Sunday, January 18, 2009

Working Craig

The last few times I've worked Craig have been rather frustrating. Part of the problem was that due to the holidays and travel and really cold, cold weather before the holidays, I couldn't get out to work very much. Unfortunately, when I take more than a few days off working stock with a dog, my timing really suffers. I need to work often to stay sharp. Craig usually does okay with time off, but we do need to develop a rapport again, so that he listens to what I'm saying rather than sometimes overriding my commands if he thinks his ideas are correct. So the past few times, we've been getting out some of those kinks. In addition, the field I usually work in is very narrow—just 330 feet wide. The sheep are pretty broke and the draw is also very strong back to the barn. It can be hard to work my pressure-sensitive, tight-running dogs here because they don't want to run as wide as they should, and they are either always having to stop what we're working on to cover the sheep or adjusting what we're working on in response to the sheep's learned behaviors. Now, it's definitely not impossible to work dogs here—Cathy obviously does pretty well—but at my skill level I have a hard time compensating for all this. I remember Derek Scrimgeour saying that you should always choreograph the action on the field when you're training a dog. It's really tough for me to do that when we're working in the narrow field.

Fortunately, at certain times we're able to work in the alfalfa field behind her narrow field. Lately, there has been some sort of oil rigging heavy machinery running back there, so we weren't able to work dogs there. Well, this morning Cathy told me it was gone, so Craig and I headed out. Cathy had sorted some of her best sheep off for me, and we worked in the big field, unencumbered and far away from any draws. It was freakin' AWESOME!!!

I spent some time reminding Craig to bend out on his flanks by standing in front of him, but off to the side of both Craig and the sheep and then waving my stick up and down a couple of times before sending him the other way. I tried to lie him down immediately if he came in at all straight and let him go around if he bent out enough. Craig does respond to this, but I guess I'm not quite consistent enough for this to become ingrained, or maybe he's just gotten away with running tight for too long, because he does have to be reminded to bend out every single time. I still don't remember how to transition the exercise into a drive, as it's supposed to be, so maybe that's the problem. Anyway, I wanted to work on driving, so we spent most of our time driving the sheep in a square about 100 yards around me in each direction. I worked him mostly on whistles and tried to minimize any back-and-forth corrections, and we did pretty well. Craig didn't take all my commands, and my timing wasn't perfect, but we were in sync for the most part and our lines weren't too bad.

When I was ready to go, someone else was working her german shepherd in the arena between the field I was in and the outside world, so I had to wait for her to finish up before I could go. There's a pen in the field I was in, so I decided to try to put the sheep in the pen so that they wouldn't hang against the fence acting as a draw for the german shepherd lady's sheep. I absolutely suck at penning, so this would be good practice for me. We spent a lot of time with the sheep going back and forth and around a few times, but eventually we did it. I was pretty proud of us, because both of us figured it out. We started out putting way too much pressure on the sheep and coming in way too strongly, and gradually we moderated and positioned oursleves correctly and got the job done. Craig only tried to grip once, which is pretty good for us, as he grips when he gets frustrated. Only trying to grip once (and not even doing it) means that we were working more or less together, even though it took some time.

Well done, Craig!

So it was a great work session for us today. We're in the middle of a weird warm spell (it was in the 60s today and should be nice for the next few days), and I am looking forward to going out again later this week!


Darci said...

overriding my commands if he thinks his ideas are correct

I think this is classic of some of the lines that Craig and Lex share, and it appears to get stronger the longer she goes between working. I know exactly what your talking about there. How's Taz?

Laura said...

Hi Darci--I think in my case, it's compounded by Craig not receiving information fast enough from me. I need to think less and do more!

I haven't heard too much about Taz lately (other than he's already eaten through his first two bags of food--the little chowhound must be getting lots of exercise!), but I will get another progress report at the end of the month :)

Samantha ~ Holly and Zac ~ said...

Craig looks so happy and content in that photo. He must have had a good day. :-)

I have tagged you to do a meme, let me if and when you do it though so i can read your answers. hehe.