If you’ve read some of my blogs over the past 18 months, you might have gathered that I’m hoping for great things from Zola. She’s now just over 2 years old and has been a constant companion for me over lambing. In fact there are one or two jobs that she is now doing better than her mother Fly. So the next stage is to take her to work on the cliff ground of Mortehoe, and as Fly is on reduced duties owing to her slight lameness, I decided that the time had come give Zola her first experience of this work.
Not all dogs have an inbuilt fear of heights, so I’m always cautious when working them near to the cliffs for the first time . As Zola is completely focussed on her work and very instinctive, I was particularly worried about working her in this new environment, as it turned out with good cause.
I always let the dogs have their first run at the same place, where the cliffs are only 20 or 30 feet, and not verticle. So yesterday evening, when I spotted a few sheep 100 yards away, I thought that it would present a suitable, simple run for Zola. All was well as I sent her off, she headed down the slope towards the edge of the grass, but turned in towards the sheep at just the right time. But in a split second, with her eyes fixed straight onto the sheep, she veered outwards, and before I could intervene with a command, she flipped out of site at full speed over the edge of the shallow cliff. I raced to where she had fallen and peered towards the rocks fearing disaster, but to my amazement Zola was nowhere to be seen. I called and whistled, and after what seemed like an age, Zola appeared around the corner of the rocks, running, trying to find a way back up. My relief was enormous, Zola represents an important part of our future, she’s a lovely faithful dog, and I’ve invested hundreds of hours into her training. For just a moment it appeared to have all been lost. She has a sprain to her front right lower leg joint, but apart from that I’m delighted to say that she seems unscathed, I hope a weeks rest will put her right.
So I now have to consider Zola’s further development. 8 years ago, when Jake was just starting out, I had a similar, although not as serious incident at the exact same spot. Jake learnt from the experience, and never had a problem with the cliffs again. Zola will need to work on the cliff ground, and she has the ability to be one of my very best sheepdogs ever, I’m just going to have to be patient and to devise the right method of introducing her to that sort of work.