Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A few more strategies to work with

I had a slight change of plans yesterday, as Cathy offered to see how we're doing and help out. So I explained what I was working on these days and took Taz out to the big alfalfa field behind her place. We worked her dorper-cross lambs. They've been dogged by a lot of different breeds and they were ready to run if the dog was at all too tight. This is good for tight-running Taz, but it's really good for me because it is then very clear when Taz is too tight—the sheep run! So it's easier for me to gauge when he is not right.

And he was a bit tight at first—not on the bottom, but at the top. He wasn't dramatically slicing in; he just wasn't kicking out enough. So Cathy had me go out halfway between where I was sending Taz and where the sheep were huddled and send him. This did work to kick him out a bit further, though still not enough to come in as deep as I've seen him do in the past. Still, this seems to be a good strategy for kicking him out without having to correct him (especially since I'm trying to keep things easygoing for now).

I also tried to get him to slow down a little. He wasn't listening to me when I told him to take his time, and I usually gave him a couple of "time" commands before resorting to "lie down." Cathy thought a better strategy was to try to use a bit of body language here and step into him when I ask him to take time. This worked a little, but was not a super dramatic change. She also suggested I don't even ask him to take time while he's driving because I am not in a great position to enforce it with body language (since I'm behind him ;-) We need more work on this, but I'm not terribly worried about this right now. I can stop him if necessary, and that's still the important thing to me at this point.

Finally, I sent him on a big fetch with the sheep somewhat near the fenceline. I sent him on the fence side, to see what he'd do. At first he wouldn't go at all (I think he knew he didn't have enough room to do it right and was possibly afraid of getting corrected), so Cathy had us change our positioning so that he had a bit more room. Then he did his hesitating outrun, where he'd go a few steps and stop and stare at the sheep. When he stopped, I'd give him another "Away!" command (shhhing him does nothing) and he'd go a bit further and stop again. Even though I set him up to come in on the tighter side, nothing he does frustrates me more than this hesitation—I HATE it because I don't know how to fix it. Cathy suggested a sort of growly "get out!" to break his concentration on the sheep. And wouldn't you know, it worked! He broke back into a run and got around them. He was pretty tight, and I started to correct him to widen him out, and Cathy quickly stopped me—this isn't the time to add more pressure; I should let him be successful first, even if it's not perfect. That makes sense.

So, I feel like I have a few more tools at my disposal. Remembering everything—and when to try the different strategies I'm learning—is going to be the hardest thing I think...