Another busy week, but at least I got some good training in. Yet another snowstorm – hopefully winter’s last gasp – has canceled my plans for the evening so I have a little time to catch up.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to train with two open sheepdog handlers simultaneously. This was really a great learning experience and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to do so.
My typical lessons are as follows: my trainer holds the sheep at one end of the field and I stand at the other with my dog. I send her to fetch the sheep, and am pretty much on my own for giving commands other than my trainer making some wild hand gestures from time to time, which I rarely am able to watch anyway. Once I get the sheep around the course, we do a post-mortem on the whole exercise. Because so much is going on at once, I often don’t remember exactly what I was doing or thinking at every point. So going over things after the fact helps, but a lot gets missed.
This week I had two people helping me. This meant that one held the sheep while the other stood next to me, giving me a running commentary on my handling performance. She was also able to fill in the gaps when I was late or missing something. Then they would switch so I received input from both. In this manner I saw immediately not only when I made mistakes, but what I should have done instead. It was really eye opening.
One of the biggest problems we have right now is that Hannah over-flanks on the fetch (i.e. swings back and forth behind the sheep too far on each side, pushing them sideways so that the zig zag down the field instead of going straight). With a second voice beside me filling in the gaps, I got a much better feel for how much I need to flank my dog. Even better, Hannah started to do the correct flanks on her own, and stopped over-flanking as much.
We unfortunately weren’t able to do a whole lot of training because the ice was horrible on most of the fields, leaving us only with a couple of smallish spaces to train safely. Even then Hannah’s feet got sore very quickly and we had to stop after not a lot of work. Nevertheless, I think she and I both learned a lot with all that help. I look forward to putting that into practice next time out.