Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting back with Taz & working Craig, too (very long recap)

It's been absolutely fascinating working Taz again, and I am having a lot of fun with him. He is a neat dog to run because he is such a thinker and he is amazingly responsive when we're in sync. We've been having pretty interesting training sessions...

I went out to Fran's last Sunday with Elaine and Larry. The sheep were extra wild, and after even the Open dogs kept losing them back to the pens, we moved to the extreme far corner of the field and just practiced outruns. I wanted to keep everything as controlled as possible, so I sent Taz from about 100 to 125 yards or so out, still keeping it small with these wild sheep. He was maybe a little tight but not slicing. Very responsive. He lied down when I asked him to and he took the flanks I asked for cleanly on the fetch. He went around our imaginary post well, and would drive a little bit, but the drive was roughly the same direction as the draw, and he didn't much want to give up the pressure. So I walked with him a little, and that helped, but he wasn't super comfortable doing it. I decided to hold off on driving with him until we were working more cooperative sheep. Overall, I was happy with him, though, as he was listening to me really well.

Then I went out last Wednesday evening with Kristen, who just moved here from Arkansas. She now lives out on the Western Slope, and this was her first time working her dogs since she came to Colorado. We had a blast :) We held sheep for each other, though it probably wasn't necessary, as the set we worked were pretty happy to keep their heads down and eat the fresh grass. I worked Craig first, and tried a new strategy with him. I usually leave Craig alone at the top; he generally lifts his sheep nicely and always brings them to me. Elaine told me he has always been worked with minimal interference at the top, and generally things are okay. However, he sometimes pushes on his sheep pretty hard on the fetch and he often won't take direction at the beginning of the fetch. This was very true of his runs at the Icebreaker trial, and it caused us to miss the fetch panels on both of our runs. In fact, Craig often seems pretty much deaf until he reaches the fetch panels. Then he starts listening, and we're fine, but I don't like not being able to get him to listen to me at the top. So I thought if I started lying him down just after he lifts the sheep I might get a better response from him during the entire fetch, rather than just the second half. Well, Craig didn't think much of this idea. He pretty much ran through my stops at the top. I didn't come down on him as much as I should have, but I figured I'd work through this a bit more the next time I went out.

With Taz, I did a few tiny outruns, and Kristen watched us to see if he was slicing in at all. Again, he didn't slice in much, but he did run just a little tight at first. It got better as we worked. We can only do tiny outruns at this field, since it's so narrow that I'm afraid doing longer ones will cause him to run incorrectly—in essence, setting him up to fail. I don't mind running Craig like that because he has a very clear idea of what his outrun should be. Taz is still in a delicate place, so I want to give him the room he needs. The outruns we did were maybe 50 to 75 yards, so they were very small, but he was feeling his sheep very well and his fetch was nice and controlled. I drove with him a little, and he did fine here, too.

I went out to the same field on my own a couple of days later. With Craig, after some remedial whistle work, I again worked on stopping him right after he lifted the sheep. This time, I enforced my point that a stop was not going to be optional, and he began cooperating nicely. His fetches were looking much more controlled by the end of the day. I'll have to work on this with the more wild sheep as well, but it's a good start.

With Taz, I decided to work a bit more on driving and also start acclimating him to my whistles. The driving went pretty well. He bores straight into the sheep, but nicely, so they don't panic. He tucks in the sides on his own, and he takes his flanks well when I give them. He still turns in before I want him to sometimes, but a second flank command will brink him back out for another nice turn. His only real fault on the driving we did was that he was just a bit tentative. I think he was not always entirely sure of what I wanted him to do, and I am hoping that this will diminish as we get more comfortable working together.

