This week was all about driving, as Rodeo continues to struggle with this.
It seemed for awhile that he understood driving, in that he would push the sheep in a more or less straight line. But he was always hesitant, stopping and looking back at me for encouragement. In the past couple of months that got worse, to the point that he would actually run back towards me.
Last week I made a conscious effort to become more firm with him, including correcting him sternly when he made a move to come to me. Then I would encourage him with a forceful ‘get up’ command.
That would get him going again, the sheep always ended up drifting off a straight line, often to the right.
This week we realized that Rodeo needed some course correction. It was a subtle thing, but we realized that he was tending to turn it into a fetch. The sheep were drifting to one side as a result of him working his away around them. But he never seemed to turn it into a full fetch, possibly because we were stopping him with a correction or a ‘lie down’ command.
Brian addressed that by giving him a ‘lie down’ the moment he started to drift, and then asking him to walk up again and giving him encouragement to keep him going. A combination of encouragement and precise lie downs seemed to get him on the right track, and he started pushing the sheep in a nice, straight line. His confidence also seemed to improve as he looked back less often and pushed them farther ahead of us.
Brian felt it was the best driving that he has done to date.
He continues to revise his opinion of Rodeo. I think at first he considered him to be relatively easy because Rodeo is so eager to please. But as we progress, it becomes more and more apparent that Rodeo sometimes has his own agenda. “He wants to be nurtured, but then other times he’s fighting you. On top of that, he’s a worrier,” Brian sad.
I think driving has been a particular challenge with him because, unlike other aspects of training, Rodeo can’t see me much of the time because he’s facing away. That might make him more nervous, and for all I know it might make him more bold and willing to fight me.
Brian added one final reason why Rodeo can be such a challenge to train: “You love him a lot, and that can make it harder.” It’s true. It can be harder to be stern with him than if I was training another dog. I’m never stern with him at home because I never have to be, so it’s a transition when we’re out in the field.
It can also be difficult when he looks at me with what I interpret as uncertainty. I feel sorry for him and tend to want to coddle him, and he probably reacts a little to that. But if I let him know in no uncertain terms what I want, he does it and it’s evident that he enjoys it.
So I’m transitioning to treating him differently when we’re training, and over the past few sessions I’ve gotten closer to doing it consistently.