Friday, June 26, 2009

OMG! An update!

Okay, so it's been a while. A veritable hiatus. But I had a lot going on—I was traveling a lot, and I lost my job last month, so I've been a bit stressed/panicked, and I also had a ton of freelance projects come due at about the same time. Excuses, excuses. Whine. But I finally have a spare moment this morning, so I thought I'd do some catching up.

It'll be impossible for me to remember (let alone recap) everything I've done with the dogs over the past couple of months, so I'll try to just hit the highlights. Looks like the last time I updated, things were just beginning to fall apart with Taz. He wasn't taking his whistles very well, he seemed unsure while driving and cross driving, stretching his outruns to 250 yards or so was resulting in hesitation . . . gee, wonder if I was throwing way too much at him all of a sudden?

We went to our first trial of the season (well, not including the Icebreaker SDT the day after I got Taz back from Scott), and things didn't go so well. It was a nice field, green and mostly flat, and a small outrun by Western trial standards. The range sheep were tough, though, and there was a lot going on at the set out. Both days, Taz didn't really want to do his outrun. He'd go out about 30 yards or so and then stop. I'd reflank him, and he'd go maybe 10 more yards before stopping and looking at me again. Both times, I walked up the field and that got him going, so at least he knew he needs to get his sheep, but I was a bit discouraged.

The following weekend, we ran in a ranch trial. The ranch class, in the west, is the class between novice-novice and open-ranch. This was a perfect course for us. It was a tiny version of a full course (minus a shed, of course). To be honest, the course in general was way too small for Taz, as he made a lot of wide, sweeping flanks that were not very appropriate for the teeny size of the "infield," but the outrun of maybe 125 yards was perfect for him right now. Taz hesistated here, too, but the sheep were set close enough that he could see them very well and only needed redirects to keep going. Each day he needed fewer redirects, and the last day he went without hesitating at all.

In between trials, I worked with him with the sheep set quite close, but he was starting to revert back to his old habits of running too tight. I knew I shouldn't let him get away with this, but I was too afraid that lying him down to correct him would exascerbate the hesitation. It felt like we were right back to where we started before I sent him to Scott.

One of my worst training faults is trying to rush things and, in the process, being kind of inconsistent in my expectations. Taz is a fairly soft dog, and I think I just plain put too much pressure on him at once. He is such an honest dog that he really, really wants to be right. When he's not sure he is right, he becomes insecure and cautious. My job, then, is to show him what I want him to do in a positive, concrete, even exhuberant, way (anyone who knows me knows that I don't do exhuberance naturally—I am more the low-key, cynical type—but if exhuberance will help Taz right now, well then super-excited, here I come! Wahoo!). Taz is hesitating because he is nervous about the top, so I need to keep Taz happy and enthusiastic about going to the top right now. I should stop worrying about making things exactly right—instead, look for attitude over perfection.

I didn't figure this out myself, of course. Earlier this month, I drove out to Michigan to visit friends and go to a Scott Glen clinic. It was an amazing trip—I met some great people and the clinic was fantastic (though I was a little nervous about showing Scott what was happening with Taz now that I'd had him for a couple of months—I needn't have worried at all, as Scott just wanted to help us get everything back).

Scott said that Taz only needs confidence right now, and if I can restore his confidence Taz will relax and begin to work correctly again. He gave me several tips to help get his confidence back, like sending him in the direction of the sheep's tails, and it's even better if they're moving a little, to help draw him in. (I'd always been told I should send to the heads—I thought this was a cardinal rule, conventional wisdom, and I never questioned it. Scott said there are no set-in-stone rules with stockdog work. Just use common sense and don't be afraid to get creative when something isn't working.) He also told me to get between Taz and the sheep and then send him as a strategy to widen him out without having to lie him down or even correct him at all. This is brilliant—it completely circumvents the risk of eliciting the correct-hesitate cycle. He told me not to worry about cross-driving with him right now, but continue to drive with him, and forget whistles for now.

By the end of the clinic, Taz was starting to show signs of his former self again. Scott said it is clear that Taz trusts me, so he doesn't think this will take too long to fix, if I stick with the plan. ;-) That, of course, is the hard part—to remember all of these little things and make little adjustments where necessary without Scott watching and reminding me. It is a little tough right now, as I don't have anywhere to do bigger outruns at the moment, but this weekend I am going to a friend's ranch and we will have all the room we need, along with nice sheep to work and good friends to work with :-)

I'll write about how things go this weekend next time, and I'll also update about Craig then, too.