Thursday, April 21, 2011

"He's a Pro-Novice Dog Now"

When I arrived at this week’s lesson, the ribbing began immediately. “Here comes the hero!” said Brian as I arrived. Later it was, “Now that you’re a big hat, I guess you’ll be giving us lessons,” and so on. Admittedly, there are worse things to be teased about. 

Jennie was out working with her new dog Jean, who was hanging back a lot as she walked the sheep down the field. Later she decided on her own to take the sheep for a little drive, marching them steadily down the field as we watched. She had a very nice pace.

Jennie worked Elsa a bit and then stayed around to help with our training. We focused on the issue that with our Pro-Novice run Saturday morning. He has to know that the sheep I want are the ones I’m facing, and to trust me that there are sheep in that direction even if he doesn’t see them.

At first we did short outruns of 75 or yards or so, with Jennie and Elsa holding the sheep near the round pen. There were sheep in the round pen as well, so Rodeo had to know not to go after them. At first he focused in on them and I had to tell him off, but Brian didn’t think much of my initial attempts at communication. On the first attempt, when he wouldn’t go for the sheep I wanted, I called him off.

Brian let me know that this was a mistake. He needed help to find the right sheep. Calling him off was like a punishment, and he hadn’t known what to do. Instead I needed to come closer and give him a gentle ‘no’ when he focused on the sheep in the pen, and encouragement when he looked at the others.

After a few attempts, he ignored the sheep in the pen and went straight for the ones I wanted.

Then it was time to up the challenge. Jennie held the sheep in the same spot and Brian had us walk to the far end of the field, 150-200 yards away. I sent him and immediately started walking towards the sheep in anticipation of helping him. But he ignored the sheep in the pen and went for the right ones. He was hesitant and needed some help getting the lift, but that was no surprise because they were backed up near a fence and other obstacles. It was a tough situation, and he handled it.

Then for good measure, we reversed it and put the sheep in the far side of the field. Rodeo and I stood behind a walled pen so that it was truly a blind outrun. I sent him and away he went, looking for the sheep until he found them. The fetch wasn’t perfect by any means, but we were well on our way to solving the problem we’d encountered in our Pro-Novice run. I'm confident that by the time we enter our next trial, Ken Peninsula, he'll be ready.

Brian thought so. “He’s a Pro-Novice dog now,” he declared at the end of the session. 

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