Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This evening, while grazing sheep, I was thinking.
Motley, the Aussie, came to mind as I was reminding Dari that she needed to bring all the sheep. Not just the handful in the lead. She is occasionally "getting it", buts it's hard as she is in a rush.
Motley, at 12 weeks, went 100ft or so into the back pasture to bring the sheep back. He would as a young dog 9 months, go into the fallow fields next door, going hundreds of yards, even past deer, to bring the sheep  back. All natural. He was amazing when it came to bringing stock back... So it should come as no surprise that he had a hard time learning to drive. Mileage does help, but...

Monday, October 22, 2012

To drive or to fetch, that is the question

To drive or to fetch, that is the question. 
Seems to be a reoccurring topic, when discussing training and working dogs.
I have my thoughts, influenced by various teachers/mentors and of course by my own experiences.
First and foremost, I want a dog who watches heads, who controls where the stock goes. I want the dog's default be to bring stock to me. For practical work, this makes a world of difference.
I have seen some really great heelers, precisely hitting those heels, keeping the cattle moving, but without fences controlling the path of the stock, or much mechanical control of the dog, this can be bad when the stock runs off.
Some dogs are so hardwired to fetch, whether through unfortunate experiences in early work and training or because it is so genetically ingrained to control heads and bring them back to the person. (I have had some really easy dogs to teach to drive, and some who were very frustrating) Through patience and consistent training, most dogs will learn the task, particularly if real tasks are incorporated into training. Activities like penning, pushing off feed or gates, working lanes, all help reinforce any off balance/driving work. (grazing/tending sheep is also helpful, as it does include stopping off balance.)
The dog has to learn that he can control the stock even when driving, and that taking the stock away is the proper and desire action.
Though it helps to have dogs with consistent flanks before driving, I start driving sooner. I'm not consistent on my flanks, how can I expect such from my dog. However I do off balance flanks, coming around me to get to the stock, when I am ready to start driving. I will even do off balance flanks in a small pen/take pen.
I set up outruns where the dog has to come out and around me before getting to the stock, I also stop the dog at different points.
Much of driving is just mileage-for handler and dog.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Not as planned

Today was another day. Rio was as awesome, and just as easy as yesterday. Worked outruns- all good, nice square flanks, covering heads, did some nice shorts drives. Wow...
Heater was off- he was looking for the fun. But he did some nice fetching, a little driving. We did work on stops and downs. As well as holding sheep to me.
My session with Dari changed from what I intended. Started asking her to hold the sheep to me in the open (off the fence).  She kept pushing, and would not settle.  She also kept stopping short on the "away" side.  So worked on covering with a fetch.  Again she would not cover the ewe who kept trying to go past me.  She also was not taking the away flank.  Spent my time working on going "away".  She finally did cover.  Then I backed in the corner and let Dari "figure it out".  She would push too hard and the "bad" ewe would spurt out.  Though I can control her (she really has a nice stop and down), I want Dari to learn self-control.  She needs to learn where to be.

Bug and Rango got to help Lizzy and Lin with chores.  All was ok, until I tried to sort sheep out of the pen (or atleast get all but 5 sheep out of the pen. ) I fear that Rango is not going to be invited to play much more.  Bug can use the mileage and confidence building.  Rango needs to learn when and where biting is appropriate.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A good training session

