Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Roy and Rodeo, a Study in Opposites

Today we had a menagerie. My friend Mike wanted to come along and watch, so we carpooled from Bellingham. Sonya met us in Burlington with her dog Roy, and we drove the rest of the way to Smoky Point with Sonya in the backseat between the two dogs. She and I had decided to do a double lesson.

We had a two-hour lesson, splitting time between Sonya working with Roy and me working with Rodeo.

Roy had quite an interesting transformation. Brian worked with in the round pen and he was nice and calm behind the sheep, but when Sonya worked him, he put far too much pressure on the sheep and didn’t take any of her commands or verbal corrections. “He’s working for himself. As far as he’s concerned, you’re not even there,” Brian said.

He suggested that she take off her hat and run at him while waving it. She did, and Roy instantly transformed. When she ran at him he kicked out wide and then went back around the sheep. When he came in too tight behind them, he had her walk through the sheep towards him and correct him with the cap. In no time, he was working for her just as well as she worked for Brian.

Then she took him out into the open field and he did just as well for her, giving out nicely to the sheep on his outruns and staying behind them on his fetches. Brian had him work a single and he did a great job there as well. I think Sonya was really pleased at the progress she made with him.

Rodeo’s day didn’t go quite so well. We worked on some long outruns, about 250 yards, and he really struggled. I walked him part way into the field to make sure that he saw the sheep, then retreated back to the start of the outrun. He took off running in the right direction, but got hesitant and stopped, and then headed back towards me. After a couple of repeats he completed the outrun, but he still struggled with it. He wasn’t covering his sheep very well, especially on the long outruns – falling in behind them rather than circling all the way to the back to turn them towards me. As a result the sheep drifted away him before eventually turning towards me to complete the fetch. Rodeo needs to continue the outrun until he turns their head towards me to prevent that drift.

He did better on his drives and was quite good about taking off-balance flanks while driving, but he still doesn’t like to take them on a fetch, so that’s something we need to work on.

Rodeo just seemed a little off all day. At one point on an outrun he had to pass the sheep in the round pen, and he got distracted by them, which isn’t unusual. But he actually laid down to stare at them, essentially quitting on the outrun. I gave him another flanking command and after a couple of repeats, he got up and completed the outrun, but this is really unusual behavior for him. He never quits like that.

Then I remembered that he has been off his feed for the past several days, eating about half of what he normally eats. He seemed fine otherwise, and I had thought it might have been due to the heat wave and possibly him eating who-knows-what-had-been-dropped-on-the-ground at the Highland Games. But I had to conclude that he wasn’t feeling right and it affected his performance.

So he’s got another appointment with the vet to determine what the problem is.

After the lesson, Brian suggested that we might want to consider entering into Pro-Novice, which is the step below Open. Until now we have run in the Novice and Ranch categories, but Pro-Novice is somewhat more serious and popular. Pretty much all trials seem to have a Pro-Novice, whereas some don’t have Novice and Ranch, so moving up would expand the number of trials we could go to.

The catch is that once we enter Pro-Novice, we can’t go back to Novice or Ranch. But if Brian thinks we’re ready, that’s likely what we’ll do. I’m more interested in advancing through the classes and making Open than I am in doing well in the lower classes. We might do really well in them, but we won’t learn much unless we challenge ourselves.

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