I reintroduced whistles to him as well as we were working, mostly on little outruns. It was a little rough going—he is definitely not sure about what I am asking him when I use a whistle. I know my whistles must sound pretty different to him than Scott's whistles did. For one thing, Scott uses his fingers, and I use a stainless steel Montana lite, so that may be part of the reason I can't get them to sound exactly like his. In addition, Scott's come bye whistle is a little different than mine. His whistle is better (naturally), as sometimes the beginning of my come bye whistle can sound deceptively like the beginning of my away whistle if I'm not careful. But Taz was not really taking my attempts at this new whistle very well. For that matter, he wasn't taking my away whistle all that great either, though I was making some progress on the lie down and the walk up. (He did actually already have the walk up before he went to Scott's, though.) I know he'll get them eventually; I'm just taking it slow and being sure to back up the whistles with a voice command.

The following day, Saturday, I went out to Fran's again with Elaine. Fran had put a hot wire up separating her field in half, so the grass could grow without being disturbed. The power wasn't turned on yet, but this meant we couldn't use the further half of the field at all. There was still plenty of room to work, but we'd have to use the area closer to the pens, where the draw was a bit stronger. Rats!

We went down to the far end of the field, and did some round robin outruns, maybe 150-175 yards apart from one another. These were the biggest outruns I'd done with Taz to date. We were working diagonally to the draw and Taz and I were at the top and Ben and Elaine were at the bottom. This was the easier configuration, and Taz looked pretty good. He was running nice and wide and feeling the sheep well. He did come in a little short to my eye, but the sheep were lifting straight. The more outruns we did, the more he felt confident enough to go around a bit further and still be able to control them when they lifted. That part was terrific. His fetches were not very smooth, though. He really felt the pressure of the draw and overcompensated. He'd push them off line a bit and then bring them over to me in a series of stops, come byes, and walk ups. He never found the sweet spot on the side to keep the sheep moving on a line toward me. That may be my fault, as I was maybe not stopping him and getting him up quickly enough.

At first he wouldn't even take my stops—I don't think he even heard me. Elaine advised me to calmly walk up to him and lie him down sternly when I was practically on top of him. He'd be surprised to see me there, seemingly coming from out of the blue, and it might make an impression on him that I might appear in his face at any time and so he'd better listen to me no matter how far away from me he is. Of course, as soon as I made up my mind to do just that, he began listening. This is becoming a trend...

Still, he was bringing the sheep to my feet each time and then listening very well as we had to actively work together to hold the sheep for Elaine and Ben. Elaine and I then switched sides, and this presented another challenge for Taz. It was much harder to control the sheep from this position, and Taz was a bit less sure what to do. He hesitated for the first time since he's been back, and I just gave him a redirect and he went all the way around. Oops, too far, and the sheep broke. Ben had done the same thing the first time or two, so I wasn't worried—I just hoped Taz would learn from the experience the way Ben did. He caught the sheep and brought them to me, and after Ben picked them up for his turn, we tried again. This time he went all the way around, but he sliced in. Elaine admonished me to not let him get away with that, so the next time, when he sliced in, I lied him down and began walking up to him. He immediately turned his head away, and as I kept walking forward, growling at him and waving my stick, he jumped back a few feet.

"Stop!" Elaine yelled to me. "That's enough!"

"But I'm supposed to come all the way up to him, aren't I?"

"Well, yes, if he's not giving ground or showing you that he's not fazed by your actions—but he is turning off now. He's saying 'I'm sorry, you're right, I hear you.' Continuing to give him the business when he's giving ground like that is not beneficial. You don't want to shut him down. He's not challenging you anymore; in fact, I don't think he ever was really challenging you. I think he just needed a little help."

Well, that was a revelation! I hadn't thought about that, but I knew she was right. I'd have to be more careful about respecting that line between correcting him and helping him. But I also didn't think it would be very hard to tell what was needed—Taz is pretty transparent that way, and it's likely he isn't going to need too many corrections. He will, however, need a bit of help from time to time. I am so grateful that Elaine pointed this out to me when she did! I will be sure to use my head a bit more when working with him in the future!

