Monday, February 18, 2008

Listening and learning...

Although I know I need to just work with my dogs for a little while to try to put some of the lessons I've recently learned into practice, I went to Bill's for a lesson yesterday. I haven't been to Bill's in a couple of months and I thought a lesson might be a good idea to get back in the swing of working out at his place. I mostly wanted to see what the dogs would do there and get his thoughts.

We started in his arena to warm up. I worked Taz for a bit (with a soft voice) and was pleasantly surprised that he was lying down at the top right away just about every time. The one or two times he hesitated, I took one gentle step toward him and he lied down immediately. I still can't believe this is really working! He was working calmly and not slicing. Bill wanted me to direct him to drive the sheep along the sides of the arena from outside the arena. I was a bit nervous about this, as I imagined I'd start yelling if he didn't listen to me and I also wouldn't be able to take a step toward him. Really, since I was getting such good results doing what Tracy recommended, I shouldn't have even tried to do something else, but I promised myself I wouldn't fall back on old ways if he didn't take my commands—that this would just be an exercise to see how he'd do. And I didn't resort to yelling, as he continued to listen to me pretty well. Yay Taz!

I worked Craig for a bit in the arena as well. His mini outruns were nice and his fetches to me were straighter than Taz's, but Craig didn't listen to me nearly as well. I think actually that Craig doesn't really listen to me as well as Taz does. When Taz blows me off, it's often more dramatic, but command for command, Taz listens and takes them much better than Craig does. Craig does what he wants much more often. It's just that he's sometimes right, so it's been camouflaged a bit. Like how Mark said he was saving my butt. But, as Tracy said, he needs to listen to me or I won't be able to really trial successfully with him. I need to spend time in Bill's arena just doing the same exercise with him that Tracy had me do with Taz. He needs to consistently listen to me, even if I'm wrong—if nothing else, it'll show me how I'm wrong, so that I can learn from it.

We moved to the southwest corner of Bill's pasture and I worked Taz in the tiny pen there for a few minutes (with me inside for a couple of flanks and then outside). This pen scares me because it's so small and there are two metal fence posts sticking up near the gate, making it even tighter. Bill wanted to see how Taz's inside flanks were coming. Taz didn't want to take them at first, but once he got around once, he came around pretty freely. Craig, of course, doesn't need to practice this exercise at all.

So I took Craig out in the field and did a few outruns and then some driving. He did really well moving the sheep toward the target (the first of a couple of black plastic buckets), covering the draw back to the barn while pushing them forward. I saw that I was stopping him a little short here—flanking him to cover the draw and then asking him to lie down before redirecting him to push them before the sheep were fully turned back. It's just such a fine line for their heads to turn before they change direction altogether that I am always afraid of being too late. Once we got to the first bucket, we did a cross drive to the second one—this was harder, and a bit messier. He turned them back to me a couple of times, but we recovered and kept going. I think maybe this should be my intermediate goal with Craig for now—recovering after he begins turning them back to me. I mean, it is likely that he will turn the sheep back to me during a trial; instead of getting nervous that it is happening, I need to quickly redirect so that we can continue the drive. We practiced this a bunch, and once he did ring the sheep because I asked for the wrong flank, but he was working with me. Not listening to everything I asked, mind you, but still working with me rather than pursuing his own agenda. Overall, I think he did pretty well—he was mostly waiting for me to direct him, even though I am slower to give him direction than he is comfortable with. "He's just rusty," Bill remarked. "You just need to spend some time with him working on this." I agree; we'll come out again this week and work on our own.

Next, we tried some outruns with Taz. Taz did pretty well for the most part. Bill and Blue set the sheep up maybe 150 yards away. I sent Taz on an away, and he went off perpendicularly from the sheep. What beautiful bending out :-) Halfway there, he slowed and looked around, before looking back at me. "Away!" I repeated, and he continued running. Bill said he couldn't see them and wasn't quite sure what to do, which was a good lesson for him (if you lose sight of them, keep casting out to find them again). He reached them nice and deep and I told him to lie down softly. And he did. Immediately. I got him up to fetch them to me (not very straight, but they got to me). After setting up again, I sent him on another away, and this time he didn't hesitate where he lost them before, though he did start coming in to lift a bit early. I told him away, and he swung back around. He was really listening to me!

So, of course, I had to find a way to screw things up. The next time I sent him, I sent him on the bye side..."Away, Taz!" He took a step and stopped, looking at me quizzically. You'd think that would have been a clue, but I told him away again. He took another step and stopped. We repeated this another couple of times before Bill yelled back to me "It's come bye!"

The mind boggles. How on earth can I still be making this mistake and what is it doing to my poor good dog? "Come bye!" I told him, and he went, but it wasn't very pretty. Darn. Still, this was my fault, and I was pretty happy with his performance. He hesitated a few times on his outruns, and his fetches were a bit sloppy, and he still has no real sense of a steady pace. But he listened to me better today than he has ever listened to me—and his lying down at the top was perfect in the field. He lied down immediately every time I asked, and he was working thoughtfully.

So I'll try to come out a couple of times a week for the next little while and we'll try to solidify everything. I know what to do for a while; we need to put in the miles now :-)