Thursday, January 29, 2015

Spot's Progress - First Trial

Just to be clear, I am well aware that Spot is not ready to run in a trial and be competitive. He barely has inside flanks, has just really started driving and is certainly not on whistles the way you would want for trialling (yet). But there was an opportunity a few weeks ago to get Spot out in a Nursery class at a small trial not too far away. So I sent in an entry just hoping to make it a decent experience for Spot and get him out.

There are a lot of variables at a sheepdog trial that you don't get just going somewhere new to train. I think he handled most of them pretty well, and I am glad that I took the risk of entering Spot at this trial even though we ended up retiring. Some of the dogs in Spot's class were very accomplished, and were even running in trials last season. A couple of the other dogs were like Spot - very green and just getting out for one of their very first learning experiences. The nice thing about nursery is that all of the above is expected and allowed as long as your dog does proper work.

The weather was very foggy, and in fact the trial hosts had been concerned they might have to cancel the whole trial due to so much fog, all week leading up to the trial. At times the fog would go up and down like a curtain at a stage play. Sometimes you couldn't see the fetch panels, let alone the sheep. Everything was misty! This did not really add to my confidence level having brought two very green inexperienced dogs to this trial. Oh well -- make the best of it --I told myself. :)

I went through the routines of being at a trial. I took Spot to the fence so that he could see a couple of lifts. He did seem to see the sheep. I walked him on the side that I wanted to send him (away - my right). I was hopeful and felt positive. When our turn came, he seemed to have spotted the sheep in the mist. I sent him. Away! He started off and then looked around, unable to find the sheep. I tried a few more times and then retired. Drat! I was really hoping he would at least do the outrun, lift and fetch.

I turned around at the post, and asked the judge if we could go get our sheep so he could find them. She did allow me to do this after some deliberation, for which I was and am very grateful. As soon as I started to walk up the field then Spot did see the sheep and I sent him. He took off beautifully and worked just like at home, outrun, lift and short fetch of those sheep to me. I was so thrilled that his training and behavior held up on the new field with different sheep. He didn't blow at all, in fact he was super steady. Whew! We drove the sheep out towards the exhaust and quit. Not bad for a first nursery trial experience. I sure wish he would have found the sheep on the first try but I was still very happy with him. He showed really nice work once he figured out where the sheep were. I am sure he will just get better at this and on a day when one can actually see the sheep, well, how easy that will be! :)

There were thirteen nursery dogs in Spot's class . It looks like a fun year to have a nursery age dog around our area. Several of the nursery dogs ran again later in the day, in pro-novice, although I didn't think Spot and I were ready for that. Down the road I hope we can do that before his nursery year is over. We are very grateful for the experience and for these type of opportunities to get mileage on the dogs. (Our cars have enough mileage, thank you very much!) :) Thanks to everyone who helped to put on the trial!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Reacting More Quickly

RESDA sponsored a clinic with Bill Berhow, recently, held at Bill's place. I was able to book one day of the two-day clinic, with a working space for Spot. The weather held up beautifully and I really appreciated the great opportunities to work Spot with Bill a couple of times during the day at Zamora, but also to watch and listen to everyone else's training sessions and commentary. I love auditing clinics and this was the best of both worlds. Amazingly, there was no wind. Those who have been there, know how big of a statement that is about a day spent near Zamora!

The clinic was small on purpose, so that we could take our time, not rush, and get everyone's dogs worked and questions answered without hurry. It was (almost) more like a picnic than a sheepdog clinic. We went way back in the property which is my favorite spot always, to work dogs.

When it came time for Spot's turns, he did pretty well. I was concerned that he was not quite getting it on his driving at that point but after the day at the clinic we seemed to have turned the corner, or gotten over the latest speed bump with the next step of his driving. We were able to work on a bit of steering and not just following the sheep where they wanted to go. We worked a lot on Spot's driving with inside and outside flanks. He started to really pick it up. Having so much real estate to work on made it a lot simpler to show Spot what I was going for without running into a fence or a really strong draw for the sheep. His other work was good even though he was excited.

The main message for me, however, was that I need to react more quickly on Spot's stops. I thought he was stopping pretty well but what that amounted to was he stopped on the second, third, or maybe even fourth command or whistle. Bill told me that I need to react if he does not stop immediately on that first whistle or command. Don't let it slide! I will need those crisp stops further on down the line and I need to get them now. Ok, nuff said!

At the end of Spot's second turn, something different happened. We had the infamous "Penny" ewe (she who will not be penned...) in our group of sheep and as usual she was somewhat frustrating for me to handle. She had led her group up on top of one of the small hills and Spot having not much experience with hills, had kind of lost track of where she and her little band had disappeared off to. We waited to see if Spot would find them. He looked back and forth behind the hill, every so often popping up like Mickey Mouse club ears and that goofy face...but he did not see Penny. Finally with a little help from a partial recall whistle from me, he came around in front of the hill and then saw the sheep.  We waited some more. He disappeared behind the hill and then came on over the top behind the sheep, lifting them absolutely dead on which elicited a gasp from everyone who was watching. It was too cool. I had Spot fetch Penny's gang down the hill to us and I quit the session. Spot was so good, figuring all that out, that I wanted to quit on a high note.

I'm really grateful to RESDA and Bill and everyone else who helped, so that we could have this clinic opportunity. It was excellent timing for Spot and me. :) Below, Spot and his friends eagerly await their turns in the clinic.