I didn't get a chance to do too much in the way of outruns with Craig on Saturday, so I couldn't test the down-after-the-lift behavior, but we did do a fair amount of driving. I was very pleased that he pretty much took all of my whistles. We'll work more on stopping at the beginning of the fetch another time.

I went out one more time on Sunday, this time with Larry. We did all sorts of things I haven't done with Taz since he's been back, and I was really pretty pleased overall. I'd been trying to choreograph every interaction Taz had with the sheep during his "transition" back to me. But Sunday, we went a little off the plan...

We warmed up by doing the same round robin outruns I'd done with Elaine the day before, though we worked a little closer to each other. Taz's outruns and lifts were perfect, and his fetches continued to be a bit choppy. After a bit, Larry intentionally let the sheep break back to the pens so that he could send his dogs on longer outruns. He encouraged me to do the same thing with Taz. I wasn't so sure this was such a good idea—this was not working in the controlled circumstances I'd been so careful about—but Larry thought it might be good to stretch him a bit and see what he could do. So we walked down the field a bit and I sent him. The sheep were maybe 250 yards out from where we stood. They were bunched up against the pen, not really moving, and I could tell Taz was having trouble spotting them. So this would be kind of a blind outrun of sorts, but I knew these light sheep would move off him once he caught their eyes.

I set him up and sent him to the right. He took a few steps and stopped, looking back at me. "Away to me," I repeated, and he took off. Nice and wide. The sheep still weren't moving by the time he reached about 75 yards away from them, and he slowed and looked at me again. "Away!" I shouted, and off he went, neatly behind them, lifting them clean. Hooray for Taz! He did a bit of back and forth behind them getting them to me, but that was kind of the nature of these sheep, who've had a lot of practice pushing on dogs and often beating them. I was so proud of him! I did it again a bit later, and this time he needed no redirects. The sheep did shoot out to the left toward a big dirt pile before he got to them, and this is an area where the dogs often have a little difficulty getting them under control, so I started running up the field to help him. I needn't have expended the energy. Ten seconds later, up the field they began marching, with Taz in easy pursuit. What a good boy! He did terrific on these little tests! Another thing Larry suggested I do was to flank him around the sheep (at the top of the field) to release enough pressure that the sheep would start heading back to the pens and then stop him. Then, let him up and let him get them and bring them back. I wasn't quite sure about this exercise either—I feared Taz's form would suffer or he would hesitate again and then just watch them get away. But he did fine—he remained wide and he covered them nicely. My confidence in Taz went up exponentially with all of this work—he is capable of much more than I have been doing with him, and I couldn't be happier!

Of course, he still needs a lot of work. I drove the sheep up the entire field with him a few times (walking with him), and much like the way he was fetching them, he didn't give them quite enough room to keep a flow going. He pushed them forward and they'd go to one side or the other, and then I'd flank him to cover. But the second time I did it with him, I decided to be a little more stingy with my commands, and he actually did a whole lot better. He still needed a flank to recover every now and then, but mostly he was covering them on his own and thus learning it was more efficient to keep a little further off. Bolstered by that, I tried to do some cross driving with him at the far end of the field, but wasn't as successful here. He was nervous about giving up the pressure, and we did more stopping and flanking to cover than actual driving. But that's okay. These sheep really are quite difficult, always leaning hard on the dog, and Larry reminded me that I'd need to work lots of different kinds of sheep to keep Taz flexible, so he didn't think all sheep behaved like these sheep do.

We also worked with whistles a bit more, and Taz continues to take more of them, though he's far from being what I'd call fluent with my whistles. A funny thing did happen, though. With these wild sheep, I had less time to think about what I was blowing, so I a couple of times I blew my own come bye whistle, which no one has ever used with Taz. Lo and behold, he took it. He still had trouble taking my attempts at mimicking Scott's come bye, but he took my come bye whistle. I thought that was pretty odd but maybe is due to the whistle simply making sense to him in the situation that called for it (the sheep were breaking), whereas he is otherwise having to work out my "translations" of the whistles he first learned with Scott and isn't quite sure they are the same thing as what he learned. In any case, I am confident it will all come in time as long as I keep working on it with him.

