Sunday, June 29, 2008

Reading the situation correctly and responding appropriately

Over on the Border Collie Boards, I was bemoaning my tendency to screech at my dogs during training. Though I strive for calm control, I often get increasingly exasperated until I sound just awful. I think this is partly because I have an idea of what I think should be happening and I can be calm when things go roughly according to plan, but when the dogs don't do what I ask, I get upset. On the surface, this sounds right—I mean I should come down on them when they don't listen, but what about when I do not read the situation correctly? I often don't really understand what is going on quick enough to respond appropriately. This difficulty assessing things in real time is the biggest thing hampering our progress. It may come more intuitively for some folks, but definitely not for me! But developing the ability to read the situation is the key to progressing. I think if I can start to take into account why they might not be obeying me, I might not get so exasperated (and then screechy); if I can unemotionally apply a quick correction at the time he doesn’t take a command, I’ll be fixing things rather than screeching as it all goes wrong. Or if I can look at the big picture and see that he's actually making a correct choice for the circumstances, I won't be upset (I'll actually be pleased and don't want to take that out of him). This happens especially when I'm trying to work on something different than the problem at that point in time turns out to be (e.g., I'm concentrating on encouraging Taz not to hesitate on his outrun but then he pushes too hard on the fetch and doesn't stop when I ask him to).

I worked my dogs yesterday in Bill's arena, which is a little brutal for Taz (Craig's not a big fan of arenas either). He feels and responds to the pressure in a big way in arenas, but I've decided not to work in Bill's field for a while. I have, in fact, been working on Taz's tendency to hesitate on his outrun, and Denise Wall had suggested that I send both of them together on an outrun, as they may spur one another on. I did that a few days ago in the field, and the results were encouraging. So I decided to try it yesterday, even though we were in the arena.

At the risk of embarrassing myself in a big fat way, here is our first (and worst) brace attempt yesterday. Note the progression of the screech (not that you'll be able to ignore it). I was originally upset at my own screechiness, which I knew I was doing even as I was doing it, but only after seeing the video did I see that after Taz didn't take my initial "lie down" command, I should have either shut up and let him cover the sheep before asking for another stop or, perhaps even better, gone up to him and demanded the stop after the first time. (Or maybe that's not better, since the situation was changing so quickly, and besides I am trying to encourage him forward...but then I don't want to let him get away with sloppy work...but I don't want to chance exacerbating the hesitation...but...aargh!) I know I could have handled this better! I asked for, and received, feedback on the BC Boards, and got some amazing, very helpful responses!

I do want to add that I don't actually get mad at my dogs, I get exasperated at myself for being such an incompetent trainer...

Aside from that, we had a pretty good session. I was able to drive the sheep all over the arena (usually around the arena along the fenceline) using whistles only with Craig. At least until my whistle filled up with spit. Eeeuuuww!

What a good boy!

I also did a few off-balance stops and flanks with him to be sure he completely understands my whistles. He does—he took everything. I guess I need to practice a little further out, before trying again at waaaaay far out. I let Craig get a drink and unhooked Taz for our brace outrun practice. Things did get a bit better after that first try, but again Craig stopped going after a bit. I'm not sure why, maybe because Taz was being really pushy...

So I put Craig up and was anxious to see how Taz would do on his own. I decided to send him with another "Shhh" rather than a flank—Taz used to never go on a shh or chchch or any of the other sounds people make to excite their border collies. But Derek did it at his clinic, and Taz took it then to both Elaine's and my astonishment. So I've been trying to use it sparingly since then, and it does seem to work now, though I don't want to overuse it. He had obviously been taking it when I sent both dogs together, so I just continued that same practice. And the work with Craig might have been beneficial because he didn't hesitate at all. I mean, his outrun kind of was terrible in other ways, and his fetch fell apart at the end, but there was no sign of hesitation. Here it is:

In fact, he didn't hesitate at all for the rest of the day, and because he was being so pushy, I put a ton of pressure on him. Yay for Taz!

But his flanks were very tight, so we did a lot of Derek-style remedial widening-out exercises. I'll have to go back and reread my notes and rewatch the videos shot at the clinic, but I tried to remember everything I could about threatening the ground and staying ahead of him. It did work, as his flanks opened on both sides by the end of the day. In addition, I made him lie down every time he started walking up at anything other than a true walk. He was able to slow down a bunch, though I didn't have the heart to make him really w-a-l-k. Poor Taz—it was a day of practicing precision for him, but I am really pleased with how he progressed. He was back on track with everything by the end of the session, and he didn't hesitate at all.
Another good boy!
Now, I just need to work on putting it all together, seeing the resulting big picture in real time, and reacting to the situation appropriately! No worries, eh?


Samantha said...

It is really nice to see the videos of Taz in action. I have had the odd screechy moment too, lol.

Love your shots of him working Laura. He looks really good! :-)

Laura said...

Thanks Sam! At least I'm in good company ;-)

And not sure if it's obvious, but a couple of those pictures are of Craig--how did I end up with two working dogs that look so much alike?!

Samantha said...

Oops,sorry i should have previewed first.

Meant to put Craig not *him*. I had picked Taz out for the videos and meant to put a comment about Craig for the pic's.

Yes i agree they do look alike on some pic's taken from certain angles. Which i think looks cool when they are working together. It is obvious on those ones though who is who. It was my comment that didn't make sense!. :-/