Sunday, December 28, 2008

A progress report from Scott!

Scott called me tonight with a report on Taz's progress in the field. Hooray!

It has been particularly cold and snowy in Alberta for the past few weeks, and this has hampered Scott's work with all the dogs a little. He is still able to work them nearly every day, but I think he's having to wait for a little of the snow to melt before doing everything he wants to do with the dogs in training.

The first thing Scott told me is that he likes Taz—he thinks he's a nice dog; nice to be around and nice to work. He likes how Taz rates his sheep; he is powerful but doesn't come on too strong, and he doesn't have too much or not enough eye. He also said he "doesn't have a dishonest bone in his body," and he agrees with my earlier assessment that Taz was mainly just confused about what was expected of him. He hesitated a couple of times with Scott right at the very beginning of his stay there, but he hasn't done it at all since. His outruns are "nice and deep" now with Scott, though the snow has prevented Scott from working with Taz to lengthen his outrun very much, and Scott is now working on shaping Taz's flanks a bit more. This is exciting, but I am not surprised—Taz's outruns looked terrific after the last clinic I went to with Scott. Sadly, it didn't last very long then, but Scott said that is the difference between working with a dog for a couple of days at a clinic and working him every day for a few months. He now has the opportunity to truly make sure Taz understands the correct shape of his flanks so that he does it right most of the time because he understands what he should be doing, rather than because he is intimidated by an unfamiliar clinician—and also if Taz does slice his flanks, he will understand what he is doing wrong when I correct him and will know what he should be doing to make it right.

Scott said Taz sometimes will start an outrun out okay, but then take a few steps forward before widening back out. Scott wants to make sure Taz starts correctly and remains correct all the time. However, he also said that Taz is really not wrong very often—in fact, he is going to have to work on setting Taz up to be wrong so that he can make it very clear to Taz what he is supposed to be doing. The deep snow has prevented Scott from sending Taz without first setting him up properly so he can see what he'll do then—will Taz still run wide and deep, or will he get nervous and try to rush things? Sending Taz on the fly will give Scott the opportunity to see how well Taz understands what he should be doing, and Scott will have more opportunity to correct him for anything less than perfect flanks. In addition, Scott will spend next month putting Taz on whistles.

And that's about it for now. All in all, a pretty good report :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quick Taz update

Okay, so I know you're wondering how Taz is doing. Well, I don't have a lot of info, but I have heard from Jenny that he's doing just fine up in Canada. Scott will call soon with a full work report, but I have heard that Taz is doing well in training. And in the meantime, Jenny says he's settling right in. He's eating well and has apparently gained back some of the weight he lost when I switched him over to kibble. (I guess I was about starving him—he'd lost about 5 pounds in just a week when I switched him; evidently, I wasn't feeding him enough. Who knew the recommended feeding amounts listed on the dog food bag is a big fat lie?) Taz is pretty skinny on a good day, so I was relieved to hear he is putting some weight back on. Jenny assured me he is adjusting well, and Scott's even given him a nickname—Paul Bunyon, because Taz loves to entertain himself with any bit of wood he can find. He picks a stick up and throws it back down, then grabs it and runs around with it, all the while barking up a storm. Silly boy; I'd wondered how he'd do without any toys. Guess the jig is up—Scott now knows Taz is not an All-Work-And-No-Play kind of stockdog.

Somehow, I think he'd already gotten that feeling...

Here are a couple of pics Jenny sent me of Taz in the dog yard. He looks good, right?

I can't wait to get a work report from Scott!

PS: I'm sorry if you saw this post earlier and then it disappeared—I dropped and broke my computer as I was editing it and then it disappeared into the ether—thanks to Robin Q for rescuing this post from the dark corners of cyberspace...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Working & hiking without Taz

I actually worked Craig today! We worked sheep for the first time since we got back from Canada—for all of half an hour. This winter has been tough for us, and we just haven't been able to get out. (I really, REALLY, need my own sheep...) It was freezing cold with a horrible whipping wind. We had an okay session, I guess. I'm actually surprised it went as well as it did, given it's been nearly a month since I've worked a dog (I actually had to think about which side was come bye and which was away to me when we were driving). I wanted to work on squaring Craig's flanks and thought I could practice what I learned with Scott, but things didn't go quite according to plan. For one thing, I had a hard time transitioning from sending him to driving with him. We were working in the arena, and the various draws were quite strong for the sheep, so Cathy suggested we just work on counteracting the draws and moving slowly on a line, instead of being sucked in by the sheep. Despite the long period of inactivity, after a rough start we did get a nice flow going by the end of the session.

So, without the opportunity to do much stockwork lately, we've been spending time hiking a bit. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I explored the South Boulder Creek trail. I took a few photos...

Three people, five border collies, and one Sophiedawg

It was very pretty!

Sophie (my other dog, who thinks she deserves a mention here every once in a while)

Craigor MacGregor (who is very happy Taz is finally out of the house—more attention for him!)