So, all in all, I'm well pleased at where Taz is now. Our first trial is in two weeks. I am not sure we'll be ready, but we're a whole lot more ready than we were a week ago!

All photos taken by Larry Adams.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Working Taz!

Taz has been home for two weeks now, and I've worked him three times. Each time has been a bit different. It's been pretty interesting working him again . . .

I went out to work Taz for the first time on Saturday. The field we worked in was long and narrow, and I was afraid he wouldn't really have enough room to run as wide as he should. I didn't work him for very long—it was pretty hot and poor Taz has a monster coat after spending the winter up north. He wouldn't take my whistles at all, so I abandoned them for now and concentrated on trying to just get on the same page with him. We did a few outruns, and he seemed to be working okay. He was not dramatically wide or deep, but he wasn't slicing in either. Driving went all right, though his flanks were small—he would flank around just a little bit and then turn in to the sheep. I thought it was not terrible for our first session, but he definitely was not working anything like he worked at Scott's.

We went out again the following day and worked in a much bigger field with much wilder sheep (read: these sheep like to run!). This time, Elaine came with us, and we held the sheep for each other. Taz was really pushy this time, pretty much running over me. I mean, he stopped when I asked him to (I remembered that much from Scott's parting instruction), but sometimes he'd take another step or two after I asked before hitting the ground, he was pushing on the sheep and causing them to run, he was a bit tight on top when the sheep were set opposite the draw, and he was generally not feeling his sheep very well at all. Ack! I began to panic a little—I was taking out everything Scott put into him already! Or, I feared I was incapable of getting the beautiful work out of him that Scott could. I asked Elaine for help.

The first thing she advised was to shorten everything up. Duh! My mind began returning with that basic, sensible advice. We'd been doing short outruns anyway, but I left Taz about 100 yards out and walked up toward the sheep and sent him from about halfway between where he was lying down and where the sheep were set. When I sent him from this position, I could see where he was starting to come in flat much more clearly and I stopped him right there. Then I resent him and he came in a bit deeper. Elaine noticed that I was stopping him a little short on top (this is an old habit of mine, from back in the days when he would run through my stops). Taz usually turns in when he is ready to lift, so I need to be a little more patient and wait to see if he'll turn in before stopping him (and, on the other end of the spectrum, I need to be ready with a stop if he turns in before I planned to stop him). If he doesn't turn in, I just need to be ready to stop him exactly where I think he needs to be.

Another thing Elaine got on me for was my tone of voice. I guess my "lie down" is not strong enough. I developed this tone after a lesson last year with Tracy Derx, where she had admonished me to stop yelling a "lie down" every time (again, I probably started doing that because Taz used to run through my stops). Tracy had recommended that I just say "lie down" in a normal tone of voice (revolutionary!). I couldn't believe the difference in how this relaxed Taz. But somehow over time that normal-tone-of-voice lie down had morphed into a bit of a naggy, questioning one. I need to adopt a more confident, commanding tone. A happy medium between screaming and asking. No need to be over the top—I just need to be sure.

Taz's pace on his fetch was very pushy (again, not at all like it was at Scott's). His lifts were fine—he walked up very nicely after being downed at the top—but then he'd push into them too hard and the sheep would squirt forward and out. I'll need to lie him down again after his initial lift to prevent this. His flanks on the fetch were also too pushy—he was pushing forward with every flank I gave him. Same with the drive.

