Saturday, August 30, 2008

Still working well—but not getting away with anything

I went out to B&I's place this morning, and we had another productive session. I worked Craig first in the big field first, and Craig seems to have adjusted a bit more to the behavior of the sheep. The sheep still wanted to run back to the barn at every opportunity, but Craig stayed far enough off them to not allow them to fake back and forth anymore. We were actually driving the sheep today, as opposed to just sort of preventing them from returning to the barn, which is what we mostly did on Tuesday. We drove the sheep straight back to the little pen, let them enter the little pen and then gathered them back out, and then drove perpendicular nearly to the road. I walked with Craig as he drove, staying maybe 50 to 100 yards away. We did fine, driving straight, lying down, and correcting where necessary, until we turned back toward the general direction of the barn. Then, the sheep did just want to run back, and I didn't want to totally exhaust Craig, so we let them go. I did have to endure Craig giving me the stink eye several times as we walked back up the field, but once we reached the general area of the sheep huddled next to the fence by the barn I let him gather them up to bring into the arena to make up for it.

Next up was Taz. He continued to do crazy wide outruns. Who is this dog, and what has he done with Taz? I'm so excited! We did some balance work (which is tough with these sheep, since the draw to the direction of the barn in the northeast corner is so strong for them) and some driving, including some inside flanks. He is still slicing, as I reported earlier, which causes him to overflank at the top, and his lie downs were less than snappy. As soon as I realized he was merely slowing down or simply taking several additional steps before hitting his belly, I sent him, told him to lie down at the top, and when he didn't do it immediately, I repeated the command and slapped the empty water bottle against my thigh at the same time. He was down like a shot. His downs were much better after that. It's nice when he actually responds to my training efforts so perceptably. I was really feeling pretty good about Taz's outruns—at least the way he was leaving my side up until he sliced his flanks at the top, which again I'm hoping to fix with Faansie—so I went the length of the arena and decided to send him to gather the sheep, who were smooshed in the corner closest to the barn. I think if we were in an open field, he would have been fine, but he ran nice and wide until he reached them and then crossed in front of them! Taz never crosses, so I was surprised, and then he ignored my commands to lie down. It was like he lost his mind completely. I told him to lie down again, and he took it, and I made my way over to him, stopping to walk slowly toward him once I reached his direct line of vision (as opposed to coming at him from behind him a little, which might encourage chasing). Then, I let him know that I was not happy with him. We set it up again much closer, and his outrun was perfect. I decided to end it there, not wanting to undo the good work we'd done earlier, and I decided to work Craig one more time in the arena.

We did some driving in this more controlled area. I mostly used whistles (at some point I suppose I should start to train Taz on whistles), and with some back and forth, we drove the sheep to the northwest corner of the arena. I began a cross drive to the southwest side, and this was much tougher, since the sheep wanted to bend back in the direction of the northeast corner. Even with the draw, we should have been to handle this cross drive easily, and I realized we were having problems because Craig was not taking the short flanks I was giving him. Instead he wanted to do bigger, more sweeping flanks. So I let him return the sheep to me and we backed up to the fenceline. Here, I flanked him to bring the sheep back and forth, stopping him after two steps, ten steps, thirty steps, and changing directions randomly. I thought this might help him more a bit more responsive to my commands to stop and reflank him. It was hot and the sheep were panting pretty heavily by then, so I decide to wait until next time to see what effect this remedial work had on Craig. I think it will help, though, as he got better the more we did it.

All in all, I feel pretty good about what we did today. Craig worked better in the field than he had the last time we were out, and we zeroed in on a problem and worked to correct it in the arena. Taz had a tough time on that one outrun, which was difficult to begin with, but we dealt with it. His stops improved. His flanks are consistently wide—I did not have to stop him to push him out at all. So far, so good, then :-)


ClaireWalter said...

I've admired well-trained stock dogs at the Scottish/Highlands Festival in Estes Park and also at rodeos across the state. Your blog has given me some insights into what goes into the training. My knowledge is so slim that I can't comment (intelligently) on individual posts, but I wanted to thank you in general for enlightenment on this subject.

Rosemary Carstens said...

I've always been amazed at the patience it takes to have a well-trained dog of any breed. As my a dog fan (not an owner), I really appreciate well-trained pets. Dogs like yours are a joy to watch! Rosemary

Anne Doyle said...

Working! Animals herding other animals is an amazing concept. Good thing there are some genetic tendencies to herd; it must help.

All good wishes--