Sunday, March 02, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly

THE GOOD: Craig's driving skills with me at the helm
THE BAD: Tazzy sort of fell apart when we were working on his flanks
THE UGLY: My annoyed reaction to Taz's outrun struggles

So Pam and I had a dual lesson with Bill yesterday. It was really warm—temps were in the seventies—but very windy at times. I think being able to swap out four dogs was really beneficial because it was so warm—none of our dogs are used to working in the heat yet. With Taz, I wanted to work on his outruns, specifically seeing whether he was actually having problems with his come bye flanks and working on fixing that if he was, or just lengthening his outruns if it turned out his issues with the come bye side were simply overly magnified when we were working in the arena. With Craig, I wanted to make sure the new-found control I had on him could transfer from the small, confined space of an arena to the open field.

I worked Taz first (well, technically Pam worked Wink first, then Taz and I had a go ;-). Bill thought we should only work on his come bye side today. He set the sheep with Blue so that the come bye side was opposite the draw. I sent Taz. He took a few steps and hesitated. I tried again, with the same result. "Walk forward," Bill suggested, so I did, and he did go, but he wasn't running super fast and he came in shallow. But I didn't think I should correct the shape of the outrun, since he was clearly running without confidence. We repeated this a few times, and ended with a short drive away. While Taz took his inside flanks pretty well on both sides, he was struggling to move the sheep forward. Rats. I put him up and and we watched Pam work with Kirk for a while.

Then it was Craig's turn. All I was hoping for was that he would listen to me, or at least that he wouldn't be too far away from me if he blew me off, so that I wouldn't have to run very much. But he did great! We did some driving around the field, with Bill next to me (for insurance with my timing) and Craig never more than about 50 or so yards from me (just in case ;-), and he did pretty much everything I asked him to without a fight. Because he was being so responsive, I accepted a stop rather than demanding a full lie down. I didn't have to run up at him at all. This is the Craig that shows his previous training, his willingness to work with a partner on the field, his ability to read and handle tough sheep. The Craig that will help me become a more competent handler. And figuring out how to get this cooperation from him is just one of the lessons I'm learning.

Things did not go as well the next time I worked Taz, though. We shifted positions so that he could cover the draw when he was flanking to the left, in case that was contributing to his tentativeness. But the results were the same. We even shifted it so that he was working directly against the draw, but this, too, didn't change anything. The problem wasn't the pressure of the draw. Taz was just hesitating. I admit I was getting frustrated. It's one thing to work on sloppiness or incorrect work resulting from overexuberance. But I had no idea what to do with a dog who moves tentatively. Once he (eventually) got to the top after mcuh cajoling one time, I asked him to lie down. The wily sheep bent around him, so I called for an away, which he took. Once at the top again, I asked for a lie down. But they just bent around him again. This repeated a few times, which must have been pretty frustrating for him, but he continued to take the stops. But then he just refused to get up and take another flank. He let them get away, which I don't think I've ever seen him do.

Yeah, here's the ugly. Instead of realizing I was asking him to do something very difficult (even Craig had had a little trouble at this exact place), I focused on his willingness to just let the sheep get away from him. I called him back but then wouldn't even look at him. I mean, I wasn't yelling and screaming at him or anything like that, but he knew I wasn't happy with him. I set him up and sent him again, but he barely went two steps before stopping, so I called him back and walked up to Bill. I think I just put too much pressure on him, when he was trying but just really confused about what he was supposed to be doing.

"He's fried," Bill confirmed. "Let's give him a rest. You can just do some fun stuff with him, maybe in the arena, if you like." I felt pretty terrible at that point. I just fried my dog. We did some easy walking and balancing in the arena after that, but I wasn't sure what to do with him. I didn't want to correct him at all today anymore, since he is feeling such a lack of confidence right now for whatever reason.

I talked to Elaine a bit later, and she reiterated that she thinks the hesitation on the outruns might be due to his learning to drive right now. I thought Taz had been driving for a little while, but she disagreed. She thought his earlier "driving" was really sort of going through the motions for him—that he didn't really understand that he was pushing the sheep out, not just following directions or doing some variation on a fetch. Now that he truly understands the concept of driving, he is getting a little confused about what he is supposed to be doing during an outrun. She said it took Ben almost a year to fully figure it out in his head, and since Taz works a lot like his uncle Ben does, this is probably not very surprising. When I told her about how Taz had let the sheep get away, she thought he might need a break for a couple of weeks. Of course, I didn't want to hear that—his driving was so good the other day, and besides we are going to the first trial of the season next month, but I will of course do whatever will be best for Taz in the long run. If he needs a break right now, then he needs a break. I can still work Craig, especially since we seem to be in such a good, if precarious, place right now. I had told Bill I was going to come work the dogs one evening this week, so I'll definitely work Craig then and just work Taz gently, to see how he does. If he still seems at all overwhelmed or confused, I'll just put him up and take a break with him.

So, while this business with Taz is kind of a bummer, maybe it's just a natural (or at least not an unusual) phase of his development. I am glad that it is coinciding with my new-found partnership with Craig, so we can hopefully continue to develop as a team in the meantime.