Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting Caught up - Not enough hours in the day

This past week just flew by, I tucked dog training sessions in here and there, inbetween packing for the fair and trying to get all my paperwork assembled for Saturday and Sunday's Trial.

Toby and Wayne watch a run at the Adair County Fair in Greenfield, Iowa
Bea and myself prepare for our run at Adair County Fair

Wayne and Jake working on the shed
Curtis Dukes' Dru at the North Iowa Fair, Mason City, IA

Last week I worked to accelerate Bea on her flanks and outruns, it appears that it worked. On Saturday at the North Iowa Fair I stood at the handlers post, sent Bea... hissed her on...she went off with great speed and conviction. I hissed her a little more, marvalling at the wonderful speed she was displaying. It was then I realized that she was not slowing as she approched the sheep, crap, she hit them like a freight train. I verbally chastised her (and myself for stomping on the gas pedal), luckily she settled down and brought the sheep up the pen in a nice steady manor, but missed the fetch panels. That miss cost us 1st place, completely my fault.

Sunday we tried again, I decided that I was just going to cast her out and see what she gave be. Off she went, not as fast as the day before but at a good clip, she got around the sheep, taking them over from the set out dog right at the top (perfect). The sheep had been facing the set out dog, tails to me, and decided that Bea was not too impressive.

In the following shot you can see Bea trying to lift the sheep, they are not real interested in moving.

In the above shot Bea is one step closer, the second ewe from the right is just lifting her right foot, I'm not sure is she stomped her foot or was considering moving off. I was at a vantage point where I could not see what was really going on, only that Bea was walking straight in on them without pause.

Here is a couple steps later, the ewe that was moving her leg has turned and is on her way, but there are two more that are still playing "make you blink!"

Bea says "You Blinked!!!!" Bea had it, she let them know that by no uncertain terms, they will go. At this point all I saw was dust, expecting to see a ewe single out with Bea hanging from it....but, instead.....

...she stopped allowing the sheep to move off, I have spent a year in hopes that that moment would happen. Instead of getting caught up in the chase, release and go back to controlling via presence.

Bea takes the sheep around the pen. When it was all said and done we came home with our first Champion Trophy!!!! Not bad for a little dog that once would hide in a box stall refusing to look at sheep.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The picture tells the tale, or does it?

So, is Riley in the right position in the above pictures or the wrong one??

Here are the updates from the rest of the crew:

Riley: Repeated the same exercises that we began last week. Do what I ask or you get stopped, don't volunteer for the work but wait for me to ask you to work. As she is giving herself to me I am able to begin extending her drives and get off balance flanks that were impossible to achieve a meer week ago.

Ben: I put Ben back on the cord tonight, he has spent that last few months dabbling with sheep, but today I decided that it was time to put more requirement on him. He stepped up to the plate and showed me that he is ready.

Weasel: Another day without a blow up, boy does she ever work like her daddy, but her daddy was able to cause more wrecks then she has. By keeping her from making messes she is staying out of trouble allowing her to maintain a high level of confidence.

Bea: Sense of urgency....that was Bea's lesson today, when I give you a flank command or a walk up execute it in a clear and decise manner, with a sense of urgency. She fought me big time, she really would prefer to lay back in the weed and just wait for things to happen. I've given this lesson before, a little over a year ago to Jake, that one lesson changed the tempo of his training from that time forward. Fingers crossed that I have the same success with Bea, if I'm lucky even more success since I know what I am looking for this time.

Jay: He's back!! I took him out to the pasture and picked up right were we left off last Friday. I was able to flank him either direction around the sheep, stop him at any point, walk him up and flank him again with minimal effort, the bonus the Jay and he sheep were nearly 50 yards away from me. Seems like such a little thing, but for Jay it is huge, the first steps in showing him that he can control the sheep with out the aide of me, fences or other obstacles.

Back to Basics...again

I just came in from working with JJ for the third time today. The first session I played with some the technics I used on his mother, but I was not producing the results I wanted to see, so I put him up to ponder for a bit. I went back and worked him a second time, this time rolling back to some basic at hand work while taking special care to try to see what was going on with him. I noted that he was flanking nicely on the come-bye side, released pressure correctly and allowed me to place him quite well if he needed a little correction. Not so with the Away to me side, rather then releasing, he was speeding up, barging in and trying to evade my help. I opted to put him up for the second time today to ponder a little more.

