I don’t know where the week has gone. Here it is Wednesday evening and only two days left before my family returns. I have only done a small fraction of the work I had hoped to do and am starting to stress about it. I did accomplish one major task – I got treatment started on my back and general health. I have been to an osteopath three times in the last week, and yesterday I met with a new homeopath. Today my back is feeling much, much, MUCH better, at last. This is all from the osteopathic manipulations, which involves deep tissue massage to gently realign of my bones and organs. Apparently I was very out of whack after the accident! Waiting 6 weeks to start treatment allowed the original injury to really set in and pull everything else out of place. I had just about forgotten what it feels like to be pain free! Today I feel like I could run a marathon, although I know I couldn’t. But it’s great to be feeling better at last. I look forward to more improvement as I start homeopathic treatment and also an exercise regime.
Today just disappeared on me and I’m only now sitting down to do some work at 8pm at night. I have some essays that I absolutely must finish grading by the weekend, above and beyond anything else. I should have spent the day doing it but I had my osteopathy appointment this morning, and a lunch date with a friend of my mother’s in early afternoon. I got home at 3pm and decided I need to run the dogs (since I did squat with them yesterday). I figured it would take as much time to drive to the farm, hike all four and do a little training as it would to walk them individually or in pairs around here, so that’s what I did. I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home and got in at 7pm. Dinner for everyone (including myself) means staring my work day at 8pm. Yikes!
I arrived at the farm at 4pm and knew I had just over an hour of daylight to play with. I really wanted to hike the dogs first, but the owner was running hers, and I didn’t want to wait and run out of light. So I just pulled Hannah out of the car and took her to sheep to start working.
Perhaps calling her off and leaving the field when she wouldn’t listen on Tuesday made an impression on her because Hannah worked really nicely today. At last. The last four times we were out she was a complete brat, but today her brain was back in gear and she was really quite lovely. I used her to get some sheep out and then split the group into two. The were really clingy so proper shedding wasn’t happening. Instead I had her hold them to me against a fence and called her in to me, then drive some off. I think that’s actually a good exercise a because it makes her walk straight into sheep who aren’t moving off, and also gets her to come straight to me around sheep. We only did it once, to get our working group, then put the rest away.
I did some driving with Hannah and worked on squaring off her flanks. She is slicing her flanks horribly (i.e. when I tell her to go left, she actually goes half forward, half left, bringing her closer to the sheep with every flank). This is a problem when I am doing quiet work like shedding. When she’d slice and come forward, the sheep would move past me and we ‘d have to start over again. Mira was doing the same thing at the pen last time out as well. I am not sure how to square off flanks, but I muddle around with stepping into the dog’s shoulder, or flicking my stock stick at them just as I send them. I need to do a little reading to see if there’s a better way. Both dogs have really nice, square flanks when it suits them, but I need them to do it all the time.
After some work, I had Hannah put the sheep in the pen and put her up. Next I brought out Mira. I also wished I had run her first, but it couldn’t be helped. She was miss speed demon, still missing her stop. She’s a really, really hard dog to stop and I wish I knew how better to work with this. When I’ve had lessons with her, she has stopped really nicely because she’s been in an new field with a new person nearby and she gets worried and more cautious. So I’ve had a hard time replicating the problem with expert advice around. I ended up yelling at her a whole lot, which I absolutely hate doing. Every time I holler I am left with a really negative feeling. I do my best to immediately change my tone to a happy voice (which also helps me feel happier) but I still get the emotional baggage of being angry. You shouldn’t get angry training your dog, but I was getting quite frustrated. There has to be a better way. Maybe I’ll bring the whip out tomorrow – it may serve as the punctuation I need without having to raise my voice.
I had Mira do some wearing and some small outruns. The sheep were really light, which is to be expected with such pushy, eager dogs honing in on them like heat seeking missiles. I was able to get Mira’s pace under control fairly quickly, however, and do some decent work with her. I am trying to get her to really learn her flanks, without doing too much drilling. I also want to do some chore work with her, as I mentioned before. So at the end of our training session I had her drive the sheep off into a corner (it was assisted driving – she’s not yet driving on her own) and leave them there, then go back to the holding pasture where the rest of the original group was grazing. I had her go in and pull them out, then sent her on her first ‘look back’ to pick up the ones she left in the field. They unfortunately were already on their way, but she nevertheless went out to pick them up and bring them back. Good girl! I then had her move the whole group around (about 20 lambs) and then put them away. I praised her for a job well done and put her up.
