Thursday, October 27, 2011

Souls Old and New

I've often heard the term 'old soul,' without really knowing what it meant. But I think of Rodeo as an old soul. He has such a gentle demeanor and calmness about him (at least most of the time). And his piercing blue eyes make him seem far older than his years.

Bonny, on the other hand, is definitely a new soul. And I mean that in a positive way. She's full of boundless energy and enthusiasm, and everything in the world is new and exciting to her. For her, life seems all about possibilities.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bonny's Big Adventure

The first lesson learned this week was: Never tie your 8 month old puppy to the fence with a leather leash.

Brian had me send Rodeo on an outrun and follow him down field so that I could correct him when he came in too tight at the top. I sent him and started jogging in that direction, but then I heard Brian shouting and I turned to see Bonny running straight towards me, dragging the foot or so that remained of her leash.

Where's Bonny?

If I needed a reminder of just how keen Bonny is, I had it. She chased and ran, and eventually got tired enough to let me grab her. I brought her back to Brian’s car, hunched over as I clutched the 1-foot length of leash while she pulled desperately to get back at the sheep. I put her in one of the empty crates and then returned to work Rodeo.

Brian decided to try something a bit different to correct Rodeo’s habit of slicing in at the top of the outrun. He had a similar problem with Belle and addressed it by running out and correcting her, pushing her off the sheep as she was in the process of completing the fetch.

This violates the usual rule of correcting a dog at the moment she makes a mistake, as most trainers will say that dogs don’t remember anything after the fact. But he said it worked with Belle and she improved. He suggested we try it and I agreed, feeling that there wasn’t anything to lose by it.

So Brian had me get Rodeo excited before the outrun, which I did with some words of encouragement and excited body language. Then Brian sent him on about a 150 yard outrun. As usual, Rodeo cut in at the top and buzzed the sheep, and Brian went to him, going through the sheep to correct him, probably 15 seconds or so after Rodeo had made the mistake of flashing in. Then he called Rodeo off, set the sheep back out and sent him on another outrun. Sure enough Rodeo improved significantly, kicking out more and not buzzing them at the top.

Then I sent Rodeo on an outrun, and it wasn’t as good as the one he had done for Brian, but still better than it had been. I ran out to correct him but Rodeo seemed to turn it into a game, trying to get around me as I ran at him. Afterward Brian said that it had the opposite effect of what I wanted: It jazzed him up. “He didn’t look sorry.” So the next time I need to take the flag or a jacket, since I know he’ll take that as a correction.

A little later, Brian had me set up on a much shorter outrun, perhaps 50 yards, but he had me lay Rodeo down in a little dip where he wouldn’t be able to see the sheep. Then I stood back about 20 yards and sent him on an away flank. Rodeo stood up and went come by, and only took the away after a couple of corrections.

“Call him off,” Brian said. “Now, put him back there and set him up to on the come by.” So I walked out and physically tilted his body so that he was pointed to the left. “Okay, come back here and give him an away flank.”

I walked back and gave the command. To my surprise, Rodeo hopped up, turned his body, and immediately went right and completed a nice outrun.

“I really think he’s fighting you,” said Brian.

When I physically set him in position, it seems that it registered with him and got him to pay more attention to what I wanted. It was striking how quickly he leapt up and set out in the direction I wanted, with no hesitation or uncertainty. It may be that I need to be a bit more physical with him. The next time he refuses to take a flank, I might try physically putting him in the position I want him in and see if that improves his obedience. It could be that his flashing in at the top is another symptom of this lack of respect.

That could explain why running out at him might improve matter, even if it’s well after he’s made the mistake. It’s not a correction, it’s letting him know in no uncertain terms that I’m in charge. That could make him more thoughtful on the next outrun.

After working with Rodeo, we put the sheep in the round pen and put Bonny in with them. Brian worked with her first and flapped a jacket to get her attention. For the first time, she actually did some herding. She didn’t go into chasing and gripping mode. Instead she circled the sheep properly as Brian followed her, circling the sheep with her.

Soon I went in with her. She stood looking at the sheep a little uncertainly. We had corrected her to prevent her from chasing the sheep, but now she didn’t seem to know quite what to do. Brian instructed me to stand near the sheep and move them around a bit. Soon she started to move away from me to go around the sheep. “Follow her!” Brian called out.

So as she started to go around the sheep, I trailed right behind, and the sheep in turn followed me. We all went around in a whirlwind until I started getting a little dizzy. “Good. Change directions!” I stopped and waited for Bonny to swing around to my side of the sheep, then stepped towards, her holding out an arm to block her from the direction she had been going in, trying to get her to turn. Next time I’ll remember my training wand.

After a couple of attempts, Bonny did turn and began to circle the other way, and I turned to follow her again. After a few dizzying cycles, Brian asked me to stop following her around the sheep and begin backing up so that she could get used to pushing the sheep forward. She did a pretty good job, and in fact started giving out a little bit as I moved backwards. Brian had me back up to the fence and when I did Bonny stopped. “Lie her down,” he called, and she took it. “That’s how you’ll get your lie down: When the sheep don’t have anywhere to go.”

Afterwards, Brian declared her ready for formal training. Up until now we'd just been putting her in the round pen from time to time and putting very little pressure on her. But she's taking corrections well and listening, and she doesn't lose her head. There's no telling how talented she might be, but she has the characteristics needed to train her.