Sunday, May 18, 2008

Derek Scrimgeour clinic report (River Falls, WI, May 10-14, 2008)

I'm finally back from the Derek Scrimgeour clinic, and I really don't even know where to begin to write about it. There was just so much information to process! I learned a freakin' ton!

It took us two days to drive from Colorado to the clinic in Wisconsin, and the forecast for the days of the clinic was five straight days of pouring down rain. Yipes! Fortunately, the weather wasn't quite so bad, but the first few days were cold, windy, and wet. Poor Derek was pretty jet-lagged, I think, and the first couple of days were a bit confusing for some people (okay, for me). But each day, I was able to understand and apply a bit more knowledge, and, by the last day, I felt pretty confident that I understood and could apply the basic tenets of Derek's training system.

Derek's system is deceptively simple to understand intellectually, but it was a bit harder to translate into effective body positioning, proper voice tone and cadence, and correct timing. I am very glad it was a five-day clinic, as it turned out that I needed all five days to be able to incorporate enough of what Derek was teaching to be able to repeat his success (well, not to the same degree, of course ;-) by myself when I worked with Taz. (Because Derek's system is a bit different than that of most other trainers, I had decided to put Craig, who will be ten years old this summer and has already been trained in more traditional ways, in the clinic only if Taz wouldn't work for Derek for some reason. Happily, Taz did work for Derek, but really I was working him most of the time myself anyway, and he really responded well to Derek's techniques.)

The basic premise of his system is applying pressure on the ground rather than the dog. Rather than pushing a dog out, he makes whatever area of ground he doesn't want the dog to come in to dangerous. So, if a dog is slicing his flanks *cough, Taz, ahem* then he does not try to run at the dog or otherwise get in the dog's space to force him out; instead, he threatens the ground between himself and the dog, so the dog doesn't want to enter that space. By putting pressure on the ground, rather than the dog, you're claiming the space so the dog respects that he can't push into the area you're claiming. You make your space uncomfortable for the dog. At the same time, his focus is always in front of the dog as the dog flanks, which ensures that he is always in position to cover the sheep if the dog tries to slice in or spiral in while he is flanking around. It's important not to fall into old habits of chasing the dog around on his flanks; this just pushes him forward—it does nothing to keep him out and leaves me out of position if he slices in. I'm probably not explaining it very well, and there are a bunch of little steps that I had to keep straight in my mind to get it, but once I did, Taz was wide and didn't slice at all.

Some things I took away from the clinic:
  • Think in smaller movements, not big sweeping ones.
  • Clear, definite communication (even if I'm not exactly right) is vital. If I'm ambiguous or questioning in my commands, the dog is left to guess at what exactly I want.
  • Corrections must always be followed by praise for the system to be most effective. It's pressure > release > praise. Without the praise, it just becomes a negative system.
  • Invite a flank; demand a stop.
  • Walk up means walk. Walking up straight and slow is the key to more advanced stuff.
  • Organize the work; choreograph everything.
  • A correction is a "focuser" for the dog. Dog begins to respond to tones if they convey information consistently. "Lie down" can be said in a normal tone of voice to tell the dog what you want him to do; if he doesn't do it or if he takes another command incorrectly, "lie down" can be said in a harsher voice to convey that you are not happy with his choice. This is immediately followed by another chance to work correctly.
There's about a million other little things, and I'm still sorting everything out in my head, but I worked Taz this morning at Bill's and I was able to continue our success. Derek warned me not to overdo this, because I am putting a lot of pressure on Taz right now, but I need to ingrain it a bit more before transitioning to the driving stage (where I'll have to reteach Taz to drive a little according to this method). Because these lovely new flanks are not completely set in his mind yet, I think I am going to scratch Taz in next weekend's trial. I am pretty disappointed about that, but I am trying to think about the big picture here, and this is my best chance to fix Taz's flanks once and for all. (Well, I may have to remind him once in a while, of course ;-) But if this new foundation sticks, I think our progress forward will go a lot faster.

