I just got back from working the dogs.  It’s 10:30 pm and I have to prepare to teach tomorrow (first time I’ve had to do homework in months!), plus I really should make jam out of all the berries I bought on Saturday before they start to spoil.  Of course I have to get up at 5:30am tomorrow, which is going to kill me as I haven’t had to even set an alarm since May.  But I thought I’d write a little about tonight’s training before getting down to all the work I have to do before bed.

In a nutshell, training did not go terribly well tonight.  I was really tired (still am) and am wondering if that had something to do with it.  I ended up yelling a lot, which I absolutely hate.  And I tweaked my calf again, and my back for that matter, while running around after sheep and dogs.  I really need to get myself into better shape as clearly my body doesn’t appreciate suddenly having to be active and nimble after a steady diet of couch potato.  Ah, if only there were more hours in the day…

I started with Kestrel tonight.  When I arrived, the owner had already put the weathers in the round pen for us to use.  I decided that Kess can handle more pressure than I’ve been putting on her, and it’s time for her to start putting me in the picture and getting a little pace and perhaps a stop.  I’m getting tired of the round pen and of watching her go around and around and around like a lunatic.

I started by getting her to ‘get in’ on our way up to the sheep.  I spent a lot of time teaching this to both Hannah and Mira, and absolutely none teaching Kess.  So she lunges and pulls and is otherwise a nightmare walking up to sheep.  Last time out I lost my temper and gave her a solid leash pop which promptly set her straight.  This is a failure in my training and I hate using compulsion with my dogs.  But again, there just aren’t enough hours in the day and I could have spent the entire session just working on healing.  I probably should have, but I didn’t.  I popped the leash, got her to listen to me, and went in to work the sheep.

Kestrel’s breeder warned me that once she started to really turn on, any semblance of obedience or mindfulness that she had been showing would go out the window.  Well, she was right on that one.  Kess is very, very intense and absolutely ignores everything that’s going on around her except for the sheep.  Tonight I found that even the lunge-whip wasn’t deterring her.  She seems to know that I won’t hit her with it, so she’s starting to ignore it.  So are the sheep for that matter, so clearly it’s time for me to get better with my timing and stop depending on props.  Right… a whole lot easier said than done, that’s for sure!  It’s time for another lesson is more like it.

Fortunately it was rather hot and humid out and Kess tired out a little faster this week than she has before.  Or maybe the work I did last time actually made an impression at some level.  Either way, I actually got a stop on her.  And when I had her stop, she promptly plopped into a down.  She’s quite stylish (low and creepy) when she works, and dropping into a down seems pretty natural for her.  She sure pops out of it in a hurry, so I don’t think I have to worry about her lying down.  Interestingly she started lying down on command within minutes of the first couple of natural lie-downs, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t waste a lot of time teaching her the term off sheep!

Overall I was quite pleased with how she was doing in the round pen so I decided to take her out to about a dozen sheep I had waiting in a small field.  I wanted to see if I could get her wearing as there’s just not enough room in the round pen for that.  I have to say this dog is impressing me so far.  She has no fear of going between stock and fences, and when working in the larger area, she showed me a natural inclination to count and keep her sheep together.  At one point one took off and boy did she work at getting it to come back.  Mira has never done this, and when working the same group just let them split off and drift away left and right (argh!).

I did get her wearing – it’s a tough little field because the draw is so strong back to the barn that it’s very hard to do anything other than go back and forth in front of the barn.  Even Hannah has to work hard to keep them at the far end of the field on a cross drive.  Neither Mira nor Kess are able to, but if we work at the barn end the sheep have nowhere to go.  Once I have a little more control over Kess, I’ll take her out into the big field and work there.  Right now I can see us losing our sheep out there because she’s do darn intense that she keeps running them right over me.  But we did get wearing, and I’m pretty pleased with that.  When I think how long it took me to get Mira wearing…

Well, actually we’re still struggling with that!  I left the farm tonight wondering if Mira’s ever going to be able to even run in a novice trial.  She really seems to lack some essential natural talent, such as a desire to gather and keep sheep together.  It could simply be that I’ve made such a mess of training her that all her issues come from my poor handling.  But that Kess is rapidly catching up to her after just 5-6 times out on sheep, while Mira’s been training for over a year now, makes me wonder… I will take a lesson in the next couple of weeks and see if I can figure out what’s going on.  Mira does have some good points, such as a natural desire to drive, slightly less eye than Hannah so she’s just walk into sheep quite easily, and a keen desire to work.  Oh, and she’s very fast and extremely agile.  Tonight I noticed that she continues to be quick to use her teeth.  Not real grips, but little nips and wool grabbing.  I worked her in a very tight holding pen to get her to move sheep around without gripping.  Her grips are cheap shots – in the rump or ankles of sheep that are already moving.  It is a sign of a lack of confidence, which is what I think all her problems stem from.  Looking at it that way, this very well be simply my doing.  I hope that’s the case as a good handler should be able to help me un-do this.

Hannah surprised me to night by reverting to her old ways of ignoring my flanks.  GRRRRR!  I really got frustrated with her tonight.  It was as if she’d gone deaf.  I actually ended up quitting in the middle of our session and putting her up.  I was going to take her out and work her some more after a break, but then Mira was causing me all sorts of grief so I decided to call it a night.

I really do suspect that my being out of sorts somewhat was contributing to the dogs misbehaving.  It’s always best to train when in a good state of mind, relaxed and happy.  I think I am just stressing too much about the coming three days of this teaching course I’m taking.  I’m already regretting having signed up for it, but there’s nothing to be done now but buckle down and endure the three 13 hour days I have in a row.  Speaking of which, I’d best get down to preparing for tomorrow’s marathon…