I called Scott afterward to see if he had any advice. He told me Taz knows better than to do all of this, so I need to make a bigger point of it when I am showing him he is wrong. For instance, if he's coming in flat, I need to lie him down, walk up toward the sheep, look hard at him, maybe whack my stick on the ground, and sharply ask him "what do you think you're doing?" or some such. He should turn off—he'll know he is not working correctly. The idea is not to try to fix that outrun or whatever, it's so that the next one is correct. Make the point now so that he has another chance to be correct later. I have been a bit hesitant to correct Taz, since in the past my bumbling corrections were unclear to him, causing him to hesitate in confusion. But it's different now, Scott explained, because now Taz knows what to do. I only have to let him know that he can't get away with anything with me, that the same rules apply. Scott said that Taz is such an honest dog that this testing probably won't go on for long. And Scott reminded me that the stop is the key to everything. If Taz is pushing on his flanks, I need to stop him and keep him working slower so he is thinking and feeling. And don't worry about driving with him until this is sorted. Work on the fetch first, then the cross drive, then the drive away. Scott reiterated that it shouldn't take very long. And then he reminded me that at this point, it's more about establishing a positive, constructive relationship than about getting perfect lines.

So, with all this in mind, I went out with Taz on Tuesday evening. I was excited to work on our relationship, and I was ready to let Taz know what he couldn't get away with anymore. And you know what? I didn't really even have to make an impression on him! Taz was amazing! He was nice and wide and feeling his sheep well. He did come in slightly flat on an outrun once, and I made a big deal about it and the next one was very nice. And I also made a big deal when he tried to creep through a lie down, and he jumped back and lied down quickly the next time I asked. But mostly I was making a bigger deal about things than I had to, since he was really looking pretty good. His pace was lovely, and he was listening well. I couldn't believe the difference! I think my demeanor was a little different and maybe that made the difference—instead of being a bit cautious about the whole thing, I had a plan and was pretty confident about what I was going to do. After I emailed Scott and Jenny about our successful day, Jenny wrote back that they agreed; Taz had probably been taking advantage of my uncertainty before, and he picked up on and reacted to my confidence this time.

I can't wait to work him again. Unfortunately, we've been having a giant spring snow/rain storm for the past few days, so I haven't been able to get out again with the dogs, but it's supposed to clear tomorrow, so we'll try again. I'll just stick with the plan and hopefully we'll have another successful day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Icebreaker SDT report + more!

This has been a crazy week for me, so I haven't had a chance to tell the rest of this story. Better late than never, though. After I picked up Taz from Scott's, we drove down through Montana and Idaho into Utah for the Icebreaker sheep dog trial. The weather was not so good for the drive, with rain and freezing rain and snow in the passes. It was a nervous drive, but a beautiful one.

I arrived in the town of Tremonton at about 7 and met Elaine and her sister (and about half the people competing in the trial) at the hotel. Taz and I had a proper happy little reunion in the hotel room. It would have been quite embarrassing if anyone had witnessed it. ;-) I think he was pretty happy to be back with me, and I was certainly ecstatic to have him back with me! When we drove to the trial field the following morning . . . the check engine light came back on in my truck. Ack! I couldn't do anything about it right then, but at least Elaine and I were following each other, so if it broke down completely I wouldn't be abandoned. Thankfully, it hadn't come on during my drive down to Utah—that would have been a really bad place to break down!

The trial was held on a huge field of turned earth. There was about two inches of snow covering it, and another inch of crusty ice on top of that. A strong icy wind was whipping, and the forecast was for a snowy rainy mixture (fortunately, it never did precipitate, though). The temps hovered around freezing, but with the arctic wind, it was much colder than that. This was, without a doubt, the coldest trial I have ever been to. That's not such a huge claim, as I haven't been to all that many trials. But Elaine agreed that this was the coldest trial she'd ever been to, and, well, she's been to a zillion! Most of us drove down to face the field and stayed warm watching the action in our vehicles. I really felt for the poor set-out crew. Brr!

