I was supposed to be competing with Hannah this weekend at our second trial. Unfortunately, I screwed up on two important counts and had to withdraw. First, because the trial is in the US, I had to pay with a US cheque. I have a bank account in the US from when I used to live there, but since I don’t use it often, it has a very low balance. When I mailed off my entry form, I also mailed a money order to my US bank to make sure the account had enough to cover my entry fees. However, I put the draft in regular mail instead of sending it by express post. I have had trouble with mail disappearing between Canada and the US, and on the day they were going to cash my entry cheque, my bank account was still empty. So I had to ask the trial organizers to not cash my cheque, which meant withdrawing from the trial.
Now perhaps I could have asked them if I could pay when I arrived. The class I was in was by no means full, so perhaps they would have accepted that. But this is where screw-up number two came. Turns out, I had accidentally double booked myself for this weekend! I got my dates mixed up and set up a meeting out of town with my supervisor. I have only met with her once in the past year and this has slowed down my research considerably. I am facing some major deadlines and much as I love training my dogs, my professional life has to take precedent right now. There was just no way to reschedule this meeting short of landing in the hospital!
At first I was kicking myself. But upon reflection I decided missing the trial was for the best. Ever since we returned from the first trial, Hannah and I have been having trouble with our training. I am not sure what is going on, but in my opinion it’s not ideal to put your training to the test when it’s in a rough patch.
The problem is that Hannah has stopped taking my flanks and has gone back to working on her own when at a distance. This is something we had worked on considerably before the first trial and had gone away. When we came back, the issue was present again, and almost worse. I’m not sure why but I have two guesses. First, we’ve gone back to having my trainer on the field with us. I don’t know if Hannah starts blowing me off because she’d rather work for my trainer, or if having my trainer around makes her stressed, or if it’s because it makes me stressed and Hannah can read that and loses confidence in me. I suspect it may be the latter.
The other issue is that we switched training fields. Now Hannah was working very well in the other field, and had no problem at the trial on a new field. But when we came back, the main flock with its lambs had been rotated into another field and we went back to training in the big cattle field where we had been training all winter. I think this stressed Hannah out. Again I don’t know why; perhaps it is because the field is so large that she knows the sheep can get a really long distance away from us and so that worries her. Or perhaps it’s because of the pressure in that field (although the previous field we trained in had way more pressure, and going in more than one direction!) Or perhaps it’s because she has bad memories of training there when we were having a lot of trouble and it was very stressful.
Whatever the reason, our training fell apart. Fortunately I have been granted access to the sheep on my own during the week, so am able to focus on working through this. So I have been going out 3-4 times a week and working Hannah. I have been focusing on our flanks up close. I have been getting her to do 360’s around the sheep, over and over, in both directions. I have been working at some shedding, getting her to come through the flock, and driving. And I have been working on farm chores – moving the sheep from one pasture to another, through gates, into pens and so on. Basically really mixing things up, getting her to break balance a lot, but always with me close and keeping things under control so that she will listen. My hope is that this will make her obedience more automatic, and it seems to be working. The last couple of times we were out she was working much better, even taking inside flanks from a decent distance.