Friday, November 23, 2007

One step forward, two steps back

I worked out at Bill's with Elaine today. It was COLD. Like, really cold. Maybe 20 degrees, with an icy wind blowing across the snow-covered field. No sun at all. This was one of the first really cold days of the winter, and I think maybe my brain was too frozen to function properly...

I worked Craig first. This was his first time out in more than a week, and I wasn't quite sure what he'd look like. Actually, he worked pretty decent, at least at first, but he wasn't really listening to me very well. But he was making good decisions, for the most part, so I kind of just let him get on. Unfortunately, his outruns got tighter and he got closer and closer to the sheep, but I felt completely passive and just out of sync with him. I didn't really correct him on his outruns at all, and sort of haphazardly lied him down when he was not far enough off the sheep during his fetches. I was just as bad when working Taz. I had him do his outruns with Elaine out there holding the sheep, so he'd have to pick them off her. He is still uncomfortable doing that. He was tight and super flat on top. I'd tell him to lie down, but couldn't seem to muster anything else to help him. I think I'm afraid of going overboard with the corrections, so I'm very passive and tentative in my commands, and then I get annoyed that the dogs aren't listening to me and I just start screeching at them. Yipes. It's so easy to revert back to my old ways! It's a wonder my dogs continue to put up with me!

Elaine spent most of the day reminding me of the different ways I should be helping my dogs, not just correcting them. I get frustrated too quickly, especially with Taz. I need to relax—when things are going wrong, it's not helpful to get upset. If something isn't working, repeating it more forcefully isn't going to suddenly make things right. Trying another tactic might. When Taz is tight or flat, lie him down, but then walk up the field a bit to get in a better position to make sure he kicks out. When he won't take an inside flank, move right or left to help him work off my body positioning. Craig just needs a more active partner, period. I need to check him, to stay in touch with him, without necessarily turning everything I say into a correction.

We also worked on turning around the post, and I'm happy to report that this went much smoother. I learned to flank the dog where he needs to be to keep the sheep's heads pointed in the correct direction. When the sheep approach the post, I should position myself to block the wrong path and then move with the sheep around the post. If I can move around the post in the direction we need to go and then keep the dogs balancing the sheep to me, the sheep have a clear path to go in the correct direction. So the sheep approach me on the fetch. I'd stand on the opposite side to where they need to begin the turn around the post. If the sheep are facing the correct way, I flank the dog in the same direction as the sheep and lie him down as soon as they see him and start to turn around the post. Let them take a step in the correct direction and reflank, and then stop him again when they see him and turn further. Continue as necessary to get around the post—but probably will only need one more flank. If the sheep settle and face the drive away panel, great—tell the dog to walk up and begin the drive. But if the sheep move too far around the post—perhaps I've overflanked the dog around the post or the sheep's momentum carried them too far—then send the dog in the opposite direction so the sheep see a dog there before they commit to the incorrect direction. It's difficult to explain, but once I was able to watch the sheep on the fetch (instead of the dog), I was able to turn them cleanly around the post and start the drive successfully a few times. I think I understand the mechanics now, so I can practice this on my own at Cathy's.

So I did have a bit of a regression in some ways today, but then a leap forward in another. I don't know why it's so difficult to remember all the things I've been learning when we're actually out there working, but I suppose that's just the way things go. I've been told many times that learning to do this is not a linear progression. I do believe it will eventually come together—and in the meantime, I'm lucky Elaine has the patience of a saint to want to continue working with me ;-)