Much to my surprise, this morning the sun was out and the rain had stopped. I counted myself lucky – sort of, as I had planned to take the day off training, and a break might not be a bad idea – and got ready to go out and train. I try to train every day when I farm sit because it’s just such a great opportunity! And I do see my dogs advance significantly when I train 5-6 days a week. It also means that I can train for shorter sessions, not that I do, but I could, and I should.
Quick aside: I am still using dial-up and the ancient computer. It takes a good 30 seconds to backpace, so please ignore the typos. I’ll fix them later!
The start today was a bit bumpy. I was just about to send Hannah for the sheep when the cattle decided to come down the field to the barnyard for a drink. It’s hot and muggy today, thanks to incoming Ike’s tropical depression. So Hannah and I stood at the gate and watched the cows go by directly between us and the sheep. Once they passed (the calves took a long time as they stood and watched us until we moved back to my car and they lost interest) I opened the gate and sent Hannah for the sheep. No sooner had I done that, then the cows decided it was time to go back up the field. So I lay her down on the far side of the sheep (half a field away) and made her sit there for several minutes while the cows sauntered passed again. Dang cows. They’re kinda cool to watch, though, so I didn’t mind. Hannah was itching to go though, let me tell you!
She strated bringing back the flock but it was a mess. They split and she seems to have lost the will to fight with them. I can’t go into the field to help (because of the bull) so I had to let it slide that she only brought back a third of the flock. I will need to find a way to fix this as it is going to cause problems if I have to do this regularly. I pushed the group through the tiny space the gate will now open – the sheep were not cooperative and neither was Hannah, so mostly had to do it myself. I ended up with about a dozen, with half being lambs. One adult was clearly wormy, so I sorted her out and put her back. I then had Hannah put them all in a small field where the pen is set up. I figured it would be a challenge to pen them, but it wasn’t. They all ran in. So I decided to pull out the lambs, which I did manually (climbed in the pen and grabbed them one at a time.)
I had once considered working Hannah on the lambs to get her to work a different style of sheep, but since we’ve been having such problems lately, I decided today was not the day. All I wanted to do was get 3-4 calm adults and get rid of the lambs. I separated out my group and put them in one field,then asked Hannah to move the lambs back to the main flock. Well, she wasn’t partiuclarly interested. She was standing right in front of them, and looking over her shoulder at the adults in the other field. Brat.
I’m very frustrated with her right now, and this didn’t help. She got hell for ignoring the lambs, especially since there were a couple of ewes with them. I got right up close and personal with her and physically forced her around them several times until her brain was back on track. Then we put the lambs away and went to train on the adults.
Well, once again she ignored my flanks and was basically being a big goof on the field. And once again I totally blew my stack. Now, just to be clear, me losing my temper involves throwing my stick on the ground, throwing my arms in the air, hollering at the sky and sometimes stomping my feet. That usually gets it out of my system so that I can take a deep breath and calmly walk over to my dog and start again. It must be amusing to see if anyone can see me, although I surely hope not!
This time I calmly walked over to my dog, snapped on her leash, and walked her off the field. I let her have a nice drink and a dunk in the tub, then swapped her up for Mira.
Mira worked very well today. I am mostly doing little outruns and wearing. I read that you should start doing circular wearing and then progress to figure eights before you do any square wearing. I think this is helpign a lot. I say nothing to Mira and she is wearing beautifully. She lies down on her own and keeps a nice pace. I tried doing some of the exercises that I wrote about yesterday but I still don’t really get them. I need to read the article again. The one thing I am doing is preventing her from sitting on my right all the time (pushing the sheep left). I worked on that a lot today, and by the end she was not doing it anymore. I expect it will take a while for that to become premanent, but I’m glad my efforts are seeing results. Basically what I’m doing is either stepping into her when she goes to flank unnecessariy, or I turn that way with the sheep, forcing her to go to the other side. At one point I did a circle over and over on her bad side, forcing her to stay where she doesn’t like to be. She seemed much more comfortable there after that.
Mira is also doing nice little outruns, widening out all on her own, a little more every day. I can also send her to pick up sheep off a fence and she does it calmly and steadily. This is much more than I can say for Hannah, who picks up speed and blasts between the sheep and the fence. She still gets stressed in tight places I guess.
I put Mira away and brought Hannah back out. I thought things through and decided the following:
1) My dog is extremely talented. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that, not just my trainer. Her littermate and one year older brother were in the USBCHA finals this year, and both her parents qualified too. So anything that this dog isn’t doing well is because of ME. My thoughts yesterday that ‘she should know better by now’ are accurate, but that’s a reflection of my training, not of her talent or cognitive abilities.
2) If she is backsliding on the field, then so must be my training. Whatever I’m doing wrong, it’s me who is screwing her up. She’s not doing it of her own accord. She’s a very smart dog,and very keen to please. She is not trying to be stubborn or blow me off. So obviously I am either not being clear about what I want, or I am being wrong often enough for her to have lost confidence and stopped listening.
ONce that became clear to me, I decided to go back to basic training with her. I did figure 8 and circle wearing with her, and a few tiny little outruns (20-30 feet). I worked at saying NOTHING and letting her figure out what needed to be done and where she needed to be. She still doesn’t get the ‘comfort zone’ quite right, as when I would stop walking backwards, she’d lie down and the sheep would continue past me about 3 feet. So close, but no cigar. I’m not sure how to fix that but I’ll ask around and see if I can drum up any advice.
After doing these basic exercises, I did some driving. Hannah was a star! I had her drive the sheep about 50 feet, leave them and come back to me, then do a little outrun to pick them up. She’d fetch them, then drive thm back out. She seemed to really like that, and understand the point of driving as a result. So that was very successful and I hopefully will have the patience to use this method to stretch out both her drive and her outruns s*l*o*w*l*y.
Of course, after doing so well, I stupidly pushed things a little at the end, and made another mess. I had Hannah drive the sheep half way home, then told her ‘that’ll do’ and walked her off the field. When we got ot the gate, I looked back and the sheep weren’t following. So I decided to send Hannah to pick them up. It was a fairly short distance, but still about 150 yards, so much longer than we had just been practicing. I sent her to pick them up, but of course they started to come down teh field. That meant their heads were pointed towards her and she went straight into their heads to stop them. I redirected twice, then laid her down and had to run all the way up the field. Once I got to her side, I sent her again. This time she want around and brought me the sheep. I had her drive them back down teh field, through the gates and back to the main flock. Now I understand why my instructor was so ademant about me not exhausting with this dog. She’s got way too much eye as it is. And I’m learning that I – at least for now – prefer dogs with a bit less eye!
Interestingly, Mira is better at this comfort zone business. I wonder if this is because I have been training Mira more on instinct than obedience, while Hannah has been trained more mechanically and so is not used to having to think on her own. Or maybe Mira just has more confidence in me because I knew more when I started her,whiel Hananh had to start with me knowing nothing. Or maybe they are just different dogs. Who knows? Either way, it was a pleasant, quiet second half of our training and I came off the field much more relaxed then I went on. Which is nice for a change.