Last week we spent most of the session in the round pen and a single sheep, in preparation for the upcoming Mt. Vernon Highland Games trial. Brian set up several obstacles in the round pen, but Rodeo had a lot of trouble to begin with. He took his flanks but did not want to walk up on the sheep.
He would move forward hesitantly but failed to take control of the sheep, so it would drift and I’d have to give him a flanking command to turn its head back in the direction I wanted it. But the same thing would happen: Rodeo would hesitate and lose contact with it again.
In frustration I called him off and Brian and I talked about it. “You need to communicate with him,” Brian said, and I knew he was right, but I just couldn’t work out how to do it. Corrections didn’t help.
I said as much to Brian, and he said:“It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get the desired effect. The dog will tell you if you’re right.”
So we tried it again, and the same thing happened, until in frustration I finally said “Come on! Get up! Get up!”
And lo and behold, he got up. He leapt to his feet and pushed into the sheep, in fact a little too hard. “Steady!” I called, and he hitched, and suddenly he was working the sheep beautifully. And there was a bounce in his step.
Soon after that, we set up a miniature course with 5 obstacles in the round pen in an effort to simulate what we might see at the trial, and Rodeo made all 5. In addition to giving him a ‘get up’ command to encourage him on the drive, I had to lay him down often and allow the sheep to drift and settle, so that I could see which way its head would turn. That would be important in the trial because it’s a small arena, and it would be easy to lose the sheep to the exhaust or the setout pen, where it would be challenging and time-wasting to pull them back off. By downing him and waiting for the sheep to settle, we'd have much better control.
After the lesson, I stayed around to work on some driving, and I used the ‘get up’ command to help him, and I could see his confidence building. We did some cross drives and he walked into them confidently.
I also noticed that he became less hesitant on his outruns – he wasn’t stopping and looking at me. I suspect that he was hesitant about driving and that was affecting everything else. When I bolstered his confidence by communicating with him more, it spilled over into the outrun as well.