Training Hannah on my own is very interesting. On the one hand, I think I am more clearly seeing my mistakes. On the other, I am encountering things I’m not sure how to fix. Both are opening my eyes a lot.
Regarding my mistakes, instead of relying on my instructor to tell me what I’ve done wrong, I’m now hearing what my dog is telling me instead. Hannah will either ignore me and do the right thing, in which case I see instantly what I’ve done wrong. Or she will show me with her body language what she wanted to do, but then listen to me and I watch the sheep go off-line. In which case I see instantly what I’ve done wrong. Hopefully with all this instruction, I’ll stop being wrong as often!
Interestingly I once read how the ideal dog for a novice is a retired dog who will do exactly what Hannah is doing, i.e. either listen to you and you lose your sheep, or not listen and show you what you should have done. I’m pleased to see that my novice (well, she’s really nearly ready for pro-novice) dog can do this quite well. My first border collie – Jake – did a tremendous job teaching me about obedience and agility. Hannah seems to be following well in his footsteps with respect to herding.
The biggest problem we are having right now is driving. Hannah wants to head and she flanks too far and turns the sheep. She does this on the fetch as well, and even sometimes during wearing, but is getting much better at taking a stop and redirect and is starting to keep them straight on her own. With driving this is not yet happening. Or at least it wasn’t the last two days and part of this morning. She was getting clearly confused when I’d give her an inside flank and would either ignore me and go the other way, or run back to me, circle behind me and then take the flank. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe she thinks that “away” – when we are facing the same direction (i.e. during driving) – means come to my feet and then send away. Dogs don’t generalize very well, which is why many will run to you and lie down at your feet rather than where they were standing when you said “lie down.” To them the lie down means come to your feet and lie down, as that is where they were when you taught them the command. Perhaps this is what is going on in Hannah’s mind when I say “away.” So how to do I fix that?
To see if I could remind her of her flanks, I practiced doing a lot of off-side flanks around the sheep which I kept stationary. This is an exercise my instructor has me do, so back to basics. I then started driving again and did a lot of micro-managing, barking out command after command. I don’t like doing this but I think it might have worked as all of a sudden she was pushing them along in a straight line along the fence. We went nearly all the way around the field on the come-bye side, and I decided to leave it at that and end on a good note. We’ll try the other way tomorrow.
The other problem I had today is that she is having trouble gathering up all the sheep when they are spread out. I don’t think this is a big deal because she’s actually never had to do this before – in all our training the sheep were held by my instructor in a nice tight little group with their heads pointed at 12 o’clock to build the perfect outrun. Great for trialing, but not so great for actual farm work I am finding!
I don’t want Hannah to learn to leave sheep behind so I am going to have to figure something out here. Today she gathered up half the flock and then saw the rest somewhat off to the side, and clearly didn’t know what to do. The ewes do not stay with the rams, making two separate groups who didn’t want to be together. Poor Hannah ended up lying down and looking back and forth, waiting for instruction from me. I wasn’t sure what to do but decided to bring the rams first, who would stay with me and graze, and then send her back for the flighty ewes – a double lift of sorts! That worked and she seemed happy to take my directions and leave the group I told her to leave, and in the end have all the sheep together. Hopefully this is all good, since I gave instructions to leave some instead of just letting her decide to do so on her own. Guess I’ll find out when I run this past my instructor. Tomorrow I may try walking part way out to the sheep and then sending Hannah (from behind me) to help push her around any stragglers.
All in all, I am really having fun with this. I am probably screwing up my dog in many ways, but I am learning a ton and she is really listening well to me, even when I make mistakes. I think having just me there is making us a better team, even though I am a screw-up much of the time. Hannah seems to have taken on the role of teaching me, as if to say “well if I’m stuck with you, you’d better start getting this right!” She is being really affectionate with me after we train and seems very happy, so I think she’s ok with this, even if I am messing up some of her very lovely training. Hopefully not so badly that it can’t be fixed with a few more lessons. After all, if I can’t work my dog on my own, then what’s the point of all this anyway? Time to take off the training wheels, at long last.