So, I know this post has been a little all over the place, but my mind is a bit of a cyclone right now. All these new ideas are swimming around in my head, and I'll write more about them as I try to make sense of everything I've learned. Elaine took some videos of Taz and me working, too, so I can review what was happening when things were working and when they weren't. If they aren't too embarrassing, I might even post them ;-)


Samantha said...

It sounds like you had a great experience Laura.
I was going to email you today to see if you were back yet.
I am glad everything went well. I do hope that the video turns out okay, i would love to see that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sounds absolutely wonderful. Can you explain how Derek got the dogs to walk slowly in?

Laura said...

It was pretty amazing :-)

The way to teach a dog to walk slowly in is by having him lie down as soon as he takes a step that is too fast. That happens much sooner than you're prepared for, if you're not ready with the lie down on the tip of your tongue. I've tried to do this in the past (it's pretty standard advice, I think, to "lie down a dog if he comes up too fast"), but the difference with Derek's method is that (1) he stresses that it really must be done when the dog takes one step too quickly, and (2) the dog begins to understand that with this system, a lie down means he has made an incorrect choice, so he must stop and listen for the next command. "Walk" means truly walking, four beats in time as with music, and you shouldn't accept any faster pace. The dog will get up slower because he's less sure now, and then he gets a release of pressure and praise (the praise might be in the form of a nice, soft "walk up" command). So he begins to learn what you want from him.

Lars Hørl - Læs Mæ Lyd said...

Seems a vey succesfull clinic! I have just been to Lonscale Farm in a clinic, Derek is a great trainer.
I am curious - how does your dog take the transistion from the old methods you have been using?

Laura said...

I think Taz transitioned really well, once he figured out the system. At first we were doing some circling around the sheep, which we've done way too much of in the past. Both Taz and I *hate* circling—Taz starts to just zone out and I just get increasingly frustrated because it seems pointless. But there was a big difference between how I've been taught to do it in the past and how Derek teaches it: really I was just chasing him before, whereas my positioning in front of Taz while "protecting the ground" was much more effective in keeping him pretty far off the sheep. There was a big difference in Taz's attitude—he's a very pressure-sensitive dog anyway, and he seemed to understand and respond to the way Derek uses pressure quickly. Things were a little more mushy when I worked him, though, as I sorted out Derek's system in my own head. Once I figured it out, Taz responded for me the way he had for Derek. I wish I could spend the next six months with Derek so I could absorb and be able to reproduce all his stages of training; guess I'll just have to keep watching his DVDs and rereading his book!

Inci Willard said...

Is your Craig dog happens to be a son of imp.Dale and Clarkshome Dash?
I saw his picture over at BC boards and got real excited to see his face.

Laura said...

That's him, Inci. He's a great dog, teaching me more and more every day!

Inci Willard said...

How wonderful to hear it Laura. I got lots of pictures of him as a tiny pup and that look in his eyes is still the same.
When he was around 6 weeks old,he found enough space in between the gates and was bringing me sheep,little fart,I had to hunt him from underneath the sheep to get him away as he thought if he'll only hide there,I'll never know where he is and he can go on working them.
Craig and his littermate Jim should have been named "two hopes" as their sole existence was getting to sheep.
Take care and have a great time with him,I'm glad he found a wonderful home where he is useful.


Laura said...

That's really neat to hear, Inci. I'd love to have a photo of Craig as a pup! Would you mind sending one or two to me? Are they digital?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Derek does a wonderful job of looking pretty and being pleasant at his north American clinics. He has to, he considers Americans his cash cow.

I just wish he was as nice to his own dogs and cleaned the pens they are shut in for days on end more than once a month.

Derek is a wonderful trainer and handler - but is that OK when his dogs sleep in their own filth day and and day out?

Laura said...

When you're successful, I guess it's not surprising that wannabes (too cowardly to reveal their identities) will take pot shots. Anonymous, you've found this blog by Googling Derek, so if you're so horrified by him I'm not sure why you're spending your time stalking him on the web.