Sunday, July 26, 2009

Colorado High Country SDT report

Last weekend, we went to the CHC SDT up in Hot Sulphur Springs. This trial is always a lot of fun, and the setting is just beautiful.
Not a bad place to spend the weekend...

I ran Taz and Craig in the open ranch class. The course was a bit smaller than it has been in years past, and the sheep were fantastic—they were nice, even range ewes. That doesn't mean it was easy—the course was tricky, with deceptive rises and a narrow irrigation ditch crossing just before the post for the open class.

Craig ran pretty well, doing everything I asked of him. Unfortunately, my timing was a bit off, and I was late giving him direction. It wasn't one of our better trials, but we had fun :)

My main goal with Taz was really just for him to do a proper outrun. And he did it! I let him set himself up, and I sent him to the right (his "good" side). Off he went, nice and wide. He paused at the drive away panels, and looked back at me. So I gave him another "away!" and off he went. He came in very nice and did not slice, but he did overflank just a hair. The sheep lifted just a smidge to the right (my right) and Taz covered and brought them straight through the fetch panels. We struggled a little around the post, partly because he didn't take his stops right away and partly because one ewe was very stroppy and kept leaving the others and then turning to challenge him. But he handled her nicely, walking right into her and then giving her a chance to turn back to rejoin her buddies.
Taz steadily put one foot in front of the other to turn this ewe back
Photo by Larry Adams

First half of his drive was great. He took his inside flanks well. But he went all the way around when I asked for an outside flank and began bringing the sheep back to me. Since we haven't worked on driving at all for the past month or two, I retired. We lost 2 points on the outrun, one for the redirect and one for sending him from too far away from me. Jim Swift was the judge, and he said he thought Taz was borderline too far away from me when I sent him and decided to hit me so I'd learn how far was too far ;-) The following day, Taz didn't stop at all and didn't need a redirect on his outrun, but he overflanked a bit more at the top and the fetch was a bit wilder. Taz did the same thing on the drive as he had the previous day, and we retired during the same point.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I am optimistic that this whole hesitation thing is really starting to be behind us and hopeful that Taz is remembering his training from the winter. Our next trial is in a couple of weeks, and I am going to work on driving with him in the meantime (and stopping when I tell him to—that's just me getting lazy on enforcing his lie down and is easily remedied). I hope to get a little further in the course next time—I'd like to at least complete the drive away and transition to the cross drive, but we'll see how things go...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Progress at last!

I started a new job last week, and it's been completely knocking me out! But I don't want two more months to go by without a post, so I better get on it.

I had a great weekend working the dogs in the mountains. Elaine and I went up to the ranch of a couple of friends a couple of weekends ago, and it was wonderful to work in such a big area! I was able to set Taz up a bunch with me between him and the sheep. This kept him wide enough, without hesitating, though he still sliced at the top. Baby steps, though—I wanted to be sure his attitude was back and he wouldn't hesitate before starting to really correct him again. We also got to work newly acquired range ewes, and that was a blast. Taz moves them pretty easily. Despite his lack of confidence, he has plenty of power.

Handsome, too!

I worked with Craig a bunch on these sheep, too, and he really handles them well. I used my whistle a lot, and I realized that I've been getting very sloppy with it. My come bye whistle was fine, and Craig took it every time, but I had to be careful with my away and my stop whistles—they sound a lot alike when I blow them quickly. Consequently, Craig did a lot of stopping and staring at me when I blew them. I slowed both down, and he took them again, but this is something I'll have to be pretty conscious of for a little while, I think. The following day when I worked him (no longer with so many whistles, as I was advised by a very competitive open handler not to overdo the whistles when just working the dogs), he began blowing me off, this time not because he wasn't sure what I was telling him to do, but because he had other ideas. So I had to let him know my commands were not optional. And after I gave him the business, he was perfect. He listened to every command immediately and very willingly. It exasperates me that Craig and I sometimes have to battle like this before he wants to listen to me. Why does he have to be reminded that he must listen? Is it a respect issue? A willful older dog issue? I am going to institute a zero-tolerance policy with him from now on—the first time he doesn't take a command I give him, I'll tell him off and put him up. Then we'll try again. Perhaps I've just been letting him get away with too much before I start telling him off...

I was also impressed with the way the open handler working with us approached training dogs. He was much more relaxed than I ever am. He said he doesn't do any drilling, just sort of loosely asks the dogs to do different things while walking around his 30-acre field. He insists the dog does everything he asks, but he doesn't ask for straight lines or tight turns around panels or anything like that. Of course, he helps the dog when it's clear the dog doesn't understand how to do something or he's put the dog in an unfamiliar situation. Hence, the dog trusts him and really tries to do everything he's asked to do. I tried to mimic this approach with Taz, but I don't quite have the body English down to really help cue my dog to what I want from him and so it's a bit awkward. Still, I think I'd like to do a bit more practice work like this—it puts much less pressure on the dog and on myself, and it's a whole lot more fun.

Taz is all in favor of having more fun!

I've been out with Taz a few more times since then—unfortunately not as often as I'd like, with that new job I started last week. I still have a ton of freelance work to do as well, so I just haven't had much time to get out, which is a bummer, since I have a trial next weekend. But I'll get on a better training schedule soon. Anyway, last weekend, I went out to Fran's with Larry and did some more outruns with Taz, concentrating on the come bye side. With Taz still slicing at the top, even with me sending him when I was closer to the sheep, I began correcting him with a "Get out of that!" when he started to slice. But I did so reluctantly, as I really was afraid Taz would begin hesitating again, like he's done before when I corrected him at the top. Still, I had to do something, as he was slicing really hard at the top, and he knows better than that. He wasn't slicing at all when he was with Scott. I know I can't let him get away with it either. But the hesitation often followed the corrections, and I wouldn't really know if he was going to hesitate until the next time I worked him.

We went out again today, and I was relieved to see that Taz wasn't wanting to hesitate, even though I'd been correcting him for slicing. I was more confident in my corrections today, and Larry helped me with my timing, so the corrections were more effective. I also started sending him from my feet again. Taz kicked himself out every time I got on him, though he often didn't need it until the very end of his outrun. But that last bit would be a dramatic flattening of his arc. Larry suggested I give him a sort of preemptive correction, before he reached the point that he would typically start to slice, to remind him to keep wide. I tried that a bit, and it seemed to work. Hooray!

I also did a few longer outruns with him (maybe 200 yards), on both sides. His away side remains so much better than his come bye side—he is perhaps a little tight at the top, but he doesn't need any corrections on that away side. He just seems to feel his sheep much better on that side. I will definitely send him to the right at the trial next weekend. I'll likely retire after the OLF next weekend, since I haven't worked on any driving with him whatsoever lately. But if I can get a decent outrun, lift, and fetch, honestly I will be completely overjoyed! We can worry about everything else next time :)