Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rainy Days Are Fun Days

(I know what you're thinking... These picture's aren't taken in the rain... Yes. I know they aren't. I was too concerned about destroying my camera in the down pour conditions we worked in today... So.... Sorry no pictures from today)

Out to work again today. We we're hoping for a little bit of rain in the forecast, but we ended up getting a few drops more than planned. What's the problem with this? Nothing! Chesney had a blast working in the rain, I enjoy working in the rain (every now and then), however, the sheep do not. They were being good for Chesney and I, but not so nice to some of the others. To start the morning off we gathered the group up from the front field and moved them to a smaller field where they we're held for most of the day. We would pick and choose handfuls from the group once the group in the big field was worked. After moving the group to the pen, we went to the training field to watch Calli work. Poor little girl had a rough day... Just one of those days where she felt like being a puppy.

Then it was off to the big field to work Calli more on a different group of sheep. We're trying to lengthen Calli's outruns to challenge her now with her training. Chesney went and got tired to the fence.... Oh so sad. He needed to save his energy because he would be worked hard when his turn came. Calli was having some trouble with the outruns, she crossed over the first time and is a little hesitant to go all the way around. I think she is still getting used to lifting off a person.
On to the big dogs turn. Chesney and Maid would swap outruns today for their working session. Chesney needed a challenge so we opted to stay near the barn while Maid was taken up to the top of the hill. Maid had a clear view during her entire outrun of her sheep. Chesney once he got to the ditch at the base of the hill he lost sight of his sheep. The first time on his "Go Bye" outrun he got to the top of the hill super tight on his sheep. The second time I stood between him and the sheep to give him an idea of how wide he needed to be. The third time, he came to the ridge of the hill and kicked himself out wider. He is still pretty tight at the top and I really am at a loss for how to fix this at this point. The next few out runs we did to the "away", which is his better side at this time. He did the same thing this direction as before but when he got half way up the hill I stopped him and redirected which kicked him out nice and wide around his sheep at the top. The second time I send him away he redirected himself and we ended on that good note. Chesney is doing a nice job of holding sheep and setting out for other dogs on their outruns. I think he likes the job.

I gave him a break while baby dogs worked, then we gathered everyone up to clip some feet and treat for foot rote. Nasty stuff. After he rested for about an hour we went back out and did some driving. He is driving REALLY well. Flanks are more square than they were when we started working again this semester. His pace is getting better and I am really trying to insist on a steady whistle that he is starting to understand. After a drive around the field, we attempted shedding a group of six, so I guess you could say we split them, three and three. There were two times where I missed the chance to shed a single and then a time to shed two. I finally called Chesney in on the split and he came in slower than he usually does. I hope it was because he was just so tired and not that he is less enthusiastic about shedding. We'll try a large group tomorrow and see if that helps perk him up. He took a look back and at first didn't see where I was sending him so I had to walk a little ways to show him. He brought the three back with the others and we called it a day. It was a really good day. That's why rainy days are so fun, you never have expectations set to high and are always surprised!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Go Fine Me Sheep"

This has pretty much been the theme of our work sessions recently. Who thought hiding sheep in a 40 something acre field with hills, shadows, a pond, and trees, would be so much fun! Well, it's tons of fun and if you don't think so... let me explain. First you need somewhere to put your dog while the sheep are being set. Then you need someone who can move the sheep to the undisclosed location with their dog. 
Finally you bring your dog out to the field, and ideally they don't see where the sheep are before you get there. Then the magic words come... "Chesney, go find me sheep." He LOVES this sentence. After you give this command and if you know where the sheep are, you usually give a directional command, either "go-bye" or "away", then off they should go. 

Chesney didn't always know what this means, however, he did know find it, and since we are working sheep I think he is smart and put 2 and 2 together. At first, he would kind of run out trusting me that there were sheep out there, but not really sure if or where they were in the field. Now when I send him he goes out confidently after three sessions of this AND as soon as we get to the field whether I plan on sending him or not, he is looking for sheep.

One of the reasons behind doing this was to build up his confidence that he can do things correctly without me there or in sight. He is starting to bring me all the sheep he is sent for along with getting much straighter on his fetch. 

Chesney also got put back in the packed pen since it had been a while working in a small pen with lots of sheep. The first time there were 30 sheep in a stall about 10yrds by 5 yrds. 
When he would go around if the sheep didn't move, he would try a heel, and if they still didn't move he would go over top them. Good to see him being confident about where he needed to be and how to get there. 

With doing some chores like moving sheep for other dogs to work in different pens and fields keeps him doing real jobs. Along with things like shedding to sort some off a group then move them somewhere while the other group stays in the same field teaches him that shedding is important for certain things. We also worked on penning. We shed a group off and pushed them down the hill to the pen and they were a perfect group for this since they didn't readily want to go in. Persistence and some adjustments on Chesney's part got them in the pen. We let them out then took them somewhere else while the group up top was being worked. 

They've been good last few sessions, and they've been fun!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rewind Two Weeks back

While I was home in California for the weekend taking my firefighter test, I decided to take Tucker out to Anna's and work sheep, since I didn't have Chesney to work that weekend (he was still in Louisiana) I could concentrate on by Big Guy. On the way out there (it was early and I was driving with just Tucker) I got to thinking these crazy ideas. At least at first they seemed crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured... Why not? And for this crazy thinking I was doing... I was thinking of trying to see if I could train Tucker up to run him in a Nov/Nov level course! Yep, crazy, I know. Well, crazy if you know Tucker and have seen him work. 

Now lets take a few steps back to a week or so before all this. I found an English Shepherd Yahoo group. I posted some pictures and described Tucker's personality, everyone said that without a doubt they think Tucker is an English Shepherd. So I started doing some research on the groups archives to see if people have posted anything about working their dogs to see what their working traits were. 

