Well here I sit in my hotel room, half way home from the Kevin Evan clinic. What a treat it has been to work with someone of that calibre for three days! My brain is so full I can’t seem to stop going over and over our lessons. I mostly worked Hannah, but I had so much time with Kevin that I was able to do everything I wanted with Hannah, and still work Mira and Kess with him too. Again, what a treat.
In my first session with Hannah, he had me just work her a little while he watched and assessed. He said Hannah is a really nice bitch, that she “has it all” and that all that is needed is that I sharpen up her training (no surprise there!). Basically, she’s slicing her flanks, coming up short at the top of her outruns and lifting crookedly, and has no pace. So we worked on these points. All of them are due to me letting her get sloppy and nothing more. When he showed me how to get pace on her and how to insist that she do proper flanks, she came up nice and square with good pace. Lots to practice on, but I can now clearly see the difference. She also sharpened up a lot when I started demanding more of her. She was clearly bored with what we had been practicing and was getting lazy, cutting corners – literally!
Once we had that sorted out, we spent our next three lessons working on shedding, penning and the look back respectively. Shedding was awesome. Shedding is when you need to split off some sheep from the main group. You stand on one side, the dog on the other, and when a gap forms between the sheep you want and the rest of the group, you call the dog through the sheep and have the dog drive the ones you want away. Sounds easy, but it sure is not! The sheep were were working on were very dogged at that point and just wanted to stay glued to each other and your legs. They were definitely not interested in shedding!
Kevin worked Hannah for a bit, and that was just magic to watch. Both were clearly enjoying themselves with the challenge of shedding un-shedable sheep. I doubt any sheep are un-shedable for Kevin. He soon had them splitting and Hannah coming through and taking away half. Then he had her shed those and take away half again. Soon he was down to two, and split them. Then he had her drive a single away from the rest. That was tough, but Hannah was up to the job and seemed to be over the moon with glee pushing that stubborn ewe up the field. I am quite sure Hannah would have climbed into Kevin’s suitcase to come home with him after that, given the chance. She’s always thrilled to work with someone who knows what they are doing, and this guy is as good as they get (current world champion).
I’ll allow myself the vanity of believing that he was also enjoying working with her. You can see how much he enjoys bringing out the best in a dog, and the dramatic improvement in some of the dogs this weekend was really impressive to watch.
I learned a lot with penning as well, which we did with very tough sheep. The decision was made to bring out the very light Cheviots and use them for the more advanced dogs. Hannah fell into that group, which surprised me but most of the handlers & dogs attending were fairly novice, like myself. She was the second most advanced dog there, although there were handlers with more experience than I have. It seems most people brought dogs they were having trouble with, rather than dogs they wanted to polish.
Training for the look-back was a lot trickier than I expect. The principle is simple, as with all of this training, but the implementation of theory is really tough. We were not able to make it happen in the time that we had but I am pretty sure I’m clear on what to practice.
Kevin explained that you can train a dog up about 80% without teaching it to take pressure from you, but to get that last 20% you had to get that pressure going. I don’t put pressure on my dogs; I didn’t know how. So when I step into Hannah, she just turns and looks at me, as if to say “what?”. Getting the dog to move off your body pressure is apparently very important for putting that really cutting edge polish on, the kind where the dog and handler move in synchronistic together without words. Hannah sure moved off Kevin – the man has a tremendous amount of presence and the dogs all move off him! But I need to work on that. He said we’re 80% there. The problem of course is that he uses a lot of aggression in his voice and body language to teach the dogs, and I just can’t do that with Hannah! We just don’t work that way together. But I’ll figure out how to get that from her.
Having felt that I covered just about everything I can with Hannah and now just need to go home and practice for a few months, I used my last two slots with Mira and Kess. We got Mira going very quickly. The problems I had with her at home vanished within seconds. Kevin said she was a nice little bitch and would make a good trial dog. That’s two very experienced British handlers who have said that about her now, so it’s clearly my job to make it happen!
The problems I was having with Mira, it is clear to me now, is that I was trying to train her on sheep that were simply too wild. Last fall I had a choice of sheep and I could select nice quiet ones. This allowed us to make progress because she didn’t feel she had to constantly cover as they tried to bolt back to the barn. When we were sheep sitting this past May, the sheep were yearlings and had just been shorn, and were flighty as deer. This got Mira all rattled and made her want to always stay in position where she could stop them from running back to the barn. Back on heavy, quiet sheep, Mira did quite well.
Where we will be starting to train next week, the sheep are very “dogged” (quiet and like to stay with people) – not ideal for Hannah, but very good for the young dogs. It seems you really need a variety of sheep to properly train dogs: nice quiet ones to start, and then several grades of flightiness as you work your way up the scale. As Mira develops more confidence and obedience, she will be able to work more difficult sheep.
Finally, we worked Kess. I only wanted to spend about 10 minutes on her, getting an idea of how to start her and what steps I need to follow to get her going. We took her into a round pen that was a bit too small to do much, but after diving in once or twice, Kess was going around them very nicely within about 2 minutes. It’s so amazing to watch a talented handler work. It looked sooooo easy. He let me take over and we were back to a mess within seconds. But soon I got it and she was working nicely for me too. He remarked “there’s nothing wrong with this one, is there?” and when I told him that I’d gotten her free from the pound, he said that he’d paid a lot more for a lot worse. He also said that it was clear that she had some really good quality breeding behind her. Yeah Kess!
Finally, a word on Ross. He did extremely well this weekend. While he spent most of the time in our room, we got out for a nice hike in the woods each day. He slept a lot, clearly tired by the strain of it all. However he stayed pretty calm and, other than over one meal, ate well and never showed any overt signs of stress (i.e. panting, drooling, shaking, vomiting, not eating – all things he’s done in the past). I did give him a dose of his main homeopathic remedy (Calc. Carb) when we got there, which may have helped keep him calm.
All in all, the 12 hour drive each way and spending money I don’t have on the clinic was worth it. It really wasn’t that expensive if you factor in that accommodation and chef-prepared food were included (the food was amazing!). I’d have spent more on a weekend in a hotel and never leaving the room. I learned that I have three very talented dogs, and the next steps needed for improving myself if I want to bring out this talent. I gained significant new insight into how to put a foundation in a dog, and how to better read sheep. I really hope this new training facility works out for me to train there regularly because I want to put all this new knowledge into practice as soon as possible! But for now I need to get packed up and moved out of this hotel room, and off to lunch with my grandparents!