I went out to Bill's today to practice some arena work with Taz and Craig this afternoon. With Taz, the arena is getting a bit boring, as he's lying down when I ask him to. I guess he's still not lying down at the moment I say it, but I am now actually wondering if this is always automatically a bad thing. I know I do have a bad habit of asking for a stop too soon, so I wonder if he takes a step or two to be in better position to keep control of the stock. So I didn't want to really do too much work on a faster drop until I was sure about that. I also tried doing just a little driving, and he resisted his inside flanks. Rats. The other thing that Taz was doing was hesitating/running narrow on the left again. I don't know why he's having trouble with the bye side like this. Bill came down to watch us for a bit and thinks the problem is mainly the arena. Saturday, Pam is coming down and we're going to split a lesson with Bill, so we'll see what Taz does in the field then. (I also want to work on lengthening his outrun again—it is going to be March soon! March! The trialing season is not very far away and we are nowhere near ready!) Mildly discouraged, I put Taz up and got Craig.
Craig was who I wanted to concentrate on today anyway. I wanted to be successful enforcing control with Craig without Elaine backing me up. Mentally, I went over my plan for what I wanted to see today and prepared myself to run if I had to. We did a short outrun. "Lie down." I said calmly yet firmly. He was down like a shot. I breathed a sigh of relief. "Walk up...take your time," I commanded carefully, and he listened to everything. Craig really seemed to remember Saturday's awful confrontations and was choosing to work with me today instead. I told him he was a good boy, and we did a bunch of mini outruns and mini drives. I did sort of run at him a couple of times, but to be honest I was just proving a point and I think he knew it. He never ignored me the way he did last weekend. Of course, the arena is relatively tiny, so it's not exactly the same situation, but I was very happy that I could get him to obey me so well. It's a start.
I decided to have him drive the sheep along the fence around the arena. We did really well! When the sheep tried to move toward the middle of the arena, he listened to my flank commands and lied down quickly when I asked. We stopped and started a bunch, and there were a few times where he went too far on a flank and turned them back, but I easily stopped him and we corrected everything. We went around the arena a few times in both directions. Craig did a great job, maybe well enough to no longer need remedial arena control 101. We're ready for the field again, I think.
I'd worked Craig for a long time, so decided to work Taz one last time before heading home. I am so glad I did! We did another outrun or two, and I decided to do a little driving so we could work on inside flanks. He resisted taking the first couple again—I wasn't sure why, since he'd been able to do this before (at least with me calling him in first). I tried to take a step in the opposite direction, to better balance the flank, but it wasn't making too much of a difference.
Then, all of a sudden, a switch seemed to click. I don't know what the difference for him was, but he began taking every single inside flank the first time I asked, without requiring any calling in or any steps taken from me. He was flawless, moving only as far as he needed to to get the sheep on line before moving forward. Both sides. Amazing. I don't know why he wasn't doing it before and now he was doing it completely perfectly, with only soft verbal cues from me. I almost wanted to quit, since this was such a high note, but I decided to try driving the sheep around the fenceline first.
Taz just blew me away. He took the sheep around the fence almost effortlessly. Rather than having to drive them with a lot of stops and starts, he pretty much kept them moving at a steady pace. I barely had to give him any stops or corrective flanks (but he took them right away!) because he was apparently moving at the correct pace and in the exact location to keep them going forward along the fence. We moved them in both directions, and the whole exercise took about half the time it took with Craig.
This is the Taz that takes my breath away. The one who I know could be great, if I wasn't screwing him up (not beating myself up here, any novice would do the same). He just has a natural ability that is amazing when it surfaces. I mean, I know this isn't open fieldwork at huge distances, but it's nothing like what he was doing at Mindy's or even earlier in our session. He was flexible, light, responsive, and most of all, he was right. He knew where he had to be, how much pressure he had to apply, how quickly or slowly he needed to move, pretty much by himself, though he was eager and quick to take my cues. He was simply amazing! I wish I had it on video.
So, I drove back home in high spirits. Both my dogs were terrific in their own ways today, and if we can build on it and move forward from here, well, perhaps we'll be able to trial successfully after all...
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