Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Consistency is key

Since we haven't been there since January, I decided to go out to Cathy's yesterday to work the dogs. She held the sheep for Taz first, so I could see how his outruns looked today. Maybe it was too soon to try to send him from my feet again, but Taz has always worked pretty well (or, at least, very confidently) here, so I just wanted to see. Actually, though, I am not even sure what I did see, and it was difficult for me to tell exactly why things were happening the way they were. The sheep were really moving at the top, and the dog Cathy used to hold the sheep was actively working them even as Taz was approaching, which I think confused him a little. He left my side strongly and sometimes sort of stopped when he saw Cathy's dog working and other times buzzed in quickly and a bit too tight. I didn't really want to continue working in such confusing conditions at this stage of Taz's development (I mean, we're just getting the outrun back on track, so I don't want to muddy the waters here without at least having a clear plan of dealing with the situation, which I didn't have). So I decided to just walk with him a bit and send him sometimes, just balance and fetch other times, like we did at Bill's. But Taz wasn't working like he did at Bill's. He was fast, and too tight, trying to beat the sheep around, guarding against the pressure of the draw—actually, he looked pretty crap. I wondered if he was reverting to how he is used to working here, before I started working more seriously on his control and started having a better idea of what I wanted to see. Or maybe he was reacting to me—I am much more passive and unsure of myself when I work with Cathy. Cathy thought it might be her sheep, who are very dogged, and also that we were working in her smallish pasture with its very strong draw, rather than the big alfalfa field behind her pasture. The sheep tend to be a bit heavier out there, as they are both further from the barn and there is much more grass for them to forage on there.

In any case, what we were doing wasn't working. Cathy got another set of sheep out and we worked on the further side of the pasture to at least minimize some of the problems, and I did some outruns with him with me standing between him and the sheep. I was ready to kick him out from my position closer to the sheep, but he didn't really need me to—he seemed to understand that he had to work wider now. Whether this is because he sensed I would come down on him from this position or my mere presence closer to the sheep caused his change, I am not sure. But I guess I need to just work this way for a little while, gradually reducing the distance from where I stand and where I send him, until I send him from my side again. I'll have to try to be a bit more systematic about it than I have been (heh, I haven't exactly been systematic about it at all), but I don't think it will take very long to do.

I put Taz up and got Craig out. He continued to listen to me here, which was good, but definitely wanted to freelance when I stopped working to talk to Cathy. But he was also pretty easy to check. I practiced using the whistles with him, and again he immediately took the flanks but ignored the stops at first. However, after a few tries, he began lying down when I blew the stop. Hooray! And this was in the pasture, not the arena, so I am very happy about that. Cathy also noticed that Craig really respects the growly voice I have, so I shouldn't hesitate to use it with him. She also noticed that he listens to me much better when I convey that I am serious about his work. Often, when I am unsure about what I am doing or we are not actively doing a specific exercise, I let him get away with being sloppy and bossy. Once I let him know I still expect serious work from him, he shapes up quickly. This is a really good point, and I'll be sure to pay better attention to this in the future.

So for both dogs, I need to be prepared to always be on them—not in a ton-of-pressure kind of way, but in a the-same-rules-always-apply sort of way. I might need to change things to set everything up so that I am able to correct them as I have done in the past—not harshly but consistently. Hopefully I can get out to Bill's later this week to continue to practice all this. Yay for daylight saving's time!