Saturday, November 01, 2008

Downs and ups and figuring things out...

I've been working my dogs a lot this week :)

First, a quick recap of a lesson I had last week, where Taz's refusal to "see" the goats Cathy has and bring them along with the rest of the sheep as we were sorting earned him an entire lesson working with a mixture of about 12 sheep and goats, most of whom did not want to flock together. He learned that covering his stock means covering all of his stock and not just the ones who move easily for him ;-) This was a good lesson for him, as he did broaden his scope to recognize and bring all of the stock. It was also a good lesson for me, as it was really apparent that standing around telling Taz to do something twelve different times ("look back," in this case) is not an effective training strategy. I don't know why it is so difficult for me to truly get this lesson, but I do think I went a long way toward learning it for real this time. I began the lesson trying to cajole Taz into looking back and finding the goats scattered around the field, and getting more and more frustrated (and screechy) as he looked back right at the goats but would not move to go get them. Cathy kept her cool, though, moving forward to change the picture for him so that it became easier for him to see what we wanted him to do. Eventually, we were able to move less and less ourselves, as Taz moved more and more himself to cover. By the end of the lesson, he was looking everywhere and picking up everything!

Then, I started this week off with a couple of rather discouraging lessons. We've been trying to lengthen Taz's outruns, but Taz began slicing at the top again and then he began hesitating to boot on the come bye side (curiously, he looks fantastic on his away side—no hesitating, nice wide square flanks, no slicing at the top). Even though it was only on his bye side, it was a little disheartening to see these problems resurface. He did better on both the hesitating and the slicing when I walked in toward the sheep and sent him, but it really was feeling like one step forward, two steps back. And we were in the two steps back part. In addition, his driving really seemed to be falling apart. He was now hesitating when he was driving, and he was not taking his inside flanks consistently at all. When I tried to help him by saying "here" first, he often came all the way back to me before turning back to the stock.

What the heck? He seemed to be a little confused and unsure of himself, but perhaps this is just because he is learning and putting things together in his head...

I went out to work on my own on Friday morning. And this is when things started turning around. Taz and I worked close in on outruns, and he didn't hesitate at all. I began our session walking toward the sheep, and I was able to move back to sending him at my feet without a return of the hesitation. I also brought back the dreaded feed bag, which Taz hates but moves so well off of, and used it when he started to slice. And he did change his trajectory and widen out at the top. So far, so good. I also had him circle the sheep a bit, stopping him off balance in both directions and letting him walk in on the sheep at random places, and this seemed to loosen him up again. We seemed to be getting back on track.

I had a good session with Craig as well. I resolved to really pay attention to the sheep's heads during our drive aways to get more of a flow going well before we reached the panels, which Craig worries about. And we were pretty successful. The first three times we tried, we sailed right through the panels. Then we missed, but the following two times, we were successful again. Woo hoo! We didn't have as much luck on the cross drive. Here, the pull is very, very strong to the adjoining arena (where Cathy was teaching a lesson to another student, and the sheep there further strengthened the draw). The sheep kept drifting up toward the arena, and I could get Craig to bring them back on line, but I had a heck of a time getting him to take the necessary away to me flank to then move them forward toward the cross drive panels. He just didn't want to take it at all (he was guarding the draw to the extreme). So I moved closer to him, made him take several flanks in that direction all the way around, and then we were finally successful, hitting those cross drive panels a couple of times before we stopped. Hooray!

So perhaps the pendulum is swinging back to the steps forward :-)


Anonymous said...

How long do you work your dogs? The longer you work, oft times, the worse they become. 15 mins, with breaks in between are the most to work. Also, when you work on outruns, do you turn the clock? That is, change yours and the set out position to all points on the clock, making it a different outrun each time? He sounds like a dog who would do well with less is more. If you look back at when he starts to slice and/or get funky, see when he starts that- is it toward the end of the work, or the beginning?

Laura said...

Is that you, Julie?
Taz definitely tends to get worse when worked for longer periods. I do pay for access to sheep by the hour, and I have to drive some 25 miles to get to them, but I do try to give him a few breaks during our session. Actually, our lessons are taken only with Taz for an hour (though we do take breaks), while I do alternate between Taz and Craig when I work on my own, and my own work sessions have been going pretty well lately--perhaps that is one reason why. I'll try to keep that in mind.
Good idea about changing positions on the outrun, too! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Aw shucks- yep, it's me! What I do when I work my lass is to work a bit on just about everything, and then sit down right in the field and watch the sheep for a while. I think I need to do it more than my dog, but it really centers me.