I planned to trial Craig in pro-novice. I entered Taz, too, just for fun, to see what he'd do. I knew it was much too soon to be serious about competing with him yet, but I admit I was very curious about what he'd do. It turned out not to be such a good idea (and one Scott and Jenny were fairly horrified about when I told them about it after the fact). The sheep for the pro-novice course were set about 350 yards away. This was a BIG pro-novice course, with a full drive and cross drive that was the same for the open class. The wind was blowing back onto the handler's post, so the dogs couldn't hear much. I decided to send Taz to the left, as his come bye had looked slightly better than his away at Scott's (of course, this could just as likely have been due to the draws or any other factors specific to Scott's field). He cast out nicely, but stopped after about 100 yards to look back at me. Since Taz isn't taking my whistles yet, I yelled as loud as I could to come bye. He continued to look at me, and then turned to continue his flank for maybe another 30 yards. Then he stopped and looked at me again. I shouted another come bye, but he couldn't hear me. At this point I left the post to help him, but I was hampered by how difficult it was to walk/run in that crusty snow. I tried to talk to him, but he just couldn't hear me and eventually he just ran straight toward the sheep and moved them back to the set-out pen. By the time I finally hoofed my way up there, he was just hanging out, and the set-out crew reported that he just held the sheep at the pen once he reached it. I am glad he didn't try any funny business up there, but mostly I am mad at myself for trying to do way too much way too soon. It wasn't a good experience for him or for our partnership, and I felt awful knowing I'd had him for one day and already let him down.

I didn't have too much time to reflect about this, though, as I still had to run Craig in the class. I brought Tazzy back to the truck and got out Craig. Craig spotted the sheep up at the top immediately while we waited at the post. I sent him to the right, and his outrun and lift were very nice. He was maybe not quite as wide as he could have been, but that is Craig. His fetch was a bit to far to the left to make the panels, but his pace was good. We had a nice turn around the post and a dead straight, sure drive away through the panels. The cross drive was high, and we missed the cross drive panels, but the turn back was nice. Many dogs had trouble there, as the draw to the exhaust pens was very strong. Craig brought them nicely to the pen, where we timed out.

I scratched Taz the following day (obviously), and Craig and I ran first. This run was similar to the previous day's, but much more speeded up and with a bit less control. The sheep just wanted to run, and I had trouble getting Craig to slow down and take my flanks. We missed the drive away panels, but the cross drive was better on this day. And since we rocketed through the course, we had a bit more time at the end . . . and we penned the sheep! I was pretty happy about that—all the penning work we've done over the past few weeks seems to have paid off! This is the first time I've ever penned at a trial with either dog :)

Craig and I got second place on both days. Hooray! But the real winners at this trial were the sheep. They were among the toughest I've seen! They were older range ewes from three different flocks who had been together a few weeks. They didn't play well together; they challenged the dogs; sometimes they just lied down and gave up. Keeping them moving was the key, but maintaining control was difficult. Craig handled them very nicely, but all the scores were pretty low at this trial.

It was a great trial, well-organized and smoothly run and lots of fun. I like the folks in Utah; they're a friendly and welcoming bunch. Saturday afternoon, I had to miss the open runs and leave the trial early in order to have my poor truck looked at by the Toyota dealer so I wouldn't risk driving home over the mountains with the check engine light on.

It was not good news. Something about spark plugs and misfiring cylinders and ignition coils and packs. The dealer didn't have all the parts, so he fixed what he could and admonished me to get it taken care of as quickly as I could once I got home. Eep, that sounds ominous! So, hundreds of dollars later, we drove home the following day in mostly good weather with the exception of snow over the Vail pass and rain in the Denver area. At least we made it!

Unfortunately, my truck died at the end of my street the next time I drove it, and I had to have it towed to a mechanic in Boulder. He patched it up for a few more hundred dollars, but it was still running rough. The mechanic warned me that I should have some other procedure done (by this time, I just stopped paying attention to the details), which would likely reveal the need to replace some other spendy part. Good lord! What was going on here? My truck was falling apart overnight!

So I cleaned it out and cleaned it up and drove straight to the local Toyota dealer. And traded in my beloved 2000 Tacoma for a brand-spanking-new 2009 Tacoma. It is way more than I can afford, but it's so nice and won't threaten to break down on these long trips to trials and clinics and Canada! Hooray for that!

