A Border Collie's Mistress' Place for News and Musings

Travels, Trials and Tribulations

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some Serious Catching UP

Part 1 Giving Some Thanks

Since it is close to Thanksgiving I’m going to list some things I am thankful for.
A partner that lets me run away from home to work dogs, that supports my journey on this path and will put up with this level of crazy.
Fabulous mentors that keep their patience and are willing to tell me the same thing over and over until finally hear it.  Mentors that keep me on and help me down the path and are willing to answer all my questions no matter how much detail I need.
I am grateful for wonderful friends that provide the opportunities to learn from great mentors.  Friends that are willing to be honest and also willing to help me over think everything.  Friends that kick me in the butt when I need it, pat me on the back when I deserve it and pick me up a little when I ask for it.

Part 2 Awash in Information

Last week I spent four days at a handling clinic coached by Scott Glen http://www.altapetestockdogs.com/ .  It was a pretty amazing experience.  I really didn’t know how much I learned until I walked away and had some time to digest everything.   By day 2 I thought I hit maximum capacity!  The third day I was feeling pretty hosed by information.  By the fourth day I could see so many new things, things I wasn’t seeing before. 
I am a very visual learner and I like to take things a roll them, around in my mind.  It usually means I don’t ask a bunch of questions, but I see everything.  In this clinic I was extremely fortunate to have a few friends participate in it, folks that I get to see their dogs trial pretty often and some dogs that I have been a spectator on their journey for a few years now.  I was doubly fortunate for 2 friends running dogs that had very similar things going on with their dogs as I do with mine.  It gave me the opportunity to see why things were happening for me the way they were.  I was able to see how to handle and avoid some of the situations.  I also discussed some training exercises to work on over the winter, although it shouldn’t take that long.
So boiled down as it applies to Z and me:
Better stop – we have an ok one, it has been working for us but just barely. We have a prescription to remedy that.  The homework is already started.
Clean flanks – I had gotten lazy about keep his flanks square.  This is what has been really killing us at the pen and sometimes in the shed.  It has been killing us around the course but I have been handling to compensate for it.  We are going to fix it.  Again we have a strait forward remedy, homework started there too.

Both bits of homework are getting applied to Hank as well.  Heaped on top of the stuff we are still working on but getting better at.

This was my Eureka moment: if I stop Z, I have to stop him far enough out of the sheep so he actually has room to walk up and affect the sheep.

I saw it time and again on other people’s dogs.  If they stopped the dog too close, the dog either struggled to shift the sheep or the dog blew it up.
I’ve never really considered the distance between the dog and the sheep a huge part of the equation when the sheep weren’t moving.  Not that I have subscribed to closer is better, but now I understand why closer doesn’t work well either.  It is noticeable on the lift, but where it was driven home was at the pen.  We penned some very silly un dogged lambs. What I learned from watching and listening where clean flanks so the dog can cover AND stay out. The caveat to this was if the dog flanked out clean and stayed off it had to be willing to take the space back if asked.  If the dogs got in too close the one of 2 things would happen it would blow up OR the lambs would not shift.  It was so dang clear.

Finally, I must get quieter with my whistles.  I must make the dogs listen for me.

Part 3 Testing Grounds and Applied Knowledge

My 2 dogs and myself have spend one week, 3 training sessions in total sorting through a hand full of the tidbits from the clinic.   Keeping the focus narrow so no of us gets overwhelmed.
Worked on better stop with both dogs, both are hitting the ground on a fairly quiet note.  I need to get to a whisper.  Distance and driving are where both dogs struggle with stopping, more so with Hank.   We will just keep it close for both dogs for a while and gather.

Worked on cleaner flanks, Hank’s are nicer right now; again they degrade with distance and driving.
On Saturday we went to a local trial. 
For Z, I could stop him anytime anywhere on that course.  I got louder than I wanted on the first part of the fetch and we suffered from sloppy flanks up there.  Still plagued by sloppy flanks around the course, less sloppy on the last 2/3 of the fetch but we have a long road here.

For Hank, it was a good day despite the letters.  The in gate was right on top of the exhaust gate, so it got a little exciting for a minute while we were waiting our turn.  I was proud though when we walked to the post he knew his sheep where up the field.  He knew right where they were.  The out run regrettably for me was a little far and the terrain proved tricky for him.  He went around the first hill and I went to blow him out, he gave but not nearly enough to go behind the second hill.  He got pulling in to the draw between the hills which is the first place he could see sheep for several strides.  He sliced them off the top plus over ran it and then started to chase.  He had them headed down the field to me, but I was already on the way.  He had run through them but kept his mouth shut and teeth to himself, that’s when I started to jog in his direction.  I got him under control and we worked them nicely back to the exhaust.
On his Pro Nov run I walked off the post a sent him, I just kept walking up the field.  He went out and around the hills much better.  He came in hard at the top but I was at the fetch gates by that time and could help him cool off.  We sheep sandwiched them quietly to the post and made a nice turn.  He actually completed the drive really well; a hair short of both panels and that was just my fault.  He’s speedier than Z!  I also kept my whistles pretty quiet, even the stop one!

We have some serious homework to get sorted out this winter, but I think both dogs are off to a good start.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

TMT #8 a bit late

1. What blogging tip would you give other dog-bloggers?

Talk about yourself and your journey.  Try not to get bogged down in the outside forces.

2. If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island and could take five things with you (aside from the clothes on your back), what would they be?

This would kind of depend on how long I'd be stranded for.  If it were for just a few weeks.


2 dogs

3. How much pain are you willing to endure in the name of physical appearance? Do you have painful things done to enhance beauty?

