I’ve been reading Vergil Holland’s book Herding Dogs: Progressive Training which I’m finding interesting and useful. I do find it difficult to translate some of what he’s writing into practice however, but it definitely gives me ideas to try out.
This week I read up on how to deal with a one-side dog. He explained that dogs who are excessively pressure sensitive (which is what one-sidedness apparently falls under) need to be treated somewhat differently than most others. For one, you can’t rush at them to push them back off stock. They don’t respond to body pressure the same way as many other dogs. This is because when you do that, it changes the dynamics between you, the dog and the sheep and they MUST fix the imbalance or die trying, so they dash around you and go after the sheep rather than back off as expected.
I have noticed this with Mira, although she’s not nearly to such an extreme. But she definitely doesn’t move off my body pressure like she theoretically should. And she’s definitely one-sided, always sitting at 2 o’clock regardless of where pressure is. This leads the sheep to always be pointed towards 7 o’clock – o worse – which of course leaves them open to being pushed passed me. I have come to the conclusion that this really needs to be fixed before we can move on.
Holland discusses how to fix this, which is in keeping with what I was already trying. Basically he says to wear in the uncomfortable direction to force the dog to be where it doesn’t want to be. I had been doing this but not to the extent that Holland recommends. He says to do this continually, never changing directions. Basically you do it until the dog is so tired that it will eventually stop on balance and stay there. You keep doing this for several days in a row, and then finally start adding in a little straight line wearing for a few feet, and build from there. He warns that this can take weeks or even months to fix, which made me feel much better about not seeing progress after a few attempts.
So yesterday I did the continuous circling until my dog’s tongue was dragging between her back feet. The problem is that she will still stay at 2pm, so the sheep are always a bit ahead of her, always pointed to my left, even when circling. At times they can be pointed almost 90 degrees to my left, and if they decide to run, they can escape. Which is what they do. That at least forces her to get in front of them and be in the right position. Then, of course, she slows down to be back at 2 o’clock.
Eventually I tried lying her down on balance, when balance was also perfectly on pressure. She did this, and I let her rest. Then I tried doing a little straight wearing. I took two steps backwards and she flipped to 2 o’clock. So I turned into her (i.e. counter clockwise) and did a circle, then tried going straight a few steps. Repeat. Basically, her ‘correction’ for being in the wrong place is to have to do another circle or two (or three). I started watching her carefully and the second she would start to flip, I’d start to circle. She was so tired that (I think) she started to decide that staying on balance (when lined up with pressure) was less work. As soon as I was able to straight wear a few feet, I lay her down (on balance), told her she was a very good girl, and took her off the field.
I am going to do the same exercise today, and for the next several sessions, to see if I can make any inroads.
There are two things I really like about this approach, provided that it eventually works:
1) It’s up to the dog to figure out how to fix the problem. This is in keeping with theories of shaping, rather than compulsion or lure training. If she figures out how to fix the problem on her own, she should understand why she needs to be in a certain position, not just doing it because she is told. That will hopefully increase her consistency and willingness to do the right thing when we add new stresses and situations. It should also help make future fixes quicker.
2) I’m not hollering at my dog.
I love not hollering at my dog. Even though we maybe only managed to wear 3 feet in a straight line yesterday, which normally would have sent me into orbits of frustration, I walked off the field happy with myself and my dog. And I love walking off the field in a good mood.