Thursday, June 19, 2008

Crossing my fingers . . .

I didn't have very much time before I had to get to work, but I took the dogs out to Bill's yesterday morning. First things first—clipping them was a fantastic idea! There were a lot of foxtails out in the field, and I can only assume that nasty spear grass was lurking as well, but neither dog picked up much. And they don't actually look too different than they did before (I did sort of make a pest of myself hovering over the haircuts at the groomer's ;-)

I worked Craig first. I was curious to see what he'd do back at Bill's again. He definitely seemed to be feeling better these days. He had listened to me really well at the trial, and he ran fast and didn't get too hot or anything. And yesterday we worked both in the arena and then in the field, and he took nearly all of my commands and was quite relaxed as he worked. I don't know why he was feeling yucky for the past couple of weeks, but he seems to be over it now. Phew. Maybe he just needed a little time to acclimate to the sudden heat we got when the season changed?

After half an hour or so, I put Craig up and set Taz up for a few outruns. With this past trial out of the way, I wanted to concentrate on fixing Taz's hesitation for good, if possible. I'm tired of this habit, as we seem to conquer it for a while, only to see it rear its ugly head again and again—and, like pounds shed and regained on fad diets, each time it comes back worse than it was before. I wanted to fix it once and for all. I was ready to try Robin French's idea of getting after him when he hesitates and following that up with a soft, inviting flank when he started moving again.

His first few outruns were fine, no hesitation at all. In an effort to try to elicit it so we could stamp it out, I gave him a pretty strong "lie down" before sending him on an outrun. It did the trick—he took a step and then stopped. I repeated the flank in a harsh tone and off he went, but tight and tense. Wait, this wasn't how I was supposed to do it. I wanted to give him a correction, not repeat the flank in a correction tone—I don't want to add tension to the flank. Plus, I'd forgotten to follow up the harsh tone with an inviting tone. I tried again.

This time, when he hesitated after I flanked him, I said "hey," in a correction tone (and not a particularly harsh one) and when he jumped right out, I repeated the flank in a softer voice. This worked! His outrun remained wide and not slicy and he didn't seem overly anxious. I did this a few more times and we quit for the day. This was successful, and I wanted to just give him a taste of it, rather than risk drilling him and souring him. There's no rush. We'll work on this in the coming weeks and set another new pattern in his mind. Hopefully, this will work to end this hesitating behavior once and for all!


Anonymous said...

Here is my suggestion, for what it's worth (maybe a cent?!)... Back off on the outruns a bit- have a plan when you go out there. Only ask him for a couple, and then quit while he is still hot. Work on other things. Sometimes the issues become bigger than they were, when we try to fix them. I have experienced this myself with my dog. When you set him up, get him keyed up by saying "look!" When he is all focus, just quietly send him. Then, do the other side- that's it for set ups. Then you can do, just for a desert, have him fetch the sheep when they are trying to escape. Keep him guessing, and keep it short. Fwiw!

Anonymous said...

It may be worth a try sending him on a few outruns with Craig. Put one dog on each side of you and use some generic command, "get back," shush, or whatever and let them each take a side running out. Most dogs will do this naturally, crossing over behind the sheep at about 11 and 1 o'clock to set up for a balanced lift and fetch once they get there. I've yet to see a dog not run out with more enthusiasm this way. Sometimes wider, sometimes tighter. But if it's not perfect that can be worked on later. The idea is to give them a different attitude about the outrun.


Robin French said...

Denise's suggestion is a good one, i saw it work well for her young dog.

One reminder for you with your new pattern of "command, correct, command" - try to not let it turn into the same pattern all the time. The correction should change his behavior and not just turn into yet another version of the "command" part. Not sure if that makes sense or not, but it's like before when Taz just got in the habit of waiting on the correction and taking off when he heard it, effectively turning the correction into his "send" command. Mix up your corrections - one time "hey", another time a stick wag, another time a step at him, another time a small collar shake. All followed by the nicely said send command - that's the part you want to be consistent with and get him in the habit of leaving on.

Laura said...

These are excellent ideas and thoughts! I do have a tendency to drill with sort of laser focus during my sessions (same old novice-without-her-own-sheep story: I try to maximize my time out in the field when I can get there), but spending so much time at once working on the same thing over and over can be counter-productive. I think I definitely have a hand in perpetuating this problem, so getting a bit more creative out there and not feeling like I need to spend hours at a time would do all of us some good.

I think it'll be really fun to send Craig and Taz at the same time, Denise, and I can't wait to try it. When I've worked them together before, say bringing sheep down the field, Taz definitely gets more pushy than he normally is alone. I've tried to discourage this a bit because, believe it or not, Taz is quite a pushy dog naturally. (This is one of the reasons his hesitation issue has been so frustrating for me to figure out.) However, I can see that a little healthy competition on the outrun might well get him out of his head and push him out of this pattern.

Robin, I'll be sure to remember your advice as well. I don't know if it's because I am still learning this or what, but I have tended to be quite formulaic when going about solving a problem (and this is probably why I've been guilty of drilling)--but working stock is not about static formulas. It's necessary to be fluid and change things up in order to most effectively communicate to the dog what I am hoping to see. It's a bit paradoxical--because Taz is so eager to learn how to do things right, he patterns very easily. It is therefore up to me to make sure he is learning what I am trying to show him...

Anonymous said...


As my mentor from years back always said, it's easier to keep a dog from doing something than to make it do something. It's a lot easier to hold a dog back from pushing, or widen it out or slow it down than it is to make it go. Sometimes even encouragement itself becomes an additional form of pressure.

Anyway, I hope some of the ideas work. Let us know.