Sunday, January 17, 2010

So many things still to learn...

I've been working Taz once or twice a week this winter, and I'm super excited about everything I've been learning lately. We are figuring out how to work together and still making lots of mistakes but not really fumbling blind as much anymore. I learned some really important lessons when I was at Scott's in November, but the biggest one was how to help Taz when he isn't quite sure what I am asking of him. I've been doing this stockdog stuff for a little while now, but I didn't truly understand how to help my dog before spending that weekend in Alberta. It boils down to using my body and pressure to make things clearer to the dog what I want him to do. Prior to this realization, I had mostly been yelling at him (sigh). It's so basic it's embarrassing, but it was a lesson I absolutely had to learn at some point, and better late than never. And it has made a humongous difference in how I approach working with Taz.

Scott had had me do the same thing over and over (send Taz for tiny outruns) when I was at his place, and for the longest time I was only able to really focus on one different component of it at a time (which I am sure caused Scott to roll his eyes around to the back of his head, though he never showed any impatience, bless him). I just had a real blind spot about Taz's outruns and was at first unable to really see where he was going wrong until it was too late. Scott gave me constant, real-time feedback and I was slowly able to put all the pieces together—to understand what Taz should be doing at every stage, recognize when he wasn't doing it, and then help him understand what he needed to do. (Of course, Scott had taught Taz what correct flanks and nice pace and straight lines were last winter, but I had to figure out how to clearly communicate with Taz what I wanted from him. He needs some guidance to maintain his good habits—he needs someone to work with him to get a job done.) I got it, and Taz was working wonderfully.

Taz's outruns mostly look pretty good these days. He is listening to me well, and we didn't do too badly in a recent arena trial (actually, I think it was the first time we truly worked together during a trial, so I consider it a big success!). But lately we've been working on driving, and it's a whole 'nother challenge. I mean, I thought I knew how to drive. I've been driving with Craig for two and a half years—it's kind of straightforward, right? Hmm. Not so much. Craig has been taking sweet care of me in ways I never even realized. Driving with Taz is very different. He needs more guidance than mega-experienced Craig does. I am back to trying to remember lots of different things at once, and Scott isn't here to keep me paying attention to all the important details. Fortunately, Elaine (another very patient person) has been helping me, though, and I am sure Taz is thanking her for that!

I know enough now to try to help him instead of just trying to correct him (though I lapse sometimes and become inexplicably rooted to the ground, engaging only my larynx—not so often anymore, though). But oh so many other things to keep in mind...
  •  We start with the classic: Watch the sheep, not the dog. I should get this tattooed on my brain. I try to watch the sheep, but I inevitably start to forget to do this as I make sure my dog is listening to me. Elaine keeps telling me how I will be able to tell if Taz is listening by the behavior of the sheep, and I know this intellectually, but I guess I still don't entirely trust it because I keep finding my eyes glued to my dog.
  • I have an awful habit of saying "there, lie down." Like I don't trust him to take the there or something, though he usually does—at least when I am asking for it appropriately. I am now apparently teaching him to ignore it, though, by consistently giving him a different command right afterward. This has been a surprisingly difficult habit to break, because I don't realize I'm doing it at the time. So I've been working to be very careful when I ask for a there, or just ask for a lie down if I can't control myself...
  • When the sheep speed up, Taz should check himself, and if he doesn't, he needs a "time," and if he doesn't take that, he needs to lie down.
  • But he must get up on his feet before the sheep stop, or I'll just end up taking his power away from him by lying him down so much. Get him up if he is taking too long to get to his feet himself.
  • Don't let him blow off flanks during a drive—get on him if he doesn't take what I ask him, especially when he just walks forward instead of flanking.
  • In contrast, if I ask for a walk up and he flanks a bit, he may be right in his efforts to keep the sheep on a line. But make sure he flanks a little and then locks on, rather than sidling up until he catches their eye and turns them.
Lots of other little stuff, too, but these are the main points I'm working on for now.  It's been tons of fun working and learning all this stuff, and I'm hoping to make some progress before the trial season starts. I'm also trying to get serious about getting Taz to take my whistles—he knows his whistles with Scott, though Scott said he had a rough time learning them. I am trying to work on them a little each time I go out, though I ran out of time today, and I hope to get him solid on them with me by May, too.

This is so much fun!