Saturday, November 17, 2007

How to not help wily sheep beat my dog...

Taz and I worked somewhere new today (and I want to thank Elaine and Pam for holding and picking up sheep for us), and the sheep were very challenging for both of us. We worked on sort of a plateau on the top of a little hill, with the barn and house at the bottom of the hill. The bottom of the hill was the major draw. I was very curious whether Taz would continue to run wider and deeper in this new place or he'd revert to his old tight and slicy ways here.

He was definitely tighter and slicier than he has been, but this was not our main problem. The sheep were very flighty, and Taz had a hard time keeping off them enough to keep them from running, no matter what he did. His outruns were okay, definitely not spectacular, but usually not too terrible (not counting the couple of times he kept stopping short), but he had trouble controlling them at the top. The sheep would run left, Taz would rush to cover, then they'd fake right, while Taz scrambled to catch up. All I saw was a dog not in control of his sheep at all--gah! At first I tried to come down on him for not lying down when I asked him at the top of the outrun. Elaine wisely pointed out to me that I was only helping the sheep beat my dog when I demanded he lie down before he had them fully under control.

What? This is such a basic lesson, I can't believe I needed to be reminded of it! But she warned me not to be so hell-bent on maintaining my newly established control of my dogs that I go too far in the other direction--if I ratchet down on them too tightly, they will become frustrated and lose some of their power in the process. There's a balance, and I need to find it quickly!

Right, I thought, so I shouldn't worry about lying him down here, with these tough sheep. It's okay if Taz is a little tight, since we're working on not getting beaten by these wily sheep. After letting Taz do a tight outrun and saying nothing, I watched the ensuing struggle at the top. Elaine looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles, and I explained my plan. She shook her head slowly, and I could tell she was trying to figure out how to explain a (probably quite obvious) distinction in the simplest way possible.

I should stop Taz immediately if he's too tight or starts to turn in too early and then reflank, casting him out wider. That is not allowing the sheep to beat him, it's helping him get in the correct position so that they will be less likely to beat him. The time to hold my tongue is at the top, when he is trying to get and maintain control. Let him try, and if he can't get the job done, call him back to me and try again from a closer position. Do not let the sheep beat him, but do not allow sloppy work, either--especially if it's contributing to the problem. Aha!

I guess neither of us were quite ready for this particular challenge. Taz is still running a bit too tight, and I don't know enough about stockwork yet to be able to effectively help him out. So working these particular sheep may not be doing either of us any favors at this stage. Perhaps in a few months...In the meantime, Elaine told me I should concentrate more on watching the sheep's heads for signs of their next moves and where the dog is/should be. This will help me learn to read the situations a bit more accurately, and I can focus on this while working the sheep we're used to in the fields we're used to. I know it's necessary to work in lots of different areas, but it's not like I have everything conquered on my "home fields" just yet ;-) We'll come back to these sheep in a bit; for now, we'll continue to work on reading the situation correctly...