Sunday, October 19, 2008

Finally fixing Taz's slicing? Fingers crossed!

One of Taz's main issues is that he slices at the top. He has patterned this by now, and I believe he thinks it's the correct way to approach the sheep at the top. For a while I thought it was because he spent the early stages of his training working very broke sheep in a small arena, and these sheep would break back to me as soon as Taz reached the nine o'clock or three o'clock positions. Now, however, I think it may be that he is afraid the sheep will get away if he doesn't reach them as quickly as possible.

I've tried to fix this in the past by running toward him and/or the sheep to try to kick him out, too, but this has not been consistently successful—he either didn't really change his trajectory once he began to slice, instead racing toward the sheep faster, or he did kick out but I couldn't ever transition to not slicing when I wasn't running up the field. I also tried to work on this by lying him down before he reached the slicing point, and as my timing improved I could often get him to lie down, but this then often resulted in Taz hesitating at the beginning of his outrun. (This, in turn, made me more reluctant to correct him for slicing, which of course just made the slicing more ingrained.) Faansie Basson helped me to understand that part of the problem was that Taz was not moving off me enough to feel the need to change his instinctive/patterned behavior. So I had to work a bit on establishing a little more presence with him (which wasn't difficult to do, once I discovered how I could change his behavior without resorting to heavy-handed force).

I think I was also not seeing the bigger picture. With the help of Cathy, I recently realized that a big part of the problem is that he speeds up at the same time he begins to slice. Thus, instead of running at him (which often just makes him more frantic), I've been working to slow him down so he will begin thinking right at that point that he begins to slice and speed up.The past couple of times I've been out at Cathy's, I set him up to go the opposite direction of the draw (so he will be more likely to slice). I send him and walk (walk, not run) toward the sheep but just as he begins to speed up/alter his trajectory, I growl a "hey." He is starting to check himself now, which results in a very nice approach and lift. This strategy is not very different from what I've been told to do by top clinicians in the past, but I think the reason it is working now, apart from my improving timing, is that I've established a bit more presence with him—now he actually hears me when I'm not screeching at him.

Darci Gunter and Anna Guthrie have suggested that speeding up and slicing is often done out of fear and not liking the pressure of being close to the sheep. Taz is indeed a pressure-sensitive dog, but I'm not sure how this figures in to his behavior. In any case, I think the solution is the same, no matter what the cause is—some how, some way, I need to be able to slow Taz down at the top.

Of course, I don't know if this is truly going to be the fix I've been working toward. Time will tell. And even if it is, I think Taz may always have to be redirected on his outrun. But I don't mind that because as long as I can get him to slow down and think while he's moving, we can progress as a team. Such is the journey for a novice handler with a novice dog ;-)


Julia & Brad said...

Well, I can definitely say, after going on some hikes with you lately, that your "presence" has really improved. Even Shadow was listening and we both know that's almost impossible to get him to do!

Kathy said...
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Kathy said...

-So I had to work a bit on establishing a little more presence with him (which wasn't difficult to do, once I discovered how I could change his behavior without resorting to heavy-handed force).-

Hi Laura-

Could you elaborate on what you did so that you didn't have to resort to heavy handed force?? I have a dog who likes to slice on the come by side and I would like to get him to keep out better too.


Laura said...

Sorry, I just changed my comments setting to moderate them and didn't realize these were waiting for me!

Kathy, it's more about getting into his head than doing anything physical to him. It's being serious about what I expect of him. Taz tries to make me laugh when he knows I am not happy with him. And he used to succeed all the time--I'd try to run up at him and he'd thump his tail, which I'd find cute in spite of myself. Laughing would get him off the hook, and then I blew the opportunity for an effective correction. So I started being much more serious. Another part of it was finding some way to move him off (me, the sheep, whatever) without having to approach him at all. I did this with a rolled up feed bag or water bottle or cap slapped against my thigh. Taz hates that noise, so doing this, coupled with my new no-nonsense attitude, works to mentally check him and move him off to avoid the sound. I don't have to use it as much much now, but I did a lot right after my lessons with Faansie. Taz knows when I mean business and when I'm liable to let things go, and I'm not always as consistent as I should be, but I'm getting there.