Sunday, November 11, 2007

We're back!

It's been a little while since I've posted about my training progress with Taz. We've come a long way since then, and it was really good for me to read these early posts to see just how far we have progressed--at times, it has seemed that we weren't making any progress at all! But in fact we have learned a lot in the year and a half since those early days.

I'd like to track our progress again now, and this seems like a good way to do that. First, I'd like to introduce Craig, since he has joined our little pack since the last time I posted. Craig is a trained dog who used to belong to a friend of mine. She thought he was perhaps losing some of his hearing, and she didn't have time to work him as much as he needed. She also knew I was struggling a bit with my handling skills, so she very generously gave Craig to me. Because I'm just a novice, Craig will be working within closer distances to me, so any hearing loss he has will not be a big handicap on the field. I also can work him a little more often, as I have lessons at least weekly and my dogs sometimes see sheep as often as two or three times a week. So Craig will get to work more often. In exchange, he will enable me to focus on my handling skills, without requiring any actual training the way Taz does. So far, although I haven't been able to take full advantage of Craig's skills, he is helping me to improve my timing. Unlike Taz, who has a history of trying to figure out what I want from him even when I'm not being very clear, Craig does most of what I ask him to do. When I tell him to do something incorrect, or when I hesitate too long, he lets me know pronto. This instant feedback helps me better understand what I should be doing, even if I'm not always up to the task!

I've also been doing a lot of work with Taz. We're still novices, but Taz is progressing. He is nearly ready for pro-novice (well, actually, he's probably been ready to run a pro-novice course for a little while, but I have not been ready to run him there). Taz is a strong dog who has a great deal of natural talent, but he has been running over novice me for far too long. After seeing him run very nicely for various experienced handlers and lamenting that he was always so tight, fast, and slicy when I ran him, I took him to a Scott Glen clinic a couple of weeks ago. Finally (finally!), I began to understand what people meant when they told me that Taz did not respect me out there. I mean, people have told me this ever since we started working stock, but I just didn't really understand how to change that, or even what it really meant. Plus, I'll admit I was in a little bit of denial about it (he listens to me quite well off sheep, and who wants to admit their dog doesn't see them as the leader on the field?). Scott was able to break down Taz's behaviors in such a way that I understood exactly where he was going wrong, and he helped me understand exactly what I needed to do to correct him--and then he instilled in me that I have to be consistent in my corrections. So, feeling much better equipped to both look for and encourage Taz's correct behavior on stock, I finally began working my dogs myself, without a more experienced person overseeing our interactions. This is also really helping us, as I am unable to comfortably fade into the background and let someone else take over when things start to go astray. When it is up to me to take care of business, I am a much more active partner with my dogs out there. This is also helping my timing, I think.

So, there you have it--at least for now. It's an exciting time for me right now--I feel like I am finally beginning to understand this. Actually, I have long thought I understood some of this cerebrally, but this is the first time I feel like I might understand how to translate some of what I know into what I'm doing. I am starting to feel it now for the first time.

So it's really starting to get fun!