Yet another busy week.  The poor dogs had three very boring days (Tue-Thur) while I worked 10-12 hours at a stretch.  But I think I made it up to them.  On Monday I trained all four dogs at agility, and then the three girls in herding immediately afterwards.  Today they had plenty of entertainment running with Hannah’s family pack, which I was caring for for a few days.  Plus they got to spend a fair bit of time hiking, and Hannah got a solid hour of work and training in.  All four have been sound asleep since 7pm, and the house has been very quiet as I’ve caught up on some paperwork.

It’s been such a tiring week that I can barely remember what we did on Monday, but I’ll try to record at least the highlights.  I got to the agility arena late – I was scheduled for 10:30am but had some work to take care of in the morning and didn’t arrive until 11:05.  As I had to be out of there by 11:30, that meant spending 5 minutes with each dog.  Doing 5 minute training sessions is actually a very good way to train.  Ideally I would rotate through all four dogs several times, each doing 5 minutes. But that day I only worked each dog once.  Still, I think we accomplished a lot.

With Ross I am just getting him to focus on me in an arena environment.  I would like to someday do some Rally-O with him, so I did a bunch of obedience exercises with him around the equipment.  He’s not used to arenas or equipment, and gets highly distracted in environments that smell a lot like other dogs (especially if there are other dogs there, but even the scent of dogs past is enough to take his mind off of work). I’ve been keeping him on a leash in order to prevent him from blowing me off (and from peeing on the equipment, which is totally not cool in the agility world) and carrying yummy treats.  The first time I did this I had a hard time keeping his focus, but this week was better.  Ross and I have done these drills so many times that he falls into step pretty quickly, even with the distracting scents around him.  We worked on heeling on both sides, flying downs, recalls, pivots and figure-8’s in heel, and heeling while we walk backwards.  He did very well.

I next worked Kess.  She continues to amaze me with how quickly she picks things up.  This was our third time working in the arena, and the 5th or 6th time I’ve done any agility with her.  Yet she was easily sequencing 4-5 jumps at a time.  I merely pointed at a jump and she’d kick out and take it.  Truly astounding. She can be a rather excitable and easily over-stimulated dog, but despite her hyperactivity, her brain works really, really well.  She obviously totally gets the idea of agility.  So cool.

Mira also did well, although I continue to struggle with getting her to both enjoy, and understand the point of this sport.  She does fly over jumps, but still turns in to me after every obstacle to get her rewards (the tug).  I’ve done agility with her – off and on – for about two years now, and we still struggle to sequence more than 3 or 4 obstacles.  I really think she just sees agility as doing tasks for the reward of playing tug.  She is not transferring the joy of tugging to the joy of jumping, which is what is supposed to happen.  The idea is that if the dog gets a great reward for doing the jump, soon the jump itself becomes rewarding.  Mira is not being fooled by this psychological manipulation.  As much as she enjoys jumping while flying through the forest, jumping plastic bars remains a duty only made bearable because of the fun game of tug she gets to play after each one. Or two.  Or three… which is really pushing it.

Mira did do a nice sequence of jumps that ended with a tire.  She managed the jumps but didn’t know what to do with the tire.  I couldn’t remember if she’d done one before, so spent some time teaching her the tire.  She picked it up pretty quickly (ie. she’s to jump through the tire, not dodge under or around it) and did it over and over and over successfully.  However, for some reason she refused to jump through the tire after a jump. So while she would do it without any problem when we just worked on that one obstacle, as soon as I elongated the sequence to “jump – tire”, she just went under the tire.  When I dropped the tire to 6 inches off the ground, she dodged around it.  I tried a dozen times at least and she would not, or could not, do it.  We’ll try again next time.

Hannah was as brilliant as she always is at agility.  That dog can read my mind.  She has absolutely no trouble taking any jump, in any sequence I ask, regardless if I do a front cross, a rear cross or if I fall flat on my face and point with my foot.  I really should sign her up for the next agility trial and get going with her. She’s been more than ready to compete in a jumpers course for well over a year now.  I am also starting to work her on full contact equipment.  She has been doing her contacts for three years, but has never actually done full contact equipment (i.e. she can hop on the the bottom of the A-frame and target a piece of plastic on the ground put there to stop the dog from flying off the A-frame without touching the bottom portion, but she has never actually gone over an A-frame before last week). Our original instructor, who is very talented and brilliant and super wonderful to train with, is also very, very, very careful and precise in her training.  So Hannah has really great technique, but at nearly 4 years of age, she still can’t run a full course.  Time to change that.

Next we drove to the farm where I took all four dogs for a short hike in the hay-field before training.  I started with Hannah and worked on pace on the fetch.  I sent her on progressively longer outruns, but nothing too big. I really want to make sure that she listens well and takes her time bringing sheep to me before trying to work her too far away.  Hannah is capable of putting in open outruns (450 yard or longer) with no trouble. She runs fast and she runs big.  Her challenge is bringing the sheep to me calmly and in a straight line at that distance.  When she’s that far away I think she feels like she’s totally on her own and she doesn’t listen to a thing I ask.  So I have cut her outruns down to 100yards or so and am very, very gradually stretching them out.  Today (Friday) I let her do bigger outruns at the end of our training session, mostly because the sheep kept trying to dash back to the barn.  I noticed that while she did gallop them a bit, as soon as I said “Take your time!!” she went from a gallop to a trot, something that she would not have done even a couple of weeks ago.  This is a big improvement.

