Sunday, November 25, 2007

The dark

Learning to work dogs on stock is like trying to find your way in a maze in the dark. You're never really sure if you're making the best choices as you feel your way around. You may bump into people along the way who try to help you, but ultimately you've got to find your way yourself. It can be difficult to know when you're on the right track...

I worked my dogs again yesterday at Bill's. I tried to be a little more patient and flexible, but I don't know that I really succeeded. I worked on pace with Taz, and Elaine helped me work out a strategy whereby if I say "walk," he must get up a little slower, rather than the explosive spring forward that comes naturally to him. If he gets up or moves too quickly when I ask him to walk, I'm to lie him down immediately. "Walk up" means that he can quicken his pace. We practiced this a bit and he seemed to understand it after a while. He was also a bit tight on his outruns again. As Cathy had suggested, I walked halfway between where I lied him down and the sheep and sent him, and he kicked way out. That was good...if we ever enter a trial where it's not necessary to send from the post, we're golden [rolls eyes]. Just kidding, I know it's a progression, and he's still learning the correct trajectory and will eventually put it together if I continue to make sure he doesn't get away with being too tight.

Craig was tight, too. Elaine showed me how she used to get him to widen out, by sending him and stopping him if he didn't kick out enough. Then growl at him to get out and resend him. If he's still too tight, walk up the field to him and make sure he feels and looks away from the pressure of my coming up the field to him. This is not too different from what I've done with Taz. We practiced this a bit and did a little driving and penning as well.

I know Craig is a little confused when I work with Elaine. Although we have a good relationship off the field and a decent one when we're working on our own, our relationship really changes whenever Elaine is there—he wants to go to her. I don't exactly take it personally, but I don't truly demand he listen to me, either. I just kind of call him and go up to him while Elaine ignores him or pushes him away. He does listen to me for the most part when I'm working him, but if he doesn't respond to a command, Elaine enforces it. She
also recognizes when he's not doing what he's supposed to do a bit quicker than I do and corrects him. I don't know what he makes of it all. I do imagine it's frustrating for him to work with a novice again, after working with pretty experienced folks most of his life. I don't know if he finds working with Elaine there a relief or a source of tension.

Elaine told me he seems very unhappy, that I am not really letting him have any fun while he's working. She thinks I
am trying to maintain too much control over Craig. I've been trying to enforce what I ask for with him (and Taz) ever since the Scott Glen clinic to prevent him from walking over me. Perhaps I've become too strict. Elaine says I don't tell either dog when they've done a good job, and that Craig in particular is running really tentatively, like he's waiting for the next not-understood correction (due to my crap timing), and that if I keep it up he will soon quit working for me altogether.

I had no idea Craig was so unhappy running for me—that he is apparently so unhappy that he is near quitting
altogether. That is pretty upsetting; I don't want to make a dog so miserable that he stops wanting to do the one thing he lives for. I don't really know what to do—I can tell him he's a good boy more often, but if I stop enforcing what I ask him to do, then I'm afraid he'll run all over me again. It's difficult for me to understand when to require that control and when it's okay to give him more freedom. Craig can teach me so much, but I certainly don't want to ruin him in the process. Maybe we're just not a good fit for each other. Maybe he would be happier if he went to live with Elaine again???