Gosh it’s late! It’s almost midnight and I should be in bed. I have been trying to get myself onto an earlier schedule, with little success. There is just so much I need to be doing these days, still, and never enough hours. Hopefully once I get my house unpacked and set up, that will change. But how many times I have I written that ‘as soon as xyz is done, I’ll have more free time’? I don’t want to know. That said, it is summer and things should slow down at some point soon!
Things actually have slowed down to an extent. I never have to set an alarm anymore, and I have been spending time cooking and setting up my house instead of working constantly. Basically I have months of backlog to catch up on in my personal life, and that is what is taking up the time freed from work (the paid job kind of work, that is).
I have also been getting back to training with the dogs. Yeah me! Yesterday I spent some time doing basic agility training, and then took the dogs to stock in the evening. Today I had to pick up my CSA share, and then stay to pick strawberries for my freezer, so I didn’t have time to do any agility work. But I did go to the farm again this evening and trained all three dogs, followed by a good hike around the property.
Yesterday’s training was a bit of a bust, but I expected this as the dogs haven’t seen sheep since the clinic, nearly 4 weeks ago now. My poor dogs and their on-again, off-again training. I hope to get out 3-4 times a week for the rest of the summer, now, so we should make steady progress.
Tonight’s training went quite well for the most part. All three dogs progressed, and so did I. The biggest improvement was that I realized some major mistakes I was making. Well, one in particular: I keep pushing ahead too quickly. Take Hannah. I am working on shedding with her, and learned a new methods of doing so that works really well. The first step involves teaching the dog to come into you properly. She must come straight through the sheep, right to me, and actually go behind me before moving forward to take the stock. This forces the dog to make a 90 degree turn at the stock, rather than do a sweep that might end up pushing them back together. It’s hard to describe without pictures, but it works quite well in getting the dog where she needs to be to keep the sheep apart.
To start this, you need sheep that separate very easily. Unfortunately I only have access to a group of 30 or so sheep that have been work together quite excessively (the rest of the flock is busy with lambs right now). To solve the problem, I put all the sheep but 3 into the pen in the middle of the field. I then had three sheep who liked to stick to the pen, but would split off pretty easily with a little pressure from the dog. This set-up was perfect to practice the movement we need to master.
After doing this successfully three or four times, I then decided to try it with the small group of sheep away from the pen. They were actually splitting on their own, so I called Hannah to my heels through the gap. She went right back to her old habit of bolting in front of me and pushing the sheep back together again. I was furious with her and gave her a good scolding.
Then I thought to myself, ok, so she’s done it the new way maybe 10 times now, and the old way at least 100, probably way more. Why am I surprised when she goes back to her old habit as soon as I up the anti? Really it’s only natural.
So I went back to just pulling sheep off the pen, and we had several more successes. I am going to leave it at that until the end of the month. From now until July 01, Hannah and I are only going to shed sheep off the pen. I’ll only do a small number of repetitions every time we train, and of course we will also do other things so we don’t get bored out of our skulls, but I want to make sure that she really gets this step down pat before moving on. And since I have a lot to undo, we need to stay at this stage for at least the next two weeks. After that I’ll test her understanding out in the open.
I feel like I have a lot to undo in Hannah, and it’s hard for me to really know whether the problems we’re facing are inherently in her, or if I created them. The biggest one is that she still doesn’t listen very well. I have to call her off stock three or four times, and she’ll often slip back to them if I don’t keep my eye on her. She’ll ignore my flanks if they call her off balance. She is really slow to get on whistles. In fact I can blow a lie-down whistle while we’re out hiking, and Kess & Mira hit the deck instantly while Hannah often carries on like she didn’t hear me. The other two have barely been introduced to the whistle!
I think a lot of the problem with Hannah is that we stayed for so long at the basic stages. She has a fair amount of eye, and really good balance, and by keeping her doing little else but wearing for over two years, it’s really hard to get her to give up the idea of just bringing the sheep back to me. Not to mention that she’s really darn good at it. That’s her comfort zone. I have done relatively little wearing with the other two, and find both are driving very easily. But they are also natural driving dogs, whereas Hannah is not.
With both Kestrel and Mira I did a lot of off-balance flanking today (and yesterday). Kess continues to impress and excite me. She moves almost completely freely around stock, and I can stop her in any position and have her walk in on them. Training her is so darn easy. I still fight with Hannah over this. I will stop her, then tell her to walk up and she’ll flank to their heads. Drives me nuts. Kess, on the other hand, doesn’t much care where the sheep are pointed. If I say walk on, she walks on. If I flank her, she flanks. She moves easily and freely, and has no problem moving even heavy, ornery sheep. It’s a real treat to work with her.
Mira’s somewhere in between the other two. She’s very pressure sensitive but has less eye. She’s also really lacking in confidence. I have to be careful with that. Tonight, for example, I sent her to pick up three sheep. She was tired, and they could sense it. They didn’t want to come up the field, away from their friends and food. At one point they just split around her and ran back to the fence. I walked closer and encouraged Mira and she was able to move them the second time. I think I gave her the confidence she needed by coming closer.
I also did a fairly good job tonight of finding that balance between too much pressure, and not enough, when working Mira. This is what I was trying to figure out at the clinic when she shut down completely. Tonight I made it work. I managed to pressure her enough to square off her flanks, but not send her into orbit. She worked very nicely and I was really happy with her. She was pretty happy with herself. I don’t know why it matters to me so much to get this dog up and running, but I feel that I somehow owe it to her. I also think I am learning a whole lot trying to figure her out, and that I’ll be a much better handler for it.
I have decided to enter all three girls in an upcoming trial. I am pretty sure both Hannah and Mira are ready – Hannah in Pro-Novice, and Mira in Novice-Novice. Mira’s not quite driving yet, although we may be there soon and have to move up. But I think NN is the place for us to start at this point. I’m a bit less certain about Kestrel. I think she’ll do just fine once she has the sheep, but she still doesn’t have an outrun. I am not sure I can build one in a month, even just for a Novice course. It may not be in her interest for me to try and move her along that fast either. I suppose I can pull her if need be. I have a couple of weeks to think about it.
Tomorrow I head back to my parents’ for the weekend. I’m hoping to get some training in at the other farm while I’m there as I don’t want to backslide again. Every time we stop I have to spend 2-3 training sessions getting back up to speed. After I get home I won’t be traveling anywhere for a whole month. Imagine that! I can’t wait.