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.


fulltiltbcs said...

Amazing what a different outlook does! Great job with Taz! I remember seeing you working him at a Kathy Knox clinic awhile ago. Sounds like he is doing much better!

Kathy said...

It is amazing when you go out with a certain attitude how much the dogs pick up on it. Good job!

Darci said...

Sounds like the newly trained dog just got himself a newly trained handler! Just what the Dr. ordered! Great news! Sounds like you two are coming to a meeting of the minds. You go girl!

Laura said...

And everything carried over today, too--Taz worked really nicely on some tough sheep. I am so pleased with him right now!