Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bonny progressing in the round pen

We spent quite a bit of time in the round pen with Bonny this week, and she improved quite a lot from last week, as did I. I'm moving better and she is flanking and balancing nicely on both her come by and away. Last week she pretty much only wanted to flank on the away (counterclockwise). She's also quite willing to come between the sheep and the fence.

The next challenge is to get a recall or 'that'll do' command on her. She's quite good at coming on command in the house, but if she's playing with other dogs or working sheep, she ignores me.

I think I have a training strategy for this now. She enjoys playing soccer (what border collie doesn't, I wonder?) and as with any other game, she ignores my repeated attempts to call her off. So now I'm playing the game with her, but keeping her on a ten-foot lead. Now when I tell her 'that'll do,' I can grab the lead and force her to come to me. After two sessions, she's showed quite a bit of improvement.

Today during the second session I told her lay down and then walked to the ball, telling her repeatedly to stay. Then I nudged the ball a bit. She couldn't help herself and got up to chase, but I gave her an 'ah! ah!' correction and she lay back down again, though she would leap to her feet again each time I pushed the ball. Still, a dramatic improvement from before.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bonny in the round pen

Bonny is progressing. She heavily favors the away flank, in fact will hardly take a come by flank, so I spent some time trying to encourage her to go to the come by side. Mostly that involved trying to block her from going on the away flank and trying to follow her round the sheep moved in the come by direction.

As you can see from the video below, I had limited success, and I wound up sprawled against the fence at one point.

But Bonny seems to have a nice feel for her sheep and is thoughtful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stirling Acres Pro-Novice

Last weekend, we piled into my friend Jack's RV and drove over the Cascades to Stirling Acres ranch in Coldstream, BC, where Lee Lumb and her husband Dan hosted an intimate one-day trial.

It was a beautiful location, dry and cold, and Rodeo and I ran in Pro-Novice and a couple of times in novice.D

Jack videotaped our Pro-Novice run, which wasn't ideal, but he did some nice things. He didn't hesitate on his outrun, but sliced in on the top. As you can see from the video below, we missed our fetch panels but as per the rules of the course, we had to try again to make the fetch panels before moving on to the next obstacle. Rodeo did a nice job pushing them back in the direction of the setout, and turned them back through the fetch panels. It wasn't graceful, but it worked.

Then we brought them around the post and out to the drive panels. In P-N we were allowed to leave the post during the drive and walk part way out into the field, which I did. He made the first panel and then the cross-drive panels, and we eventually timed out on the Maltese Cross. The next obstacle would have been loading the sheep into a trailer, had we made it that far.

Overall, I was pleased. His flanks were very good and he had good control over the sheep after the initial chaos at the end of the outrun.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"You better not screw her up!"

This week,we worked some more on Rodeo’s outrun, and he struggled a bit after some improvements last week. Brian set the sheep using his dog Bell on the opposite side of the field, a distance of about 200 yards, and Rodeo hesitated a bit on his outruns, but took a fairly moderate correction followed by a flank command to get going again.

He had quite a bit of trouble with his lift. He hasn’t had to lift off people and dogs much of late, and it’s a challenge for him. I couldn’t quite see what was happening from my vantage point – he would disappear behind the sheep and I could see them rustling a bit, and then they would start to move towards me and the next thing I knew he was circling them and busting them up.

Brian said later that he wasn’t using his eye on the lift. Instead he walked up into them, and when they moved away, he panicked and tried to head them off.

So Brian instructed me to move in closer, to a distance of about 30 yards, and repeated the exercise. This time I laid him down behind the sheep so that he couldn’t use his body, and after a couple of attempts he started using his eye more and managed to lift them without much fuss.

I had also noticed that he was using his body more while driving, wearing the sheep rather than keeping his distance. So this is clearly something to work on.

It was just one more example of the whack-a-mole nature of sheepherding. You work on certain things to improve them, and they get better, but other skills lag due to lack of work. This is where having a working sheep operation would be a tremendous benefit, I suspect, because daily work would sharpen all of the basic skills. Since training is inherently just an approximation of farm work, it will always be a challenge to keep ourselves primed.

Bonny is progressing nicely in her round pen work. She’s showing very nice balance and appears thoughtful in her work. When the sheep split, she’ll stand in place, turning her head from one group to the other, clearly pondering what to do next.

Initially, round pen work consisted of simply getting her to move around the sheep rather than chasing and gripping them, which was all she wanted to do at first. But by moving appropriately, Brian showed me how to help her get balance. It started with a session in the pen with Brian last week, during which he shook a water bottle with rocks in it to get her attention.

It almost worked too well, startling her to the point that for the first time ever she moved off the sheep and exited the round pen. Then she spotted the sheep in the open field and decided they would be much more fun to herd and there would be no big, bad man with a bottle. After a few minutes we rounded her back up again and put her back in the round pen.

She was much improved then, far more thoughtful and careful. Brian showed me how to encourage her to circle the sheep by standing near the sheep and moving them a bit. She would start circling to my opposite side, and to keep her going, he had me follow her so that the sheep would in turn follow me and she could keep going. After a few moments I changed directions, turning into her and blocking her path with the wand to get her to change directions, and then once again following her.

We quickly learned that she prefers to go on an away (counter-clockwise) flank. Given a choice, she would go that way endlessly. It takes a fair effort to get her to switch to a come by, and when she does she’s much tighter and more prone to busting in on them. But with some repetition she began to flare out a little wider on her come by flanks, and her away flanks were quite nice indeed.

On this particular day I was feeling a bit sluggish, probably because the session was at 11 am, earlier than usual for me, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Whatever the reason, Brian had to keep shouting “Move! Move!” at me, and I never did quite feel as energetic as usual.

Brian was quite pleased. “She could get better in a hurry,” he said.

On the way out, he had one more thing to say: “You better not screw her up, Kling!”