Thursday, August 5, 2010


Today, we started with a blind outrun of about 150-200 yards. I was to send Rodeo on an ‘away’ flank (counterclockwise), and this would take him directly past the round pen, which meant he had to ignore them and continue on to find the sheep that I intended him to fetch.

Not surprisingly, he stopped at the pen and stared at the sheep. This has been a problem before – it’s the whole reason for doing this particular exercise – so I walked up the field with him until he saw the sheep. Then we retraced our steps and I sent him, and again he locked into the sheep in the pen. No amount of correction or redirecting would tear him away.

In fact, it became evident that he knew the sheep were out there, but he still refused to go after them. After several attempts and some cajoling, he reluctantly completed a fetch.

Later, we did some work lifting the sheep off of Caroline and Peg, and he did quite well, except that he continues to fall in at the top sometimes – that is, instead of going all the way round, the sheep start moving towards me and he stops his outrun and just sort of follows them towards me.

“He thinks he’s right, but he isn’t,” Brian said. It’s not a problem with dog broke sheep, which come straight to me out of habit. But in a trial, with sheep that aren’t trained to come to people, it could present problems. If the sheep start drifting away and he follows them, he’ll end up moving them at an angle and he’ll eventually have to swoop around the other side to bring them to me. The fetch should be a straight line, otherwise we lose points.

So the ‘falling in’ is a subtle danger. It seems okay because the dog broke sheep are making it look okay, so it’s easy to get into a bad habit and not realize that it’s a problem.

We’ve tried to teach him a ‘get out’ command to get him to kick out when he starts falling in, but without much success. Another strategy is to simply call him off with a ‘that’ll do’ when he starts, and then starting the outrun over again. He seemed to improve with that, so that’s a strategy we’ll try.

After the lesson, Brian said that what we’re ready to do a lot more practicing on our own. “These are just nits,” he said, referring to the things that we worked on. “He just needs more experience and mileage.” To that end, I’m planning to spend more time training closer to Bellingham on our own. In addition to the outrun, we’ll work more on driving. Rodeo is still inconsistent with his confidence – some days, like today, he’ll stop and look back at me every 5 yards. Other days he’ll confidently take the sheep 20 or 30 yards or more.

Importantly, he understands driving and doesn’t turn it into a fetch, so the main thing is to just go out and practice with him, walking along side him and then gradually dropping back, and then starting to walk with him again when he looks back for help. Gradually he should be able to take the sheep farther and farther.

Brian also warned me not to give him any flank commands or additional ‘walk up’ commands. The latter is hard to resist because when he stops and looks back at me, I instinctually want to give him the command again. “Walk up!” But that will make him rely on me for commands, and what we really want is for him to take the sheep over and go.

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