June 1, 2010
I considered not going to this week's lesson because I was going to leave the next day for a weeklong business trip to San Antonio, and because there was some residual frustration from the previous day’s trial. I was also a little concerned that Rodeo hadn’t eaten much over the weekend and perhaps he was having some IBD issues again. But in the end I decided to go because I needed to do it, to learn something from the trial, and exercise my demons a little bit.
At the beginning of the lesson I showed Brian the videotape of the run, and he quickly got on my case for not giving Rodeo down commands. He felt I should have given him a down as soon as he hitched in his outrun. That way the sheep could settle a bit and I could give him a redirect command – another away flank – and he could have a chance to recover. He was particularly critical of the pen attempt, when Rodeo was attempting to regain control. Rather than a correction, Brian felt I should have given him a down and then a redirect.
Then we began to talk about commands and corrections, and Brian reiterated something he had talked about previously – that I need to give a soft command, followed by a sharp correction, followed by a soft repeat of the command to remind him of why he was corrected. I have fallen into the trap of correcting Rodeo with no command first. That is, during an outrun, if he slices in, I just yell ‘hey!’ Brian pointed out that he doesn’t know what the correction is for because I haven’t communicated with him first. Instead I need to give him a ‘get out’ command and correct him if he ignores it, or I should lay him down and give him a redirect.
We did a number of exercises designed to simulate what was happening at the trial. Some of the sheep were in the field, about 50 yards out, and the rest were in the rectangular pen. Brian told me to go into the pen, release the sheep, and then send Rodeo to gather them before they could rejoin the rest of the flock. I was to give him ‘get’ commands and corrections. After he completed the gather, we put them back in the pen and then repeated the exercise.
It worked very well. I quickly learned to control my voice even under some stressful situations, and he improved greatly in taking commands. A gentle command was enough to get him to obey. However, if I was late on giving him a down command and he started buzzing the sheep, he wouldn’t lie down no matter how much I yelled. But Brian pointed out that it wasn’t that he wasn’t listening (although it was true) – the real problem was that I was too late with the down command the situation had gotten out of control.