Something clicked in Mira yesterday when we went out and worked the sheep. We hadn’t been out in a full week, so I’m not sure where this came from. I’ve seen it before, though – a dog just gets better after some time off. Training seems to have nothing to do with it. Or maybe they learned something and have been thinking it over ever since. We typically dismiss such cognitive abilities, but I think they do mull things over, and seeing dramatic changes like that suggests to me that this may be what’s going on.
Last week I decided it was time to put a stop on Mira. She’s a pushy, speeding little thing and I hadn’t wanted to mess with her natural desire to work, just shape it. But she wasn’t stopping and, as I was getting her to do more complicated things – like hold sheep in place while I sort them through gates – her constant forward motion was starting to be a problem. Plus I thought I might be trialing her in a couple of weeks (turns out there’s no novice-novice class so I can’t), and I need her to start downing on command and being more precise.
So I spent one session last week working on her stops. I first tried this by hollering at her, but that has just never worked with this dog. My dogs all know that me yelling means nothing, that I’m not going to do anything to them, and they just tune me out. Which is fair enough because I really never yell at them, I just sometimes yell to blow off steam. They know that it’s only if I go over to them that I mean business. I usually say something once, then go over and fix it if they don’t listen. So yelling is ignored, but taking one step towards them usually has them step in line almost instantly.
So I started to run at her to get her to stop. I would send her on an outrun, then run up the field to meet her at the sheep, and tell her to lie down when she was on balance on the other side. If she didn’t listen, I’d run through the sheep and block her from them. I only did it a few times as I wasn’t feeling well and that takes a lot of energy. The next day we trained something different, so I really hadn’t done much on the stop.
Yesterday, however, she amazed me. She suddenly – out of the blue – not only just started taking her stops, but started to go deeper on her outruns, stop on pressure, and slowly walk up and lift the sheep. This is a dramatic change from our last time out. Until yesterday, she would come in tight, bang the sheep and chase them up the field to me. Yesterday she was a different dog. Not only that, but she would lie down on the fetch. That is, she would lie down even at quite a distance from me, with the sheep moving no less. Furthermore, when she started getting silly and running up their butts, she would back off nicely when I’d tell her to “get out of that!” She’d back off, but keep working with better pace.
I was truly stunned. Where had all this come from? Is she really thinking this through? Or is it just another level of instinct kicking in? There’s no way to know why they make these big leaps forward in understanding. And it doesn’t really matter how or why. I am just delighted when it happens.
And so was Mira. You should have seen how pleased she was with herself. She clearly knew that she suddenly understood something that she hadn’t before. She behaved quite differently afterwards, and for the rest of the day. More confident perhaps, and more relaxed with herself. And last night, instead of going off and sleeping on her own like she usually does, she slept beside me with her chin resting on my stomach. All night.