Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lessons with Faansie Basson, Sept. 15 & 16, 2008

Once again, I have fallen behind on the blog updates. So I'll attempt to catch up yet again.

Let's see...first, the lessons with Faansie.

What presence Faansie has ;-)

I had two lessons with him, on consecutive days, about two weeks after his clinic. He told me straight away that he could see that I'd been working hard with Taz during those two weeks, but he thought I was now being too tough on him! It seems I have begun to get inside Taz's head after all and had to now take some of that pressure off him. No more confrontations. He said Taz and I sometimes do a bit of mental arguing, and I have to be careful to find ways to get in his head without adding fuel to the fire.

Okay, well enough, but what does that mean in a practical sense? Well, we started the lesson by doing the corner exercise, with me in the corner and Taz pushing five or six sheep into me. He gathered them and then I had him walk up slowly, lie down, and walk up some more, so he was pushing into them, making them squirm and start to fight. He was a little reluctant to push in right at first, which puzzled Faansie, as Taz is such a pushy line dog, until I told him about the "other" corner exercises I'd been doing with Cathy, where he was encouraged not to come in straight, but to flank to the sides and come around between the sheep and the fence. He told me to work on this instead, make sure he pushes in and willingly flanks on either side to cover all of his sheep as they squirt out. Slowly I made my way out of the corner to one side. Taz was then a little reluctant to flank around when I was outside of the corner, especially in the off balance direction. Faansie told me to watch my body language: If I am facing him with my shoulders square, that puts a lot of pressure on him and he won't want to walk into that pressure. If I move to the side or drop a shoulder, that will encourage him to go in the direction I'm facing. After a bit of practice, Taz took his flanks, both on and off balance. This is what Faansie was after with Taz. He said Taz is a confident, powerful dog, but he doesn't understand how to really use his power yet. Again, he reiterated that Taz's early ideas about covering sheep somehow got screwed up and so I need to remind him how important this is. So he told me to practice this with Taz from time to time to keep him tuned up.

Along the same lines, we also did some more walkabouts on the field, switching directions and moving back, so Taz was forced to cover his sheep and bring them to me. Woosh him if he's not covering, acht if he overflanks. Don't even give him flank commands. It's baby stuff, but he didn't get any of it when he was a baby, so he needs this remedial covering 101. I lamented how walkabouts were fun for Taz, but kind of stressful for me because Taz just got faster and closer to the sheep until we were barely moving. Faansie was surprised to hear this (since Taz worked so far off us when he was around). He told me Taz always needs to go at my pace, not the other way around. So he stepped aside and sure enough, Taz picked up his pace and got much tighter on the sheep. Faansie told me to throw the taped feedbag between Taz and the sheep when he got too close. So I did, and Taz immediately jumped back twenty feet. Faansie told me to do this right when we changed direction, too, since that was when Taz was tempted to slice in. I did and he again jumped back. And then he stayed well off the sheep, giving us both much more room to move. This is one way to show him that slicing on an outrun wasn't correct. Faansie said Taz is soft enough that I probably only will have to do this a couple of times for him to truly "get it," if I time it right, and to pair it with a "hey" or something, so I can eventually just say "hey" and he'll move off the sheep. He told me to be very careful with the feedbag and do not overuse it, since he does respect it so much. For one thing, I don't want him to lose that respect, but I also do not want to turn him off. I don't think I would ever turn Taz off, but he is soft enough that I don't want to completely overwhelm him. (He did once turn off completely when confronted with a lot of pressure from a Big Hat clinician, and I am now ever mindful of that potential with him.) Faansie told me he recognized that Taz didn't do anything to try to be "bad," or disobey me, or even challenge me really, but he does sometimes feel a lot of pressure from me and reacts accordingly. A lot of it is that I do not always know exactly and/or convey clearly what I want from him, and when I get frustrated, he senses that and gets upset. But if it ever becomes too much for him, stop what I'm doing, call him in, give him a pat, and let him know it's okay. So if he feels the pressure too much, let him know he's okay. And that should reset both of us. But used correctly, these tactics are how to get inside Taz's head without "arguing" with him. No yelling. No nagging. No running up at him. No need to be unduly physical. The more I can affect his behavior while remaining cool and in control of my emotions, the more my dog will respect me.

The other way to address his slicing is to send him, lie him down right before he slices, walk up in a straight line to the sheep just a few steps or even until I am the same distance from the sheep as he is if necessary and resend him demanding the same wide casting out that I now expect in any outrun. One thing that I'd been letting him do since the clinic is, when he starts tight and I lie him down in response, I let him kick himself out instead of lying down. Since I was only lying him down to ultimately resend him wider anyway, I thought this was okay. Faansie told me it was not okay. If I tell him to lie down, he needs to stop entirely and only move when I tell him to go. If I really just want him to recast farther out, I do not need to always tell him to lie down, I can woosh him or reflank him or tell him to get out of it or whatever—but if I do tell him to lie down, he needs to lie down every time. Okay, good to know.

We also did a bit of driving, and though Taz can drive reasonably well in a straight line, Faansie wanted me to walk parallel with him (never getting in front of him), so that he never has to look back at me for instruction or reassurance. And that's all we had time for. We had planned to work on inside flanks and then do some shedding, but unfortunately it got dark too soon. Faansie may come out next year, so we can pick up again then. (At least as far as shedding practice goes, there's no big hurry, I guess—it's not like we'll be running in open between now and then ;-)

My next posts will describe my attempts to follow all of this advice. Stay tuned...

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