What good lookin' dogs!

Taz's sister Sage (left) and uncle Ben

A good time was had by all, but of course we missed Taz. But I've gotten some tidbits on how he's doing, and tomorrow I'll write a little update :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tag! I'm it!

So with Taz gone, there hasn't been an awful lot of training going on here. In fact, between the subzero temps and Craig's spondylosis acting up, there hasn't been much (okay, any) time spent with sheep at all. So we've been laying low here at Chez Tazimodo.

But we've been called out of hiding...

We've been tagged by Jenny Glen (who really should be writing a guest blog here, since, well, Taz is currently training at her house instead of mine). The rules are simple: go to your photo archives on your computer and go into the 6th folder and count up to the 6th picture and post it on your blog, along with the story that goes with it.

So, without further ado, this is the picture in question:

Aww, how appropriate! It's baby Tazzy! He was about eight weeks old in this photo, full of promise and ready for adventure. I was pretty clueless about stockdogs in those days (some might say still...) and found him on the recommendation of a woman in the local border collie club. I was looking for a dog whom I could learn to work stock with, and I lucked into a well-bred pup with tons of potential and a fantastic temperament. He is truly a dog like no other. I love my Tazimodo! it's my turn to tag six more bloggers...let's see...
Shoofly Farm
Pippin's Gentle Blog
Willow's Rest
Julia MacMonagle
Live Like a Rock Star
Crooks and Crazies

I can't wait to see what you guys post!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Adventures in Canada

Well, I did it. I decided Taz deserves the chance to work with someone who will be able to bring out a bit more of his potential, so early in the morning on Thanksgiving, Elaine and I packed up five of our dogs and headed up to Canada. She had never been out of the country before, and explaining everything to the customs folks was, er, interesting (seemed it was a Good Thing I had my iPhone with me, because it contained much of my email chain about bringing Taz up for training—the border patrol guys read every sentence to verify our story, but at least they did not search my truck). We did make it across the border unscathed, and half an hour later we arrived at Scott and Jenny Glen's place—Taz's new home for the next couple of months.

Scott and Jenny welcomed us warmly, and Scott took Taz and me out to the field to see Taz do an outrun. We'd already spoken a bit about what Taz's issues were, and I think he just wanted to get a quick idea for himself exactly where we were. He gave Elaine a lesson with her young dog, Jesse, and he gave me a lesson with Craig. I was a bit intimidated during the lesson, and that was the first thing Scott picked up on. "You can't be afraid to make mistakes," he advised. I definitely have lost a bit of confidence in myself after that last clinic, so I know it is important to get back on track. We worked on making sure Craig really bent out on his flanks—Craig will run tighter than he knows how to do if he is allowed. It is not surprising to me that my biggest weakness with training Taz turns out to be a weakness I have with running Craig as well. I don't insist on square flanks. I didn't really know how to get Craig to give me wider flanks, though. Scott showed me, not by doing endless outruns, but by driving (cross driving, actually) with Craig moving the sheep in a circle around me. Scott broke down Craig's training issues to find the most basic place where things were going wrong, which was sometimes the first few steps Craig took, and he showed me how to use my own body language to communicate what I wanted to see from him. I learned to stand off center relative to the sheep, wave a stick up and down once or twice to clearly show him which direction he was to go, and give him a flank command. Lie him down immediately if he moves forward at all; give him a there and let him walk up if he flanks correctly. It sounds really simple and basic when I write it down, but I struggled a bit when Scott had me try it. Part of that struggle is that I wasn't anticipating giving my next command quickly enough, which resulted in Craig waiting too long for instruction and then deciding to do something on his own. So once I give a command, I need to be ready right away with the following action in my mind. The other thing Scott stressed is to stop saying Craig's name in frustration; I should only be using his name when I am calling him in to me. This goes for Taz, too. It's a surprisingly difficult habit to break, but I'll work on it.

It was a great lesson for me, and I learned a lot. I sometimes struggle with how much I can or should try to change the way Craig runs because he is ten now and pretty set in his ways. But I think I have definitely erred too far on the side of caution and not tried hard enough to demand correct work. Craig is a great dog, so we've done pretty well without me demanding too much of him, but naturally he has gotten a bit sloppy with me and we have had a few power struggles on the field. I think I have a much better idea now of how to run him more effectively.

After the lessons, we went inside and had coffee. I was able to see where Taz would be staying and got a good sense of what his routine would be over the next couple of months. I chose Scott (and was lucky that he had room for Taz) because Scott has gotten the best work out of Taz in the past and seems to have a real way with him. After hearing more about how Scott would work with Taz over the winter, and hearing Jenny talk about the thoughtful care he would receive with them, I felt even better about leaving him there. He is in good hands, and he will hopefully come back a little less confused about what is expected of him and a bit more prepared to meet those expectations.

It will, of course, still be difficult for me while he's away. But I think this might be a good opportunity for me to work with Craig and really develop as a team. I'm looking forward to seeing where we all are in a few months!