With this new information and way of thinking on how I was going to start Tucker for real this time, got me thinking that I could make him useful (not that he doesn't have a purpose of being the worlds greatest family dog). So we pull up and get out, I just let Tucker out of the car and he was very good. He just hung out with the other dogs, ran around a little, road with us to fix a fence, then hung out by the tree while I caught up with Anna, all the while the group of sheep were loose in the field and he didn't bother them. 

I took him in to work three times that day, the first time I took him in it was burning off excited energy from not working regularly. Typical young, new dog stuff. I will say though, this time, compared to the first time I brought him out to work (almost 2 years before) he was simply listening better and acting much more responsive to my body language and pressure. Taking him out after the first work and letting him think helped for the second time I worked him. We spent much less time circling and more time actually fetching, even though he was still moving to fast and wearing a lot. The third time I took him in I had him walking and trotting slower behind the group and you could actually see him start thinking about where he needed to be, how hard he needed to push... and get this... actually stopping (either sitting or laying down) when I asked for a lay down. 

On the drive home I had a new found confidence that my crazy idea wasn't so crazy... maybe. Only time will tell though, whether Mr. Tucker can handle the pressure of working with a person and progressing through the stages of training. Even if he doesn't make it past a novice level he will serve as a good teacher for me, helping me fine tune my working and handling abilities. 




Saturday, November 1, 2008

Back to the Basics

So for all of you that don't know, Chesney is my first Border Collie and my first dog I have trained to work stock. We got, what most top handlers would call, a poor and improper start. Chesney started working at 4 months of age, which is when he was started on sheep. However, we did not start with teaching him to cover or "feel" his sheep properly (read the pressure and then apply the correct pressure to move stock calmly).  After working him once, sometimes twice a week for about 2 months, and leaving for school for the fall semester, then coming home in winter to California to continue training with this same handler we started with, Chesney started to learn some bad habits. Habits that I am still to this day paying for. 

After I started noticing some trouble spots and no improvements in others (also by this time I had done tons more research and learned enough to know things were going badly) we stopped working. From the time Chesney was about 8 months old until he was almost 2, he didn't work anything. We did play a lot of soccer though!

After doing some searching I finally found Anna to work with. We went out to work with her the summer after Chesney turned 2 and worked with her twice a week every week all summer. After working with Anna we probably didn't do as much of the basics as we should have because Chesney was learning things so quickly we just kept moving forward even though things weren't perfect. At least he was functional at doing chores, which is all I could have asked for in the beginning. We went off to school at the end of summer and found places to work out in Louisiana, but the sheep were not right for what we needed to work on, they were far too dogged. The semester ended and we continued to work with Anna, ran in a trial or two, worked more durning this last summer, which brings us to where we are now.

Where are we at you ask? We are much farther along than most who have been training their dog once, maybe twice a week for a year. There are some holes, however. We've figured out that a root of Chesney's outrun tightness and lack of proper flanking might be linked to the fact that he still is not really covering his sheep on his own. Today we did some fun work on teaching him that, yes indeed, he needs to bring me ALL the sheep I send him for without me stopping him enough to keep all the sheep together. He has become WAY to dependent on me telling him what to do, and I will be so happy for the day that I don't have to do so much handling with him. 

Today we hid sheep in the pasture and I simply told Chesney, "find me sheep." It only took one time of him running around like a silly boy not really sure what I was asking or where to start looking OR that yes... He needed to go away from me to find them and that I wasn't going with him. This first time after he went to get sheep (I could not see him) he only brought me 1 out of 17 sheep. We had some work to do. I walked towards him and kept telling him that I was so sad that he didn't bring me all the sheep. I told him we needed ALL the sheep. We got all the sheep back together after two attempts then the dogs who were helping us picked them up and I took Chesney to get a drink while they were being hidden again.

This second time I told him to find me sheep he went out more confidently than the first time but there was still a lot of hesitation on his part. Once he spotted them though (I think he thinks I'm joking that there are sheep out there) he went to get them. The draw was perfect for a covering exercise. The sheep spread out and some started to break. He made a half hearted effort to cover the breaking sheep then decided to just keep bring the ones that didn't break. Some more of the group that he had decided to break too and once again he thought about covering but ended up letting them go too. He ended up bringing me 6 sheep of 17. Better, but no where near good enough. I quit him from working the group he brought me so there was no satisfaction of getting work for doing a poor job then told him I needed all the sheep and he went to get the rest. 

We rested him then went back out for a third try at finding sheep with not much more success than the second time, but this one was a difficult task in itself because he has to bring them around the lake. The fourth time we gave it a try, was a big break through. He was getting a drink and cooling off in the lake while the sheep were put out of sight. I sent him to find me sheep which he did confidently this time. While he was fetching, some of the group decided they didn't want to play when they got to the ditch and about 8 of them cut back on him, after he got the group out of the ditch, CHESNEY ON HIS OWN, without me saying anything, turned back to get the group that cut back on him! WHOOO HOOOO! He missed 3 of them, but heck I surely didn't mind, he actually made the decision to get back and get his sheep. After he brought me the 5, I laid him down and said, that was good, but we forgot a couple. Together we went to get them, I kept telling him he did a good job, but still I needed to have them all. After that, he got lots and lots of pats. 

So after all this today, I need to go back to the basics with him and teach him to hold up his end of the deal and cover his sheep. After finishing working today he was super keen and really looking for sheep! Good boy! For now though, no more progressing on shedding (fine by me, needed a break) and we will be working on covering sheep without my help. So for now, back to puppy basics.