Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Driving Under Pressure

I entered us into the Rocky Ewe trial April 16-17 in Yelm, Washington. This will be interesting as it was the site of our last trial back in September, which came in the midst of some of our worst struggles in training. Rodeo was just beginning to learn to drive and I believe in retrospect he got quite confused due largely to my inexperience. In addition to our weekly sessions with Brian, I was training him on my own and he became very hesitant and uncertain, probably because of mixed signals and too many commands from me.

He has progressed a lot since then, and I think I have, too, so it’ll be a really good test of how far we’ve come. There are two separate trials, one on Saturday judged by Bonnie Block, and the other on Sunday, judged by (gulp) Brian. That oughta be interesting. We’re scheduled for runs in Ranch and Pro-Novice each day.

When we arrived, Jenny was finishing up her lesson. She’s been working with her dog Elsa for quite some time and made really impressive progress. A couple of weeks ago she bought a 1 ½ year dog named Jean, who has quite a good look about her. She and Brian were chit-chatting when we arrived, so I asked for a demonstration, and she cast out nicely on a short outrun. She also showed a tremendous amount of power, later inciting movement in sheep 50 yards away when she started towards them.

After Jennie left, we worked on Rodeo’s driving. Brian had me go into the round pen and do short cross-drives across the pen, and Rodeo did quite well. He has really crisped up his driving, moving right into the sheep when given a ‘right there’ command. He also continues to take his flanks pretty well, though he is hesitant to take them during a fetch.

After working in the round pen, Brian decided to try him on running sheep. He had us put one group of sheep in the field and the other in the round pen, then directed us to stand a little way from the round pen while he opened the gate. Once they started to trot towads the others, our task was to gather them to me and then reverse course and drive them back down the middle of the field, between the round pen and the sheep in the field, towards a group of feeders lining the fence on the far side of the field. The drive would be a challenge because the other packet of sheep would create a strong draw to the left as Rodeo attempted to drive the sheep.

Rodeo gathered them well, but predictably, they drifted to the left when Rodeo drove them away from me. I gave him a come by flank to turn them, but he panicked a little and cut in too close, turning their heads all the way back towards me. I tried to flank him back around but the pressure was too much for him and the sheep escaped to join the others.

We tried the exercise again, and this time Rodeo got them half way to the feeders, before they again began to drift and once again he sliced in too hard and sent them astray. This seems like a particularly good exercise to try again.

Something like this is likely to occur at the trial. I witnessed it during the drive at previous trials, where Rodeo would start out a drive well but the next thing I knew they had turned 180 degrees and were headed the other way. I was too inexperienced to see the cause, but I suspect it was him slicing in on them in an attempt to cover and turning their heads all the way around.

I’ll look for it at the trial, and if the sheep start to drift towards pressure during the drive, I’ll try lying him down and giving him a moment to think before I give him a flank command. That works on outruns when he’s coming in too tight – he gets up and  casts out further. Perhaps it will work on a drive. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Get the "down", which allows sheep for a moment to drift/separate from the dog, and sometimes slow a little. Dog is then more likely to bend-out wide. For me, I have to use my best "unconcerned" voice for the flank, otherwise she sometimes panics/cuts-in --another reason for me to get her on whistle. Good going. :-}