Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lessons learned at the CHC SDT

Ever since the Derek clinic, I've been thinking about how I can transition Taz from the small circles in the arena to regular outruns in the field. It's been difficult to discern this next step forward from his book because his book focuses on starting a pup rather than fixing a dog you've screwed up ;-) I just haven't been able to visualize or work out how to make the circles a bit more fluid so that he can work the sheep from anywhere in the arena relative to me and achieve the same wide effect. I really wish I'd gotten the idea of how to keep Taz well off the sheep while circling a bit earlier in the week I was with Derek so that I could have worked with him a bit on this. I was quite perplexed about the whole thing, so I was sure I wouldn't risk anything by trying to run him in the Colorado High Country trial I went to this past weekend . . .

Ha! So of course I did run him ;-) but I am actually glad I did, since our run plus the follow-up analysis I did with Elaine helped formulate a plan for retraining the progression of Taz's outrun . . .

First things first. The trial was fun—Nancy and Lisa really know what they're doing. Lisa's ranch is such a beautiful setting, and everyone seemed to have had a great time. Tracy Derx was the judge, and I scribed for the open and nursery runs, so I really got to see how the runs were pointed and what the more successful dogs were able to do to best handle the heavy range ewes.

The novice and pro-novice runs took place on Monday, with the novice class scheduled first. I really was planning to scratch Taz, but was talked into changing my mind embarrassingly easily. "You may as well try," people told me. "Just don't let him get away with anything," they cautioned. The course looked pretty reasonable, so I decided to enter after all. I figured if he flanked way too tight, I'd just lie him down as quickly as I could and leash him up, so there was no harm in trying.

There was a heavy draw to the left side of the field, so I set Taz up to go left. I told him to lie down in the warning voice I learned to use at the clinic, and I really think Taz looked at me with the same expression he wore at the clinic, so I hoped he'd make the connection that we were really just doing the same thing here, sort of. "Come bye," I said in what I hoped was a soft, inviting tone. He took a couple of steps and looked back at me. "Get out!" I hissed, and off he went. And his outrun was nice and wide, nicer than he's ever done in a trial. He did slice a little at the top. I shouted "hey," but I was late—I wasn't prepared for the slice, probably because I was so pleased that his flank was so nice. I should have lied him down and then reflanked him or told him to "get" instead, but the sheep were heavy enough that the slicing didn't really have too terrible of an effect on them. He picked them up . . . and then circled around them in what I think was an attempt to bring them to the set out person on horseback. Rats! Taz doesn't have much experience (actually, I believe he has none) with people setting on horseback, so I couldn't really fault him for getting confused up at the top. I lied him down and that was the end of our run.

Even though we retired, I was very pleased with our run. I saw the score sheet, and we'd gotten only four points off the outrun and lift. I think Taz remembered the work we did at the clinic, and hope we're on our way to fixing his outrun for real. I just need to continue working to set it. After talking to Elaine, we came up with what I think is a solid plan to transition from Derek's circle work to actual outruns using the same philosophy.
  1. Send Taz in small outruns from my feet, but remember to start with the warning "lie down"—send with the inviting flank (and use the "get out" if he hesitates).
  2. Anticipate a slice at 10:00/2:00, so right before he gets there just lie him down.
  3. Walk straight to the sheep and threaten ground between the sheep and the dog (and also the ground ahead of the dog) while saying "get out." He will give ground and widen out. This is what I must be careful not to overdo.
  4. Graduate to just lying him down and saying "get out" (no longer having to walk up to the sheep and physically threaten the ground); then shorten to just saying "get."
  5. Then progress to just saying "get" without lying him down. Try to get to this point as quickly as I can, because if I lie him down too often, he may develop a habit of hesitating at that spot, anticipating the stop.
  6. Eventually, he may not need me to say anything and he just won't slice anymore. This is obviously the best-case scenario.
  7. But if he hesitates at that spot, I may always have to redirect him—I can live with this if I have to. It's better than having him slice his flanks forever.
So that's what I'll work on with Taz over the next few weeks. It might not be a perfect plan, but it seems like it might work. If it doesn't, I'll just go back to the drawing board.

I also ran Craig in pro-novice, which was TOUGH! Really, I was in a bit over my head. The wind was blowing pretty hard, and the sheep were a bit squirrelly in response to the front coming in. Craig's outrun and lift were flawless (no points off, according to the score sheet :-), but the sheep were drifting to the left during the fetch. I tried to get him to lie down to redirect him, but he wouldn't take it—he was too afraid of losing them. He wouldn't take an away on the fly for me either, so the sheep were pretty close to the post by the time he would lie down. They calmed down, and we made it around the post, but our attempt to drive was a whole lot of back and forth. I was afraid he'd turn them back to me (he really wanted to do just that), so I would underflank him for a while, until they were in danger of moving too far to the right, and then I'd overflank him, causing them to turn too sharply. I'd lie him down and things would settle, but then the same scenario would repeat on the left side. He turned them back to me a couple of times before I gave up and we retired. Ah well. Just as with the Free to Be trial in New Mexico, I should have just alternated between telling him to lie down and walk up. I think if I try to flank him too much, he's not quite sure what we're doing, whereas when I ask him to walk up, he understands that we're supposed to be driving and covers while pushing the sheep forward. I'll have to practice this much more before our next trial in a couple of weeks, and hopefully it will be a bit more ingrained for both of us.

Actually, I'm happy to have a plan for working with Craig as well. Usually I go out and just sort of aimlessly practice driving with him, but it feels a bit haphazard. I much prefer the idea of having a goal to work toward, and learning to effectively push the sheep forward with minimum side-to-side movement seems like a good one ;-)

Now, I just need to head out to Bill's to work on it!

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