Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whistles and hesitation and brace work, oh my!

I went out to Bill's this morning and we ran in the field for what will probably be the last time this summer. The foxtails are out in full force now, and I pulled several hundred (perhaps several thousand, no lie!) from each dog. I probably pulled about twenty to thirty from between each toe, and another thirty or more under their arms. It's too much, and I knew it was too much when I saw the little 2-gallon cooler of water I brought for the dogs had about 15 foxtails in it as soon as Craig went to take his first drink. This sucks!
Taz walks up on the sheep grazing in Bill's pasture for the last time in a while, thanks to the foxtails and spear grass.

I worked with Craig first. I had planned to work on cross driving with him, since I have such a hard time transitioning from a drive to a cross drive. But that's not quite how things worked out. We did some driving to begin with, and he listened to me quite well at first. However, there is a definite distance at which he either no longer listens to me or he does not hear me very well. For a long time, I thought it was that he didn't listen to me, but today he kept looking at me from that distance and definitely seemed to be seeking direction. Maybe this is the distance at which his hearing is beginning to fade. So I tried whistling him, and he took the whistled commands only about a third of the time. Thinking we were rusty on whistles again, I brought him closer and practiced whistles with him, reinforced by words. When we were communicating with the whistles again, I let him drive the sheep further out again and was pleased to see that he took more of my whistles at that distance. Not perfect, but better—he took my whistles maybe two-thirds of the time. We'll continue to sharpen the whistles up close in Bill's arena, but if we can't use the field, I won't be able to work with him at a distance very much. I'll have to get more creative (or brave) with finding other places to work...

So I put Craig up and got Taz. We did a few short outruns, and it seemed like he was getting a little tighter and slicier today. Hmm. He wasn't moving the sheep until he got to them, but he was overflanking, which he usually did only when he was slicing. I did give him some corrections, but I think what we need to do is a remedial Derek-style widening-out session. We'll do that next time. This time, I wanted to work on his hesitating, especially since this might be the last time we'd be working in the pasture for a while. I knew he was more likely to hesitate when I gave him a strong lie down to start. This was, I think, because he was starting out feeling a bit more pressure from me than he was comfortable with. I didn't necessarily want to add to the pressure by yelling at him right off the bat. This is something I can control, so I decided to stop putting so much pressure on him that way. Instead, I decided to elicit his hesitation by doing a longer outrun. It worked; he began hesitating just a touch when the sheep were pretty far away. I gave him a correction, and it worked to get him moving again. We repeated this a couple more times, but he was starting to hesitate at different points in his flank. I used a variety of corrections ("hey!" "get out!" step toward him, wave a leash at him), and he always got moving again, but when he did restart he was often tight. I was starting to feel like we were all over the place with what was going on, without steady progress forward, so I changed gears and just started walking around with the sheep and Taz for a bit. This seemed to settle him some, and I decided to try the brace exercise Denise suggested.

I unhooked Craig and lied both dogs down on either side of me. The sheep were about 100 yards away. "Shhh!" I said softly, and off they went—Craig on the away side, and Taz on the bye side. No hesitation whatsoever with Taz. As Denise had predicted, they crossed one another at the top and then brought them back to me together. Whee, this was fun! I did it a few more times, each time a little further away from the sheep, and Taz never hesitated when I sent both of them. He did, however, run tight, so it's probably not something I should do very often, but it definitely achieved its desired result. Actually, I don't know if I could do this too much anyway, as Craig stopped running very enthusiastically after a while when he saw Taz going. That's okay, we won't do it much. Was very fun to see though!

I think next time, I'll do the widening-out exercise and then maybe send the two of them out together a couple of times before continuing to work with Taz on his own. I didn't think to do a couple more outruns with Taz on his own after sending both together this morning (duh!) so I'm not sure what, if any, effect running with Craig had on his own outruns. I guess we'll see later this week!

PS Sorry the photos are kind of crap—I took them with my phone camera...


Rebecca and Molly the Border Collie said...

Phone photos are definitely better than no photos! Nice to hear you are having some luck with the exercises but it sucks that you're losing pasture for working. I hope you'll be able to find a great alternative now that I've gotten hooked on your blog!

Laura said...

Thanks Bex! Bill has an arena that is mercifully free from the foxtails and other invasive weeds, so we'll at least be able to continue working there for a while. And, while I was hoping to work on stretching Taz's outrun and practice driving at longer distances with Craig, there are still plenty of things for us to do in the smaller arena. And I'll try to remember to bring the real camera and video camera, too ;-)

Samantha said...

I agree, it is great to see the photo's even taken with your phone camera.
It is a real shame about those foxtails. At least you still have the arena there to practice in though until they go again.
It must have been really great working them both together! :-)

Anonymous said...

The brace work sounds like it was fun. I hope it helps with the hesitation when he's alone.