I brought the dogs out to Bill's this morning to practice a bit.
Craig did very nicely when we practiced driving—he took nearly all of my whistles. That is a huge breakthrough, as it means I can now feel confident whistling him during a trial. The driving was intentionally difficult. We worked just three of the sheep in the area right next to their pens, where the rest of the ewes and their youngsters were. I was trying to see what we could do together. It was tough, because the draw was so very strong, but we did pretty well. I tried hard to just use a combination of the lie down and walk up commands, with only a few flanks to get us back on track if we strayed too far. The key seemed to be that if I did need to use a flank, then to lie him down right after the sheep turned, rather than rush to overcorrect with the opposite flank. Most of the time, the sheep settled and began walking forward. Revelation! We did some penning as well. Here, too, we worked as a team. It was lovely.
Taz also did well, but I think he is getting a little confused. First the good: He ran wide and sliced minimally. We started off doing the circle exercise in the arena, and this was fine, so we moved to the field. The circle exercise was working well here, too, so we graduated to doing small outruns. Taz ran very wide, bending out beautifully from my feet. Woo hoo! I was (and continue to be) very encouraged about this.
He did start hesitating just a little toward the end, but I was able to keep him going with a "get out of that." Letting him leave from slightly in front of me also helped this. It's definitely a confidence issue, and I think his hesitation is kind of a gauge for me to see how much he understands what I want from him because at the same time that he began hesitating, something new began happening . . .
He didn't want to lie down much. For the first time in more than a year, he didn't hit the ground when I asked. This had been building up since the clinic, I guess, when he first began really taking several steps forward (and usually into the sheep) when I asked him to lie down. Derek had told me not to worry about it, so I let it go. That will have to be the next thing we reinforce, though, because it's morphing into something else completely. Taz seemed to begin to confuse his lie down with get out, because when I asked him to lie down at the slicy point (10:00 or 2:00), he automatically bent out to go wider on his outrun. This would be okay, but he also started to bend out wider when I lied him down at the top. That is, he didn't lie down, but moved further along in his trajectory after moving out. Weird. He did still take a lie down when I was walking him up, to slow him to a true walk, but he was definitely not stopping/instead bending out when I tried to lie him down during his outrun. I did run up at him once when he did that, and he dropped immediately when I started moving toward him, and during his next outrun he didn't slice at all (so I didn't have to ask him to lie down again), but he also did hesitate. Not wanting to completely overwhelm him, I decided to end our session there—it was a good outrun, once it started—and maybe letting him think about things a bit will help him put all this together.
It is a lot of new stuff for him, and I think he is responding quite well overall, but I do want to be careful not to overdo it. I want to take things slow and steady, building on what we've learned. Things did not go quite the way I expected them to today, but I think he's just figuring things out. At least we do seem to finally be breaking some old bad habits :-)
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