around me, making it hard to move.

Many, many times I found both legs completely penned in by nervous goat flesh. I’m happy to report that my balance held out and that I did NOT (despite my fears) go ass over tea kettle on top of any young goats.

Though, at one point, because I had Lilly’s leash in my hand, I managed to get tangled in the horns of one goat. While I apologized to the goat, for getting his entire head ensnared, Lilly continued to move and push the goats. We looked like an ameba of movement in the smallest possible space.

I needed a plan:

  • Step one: Get the leash loose
  • Step two: Skate my way through the goats, using my shins as minor battering rams
  • Step three: Attempt to get Lilly to balance my movement (stay on the opposite side of the goats)

Mosh Pit Along the Fence

Once I broke free, I continued walking from one side of the large training pen, praising Lilly for her work and sometimes hollering at her for nibbling, following too close, etc. It did not feel good to bellow “HEY!” or “ACK!” at my girl, so I quickly gave up on any corrections since my timing sucked anyway … because it was hard to walk in front of goats and see exactly what Lilly was doing.

I considered walking backwards so that I could see her better, and I tried it here and there, but I was convinced I would stumble and get run over … spurring headlines like “Blogger Trampled by Wayward Goats.”

Except, every time, we got to the fence, Lilly piled the goats right into me, leaving me trapped against the mesh. I couldn’t move my legs. I couldn’t get her to back off. I couldn’t convince the goats to move.

I had no flag to flap at her, so I was stuck.

Cathy suggested NOT getting so close to the fence. D’oh. Good idea, so I began zig-zagging around, swooping here, turning there, and things got a little better … except Lilly seemed to want to be at MY SIDE, rather than balancing the goats.

So, we took another break, where (again) Lilly refused to drink even though she looked and seemed tired and thirsty.

If you’ve come to our herding stories already in progress, you can catch up via these posts:

Lilly’s Big Year

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Part 3

Lilly’s Herding Instinct Test, Reflections

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 1

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 2

Lilly’s Herding Lesson #1, Part 3

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. At least your attempt to describe the situation succeeded very well. Just kidding 🙂
    For me a sigh of relief. You did a great job because you got her back in the pen! A suggestion of somebody that knows absolutely nothing about herding, so you might want to check this with Cathy, could you not use a “leave it” instead of a “no” and “ack”. Probably not? Introducing obedience maybe not a good idea, as she looses the iniative?

    1. I do sometimes use “Leave it,” Kenzo … when I want her to stop working the goats and come to me, or to the gate or something. I think the usual words can work in this context, without causing issue. If nothing else, our existing common language gives her context … I think.

  2. Is your new “street name” goat walker? Or Maybe GWalker? Somehow it doesn’t sound quite as romantic as dancing with wolves.

    1. Well, Pamela … if I have a new goat-related street name, I think it would be something like Goat Stumbler … because seriously, it’s hard to walk when the squeeze in like that.

  3. Yay for not falling over! I imagine that takes great skill and concentration.

    Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but considering neither you nor Lilly have done this before, it sounds like it wasn’t so awful either. Good luck with future lessons!

  4. Damn! (I can say that on the Internet, right?) I really wish there was video of this. I’m laughing my head off just picturing it based on your description – video would have been priceless. Stick with it, girls – I’m sure you’ll both catch on soon.

    1. Thanks, Living Large … I was convinced I’d end up bruised, but I managed to stay on my feet. It’s a LOT to think about when you have that many animals in the pen. I’m used to focusing ONLY on Lilly, and she is used to focusing ONLY on me, so this is definitely a new challenge for us as a team.

  5. ahahahaha i love this description of walking with the goats. ITS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE! (As you can see from the video I posted on facebook earlier this week). And trust me, they’re 100% easier to work with than the sheep. I was having the same problem with our recent lesson, Cathy told me to just turn 180 degrees as soon as they bunched up around me and to stay away from the fence. I had to give up on watching Clem and just focus on my own two feet. The fact that Lilly was bringing the goats and bunching them up around you though is a good thing!

    Early on its not that much talking, because its all about getting the dog to focus and find their instinct..once that comes through a bit more there is more directions and corrections (if needed).

    So yeah – dont feel bad about drowning in goats, watch the last few minutes of my video and you’ll see it happens to all of us!

    1. Thanks, Aly. I appreciate your perspective since you’ve done this more than I have. I actually got a little freaked out for a few seconds when the goats bunched up on me. I suppose it would be scarier with bigger sheep. The goats, to me, are kind of cute.

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