Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trialling vs. Training

Fresh off our experience at the Whidbey Island Classic, I find myself eager to spend a lot of time training rather than competing. Not because I had a bad experience at the trial – just the opposite, in fact, as I was much more calm at the post than I was at the Key Peninsula Trial in May, and more able to absorb and enjoy the experience.

But now that I know Rodeo knows how to drive, I’m eager to get to work on it. We had a great lesson on Tuesday and I’m excited to put him through some paces on sheep. The main obstacle right now, I think, is to build his confidence so that he can drive the sheep to greater and greater distances.

Now, at about 25-30 yards, he slows down and stops, and looks back to me for instructions. I’m tempted to give him another ‘walk up’ command, but that could make him reliant on me for multiple commands. It’s better if he understands that ‘walk up’ means to drive the sheep until I give him further instructions.

His confusion is actually perfectly understandable. If someone told me to walk down a field, driving sheep in front of me, but then remained silent behind me, I’d certainly look back at him and ask what the heck was going on. He could tell me, ‘Jim, just keep driving them until I tell you otherwise,’ but in the absence of language, how would I know? So I communicate the need to keep going by walking up with Rodeo, then dropping back again when he retakes command of the sheep. After enough repetitions, he’ll understand that I want him to just keep going.

I’ll intersperse that training with some flanks and cross drives: that is, I’ll send him to the right or left and stop him half-way around, and then give him a ‘walk up’ command to start pushing the sheep across my field of vision. We’ll work on turns with a down command, followed by another quarter-turn flank and a ‘walk up.’

From what Brian has said and what I’ve read, it’s also really important to keep practicing outruns and fetches with him, so that he continues to understand the difference between a fetch and a drive.

This was a really hard lesson for him to learn when we first began to drive, because everything he’d been taught to that point involved bringing the sheep to me. That’s also his natural instinct. So driving was extremely confusing, and it took several sessions for him to begin to understand.

So, there’s a lot to work on, and I’m eager to get to it. Tomorrow we’ll go to Sonya’s place to work sheep, and I may meet up with a local guy who has some sheep and is interested in training his young border collie bitch.

Within a few weeks, I’m hopeful that we’ll have driving down well enough that we can complete the ranch course at the next trial we enter. The novice course is limited to a fetch and a pen, while the ranch starts with a fetch and then requires a short cross drive before going to the pen.

So for now, I’m all about the training. In a few weeks, I expect we’ll have made some progress and I’ll be eager again for the next trial.

And that will likely be Metchosin, July 30-Aug 1, on Vancouver Island.

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