Monday, April 07, 2008

Great work at home doesn't always mean great work at trials...

Saturday we had another novice trial. This one was quite fun, as I finally got to meet Anda in person, and Julia, Brad, baby Michael, Katie, and Chris all came down to watch. And we got to play with Nancy's little Soot puppy a bit :-)

The novices in my area are pretty lucky to have this series—these trials have been a great barometer to show us what we can do in situations that are maybe a little more stressful or just different than our usual practice conditions. They've definitely been pretty educational for me...

This one was at Cathy's. After the last time I was here, I realized that neither of my dogs run particularly well there. Taz typically runs fast and tight here—whether because of the sheep, the setup of the pasture, the alignment of the stars in the sky, or whatever, he seems to look like he's had barely any training when we work here. If I am taking a lesson, eventually we can work through it and he'll run reasonably well by the end of the session, but it doesn't seem to then carry over to the next time we work here. And Craig just wants to turn the sheep back to me all the time here when we're driving, no matter what. So I didn't have very high expectations for Saturday. Still, we'd been working pretty well lately, so maybe we'd have a good day.

The draw on this field is very heavily toward the south. The trial was held in the pasture with the post on the north side and the trial field running south toward the barn. In this way, the drive would be in the direction of the draw, but it was a left-hand drive, and the sheep were being kept in a pen on the right side, so the draw was somewhat mitigated. To further help our dogs, our judge, Carol Lucero, encouraged us to walk up the field a little while we were beginning the drive to sort of encourage the (very broke) sheep to not bolt (since they'd want to stay close to the person). So obviously this was not exactly mimicking the conditions of a real trial, but the pressure of competing in front of others was real enough for us right now.

Our practice runs were nothing to write home about. Taz was wild, fast, and tight, as I knew he would be. I had sent him on the bye side, for reasons unknown. Well, I guess I did it because the set-out person was having to stay between the sheep she just set and the pen holding their buddies, and I thought sending the dog on the other side might be easier for Taz. This was kind of a stupid idea, since I know Taz runs this exact field with these exact sheep much, much better if I send him on the away side. No worries then, I thought, I'll just send him to the away side for our judged run. Craig, meanwhile, decided to fight me up and down our practice run. He wouldn't listen, and with these sheep, timing really was everything since they just wanted to run back up the field. I had to completely abort our driving attempt, because the sheep were pretty much running up the field and Craig was kind of then chasing them to eventually just guard against the pressure. Ick. I knew I should run up the field at him because he was blowing me off—I'd done it before at Irene's novice trial with Taz with great results, and I've done it with Craig before at Steve and Lynn's with similar results, so why wasn't I running up the field at him? I didn't know. Maybe because I'd invited a few folks to come down and I knew they were watching me? Lame. People would always be watching during a trial...I actually had this entire conversation running through my head during our run. Sigh—I'm going to have to learn how to prioritize trying to get the best work possible from my dogs over being self-conscious if we are to be successful at all. I did pen with both of them easily enough on the practice runs, but I guess it's not that hard to pen sheep that follow you into a three-sided pen...

So, after these fun adventures, we were ready for the judged runs. Craig was up first. I was pretty sure this would be a disaster, since I didn't have that hat therapy session with him during our practice run. But he surprised me. He ran pretty well, though he was tight on his outrun—I sent him on the come bye side again (why? who knows?). His fetch was fine, he did a decent job of keeping them on line when they wanted to drift to the right. Around the post and then the drive. This went reasonably well. He was listening to me, which was great, but because I knew he really wanted to turn the sheep back to me, I kept lying him down right before (or sometimes, if I was late, just as) he'd get to their heads. This did actually work to keep them moving forward toward the panels, but it was pretty choppy. Then, just as they approached the panels, Craig moved a bit too far to the right. I lied him down and the sheep moved off line and then drifted back on line. I thought we were close enough to the panels that they would drift right through them, but was dismayed to see them cross right in front of them. RATS! I'd gotten it wrong—if I'd flanked Craig just a step or two to the right, he'd have caught their eyes and moved right through the panels. I cursed my crappy depth perception, but I'll take it as another lesson—when I think I've brought the sheep far enough to go through the panels, go another few yards, just to make sure. Or, as I was advised, find a clump of grass or something parallel to the panels to use as a gauge. Oh well, this was just a judgment error, not a communication error between Craig and me, so not a big deal in the grand scheme. He turned the sheep back down the field and we penned them with no worries :-)

Pam and Kirk went next, and their run was smooth as silk! They're a great team, and moved the sheep through the course seemingly effortlessly, proving that it was indeed possible to have a nice run here, if you were capable.

Then I took my turn with Taz. He set himself up to go on an away. Despite this, and despite my earlier solid decision to send Taz to the right for our judged run, I inexplicably sent him to the left again. What the hell? Why does my best judgment seem to disappear when I'm competing? So bizarre! Anyway, predictably, he was way tight and slicy, which meant that his lift was nonexistent and his fetch was fast and uncontrolled. Ack! I lied him down with the sheep at the post to calm us both down for a second. Okay, the turn around the post was calmer, and our drive was actually not too terrible. He kept his line well enough until he didn't take an inside flank immediately right before we approached the panels. I was actually pretty proud of his driving, though—because we've been working on his outrun lately, we haven't done much driving at all, and he took all his other inside flanks right away. So we hopped over to the pen and, after one ewe squirted out, and Taz managed to get her back to the mouth of the pen without her circling (yay!), he penned them. Carol later told us we ran about four seconds over time, but that was okay.

So, it was an interesting day. I think the biggest thing I learned today was that my dogs might look like superstars at Bill's, but that doesn't necessarily translate to looking fabulous at a trial. I should have made sure Taz was wider and lied him down when he started to slice, and I should have enforced my commands with Craig, especially since this was a novice trial, so they'd understand that the same rules apply at a trial as in practice. And I need to keep my head a bit better at these trials. At least we were getting some experience trialing in a fairly low-key setting. I kind of can't imagine going into a real trial without at least having some idea of our strengths and weaknesses—to know what to expect so I can try to work out some sort of plan beforehand. Our first real trial of the season is in less than two weeks. Gah!

On that note, I want to say a big thank you to the organizers of this novice trial series: Nancy Penley, Lisa Webb, and Elaine Wood. Your efforts and support for us novice handlers are very much appreciated!

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