Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Catching up again

I've been doing a bit of work with Craig lately, trying to concentrate on my worst handling weaknesses (timing is always my worst weakness, but it manifests in so many different ways!). I've been working on outruns out at Fran's, where the sheep are very light and the draw back to the pens is so strong, and this gives me an opportunity to gauge how much to trust Craig to set the fetch line and how much to help him. He sometimes doesn't take my commands on the fetch—he just doesn't want to give up the pressure and would rather bring the sheep ten feet to my left than risk losing them. Since it is easy to lose them here, I don't make a point of enforcing my commands, but I hope I am not letting him think that he can decide which commands to take. One thing Scott told me is to be careful about making a point of enforcing a command when doing so would have the result that both the dog and I are trying to avoid—letting the sheep get away. I mean, I am sure generally there is a time to make a point that the dog needs to listen to me, but I also know I risk the dog losing confidence in my direction every time I let the sheep get away, so I need to pick my battles. Really, I need to figure out what is the best way to teach a dog to come off pressure?

I've also been working a bit on driving, though not as much as I have in the past. Really, I can spend every minute of every work session practicing driving and still not perfect my timing here, but it's no fun doing any one thing all the time. Most of the time, we seem to be doing okay, with Craig taking the majority of my whistles, but sometimes all bets are off and he doesn't want to take my commands (again, usually for fear he will lose the sheep). He did this one day when we were working at Irene's, and I decided it was worth it to enforce my commands with him after I saw he was doing this over and over again, since I know that—unlike at Fran's—he could cover the sheep just fine if they started to break here. He just didn't want to do things that way. So I did give him the business for that, and though we continued fighting on the field that day, since then he's been great about listening to me. (That's apparently his MO—he pushes the envelope until he gets in trouble, and while he's no good the rest of that particular day, he is much more obedient in the days following. Somehow, I'd love to time this so that the last practice session before a trial he will need a good dressing down, so that he is better at listening when we run for real!)

Larry has been helping me figure out the fine art of penning the sheep, too. I suck at penning, mostly due to my crappy timing and second guessing myself, but partly also because both my dogs have a tendency to slice their flanks, particularly when working close in at the pen. Larry has given me a few pointers, and they've been pretty useful—it helps to have some sort of a plan when I see the sheep approaching (besides, you know, hoping that this will be the one time they'll just decide to march straight into the pen on their own). He gave me a few general rules:
  • The side of the pen with the rope is my responsibility, and the other side is the dog's. Of course, if the sheep are bolting, I won't be able to contain them on my side, but I can do things to affect the sheep's behavior (e.g., block, swing my stick, wave the rope).
  • Try to stand behind the gate when the dog is bringing the sheep over to the pen, and be prepared to move out when I flank my dog as the sheep approach the pen. Ideally, the dog will be flanking around the other side of the gate, so he can cover his side while I cover mine.
  • The leader is the sheep I need to pen; the others will follow her in. Of course, I've heard this before, but I have had trouble identifying the leader or else just remembering to pay attention to that. I paid attention while Larry penned with his dogs, and I was then able to see the leader, and try to have Craig work her, when it was my turn.
  • Walk the dog up in the direction I want the sheep to move; they will turn away from the dog. If it's not quite right, give another small flank. Again, this is not new, but I often cheat on this because I am afraid to flank the dog in case he slices. Moving slowly is the key here, to ease the dog into position to walk him up in the right direction.
  • When sheep and dog are moving, keep the dog flanking until the sheep turn, then stop him, then walk him up. Don't stop the dog as long as the sheep are continuing to move in the wrong direction. If the sheep are stopped, flank the dog to the position required to move the sheep in the desired direction, then walk him up.
I practiced a bunch, and was successful a few times—and I was able to repeat our success at Cathy's last week, too. I have always had a hard time penning Cathy's sheep (though I don't think they're particularly tough to pen; actually, I think other folks find them pretty easy to pen). The first time took a little while, but Craig and I worked as a team and were able to do it without him wanting to grip in frustration (this is a good indicator that I'm getting a little better ;-)

If it's not too windy tonight, I'll go back to Cathy's and work on all this some more :-)))


sheepkelpie said...

THANKS so much for these tips!!!

Laura said...

I know, they're good, right?

Darci said...

great penning tips!
So maybe this weekend Taz comes home? Im so excited for you to get him back, I can imagine you will be to, Im just so happy for you to have had the opportunity to send him, but anxious now to see him back home.