Sunday, March 09, 2008

Easy does it

After taking a full week off from working the dogs, I took them out to work at Bill's yesterday. I thought it was possibly enough of a break for Taz to give his brain a rest, and yet not too much time since the last time I worked Craig, so he will still remember that it's in his best interest to work with me rather than freelance. We had a pretty good day!

I tried to remember all the advice I'd been given about Taz, as we got the sheep out. I really wanted to keep everything light and easy today. I started by just walking with him and sending him around when he was starting to go in one direction or the other. No hesitation or balking whatsoever—he was nice and relaxed. I lengthened his outruns a little and he continued to take them, and I did some walking with him, "ach!"-ing him every so often when he came too close to the heads. Sometimes, I'd stop and let the sheep pass me, so Taz could drive some as well. He took his inside flanks, and I let him go to the top and find balance every now and again, then stopped him. He again seemed like he was starting to understand what I'm asking him when I told him to take time, slowing down some, though not hugely dramatically. After doing some driving and then asking for an inside flank, I lied him down at the top. He was doing quite well, so Elaine told me to let him fetch them to me at his own pace. This is what is meant by keeping things fun for him—do not demand perfection 100% of the time. Yes, he is bringing them a little fast, but they're not thundering down to me, so let him bring them at his own pace as a bit of a reward for doing the other things I've asked him. Aha! I can prioritize—not everything needs to be a lesson. Sometimes, we can just have some fun :-)

Keeping Ray's thoughts in mind, I only worked Taz for about 20 minutes. He did really well, and he seemed pretty pleased with himself, so there was no need to stretch the time we were working. This might be one of the times when a shorter session was more productive—our mission was accomplished for the day.

I got Craig out and Elaine and I did some round robin outrun practice with Craig and Ben. She held the sheep first with Ben, leaving them about 30 feet from where she stood. I sent Craig on a come bye, and he took off nice and wide. At about 10:00, he stopped. "Come bye!" I yelled. He ignored me and began moving in toward the sheep. I started walking toward him, repeating my command. He kept going and brought the sheep to Elaine. Rats! "Craig! Lie down!" I shouted, and he did. "Walk up!" And he did fetch the sheep to me, but obviously we had a bit of work to do to here.

We held the sheep for Ben, and Craig at least was able to listen to my instructions to lie down and come to me while Elaine was directing Ben. Ben brought the sheep to Elaine, and I sent Craig again on the away side. He did a bit better listening to me on this side, since the sheep were on the other side of Elaine, but I knew we had to work on being successful on the come bye side.

I shortened up the distance and sent him again. At 10:00, he started to hesitate and I reflanked him. He took it, but then stopped again. Should I ask him to come bye again, or should I tell him to walk up now, even though he's not on balance to me? I weighed both options in my usual s-l-o-w manner. "Tell him to come bye," Elaine called out helpfully.

"Come bye, Craig," I parroted, and he continued to arc over. "Lie down," I called when he reached the top. "Walk up!" He sort of started to bring them to Elaine again, but I told him to come bye every time he moved toward the direction of Elaine, so eventually he did bring the sheep back to me again.

The next time, I told him to come by at 9:45 (or, just before he would have hesitated at 10:00) and there was only a blip before he kept going around. One more flank at about 11:30 and a lie down at the top and he fetched them to me directly. He was getting it! We did it one final time, and he needed only the one reflank at 9:45 before stopping at the top and fetching them to me. He was bringing the sheep to me, even with Elaine there. Woo hoo! We still need much more practice here, but we ended on that high note.

Well, almost. I did hold the sheep with Craig a couple more times at the top of the field opposite the handler's post, so Elaine could practice a long outrun with Ben. After Ben's first go, I tried to pick up the sheep with Craig at a distance, and we struggled, with him wanting to bring the sheep to Elaine again. It was really quite a big distance, so perhaps too soon for that, but with another session gradually lengthening our outruns a bit, I have confidence that Craig will not be confused about who he should bring the sheep to, even with Elaine standing on the field. Patience, grasshopper!

I ended the day with some whistle practice with Craig. We hadn't worked with whistles together in about three months, so I was pretty sure both of us would be rusty. The main thing I want to get solid with a whistle is his stop. I blew it and he completely ignored it. "Tell him the command, blow the whistle, and give the command again," Elaine advised. I did that a few times, and then we graduated to just doing the whistle first and giving the command only if he didn't take it. My stop whistles were not very consistent at all, but we still managed to achieve maybe a 40 or 50 percent success rate. Not too bad; I'll practice making the sound a bit more without him before trying again. The problem is that I can blow it just fine when not working, but I seem to get all out of breath when I blow it when we're actually near any sheep. Rats. On the other hand, he completely remembered his come bye and away to me whistles, and I could blow them fairly well, so his flanks were pretty successful on the whole. Can't complain about that :-)

We ended the day with a nice hike along the edge of Bill's property. I think all of us were pretty satisfied!
Happy dogs!

1 comment:

Samantha said...

Sounds like you had a good day.
They certainly do look very happy dogs :)