And hooray for Craig for doing so well at the Icebreaker trial and hooray for Taz being home!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Taz is home!

I am back from the great Tazimodo adventure! And what an adventure it was!

I left early on Tuesday morning to head up to Scott's place in Canada. I got a speeding ticket in Montana, but the cop knocked 5 miles off my clocked speed so that my fine was only $20. And then he told me I could just pay him and that would be the end of it. It seemed a little shady to me, but he returned with an official-looking printed receipt. Works for me! I made it as far as the tiny town of Shelby, Montana, spent the night in a hotel, spoiling Craig, letting him sleep outside his crate and hang on the bed with me while I watched tv. I know I shouldn't have, but he hates Taz and I knew he was about to be pretty bummed that Taz was coming home.

Enjoy it while you can, buddy . . .

The next morning, as I was getting ready to get on the road, I noticed my check engine light was on. I am so clueless about vehicles that I thought it meant that I should add oil. (My truck does have a slight oil leak.) So I did, and the light stayed on. I then decided it meant that I should change my oil, as that was overdue. So I did that, and the light still stayed on, so the oil-change guy just disconnected my battery for a few minutes and then the light went off. But I knew something was wrong. No time to think about it now, though. I crossed the border without incident and finally arrived at Scott's place around two.

The first thing Scott did was show me a video he and Jenny made of he and Taz working. And holy cow—Taz looked great! His formerly slicy flanks were wide, and his outruns were deep all the way around on both sides. His pace was steady; he was relaxed and feeling his sheep well. His driving was straight and sure. He was even beginning to shed. He's still not taking all his whistles—sometimes he takes them just fine, but he often hesitates just a split second before taking the whistle, as if he's still figuring out what they mean. It's almost like he's translating them in his head or something. Scott reiterated that I should back the whistles up with a voice command until Taz is a bit more solid on them.

Then we went outside to work. I couldn't wait to see Taz—and see him work! Scott told me to be low key, so that Taz wouldn't get all excited and lose his mind before going to work. Taz was definitely happy to see me, but he was pretty much running to be with Scott. That was a little weird for me, but I was happy to see his enthusiasm for working with Scott. Taz obviously has not spent the last few months pining for me ;-)

Scott spent a lot of time working Taz with me, showing me everything Taz has learned (I am most impressed with his flanks. They are amazing—a complete 180 from the hard slicing he used to do!), and then I worked him myself for about half an hour. Even though I thought my whistles sounded enough like Scott's, Taz apparently didn't, and he wouldn't take mine at all. Taz also wouldn't take my stops, even on voice command. I did a few outruns and did some driving, and though things didn't go quite as smoothly for me as they had with Scott handling him, it was fun to work him. I spent the night at Scott and Jenny's place, along with the super nice George Stambulic, and after a yummy breakfast Scott gave me a lesson in the morning (and Jenny took all the photos you see here). Scott showed me that I had to make sure Taz took my stops no matter what at first, and then he could earn his way to just stopping on his feet and even taking a few steps through a stop when the situation called for it. But until he earns my trust, he has to lie down every time. Scott gave me lots of tips for handling him, lots of praise, clear communication, lie him down immediately if he doesn't do what I ask, enforce the stop. Scott told me the stop is the key to everything.

I am pretty confident I can take over now. I think Scott did a fabulous job with Taz. Taz understands the basics; he knows what he should be doing. He understands that a correction means he made a poor choice, but he now has an array of better choices at his disposal. Scott told me to start out with the sheep closer in, so I can more easily control the outcome, and then gradually over the next month or so move further and further out. Basically, I need to let him know that the rules are the same with me as they are with Scott, and the same things are expected of him. I can't wait to get started!

Next post will be about the rest of the trip—the Icebreaker sheepdog trial in Utah! In the meantime, though, I have to say that I am loving having my dog home again :-)))))