Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To send out or not to send out...

So I've been considering sending Taz out to sheep camp to finally fix his outrun. As I've moaned about for flippin' ever, Taz's main problem is that he slices his flanks terribly and then overflanks at the top. I just can't seem to consistently widen him out at the top. I honestly think he doesn't fully realize that he is supposed to be wider and squarer than he currently runs. One reason for this is his on-again-off-again habit of hesitating on his outrun, making me a bit reluctant to correct him once he does get going. I don't think he is hesitating because he has too much eye—I think it's a confidence thing. But not a lack of confidence with the sheep—a lack of confidence in what he thinks I want him to actually do. I am not very clear or consistent when correcting his outrun (plus my timing isn't so hot), and I've lied him down too often—now I think he just anticipates being lied down so he often doesn't want to commit to going.

Taz is 4 now and I'm afraid the window for his learning to do this is beginning to close. I mean, he still learns very well, but he has some ingrained habits now and I'd like to fix them before they become something I'll just have to live with. I know he's got a lot of talent, and though I understand he'll never really live up to his potential with me, I'd like to get him a bit further than I fear I would if I don't get past these outrun issues. I have been told that it would be really difficult for me to get him to progress very much because I just can't work him often enough without having my own sheep. Working once or twice a week just isn't enough, for either of us. For others more capable, I'm sure it's possible, but not for me. I am, clearly, not a natural (rats!).

It's not like Taz would come back as a trained dog, of course. I'd just hope for his outrun to consistently get a bit wider at the top. I want him to build some muscle memory of what it feels like to do a correct outrun—to flank wider and come in a bit slower at the top. I'd like to replace his habit of running tight and fast with one of staying off his sheep a bit and allowing himself to feel them a bit more there. He has such a nice feel for his sheep when he is relaxed, but I have such a hard time getting him to that state (see my previous post...). I know I need to be able to run him more relaxed in order to achieve this—I need more training, too—and I am going to work on relaxing with my handling, too. I do think correct outwork depends a little less on handler instruction, so, again, I would just like for Taz to begin to replace the poor habits he learned with me with better ones. I want to get past his outrun problems so we can concentrate on driving, penning, shedding, and all the other fun stuff we work on here and there but never for very long because I know he needs to learn a proper outrun before we can move on. And I know how much the outrun and lift affect the sheep for the rest of a run. Of course, if I had my own sheep, and we had actual chores to do, his outrun issues might be resolved on the job, or maybe they wouldn't matter as much. But the fact is that I don't have sheep right now, and so Taz is always going to be more of a trial dog than a more all-around dog as a result...

This would be a big transition for Taz (which is a big reason I haven't considered sending him out before). He's very much a house dog, and I'll go ahead and admit that he is kind of spoiled. But he adapts well, gets along with other dogs well, and he has a great work ethic, so I think he'd be okay. Actually, I think he might love some time in training—getting to work every day with someone who really knows what they're doing.

Perhaps the real question is, how would I do without my little buddy for a couple of months?


Darci said...

Hard decision. I dont know if I could do it either. (Im such a wimp!) LOL
I sent Lex out for a week once and I was a basket case the entire time she was gone.
If you decide to send him, you can worry and I'll sympathize.
If its any consolation, Chris is 4 yrs and due to her recent ability to start relaxing, her out run sorta just fixed itself.
Granted, I did/do take her out to work most every day. It seems the more confidence she gains, the more correct her work becomes, some even without my intervention. She must be the natural, cause I know Im sure not! LOL

sheepkelpie said...

Hey there
I think you need to think about what you will gain. Will your dog be a shiny new penny with the experienced handler, and then come back to you and start over on the bad habits? If you do send him out, be sure to take lots of lessons afterwards to make a good transition.

It sounds to me like you and Taz need a break from training for a bit.

When I have been down about Lucy, and if something is wrong, here's what I do:

I go to where I am working sheep. I walk into the field, I bring a chair, and I sit- we sit. The sheep happily grazing along. Sometimes I even lay on my back, on the ground. I tell Lucy that she's a good girl, and I pat her.

Soon, though, she's amped to work the sheep. When she gets the fixed stare, I gradually sit up. But, I never stand- I want a different look to my dog- we ain't training, we are just hanging with the sheep.

So, eventually, I decide to send her- from a sit, and with a whisper. Now, if the dog has trouble with not being deep enough, or slicing, wait until the sheep are near a clump of bushes, woods, or trees. He will have to use his head to figure out how to get them to you. He can't use his head and slice/run in. When he is right, when he comes around, you say absolutely nothing. You stay seated in your chair. He may not see you well, so he will lay off being pushy. The sheep will alight at your feet, and then you can have him drive them away. The key is for you to say nothing. You need to allow him to figure it out. He is so expecting to be schooled, that he anticipates it. If you are worried about him hesitating when you send, don't send, unless you see the sheep heading for the draw, and don't correct him for being tight. He needs to feel it now, not learn it.

This has been very long, but, I think it's worth reading.

When I send Lucy from sitting on the ground, and she does it all correctly without a word from me, I realize that it is me, and we need to be in a different place, mentally, and I emotionally, in order to get past whatever is blocking us.

Laura said...

Darci, I worry that I might not last even a week!
Julie, I think Taz and I are sort stuck in a nonconstructive pattern that I am not skilled enough to break. We have been at about the same place in outrun training for more than a year. I have learned a ton in that year, but I can't seem to apply it to fix this. That is what I am most frustrated with, and possibly why I panic so easily. I know he is getting older and I feel pressured to fix it before he gets too old. Or I make him completely crazy!

sheepkelpie said...

The last time I worked Lucy it was odd. I was irritated at some things, and then she did some cool things. It was a real mixed bag. So, I spent hours circle thinking it. Then, the next day I am refreshed, and over it. I think that it's really important that the 'you' part of the team take some pressure off you- and the dog will benefit. It isn't about the dog, it's about the work. Perhaps put his training up a bit, but let him just work sheep- chores, that sort of thing. I really don't think he is doing anything terribly "wrong" you all just have created between you, tension, and learned responses. Sometimes our dogs just have certain "issues" that leave them just a notch below what we want, but in trying to fix it, we detract from the whole picture: dog working sheep for handler, working with the handler.

Mia said...

Cute picture of Taz! I would have hard time sending any of our dogs away too.

Maddy said...

Hi Laura, Just been checking out your blog, got some great stuff on here. I too am a novice sheepdogger (I wont say trialler as i haven't actually competed in one yet ;-))
I am starting out with a couple of Koolie dogs and a BC pup, and hopefully train them up for trials over here in Australia.
I am enjoying reading about the experiences you and your BC's have gone through and find that many of the problems you have been faced with very familiar to me and the dogs i am learning to train. :)
Anyway, look forward to your future posts and keep up the great blog work :D


Laura said...

Julie, he really just needs to relearn his outrun properly, I think. His driving is lovely, and he is very responsive otherwise. We just need to somehow get past this slicing at the top.

Mia, it will be very hard for me! I am so ambivalent about it! But I do think it is the best thing for Taz, so I am willing to temporarily sacrifice my own strong desire to keep him here all the time...

And thank you, Maddy, for your kind words. It's always nice to find others who are going through this, too!

Anonymous said...

It isn't that he just needs to re-learn his outrun, it's you both need to throw away all the old habits that you have created. That's the hard part. I've no doubt that his outrun could be fixed, but keeping it fixed that's the crux of it all. Whatever you decide, good luck!!!!

Laura said...

Too true...thanks very much!