I have tattoos and piercings  - nuff said 

4. Speed limits... how fast do you drive? Do you drive Miss Daisy? Do you do the Indy 500 to work?

In the city around town I drive pretty cautiously.  On the open road about 10mph over. 

5. What trial (that you go to) is your favorite, and why?

So far The Bluegrass has been my favorite dog trial followed up by Lacamas Valley.  They are both big, have tough sheep and actually have a crowd of public spectators. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If I had a dime for every time I heard this

"A wise dog man once told me..much better to have a good open dog than a great nursery dog"

* This blog is about  my experience and my dogs.*  First of which, I have few, second of which I have some. 

This is going to be a bit of a rant/tangent, so please lovely person that quoted this most recently, take no offense I totally respect you as a dog trainer and handler. 

So here is what I believe.  Dogs are like people, some learn faster than others.  Some trainers have skills others don't.  I don't know if it is luck or skill or what, but the last 2 dogs I have run in Open have had really strong Nursery careers. I have a crazy nice young Open dog now an sadly my older guy is retired already due to health issues. I'm working on a third dog that looks like he could have a really strong Nursery career next year.  He's a 2 year dog, but I will not run him in Nursery or Pro Nov until next season.  Odds are looking like he will make a solid Open dog, he's got a lot of natural talent and he's pretty darn biddable.   I do believe you can quite easily damage a young dog by pushing it faster than it is ready to learn and throwing it into situations that are over its head.  No doubt there.  I also think that youth is used as a crutch too and dogs are allowed to act up and be irresponsible far too long in what turns into an excuse of well I want a good Open dog it is only 3 or 4 or 5.  A good Open dog starts at 8 weeks, my dogs must listen to me THE FIRST time (once they have learned what it is I want) I ask them to do something, no matter what it is.  I spend a lot of time teaching them to learn, and encouraging them to listen to me.  They learn really easily through positive reinforcement, the "treat" is always worth more than the behavior I'm asking for.  

Nope, they don't do any tricks and yes I use corrections.   They just do basic things like come when called, load up, lay down, and get to their beds.  I really foster calm quiet behavior and listening skills.  Some dogs want to listen and be calm more than others.  Eventually, the behavior that is rewarded most is the one that gets repeated most.  In my case in the beginning, minding me and being patient are the 2 biggest things on the list. Before I ever get to sheep I want to mold my dog's mind and gear it towards clam quietness and partnering up.  Ok onwards...

After all that, I generally don't have to make my dogs do anything.  I can get them to do what I need for the most part.  I can discuss get vs. make some other time.  I am not interested in fighting with my dogs, ever.  Sometimes it does happen, but I try to figure out why it happens and what I can do better to help my dog out.  This is starting to feeling like a tangent, I promise I'm bringing it home.

Focusing on Hank now for a minute.  He's coming along pretty quickly.  I work him 30 minutes per week.  Yup I set a timer and he gets one work session of 15mins 2 times a week.  Eventually this will change, but for right now, what he's doing and where he is at has been accomplished in that constraint.  I work with what he gives me at his maturity level and with in the perimeters that he kind of throws out for the day.  He's 16 mos old, sometimes his flanks are broken, sometimes his stops are broken, sometimes his brains fall out.  I basically try to work on the issues that present themselves and I try not to yell or put a ton of pressure on him.  Right now as long as he is not being mean to the sheep, I don't really harsh on him.  If he's being an ass to the sheep I chew him out quite a bit.  That is the one thing he is responsible for right now is treating the sheep nicely, I have a high bar and I hold him accountable for every time his screws it up. He's totally capable of moving my sheep with out diving in and biting them ;)  I spent a lot of time not saying anything and just let the sheep show him how to do his job.

Finally, I do understand the role maturity and experience plays in becoming an Open dog.  However I really want a dog that I can at least fantasize about putting in Open at the end of their 2nd Nursery year.  I don't want to wait for a dog to be 5 or 6 before it is a reasonable dog on an Open course.  I believe a dog should be just entering its prime at 6 and having potentially 2+ years of Open at that age under its belt is going to put it a head of the curve.  Every dog is an individual and every trainer has a different set of skills.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Today with Hank

Hank was amazing today.  He was nice and soft on his out work, he is beginning to kick out when checking his sheep rather than slice in.  He is now hitching up as he comes around the top and is actually lifting the sheep instead of just scaring them.  he finds the blance and I can leave him be.I can stop him at the top if I need to, but I leave him be as long as things are reasonable. He brings them right down the line at a brisk trot sometimes canter, but usually treats them kindly. He's about 80% on his flanks with no physical cue just verbal, started throwing out the whistles for all the cues.  Hank has the lie down whistle, he'll hitch up on the first part so I have the makingings of a steady.  I've been working a little on the driving.  He is going to very easy to teach to drive as this is actually what he really wants to do rather than gather.  I wont spent too much time with it right now as I want him to get really more interested in gathering.  I have been admonishing him more frequently for blasting through the sheep and bitting.  I'm also able to talk him out of it more and more, I can see it coming and usually saying his name sternly changes his thoughts.  It mostly just puppy rashness and it is his resposne to mounting pressure so 50% of the time I keep him out of trouble entirely and 50% I let him think about making trouble and see how it goes.  We have worked a lot with picking the sheep up off the fence and keeping his cool through the whole movement.  He is much calmer going between the sheep and the fence.  We will probably work on corners soon too as picking up off the fence and going into corners are the biggest flash points.  He is almost ready for the learning to let the sheep escape and it is not the end of the world lesson.  I need to feel better about our breaking system first.