One of the main concepts was to apply pressure ahead of the dog in order to influence him or her. We were not applying pressure on or at the dog. Putting pressure directly on the dog would likely only make him run faster (been there -- done that!). We were putting pressure on a piece of ground ahead of the dog's path, in order to get a better-shaped flank. Or we were putting pressure on the ground ahead of where we wanted to stop our dog; and if necessary (in my case with Spot) we would meet the dog at that stopping point, or near it, if he wasn't stopping crisply for us. It takes a lot of concentration and focus in order to do a good job at this application of pressure, and it would be easy to fall back into just working our dogs the same old way and getting the same medium results. I've been trying these techniques on all of the dogs, and they are all improving under this system. It is clear, with few grey areas. Clear for them; clear for me...everyone is relaxed, staying cool and working within the system.
Another main concept was that the dogs should be (mostly) walking. On the outrun, for sure, they can and should be running but the rest of the time they should be mostly walking. We worked and worked among those of us participating in the clinics, to get our dogs to walk. Most of the people were able to do it but they really had to focus. It is pretty darn clear to see when the dog is walking and the sheep are walking or just lightly trotting. Many of the folks in the clinic were rewarded with a real change in their dogs, by making them walk. Everything got calmer. The sheep were happy and the dogs were happy. The people were smiling big broad smiles. It was really cool to see. :-) We felt a little bit better when Derek recalled that it took four years for him to get his fabulous Laddie dog to walk.
In connection with this I am using this information to get my too-flanky dog (Ryme) to walk more straight into his sheep so that he gets up into a slow walk from a down, and not jumping sideways into a flank because that is easier for him. I have nothing to lose in making Ryme a better work dog and I learn more and more from him. The sheep will respect him more if he walks straighter into them with authority and we will get chores done more quickly and efficiently.
Spot also sometimes want to slip to the side on a drive; I can do several things to keep this from happening but most of all he needs to be walking...he needs to stay straight...and he needs to listen. Spot also needs confidence building, I have realized; so we are working on that as well. Walking straight into the sheep yet keeping a cool head, seems to require confidence in a dog and the more they do it, the better they will get.
Here is the hard concept for a dog like Coal: the dogs should be listening for the words, and not what the sheep are doing or what your body positioning is saying or any other cues. So Coal and I have been working diligently to get him back to listening and being (more) flexible in his work. Coal's flanks can get messy and since he is so nice to his sheep, he partially gets away with it...but it is just sloppy and can also get us into trouble. So I am using the pressure on the ground technique to try to clean up Coal's flanks a bit; he knew those clean flanks at one time but he will slide if I let him. Even an old dog can get caught back up on his old/new tricks.
Today there was the opportunity on a beautiful Sunday to just go and work the dogs and take as long as I liked to do it. The weather was not too hot, for once, and the sheep and dogs did not get too hot. I worked each dog twice in turn, and was able to address a lot of these concepts and more that I have been wanting to work on. We got to work yesterday too, for which I'm really grateful. The daylight in the evenings is getting so short now, that dog training after work during the week, will soon be done for the winter. Coal is being reminded of running out through a gate on his outrun, for next week's trial. Spot has just been introduced to running out through the gate, and we are still working on his patience of putting sheep through a gate and then not chasing them after they get through it! Spot and I are also working on him patiently penning the sheep as part of his combination confidence building/ and patience gaining exercises.
Remembering: we are supposed to be the brains of this outfit. :-) I can't just go to the post, or go out to train, with the idea of "oh I hope he does well". I have to take control of the situation and make it work. I have to focus; I can't be a "monkey brain, jumping from tree to tree! As Derek S. told us, we have to be the trainer; we have to be an actor or actress, if necessary on that day, to convey what we need to communicate with and to our dogs.
|Photo by Maureen L.|