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.

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