Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Negotiating with Craig

It's been an interesting week or so, trainingwise. I'll write about it in a few posts, since each session has been so different.

First, I had a great session on my own with Taz and Craig. I practiced ouruns with Taz, and he was pretty consistently wide and not hesitating. We did one outrun that was the length of Cathy's field, and he did hesitate just a bit on that one (he hasn't yet learned to keep casting out even if he can't see the sheep), but he took a "get out" and it ended up being a pretty decent outrun. He was slicing less often, so maybe he really is starting to understand that he should be deeper at the top? Too soon to tell.

With Craig, it's all about improving my timing. So we did some driving, and as usual lately, we were we a bit out of sync to start. But things got better the more we went along. Although the draw to the gate beyond the panels is strong in Cathy's field, we worked on actually hitting the panels. Craig has terrible panel anxiety, and if he does not have the sheep well lined up a long way before he reaches the panels, he overflanks terribly or simply ignores commands when directed to try to bring the sheep through the panels. That is, for example, why he cut the course a little at Dan Keeton's trial last August. It's something I haven't worked too much on, since Cathy's panels are set so close to the draw. But I decided that Craig is well equipped to handle that pressure, and I need to learn how to handle him despite that pressure. The first few times we tried, we didn't make the panels at all. We did the familiar underflanking/overflanking back-and-forth, so we didn't line up soon enough before we hit the panels. I knew I needed to stop stopping him too soon so he wouldn't have a chance to overcompensate. (If I stop him too short because I am afraid he will overflank, and the sheep do not change direction, then I must reflank him just a little to try to bump the sheep back on line; this is actually when Craig often overflanks, though. I am anticipating his oveflanking at the wrong time, and stopping him short actually makes him more likely to overflank. I need to stop doing that!) This is the most important thing Craig is teaching me: how much to trust him and let him decide what to do versus how much to guide him, to catch (even anticipate) the incorrect choices he makes in time to keep a flow going. It's really hard, but this is how my timing is improving, I think. By the end of our work session, he'd pushed the sheep through both the drive and cross drive panels successfully a few times.

I think Craig is negotiating the same working synchronicity with me—he is figuring out how much to trust me, how much to listen to me while still maintaining control of the sheep. We will get there eventually, but I wish I could work Craig more often. It's frustrating to always start out working through this stuff; I think if we could work every day or every couple of days, we could pick up right where we left off the last time, rather than working to rebuild trust and having to remember how we work together all over again first each time. I'm working on finding a way to get more access to sheep, and if I do find a way to work more often, I bet we improve much faster. It's not like with Taz, who is learning at his own rate—Craig and I mostly just need miles together to sort through this stuff enough that we can better anticipate and compensate for each other's strengths and weaknesses. Well, I don't know how much he'll be compensating for me—I'm not sure about whether all dogs have that perspective, though I believe at least some do—but I do think we will learn to better mesh our individual work styles if given a bit more time to work together.

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