Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Training with Peg

Today was the first day training with Caroline’s dog Peg. I met Caroline and Peg a couple of weeks ago when Brian was working with Peg in advance of entering her in the Highland Games trial. She’s a 5-year old, mostly black border collie with light brown eyes.

After a quick lunch at Rudy’s Pizza, I met Caroline in Bellingham and picked up Peg for the drive to Smoky Point. Happily, she and Rodeo got on well in the back seat of the car – she sat quietly while he lunged from one side of the car to the other at passing cars and signposts.

I split time at the lesson with both dogs, switching from one to the other. I started with a short sting with Peg in the round pen just to make sure that she’d work with me. She was a little tight at the top, but not bad, and we quickly went into the open field.

She had a really good start to her outrun, but had trouble on the completion. On an away (counterclockwise) outrun of about 75 yards, she way over-flanked at the top. Later, on a longer outrun of maybe 150 yards, also on the away, she stopped at about 2 o’clock and I had to give her a lot of encouragement to get her to complete the outrun. Brian says she has a lot of eye and stopped because she was sucked in, staring at the sheep instead of using her body and getting around them.

She did much better on shorter outruns and probably just needs to build confidence at greater distances.

Peg has a very different style from Rodeo. When driving or on the fetch, she tends to trot up on the sheep and then lie down of her own accord before getting back up again. Rodeo stays on his feet all the time. Brian described her as ‘uncomplicated,’ and said she doesn’t think much, she just goes out and does what you want. On the other hand he has often described Rodeo as complicated because he thinks more and is so eager to please. That has its advantages but also its faults, because he can get hesitant and is more apt to be unsure of himself.

We did some work on his outrun because Brian noticed that he’s falling in on the sheep at the end of his outrun rather than going all the way to the top to cover them. It seems to happen most often when there’s pressure – the sheep are wanting to drift somewhere, and he falls in behind them rather than completing the outrun and directing back towards me. This could be a real problem at trials because it’s very common for there to be pressure towards the set-out gate or the exhaust, and in fact this is what happened at the Key Peninsula trial, when the sheep started to move and Rodeo sliced in towards them on his outrun.

To work on the problem, we tried something new. Brian stood with the sheep about 50 yards away, and I sent him on a come by (clockwise) outrun. Each time Rodeo came in too tight, instead of giving a correction and letting him continue the outrun, I called him back to me. By the 3rd or 4th attempt, he improved considerably, so Brian felt that he was learning from it.

Brian feels that I could enter Peg in Pro-Novice trials coming up, but was less sure about Rodeo’s readiness. He’s still pretty tentative on the drive, particularly today, when he wouldn’t get more than 5 or 10 yards ahead of me before stopping and looking back for direction. He needs to be able to confidently drive them 75 to 100 yards away from me before he’ll be ready for P-N.

In previous weeks he has driven more confidently, and I think the problem today was related to the fact that he has had a reduced appetite for the past week or so and his energy reserves weren’t what they should be. The good news is he’s eaten normally for the past 2-3 days, so I think he’s over what the vet thinks is a mild flare-up of his inflammatory bowel disease. We’ll see how he does next week.

I asked Brian about Pro-Novice and he said he felt it was best if I didn’t push him too hard. He’s seen lots of dogs ruined by pushing them too quickly. By the time they’re 5 or 6, they sour on sheepherding, presumably because of the frustrations of the handler. I took his point, but part of the reason I want to run P-N is that just about every trial has a P-N category, but many don’t have ranch, which is probably where he’s best suited right now. So if I want to go to more trials, P-N would be the best bet.

After I explained that, Brian said it would probably be okay as long as I’m willing to walk off the field with him and just take it as a learning experience. The key will be my attitude and making sure that I don’t get impatient or frustrated with him. 

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