Saturday, July 24, 2010

Adventures in Cross Driving

I am in the midst of an awful copyediting project, and my deadline is looming, with several other tasks being put on hold until I finish it—so what better time to update the blog I've been ignoring for the better part of a year? Eh, so it's not exactly a daily journal. I get to it when I can or when the mood hits...

I've been working Tazzy a bit lately, and after a rough patch this spring things have been going pretty well. He is finally truly on whistles. He is learning to trust me more, and I am trying to help him more with my handling. The past couple of days have gone especially well—we're making good progress with blind outruns and the shape of his outrun, something I will always have to stay on top of due to his poor start, is improving at greater distances.

Today was a bit rougher, though. (I always seem to write about the struggles we have, rather than brag on the successes. S'okay—this blog is one way for me to work out ways to overcome our challenges.) We worked mainly on driving and cross driving this morning. There is one area of the field at which we work where the dogs feel the pressure in a pretty intense way. If the draw is at about 10:30 on the imaginary clock, the biggest challenge for Taz is driving toward 9:00, so maybe a 30 degree angle from the draw. The sheep are rather heavy and always drift in the direction of the draw. And if a dog is not in just the right spot, they can wrap around the dog to try to beat it. On this line, Taz and I have a hard time finding that sweet spot to keep them moving toward 9:00 without turning them back to me. "Let him go far enough so that the sheep see him, but not so far that he catches their eye and turns them" is the advice I've been given. Oh, and don't lie him down so much (though when he gets very focused on what he is doing, I still need to lie him down before giving him a major change-of-direction flank).

We have not had a ton of success trying to follow this advice here—I tend to underflank Taz, stopping too soon, so the sheep continue to drift toward the draw. Then I have to reflank him and try again to stop him in an effective place. Finding the sweet spot to prevent movement toward the draw but not turned back toward me is tough. When I think I have found it, I stop him or give him a there and tell him to walk up. Sometimes this works and we're good for a little while. Other times, Taz will telegraph that I should be reflanking him, but I am often too slow to see it and think he is being hesitant or disobedient. I need to trust him more. By the time I realize my mistake and flank him, he is out of position and rushes to catch up, overcommitting to the flank in the process and turning them back toward me.

The sheep were extra heavy this morning, as it was cool out for a change (a big change!) and there was lots of grass to nibble on. Taz's reaction to the extra heaviness of the sheep this morning was to blow off many of my lie down commands, which served to exacerbate the problems we had cross driving this line. Alas, no matter how many times my evident frustration with Taz results in just freaking him out and making things worse, it is hard for me to stay matter-of-fact when he is continually blowing my commands off, no matter the reason. I am slowly getting a handle on this, but my frustration at my own failure to see the problems clearly enough and in enough time to effectively help him hampers my progress. It's one reason I find it so difficult to not let my dog practice poor work. I mean, what is so hard about stopping what we're doing and addressing a blown command right then? Nothing—it should be a no-brainer! Yet I do let him get away with blowing off commands because I still sometimes don't see things clearly enough until it is too late. After all, sometimes (as in his telegraphing that I should flank him) he is correct and I am the one who is asking for the wrong thing. But what ends up happening is that I allow him to blow off a few commands, then get frustrated that he is not listening and overreact. His mind wasn't blown or anything, but he wasn't thinking as much. We'll try it all over again tomorrow, perhaps setting things up a bit closer and being a bit more mindful that being consistent and keeping my cool will get us there faster in the long run.


Monique said...

Question: Do you stop him short because you don't know where to stop him, or because you are not sure if you CAN stop him without him turning the sheep back toward you?

I feel like I see this a lot (and am guilty of it sometimes too). Handlers stopping a dog short because they have intermittent problems stopping the dog... a habit forms of asking for a stop before you need it because most of the time the dog cheats it a few steps. What do you think?

Laura said...

Part of it is just a very bad habit, Monique. Taz spent years running through his stops, and I used to try to compensate by trying to stop him before I knew he had to stop. And though he usually stops when I ask him to now, this habit of stopping him short has lingered because he still sometimes takes a few steps after I blow the whistle. He did that a lot today, and I was probably inadvertently trying to compensate. But I think doing that only causes him to lose faith in my ability to stop him where he needs to be--which maybe makes the problem worse. Gah!

Monique said...

Well if you're in touch with the habit, you can break it! Perhaps your plan of working closer at hand is just what the Dr. ordered?

Patrick gave me great homework for this: working in higher grass so I can see sheep heads but not my dog. I learned my lesson LOL.

If I blew a stop and sheep heads kept turning, my hiney was hauling up that field... pant pant huff huff.