Monday, February 25, 2008

Working at Steve and Lynn's (part 2, Craig)

Buoyed by my success with Taz, I switched dogs and got a drink. Elaine had gone up to the far end of the field, since Craig still likes to bring the sheep to her instead of me (note: I said still because I am hopeful this will pass...) I sent him on an outrun and watched him arc perfectly. He lifted them nicely and began the fetch. The sheep were moving a little offline to the left, so I gave him an away flank softly. He didn't really take it, but the sheep sort of corrected on their own and reached my general proximity. We did a sloppy turn around the imaginary post and began the drive. At first things went well, but then the sheep started drifting to the right. I told him to lie down softly, and he ignored me again. Okay, abandon attempts to control him with a soft voice. I tried again, a bit louder. Nothing. The sheep moved a bit further, so I told him to come bye. He took that flank...all the way to their heads ("Lie down!" I screeched frantically. "Craig!") and turned them ("Craig!! Lie down! LIE DOWN!!!!") back to me. I reset the drive and the whole thing repeated, even worse this time. To say it wasn't pretty would be a gross understatement.

Huh? You talkin' to me?

Elaine started walking toward us. I think I saw steam coming out of her ears. She was not happy to see Craig blowing me off so hard. "Okay, I'm going to ask you to do something that is really not in your nature, but you have to trust me. You can't allow this to continue. This is what I want you to do: if you tell him to lie down, and he doesn't take it, the second you see he's not taking it, I want you to take this cap, run as fast as you can up the field at him, and wave it in his face. Tell him to knock it off, and say it like you mean it! Don't stop putting pressure on him, even if he starts running away from you—let him take a few steps backward! Make an impression! Show him you are really not happy with him."

I giggled nervously. I suck at this sort of thing—I feel like an idiot running up at a dog and I'm uncomfortable getting in a dog's face. Also, I am a big sucker, so I really want to let him off the hook if he looks away or takes a step backward. But I knew she was right—the soft commands weren't working with Craig and I couldn't keep letting this continue. I ran up at Taz a few weeks ago and that's what started his attitude adjustment. I guess I need to do something dramatic to get through to Craig as well. I took a deep breath and sent him.

All went well enough on the outrun. When he reached the top, I told him to lie down. He kept moving the sheep. "Go!" Elaine said, thrusting the cap in my hands. I sprinted as quickly as I could up the field at him. He looked away before I even got to him, but I kept running until I reached him. "What do you think you're doing?" I asked him sternly, waving the hat at him. He took a step back and rolled over. "You better start listening to me!" He got up and took a few more steps backward. "I mean it this time!" I told him, before jogging back to where Elaine was standing. The first thing I understand about this exercise is that I am no longer in very good shape.

We repeated this scenario two or three more times before Elaine decided it would be better to work in the arena. "Good idea," I huffed. "Less running..." It is also much easier for me to block him if necessary in an arena. The sheep are less likely to get away if I give the wrong command (like a wrong flank) or my timing is off (say, when I'm asking for a lie down). This means Craig will be less frustrated and have no excuse to blow me off.

So, we're officially back to basics with Craig, too. We moved the sheep to the arena and sent him a few times. I tried the soft voice again, and again he didn't listen, but he took the commands as soon as I said them a little firmer and stepped in to him. And then I remembered what Bill said about sounding confident when gave him commands. I tried again, this time using a firm voice to give commands from the start. He began listening and obeying the first time I gave him a command, every time. Huh. But maybe he was only listening to me now because Elaine was standing next to me. She left the arena and stood behind the edge of the barn to watch us work alone. He still listened to me when I used the firm voice. I stopped him at the top, during the drive, and when he was off balance.

So that is the secret with Craig, I think. I must remember to use a firm tone of voice when I command him, and be prepared to run up the field at him and let him know I think he is pond scum the second he doesn't listen to me. I hate doing it, but Craig has to know that I will back up my commands if he doesn't listen. I mean, I'm not hurting him or scaring him—I'm really just making him very uncomfortable by applying a lot of pressure. And then, when he does it right, I can't forget to let him know he's a good dog—he needs to know when I am happy with him as well as when I am not happy with him.

So once again, I realize I must practice, practice, practice this with Craig. He is just a different dog than Taz is. Taz is more sensitive, and he can figure things out on his own a bit more; Craig needs to be kept honest. I really have to remember the differences in their work styles when I'm handling them and adjust to tease the best work out of them.

I drove home completely exhausted. I thought it was from all that running after Craig I did, but actually I think it's probably mental exhaustion. Between Taz and Craig, it was a big day, with a lot to take in. We are learning things every time we go out now. Hooray!