Sunday, July 13, 2008

We're back, with new arena strategies

Okay, many apologies for being out of touch for the past couple of weeks. I've been busy at work and finishing up a ginormous freelance project, and, to be honest, I am not very excited to only be able to work my dogs in an arena. But until I can find something else, it's the only place I've really got and I'm lucky to have a place to work my dogs at all...

So on Friday morning, I took the boys to Bill's. It was HOT, ninety degrees at 8:30 am. On the drive over to Longmont, I had had thoughts of working the dogs in the field despite the foxtails—I thought maybe there'd be a safe patch somewhere, even if it was small. As soon as I parked and took a look toward the field, my heart sank. The entire field is simply covered in the dried-out weeds. I tied up Max, the guard dog, and walked the dogs on leash to the arena.

After we got the sheep, I thought about how I could make arena work exciting for Craig. He and I need practice driving at a distance, not close up with the artificial pressures of an arena and doing the same pattern along the fenceline over and over. To mix things up, I decided to use the inside of the arena, moving the sheep diagonally from one corner to the other and then halfway across the fenceline before turning on a right angle toward the opposite fence.

I put the whistle in my mouth and the first thing I discovered is that when I take two weeks off working the dogs, my timing is off like a prom dress. Actually I was okay with reading the situations and deciding what I wanted Craig to do, but communicating that information was not happening. I'd think "go toward that ewe's head" and spend like three looooooooooooooong seconds trying to decide if I should tweet a come bye or an away. I had to translate it in my head every time I made a decision. I sucked! I did get a bit better toward the end, but it was rough for poor Craig. He responded by eventually deciding that he didn't need to listen to the commands that took their time coming out of my whistle (and then my mouth). I kind of couldn't blame him, but I also knew I couldn't let him get away with that (especially as in all honesty I was getting it together by this point and my commands were getting more clear). He had just lost patience with me by then, though, I think. So when he obviously ignored my commands to go left, I made a big deal about running up to him and letting him know that he wasn't the one making the decisions on where the sheep should go. He turned his head away, but I pressed until he gave ground. That made an impression on him, and from then on he listened to every thing I asked him to do. Little turd. We were quite the little team, though, by the end, so all's well that ends well.

After 20 hot minutes for Craig, it was Taz's turn. I started with a few outruns on both sides, and he did fine. I didn't want to spend yet another session working on flanks or outruns when he seemed to be fine right now, so I decided to start reintroducing driving and inside flanks with him. Taz is a line dog, and he really used to have a nice, natural drive before we stopped doing any driving to concentrate on fixing his outrun. He used to take his inside flanks pretty much every time he was asked, and we were successfully weaning off saying "here" before giving the flank. He had trouble always stopping at three and nine o'clock—if he made it that far around, he had often committed himself to going to balance—but it seemed like he was figuring it out. Then we stopped working on learning to drive to focus on fixing his slicing, and at the same time he developed his hesitation issue. Because I feared his hesitation might be related to his learning to stop off balance while taking his inside flanks, I pretty much stopped working on any driving altogether until his hesitation was fixed.

He didn't seem to be hesitating much anymore (though, of course, I know it might come back once we get back to the field), so it seemed like a good time to reintroduce the inside flanks. Unfortunately, he really seems to have forgotten them completely, so we started at the beginning. I sent him on an outrun, lift, and fetch, and had him turn the sheep around an imaginary post and begin to drive them away. After he'd gone a few steps, I lied him down, and then (with a "here" to call him in a little first and make things a little easier for him) sent him on the opposite side to what he had lied down on. We did this on both sides, and he often took the flank, but not always—sometimes he just came back to me. But overall he did great! I tried really, really hard to keep everything very upbeat and easygoing, since I knew he would already be feeling a fair amount of pressure just by working on something new inside an arena. I let him go all the way around when he took the flanks. I didn't repeat flanks more than twice if he didn't take them—I just started everything over (from the outrun) when he didn't take the flank. I discussed it with Elaine afterward, and she recommended making it more obvious to Taz what I wanted by taking a step to the left or right (depending on which way I was asking him to go) toward balance if he was hesitant to take the inside flank. We'll try that next time and otherwise continue in the same strategy. I think he was maybe starting to remember what to do, but due to the heat we also only worked for about 20 minutes as well. We'll see how next time goes :-)


Samantha said...

Laura, How long is the foxtail season?

Sorry had to LOL at your Craig the little turd term!

Laura said...

The foxtails will be out for the entire summer, unfortunately. We'll just have to try to avoid them and find other places to work.

And Craig was being a little turd! He is really a good barometer for me--I know that I'm making the right decisions and my timing is close enough to being correct if he is listening to me consistently. And when I'm a bit off--he tries to take over. Sometimes, it's easy; other times, well...

Samantha said...

That is frustrating, those Foxtails are so annoying!

I like the Barometer comparison. I also think it must be pretty cool to be able to have both Craig and Taz to train with. So you are still in training with Craig but working with him helps you with your training of Taz too

They are such a handsome pair too, i think you all make a great team. I really enjoy reading your blog and even though i don't understand it all yet i like to keep up with how you and they are going with the training.

Laura said...

Thanks Sam!
Now that you've started working with Zac, more of it will begin to make sense. What parts didn't you understand? Perhaps I can explain.

Samantha said...

Okay thanks Laura, i will ask in future when i am not sure. I need to learn more about the commands you use and what they really mean. I have just started reading a training book so that will help. Even if it doesn't work out with Zac it definately will be worthwhile for me to learn more about the training side. I do have an awful lot to learn! :-)