As much as I am able, I am going to try and have each dog get her own sheep from now on, and put them away when we’re finished. I think it gives them more of a sense of closure to put sheep through a gate when we’re done, than to be called off after doing some work, and just leaving the sheep in the field. They seem to know the difference between training and actual work. Perhaps this is why Hannah did better today – she had to get her own sheep out, and separate off a working group and put them through some gates etc. The last few times we’ve been out we’ve trained with a friend who did all that before we arrived, and so Hannah just came straight out to practice. Maybe that’s a different mind set for her, and she doesn’t take it as seriously. Hard to know, but it is a thought.
Anyway, last but not least I took Kestrel out. She was super keen and I thought would be a handful, but she very quickly settles now and finds her pace. She really makes me feel better about Mira, as it is clear that my struggles with her are due to her innate strengths and weaknesses not just because of my lack of ability. Let me clarify – I am obviously able to teach a dog to stop and have pace, if the dog is naturally inclined to have these, as Kestrel does. So I am not a complete idiot at handling. Mira is a more challenging dog to train and I lack the knowledge and breadth of experience to help her understand what I want. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, watching Kess drop like a stone on command, I suspect Mira’s lack of stop is because Mira just doesn’t have a natural stop, not because I’ve screwed her up.
Back to Kess – I didn’t have much light left so I just did some flank exercises, and also some driving. Because she has such a good stop, it’s easy for me to do small flanks with her and keep her from whipping around to the heads of the sheep and stop them. She is also very comfortable being on the same side of the sheep as me – always has been. This is both great and problematic. It’s great because she’s easy to teach to drive. She’s driving better than Mira is, as if I give Mira a flank, it takes me 30 yards to get her to stop. By then she’s in front of the sheep and bringing them back to me. Kess will stop instantly so I can stop her while she’s still behind the sheep and get her to continue to walk on. The problem with this tendency is that she will still sometimes walk straight into the sheep when I want her to go around them. I’m working on getting her to understand the difference. As I am becoming more and more part of the picture for her, she is starting to pay attention to what I say and where I position myself and thus is cluing in to what I want her to do. I had thought about just teaching wearing until she did that really well before teaching her to drive, but she’s not a puppy anymore. She’s nearly 18 months old and very, very smart. I think she can do both and understand the difference, if I expect her to do so. Tonight I worked on both wearing and driving, and little outruns. She did well with all three.
I forgot to mention that I had her fetch her own sheep before we started. When we were done, I had her put them away too. Unfortunately the cows had come over to our corner of the field and were milling around the gate. I didn’t want to put them in with the sheep so I had to keep them separate. The sheep were smart, so they ran to hide under the cows legs. Oh-oh… But I had nothing to worry about. Kestrel didn’t even pay attention to the cows and worked the sheep like they weren’t there. That wasn’t ideal as she could have gotten kicked or stepped on. She actually went under one of the cows to move the sheep. I knew that the cows were very accustomed to dogs and wasn’t too worried, but I still was a bit freaked out when she did that. Hannah and Mira both give cows a wide berth when they get in with the sheep, and just use their presence to move the sheep away. I will have to be careful with Kess in the future. Not all cows are this benign around dogs.
We did get the sheep up and put away (with a bit of a struggle which ended with me having Kess help me drive the cows away from the gate, then gather up the sheep), and I think she was pretty proud of herself. I was pleased with how things went, considering she doesn’t yet know her flanks well and had to do some real work for a change. I then hiked all four dogs in the dark, and we came home. It’s nice that there’s some snow on the ground so I can see them in the dark.
I have really enjoyed training the dogs this often – four times in the last 7 days. I am seeing solid progress in each dog as a result. I am going out again tomorrow, and perhaps Friday as well. It would be nice to continue this rate of training over the winter but I suspect this week will be it for a couple of months. Hopefully the dogs will retain what they learn. It obviously really makes a difference when you can train regularly, especially if you can train daily. I know open handlers who, when training a young dog once or twice for a few minutes every day, get their dogs further ahead in two weeks than I have done in 6 months of training once or twice a week. Of course they are more skilled than I am, and not going through the steep learning curve that I must climb, but still. Mira and Kestrel really should be ready to trial at least in novice-novice by spring and I hope I can get them there. It would be fun to have three dogs to run this summer, in the few trials I hope to attend. But I’ll need to continue to train more frequently if I ever want to get there.
OK, now that I have emptied my head of my dog training analysis, I had better get down to work or I am soon going to be in a sorry state!