Wednesday, June 23, 2010

lessons from the Whidbey Island Classic

I arrived about half an hour early in order to talk with Jennie, whose lesson is right before mine. We went over the judges’ comments on our novice runs and talked about what we could learn from them.

When it was time for our lesson, we focused on driving and penning. I wanted to demonstrate to Brian the driving ability Rodeo had shown at the trial, and Brian was impressed and agreed that Rodeo understood it. He agrees that we can soon be ready to run a full ranch course.

He had me walk up with Rodeo to initiate a drive, and then fall back a bit and let him take over. When Rodeo slowed or stopped, I walked back up to join him and start the drive again. After going 30 yards or so, I’d call him off and then do a short outrun to reward him. We repeated the exercise several times and Rodeo only once looked like he was starting a fetch, but I called him off before he got very far.

We then did a short exercise in which I sent him on a short flank (like 15 degrees), then gave him a down, and a walk up command, which he took very well. I walked with him towards the sheep to give him encouragement, and started giving him a ‘right there’ command so that he’ll learn that it means to walk directly into the sheep after a flank command. Another exercise will be to send him on a half outrun, lie him down at 3 o’clock or 9 o'clock, and then give him a walk up command to initiate a cross drive. Then I can follow it with another flank command followed by a lie down and a walk up to turn the sheep at right angles.

After the driving work, we headed to the pen. Brian heightened the challenge by standing inside the pen with both Doc and Miggy on leash. Rodeo refused to take an away command, which would have brought him behind the sheep and potentially opened up an escape route if they didn't go into the pen. He also wanted to cheat and go behind the pen in the come by direction. Brian thinks it’s because he doesn’t really understand penning, in that he doesn’t realize that the sheep can’t escape from it.

After failing with both dogs in the pen, Brian came out and we did some more work. Eventually I coaxed him to take an away command but only after calling him up closer to me. We finally succeeded at the pen when Brian told me to stop giving commands and let Rodeo do it himself. When he’d gotten up close enough, something seemed to click and he did put them in, covering them when they tried to escape past him.

To emphasize the lesson, we let the sheep out of the pen and re-penned them a couple of times, closing the gate each time to signal to him that the job was done.

Throughout the penning, I borrowed Brian’s training stick, and used it to more actively guide the sheep into the pen, stretching my arms out wide and using the stick as an extension to put pressure on them.

Just as Rodeo needed to understand penning, I need to understand that I have to play an active role in the process. It's more fun waving the stick and stamping my feet than standing by passively as I had been.

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