Much of my time is spent doing chores and tending sheep. Though this does the dogs much good, every so often it helps to spend 5-10 minutes training.
So this gorgeous morning that is what I did. With limited time available, I decided to work Heater (a friend's dog that I am training), and my 2 18 month old hooligans, Rio and Dari.
After we finished morning chores, Tommy and Lin helped sort off 5 likely volunteers, and we drove the large group to the agility field.
I chose Heater as my first. My goal is to get some advanced titles on him (and hopefully WTCH him)
If he continues progressing as has been over the last several sessions, it should be an attainable goal. With him, the first challenge was getting him to work for me. It took a couple of months before he would work for me. Then I had to convince him that working the stock was a job, not a chase game. Once he settles, he works quietly, responds to pressure nicely, balances. He has a good bit of obedience, so getting the stays, stops, downs just takes reinforcing them. We are starting to name flanks, as he consistently responds to body/stick pressure.
My sheep are nice training sheep. They will fetch or drive. So I decided to start a little driving. Fortunately he did not fight it, and fell in rather nicely. In all it we had another successful session.
Rio was my next very willing victim. We started by taking the ram and 3 wethers to the neighbors back field. He really did not like the idea that they were going to come out of their stall. But we successfully moved the boys, and I realize I need to do take pen/lane work with Rio.
Then we worked with the 5 ewes. Working Rio is like working a fine tuned sports car. He is very controlled and deliberate. Will do nice wide outruns (with help), great sense of balance and rate. We did work on some driving. And to keep the "fun" in I asked him to hit the heels! I think it helps keep the push, and like being able to ask for it when needed. Rio is very controlled, with a hit then backs off. All natural.  I do need to work on his get around/outrun. So that he consistently gets everyone. He will fall in before finishing getting around.
Last was the quick Dari. With her I need self control. She has a good stop and down. But everything is fast/push. When she starts thinking, she will rate, but it's getting the dog to think. Her outrun is more consistent than Rio's!  So we did fetching, and holding them to me, I wanted her to stop on her own.  Once she began to stop herself the rest of the fetching became easier. We also worked on off balance flanks, stopping different places on the circle, and even a little driving. As with the other 2, I ended their sessions with outrun/fetch. Then Dari got to take the small group to their buddies out front.
The young dogs sessions were probably under 10 minutes.
Tommy got to do the grazing. After having to get the sheep out of the bean field, a blind outrun, and no handler assistance, he got to do the tending.. It consists of a good bit of off balance work, and standing around watching. Tommy has become a very useful dog.
In all a productive morning!

Monday, October 15, 2012

So, trying this from my phone...
Yesterday Afternoon we were back in the pasture grazing sheep. Me, Lizzy, Bug, and Rango... After a very unsuccessful agility weekend, I was very happy with Lizzy's work on the stock!
(both pups did get an opportunity to come to the agility trial, wonderful experience as there are lots of dogs, barking, people, strange noises, etc. I brought them different days as I would rather not have them dependent on each other. They had fun making friends, walking around, being pups )
So grazing- interesting to watch the approach of the 2 pups. If no one is working, they leave the sheep alone at this point. Not sure how much longer for Rango. He is very much into moving them, kinda likes to bite. Bug is not as enthusiastic, she wants to hold the sheep to the other dog but does yet have the presence to stop them. I am happy to see the interest and involvement of both the pups.
Lizzy was good. Even with the interference and lack of help from me(sitting on my bucket,) she would nicely get the sheep out of the brush and weeds when they started wandering to far.
I probably should mention that the sheep the pups are around will not as a rule challenge a dog nor will they run away in terror. The pups are not around my ram, as he would come after them.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Last weekend we attended ASC of MA's Whiskey Creek Stock trial.  A great trial in a wonderful location. I entered Tommy in Post Advanced cattle and sheep, as well as both arena trials on Saturday...
Though I was really pleased with what we accomplished, and where he is now, I also realize that we need more mileage. (We qualified all but the first duck run, earning finals points for most of our runs. He now has his PATD sheep and cattle titles and a open farm trial mixed leg)
Post Advanced was the start of the weekend... A big field with panels off the fences and a little more distance than the minimum arena. The big challenge with Tommy is getting him to hold a line and push stock away from me.  30-40 feet is ok, but that farther he gets, the stronger the desire to bring them back is.  The other issue I have is the away flank, as for some reason he feels he needs to come back to me.  Fortunately he is a big running dog (who loves to run and can cover lots of ground). He also covers well and has a good out so I really don't worry about loosing stock.
So- need to keep working on that walk up (push away).  We have been doing this during morning chores... The sheep desperately want to come back to the pen for their "breakfast" and Tommy has to push them back out to the pasture or hold them off the gate. Hoping the consistency of this pays off.
We also kept having an issue during the cross drive.  I would give him the flank to push the stock back to the fence, and he would go to far/to head.  I am grateful to Rachel Vest for pointing out that I needed a short flank command, as when I would give the "go by" he would go all the way to head.  (I have it, I use "go" for the clockwise short flank, just was not using it when I should have).
We had a very hard time with ducks. They needed a very precise line dog, the slightest over flank and they would change directions. It was interesting watching Tommy try to figure out how to work them.  He actually did some really nice work, just was not consistent enough.  He was watching pressure and trying to figure out how much and when.
Even though it was in the rain, we had a great time doing the mixed farm trial (sheep and cattle).
In all a productive weekend, and not planning on trialling again until the spring.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I decided to take the pups (Rango and Bug) up to the barn tonight, to "help" Lizzy with chores.  Mostly they just wander around while I clean duck water, lock up ducks, and fill sheep water.
But first we had to put the ram and wethers.
Then we let the girls out in the back pasture so they could eat out there while I did the other chores.
After chores were done we (Lizzy with the interference of the pups) gathered the girls so that we could put them in the agility field.
Its fascinating watching the difference in how Bug and Rango approach the stock. Rango will go to head, but will also fall in with Lizzy behind the stock.  Bug, like her father as a pup, wants to hold the stock to the other dog, however does not have the presence yet to stop them.

