Monday, June 02, 2008

Craig's driving; Taz's outruns (of course)!

I met Elaine out at Bill's yesterday morning. Bill had the sheep already out grazing in the pasture, and she put three in the arena to work her young dogs. That left the rest of them in the field for me. I worked Craig first, doing the same thing I did last time—driving the sheep through the panels on the course Bill had set, near the arena and the pens the sheep live in. This meant that the draw was strong. We had a hard time moving all 30 or so ewes and lambs when they were so intent on munching all the grass and working their way back toward the pens. Craig wasn't taking my whistles as well as he had on Friday, so I sort of half whistled, half shouted commands at him. I did try to lie him down and walk him up more than relying on flanking him back and forth. We made it through the first set of panels all right, but I couldn't transition into a cross drive, and Craig brought the sheep nearly all the way back to me. I reset our path forward and back into a cross drive, and we made it through those panels as well, but things were getting messier and messier. These were actually the fetch panels, so I decided to try for the third set of panels—the ones closest to the arena and pens. Well, we didn't quite make it here at all, so I had Craig bring the sheep back to me and tried to move them up to the first set of panels again. But the sheep had other ideas...Craig would get the ones at the front moving and they'd string out a bit, while the rear sheep would stop to eat. Then Craig would sort out the sheep at the rear of the group, and the front ones would start to bend back toward the pens. Craig would go to cover, and the sheep in the middle and rear of the pack would take the opportunity to eat some more. Craig got frustrated and began just gripping them. I am simply not skilled enough to help Craig move such heavy sheep through such lush grass so close to the draw. Things were just going downhill, so I put him up.

Later, I explained all this to Elaine, and she helped us move the sheep down the pasture to the southwest corner. She noted that I was underflanking him, and I realized I was underflanking him partly because I didn't want him to turn him back to me, as I'd noted in the past, but also because I was expecting him to not take my commands the first time. Craig takes my commands the first time I ask about half the time. So I need to go back and reinforce that he needs to take my commands the first time every time. Elaine tells me Craig has been trained with a two-command command ("Lie down. Lie down!"), but he actually takes a lot of commands the first time, so I know he can. I need to polish it so that he listens to me the first time or else resign myself to a two-command system, but whatever it is, it has to be consistent or my timing will always be a bit off.

The other thing Elaine noticed is that I'm slacking in letting him get too far to the sheeps' shoulders when he's wearing forward. He needs to go no further than their hips. When he gets to the hips, I should lie him down, let the sheep move a bit forward, and then walk him up. If he doesn't move in a straight line behind them, lie him down when he reaches the sheeps' hips again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Next up was Taz. I started again doing the same circle exercise a couple of times with the big group of sheep. He seemed to do fine, so we quickly moved to outruns. He no longer mistook a lie down for a get out (phew!) but I did notice that he was now favoring his come bye side, which used to be his weaker side. I think I've been working so much on that side that I've just neglected working on his away side with the new methods. So I'll have to practice circles and smaller outruns on that away side a bit to make sure he's comfortable flanking on both sides. On a few outruns, I did have to revert back to saying "get out of that," but at least he committed to the outrun as soon as I said those magic words every time. And even on these outruns, once he went he looked really nice. He continued to run way wide today and not slice very much, if at all. His lifts looked great, too.

Until I asked Elaine to pretend to act as a set-out person. I had a sneaking suspicion that Taz's outrun fell apart when he saw a set-out person, regardless of whether or not they were on horseback. And, after a few tests of this theory, Elaine agreed. With no set-out person at the top, Taz ran wide and lifted straight. He lied down when I asked him to, and fetched them straight to me. But when someone was there, he still ran wide (though this is when he was much more likely to hesitate), but overflanked around the person and began bringing the sheep to the setter. I could eventually get him to lie down and refocus on me, but it was more of a struggle and definitely very messy. I'd definitely have to practice this, but I am glad I was able to identify it. I guess I need to do smaller outruns with someone at the top and perhaps walk toward the sheep after I send him to make sure he sees me still in the picture and listens to me when I ask him to lie down, and then just gradually walk forward less and less until I don't have to walk forward anymore. It's a bummer because it requires another person, so I can't practice it alone, but Elaine said she's help us with this.

I'm going back to Bill's tomorrow morning, so at least I can work on getting his away flanks solid again. For Craig, I'll just work on keeping him moving no farther forward than the sheeps' hips and enforcing my commands so that we can build some consistency there.

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