We have also been working on shedding.  I’m not sure if I’m doing it well, but we have been successfully splitting sheep and holding them apart.  I still can’t get thing set up very well to have her shed specific sheep, but she’s getting pretty good at coming in through any gaps I call her through, and driving off the sheep I point to.  Today we had plenty of opportunity to do so as the sheep were were working on seemed more than happy to split and form gaps.  What they didn’t want to do was flock!  That was a new challenge for Hannah, and it was interesting to see her bring back a single ewe who had run 50 feet away from the others, who were wanting to blast off in a different direction.  Hannah stood between them, trying to move the wayward ewe with her eye. I said very little figuring Hannah knew better than I how to handle this situation.  I was right and she put them back together after a good minute of staring.  The ewe kept turning her head left and and right, clearly trying to decide which way to go.  Hannah similarly shifted her gaze, each time turning the ewe’s head back towards the small group she had left (in hopes of making it back to the larger group).  Eventually, Hannah won.

Today I only worked Hannah because we were training on my old trainer’s sheep, and she has only given me permission to work Hannah.  She does not know Mira and Kess on sheep, and she obviously doesn’t trust my ability to start and train a dog.  I was caring for her dogs and her sheep for a few days while she was away, and I could have trained all three without her ever knowing.  But I would have felt guilty so I respected her wishes that I only train Hannah. Poor Hannah got her tailed worked off, however.  We spent a good hour on the field, practicing shedding, outruns, driving, and pace. Hannah’s not keen on drill training and I don’t think it’s ideal to train this way either. But I couldn’t help it. I love training and since I couldn’t switch her up for one of the others, we just kept going.  And being the devoted working girl that she is, Hannah just kept working.  The sheep were very light and flighty and didn’t flock well, which was a pain.  But this was also very good for practice as the sheep we’ve been training on are pretty cooperative.  It’s good to try different sheep and put our training to the test.

Mira and Kestrel did well on Monday.  I think the homeopathic remedy I gave Mira has helped clear her mind because she’s been thinking more clearly this week.  Both dogs have a tendency to be rather wild on sheep, and I decided it was time to put an end to that.  Mira will be three in December and is showing herself capable of taking pressure.  Kestrel also can take a fair bit of pressure from me, so I cracked down on both of them.  Mostly I wanted to stop them from running the sheep over me.  I can’t get over these damn sheep that have no trouble slamming into me at top speed.  The sheep I trained on today (Scottish Blackface) will do no such thing, being nearly as afraid of me as of the dogs.  I prefer this and hope to get this breed when I own my own sheep.  The fact that they are such pretty animals (wooly white sheep with curved horns, black socks and faces) doesn’t hurt!

I worked each of the young dogs in the round pen first to make sure I had a measure of control.  Since there is no gate on the field I had to use each dog to gather sheep to train on and bring them out of the barnyard and into the field. This is quite challenging and required me keeping them on a leash. Mira is almost ready to listen, but she still blows me off a bit too much. The barnyard is very tricky, and full of stuff that an animal could bet injured on (piles of wood etc.) so I have to keep things calm and quiet.  As such, I kept both young dogs on leashes until we were out in the field

Once working I insisted on some pace and obedience.  It was a challenge at first, but as they shook out their beans, they settled down and started working well.  Mira is definitely developing some new talents and ideas, which is great.  She’s now doing big outruns and coming in slowly at the top, even though I’ve never taught her that.  Most people teach the dog to lie down at the top, and then bring them on slowly to the sheep.  Mira is naturally coming in slowly, so I am so far skipping this step in training.  I lay her down once the sheep get moving and ask her to bring them to me at a quiet pace.  This is not quite happening, but I’m pretty happy with what she’s doing.

Kestrel was frustrating me by refusing to wear smoothly.  She is happy to hold sheep to me in a straight line but when I start to turn, she ricochets around the sheep to get to their heads.  Or, she just pushes them past me and tries to drive them away.  I wasn’t sure what to do but started to really get after her whenever she’s set a toe out of line with respect to holding sheep to me. I  was pleased to see that she figured things quickly (really, no surprise there) and within 10 minutes was holding sheep to me nicely while I walked figure-8’s and s-curves around the field.

I have signed Hannah and Kestrel up to a training clinic next weekend.  I’m hoping it will be fun.  I am allowed to run two dogs a day, for both days.  There are several levels of dogs at this clinic, but most are either “puppy” or Pro-Novice/Ranch.  I wanted to work Mira but she’s more advanced than a puppy, but not advanced enough for the other group.  Kestrel could probably still benefit from the puppy group, so I decided to put her and Hannah into the clinic, and Mira and I will continue to muddle along.  While I’d like some professional guidance with Mira, I don’t want to put her in a situation where we will be under too much pressure. We still have a lot to figure out, but it seems our path continues to be one that only the two of us can follow.