This up coming weekend is the Whiskey Creek ASCA stock trial.  Tommy is doing post advance sheep and cattle on thursday and on friday.  The challenge for us will be the drive away.  Each morning, we have been working on driving the big group of sheep.  They want to run back to their pen...   I have no fear that he can cover and flank... Just concerned about that drive away.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun moments from the weekend...
My friend Karen and her excitement when her Aussie Motley successfully spotted/held sheep for Charlie the border collie.  Karen and Mot made some progress, and are becoming more of a team!
Sally's Secret, whose motto is "girls just have to have fun" making it through with minimal yehaws.  Secret is one of those dogs, who can be soooo good, and then sooo bad. When she works well, it is a beautiful thing to watch.
Brit the boxer, and how well she can work.  She is/will be a challenge as she is one of those dogs who does not do well with rote training and repetition. So will have to figure out level appropriate "jobs".  She does have a nice out, sense of balance, as well as bringing the stock off the fence and out of the stall.
I try to work my dogs also.  I brought the babies (3 month Rango, 4 month Bug) out, and let them 'work" work with Dari.  It is fun to see them watch the sheep more and more.  Both of them are happy to balance the sheep to Dari, and are watching heads.
I worked Dari some.  At 18 months she is working on fetching (balancing, pushing out -though she really does work off the stock, lots of turns).  Then we also work on flanking on command and off balance flanks.  She will free flank around me when asked, and is doing a nice job starting to drive.  (A couple steps at a time)
Tommy spent much of his work time backing up other dogs, holding stock and just doing work. This is wonderful for working on patience and self control.  We also worked on driving.  He is entered in a post advanced trial next weekend, and I hope he will push the stock that far away from me, as sometimes he looses confidence pushing them at a distance. I just keep reminding myself, its all about mileage and confidence.  Just be patient.  There are so many things he does so well..

And dats all till next time...
Last weekend I did a herding clinic at my friend Sally's in Nashville(herding at Sally's).  We try to do these monthly as it seems to help those repeat offenders. More consistent help and scheduled time to work dogs.  Unfortunately some months, neither Sally or my schedules allow this.
I enjoy doing these clinics, working with different dogs and people... I have a couple of views about clinics... Not every dog/handler team learns the same way.  Sometimes its better to recommend different clinicians.  Even for those repeat "offenders" I think going different places and to different teachers is good, though with most people I will recommend trainers with a similar philosophy and methodology.
When I started doing the clinics I was uncertain about doing them, as I did not know if I had anything to offer.  As I go along, I realize a consistent instructor and structure helps introduce people and gives them an opportunity to learn.  I have learned so much about working with and teaching people and dogs. Every team is different, and learn at different speeds and from different activities. I do get frustrated when I can not help someone make progress, and feel like I am spinning in circles.
The reward is seeing light bulbs come on for both dogs and handlers.  Those ah ha moments, where things start to fall in place.
Some of my favorite successes are dogs who, the first time they walk in, do not see the sheep.  And by the end of the weekend are fetching the stock, and learning to balance.
We are fortunate at Sally's that we have access to video and at lunch we rerun the morning sessions, and discuss good or bad things that happen.  One of my attendees brought a wonderful sound system, so for the larger clinics I use a wireless mic, and everyone can hear what I say to the person I am working with. (I do have to remember to turn it off and on).  The other training tool (one which I have rarely seen)- having novices work my trained dogs, learning to walk backwards, turn and push the dogs out.  My little Lizzy is great for this, as she will work on the flight zone when she is good.  However if the handler keeps making mistakes she will cheat- a reminder of what a green dog will do.