I did some reflecting, asking myself how I got Jake to release pressure on his flanks, so much of what JJ does is simular to Jake, but JJ handles correction differently and handles his stock differently. When trying to help Jake he would lean in harder with a tendency to grip, JJ just speeds up when he leans in. When you correct Jake he would fly out then try to come in at a different place away from you, JJ just eases out and does not try to beat you but rather waits for you to leave or turn your back, more like his mother. Nothing like having a mix of the two parents personalities and temperments.

I opted to move some sheep into the oval pen (75x100) and put JJ back on the training cord. I then select a stock whip just to add some pressure to show him that I wanted him to move left or right. Everything was going great, come bye, walk up, there...I took some time to make sure that "There" was a "stop in your tracks", so that I could use the there to stop him on his feet as opposed to asking him to lie down all the time. We then switch directions, that was when I discovered that JJ did not want to give me his left side, he would try to spin to face me or lug in toward the sheep harder, as opposed to bending out when I applied pressure. Well, there was the problem I was seeing earlier in the day, but now I was in a position where I could quietly school JJ through it. No, not escape: No, not shut down; No, not bite the cord; No, not threaten Deb; No, not lug down; No not spin around; Yes, stop; Yes, move over!! With that JJ and I called it a day, or rather JJ, I have more dogs to work.

JJ showed me yesterday at the trial that he knew how to handle sheep, he gathered, he flanked and he drove, he also dealt with the pressure of ewes saying we don't want to! ...but he also leaked out of flanking into driving, then leaked out of driving to get to the head to stop the drive, followed by refusing to stop. Time to go back to some basic obedience, clean up a little sloppy work, hold him to some requirements and see where we are by the end of the week.

The Cobblers Kids have no shoes...

One County Fair trial down, two to go....

Yesterday Wayne and I took the dogs up to the Rice County Fair in Faribault, MN. The trial is a small one, but always fun. Sharon also joined us with Jay, both her and him showed evidence of some great changes. They didn't win their class, but they won in other ways, Sharon was tickled to get Jay to stop and to go when asked, not perfectly but way better then in the past . I also noticed that Jay never went into his mindless running circles around sheep mode. After the trial Sharon approached me to ask if Jay could come back this week, her husband suggested that she ask after seeing Jay work so much better then in previous trial. Jay will be coming back tonight to continue training, I plan on using him in my training demonstrations this coming Friday and Sharon will run him in the next two County Fair Trials, Saturday at Mason City and Sunday at Greenfield.

Wayne had an awesome run with Jake, he won the open division. Wayne was a bit concerned after watching many dogs have a difficult time with the sheep, the sheep at this trial are renowned for testing a dog. A few dogs had great difficulties lifting the sheep off the back fence, others had problems keeping them together. One dog even spent most of his run walking a ewe backward (nose to nose with it) down the arena. Wayne's concerns we unjustified, Jake step up and took control of the sheep, the only dog of our that had issues with the sheep was old Vicky, but that's another story.

Vicky is officially retired, she had a terrible run, in part due to all the noise. The run started out rocky, she couldn't find her sheep in the arena, then once she found them she either chose to not hear me or could not hear me and pretty much had her way with them. I threw in the towel and called her off without making the first obstacle, no sense tormenting the sheep for the next guy.

My run with JJ was a train wreak, though we got through the course. Boy was he strong and on the bit. I've been concerned about how tough I have been on him over the past few months and eased up.... mistake... the bugger is going back to boot camp, ASAP!!

Bea had a nice little run, she can blame me for costing her the class. I moved her over during her drive allowing the sheep to miss the panels, this was a point/time trial and the loss of that many points hurt really bad. I should have trusted her and just let her take care of the line, she had it undercontrol, but I just had to fiddle with it.

Riley....where the heck did that dog come from??? Wayne entered Riley just to see if they could get around the course...jeeze...the pair won their division. Riley worked at a level that I have never seen before, I had a feeling it was there I just have never been able to get her to bring it to the table. Every now and then in the past I have seen little glimpses of what could be, well yesterday the door flung wide open, the bright light blinded up. It is quite amazing how making a little training adjustment can change a dog. If you had asked me Wednesday I would have told you that Riley was looking for a new home, I had tabled her months ago after being unable to build distance on her commands. She knows them all, she just has been refusing to comply with anyone, opting to do everything her way. Thursday and Friday I tried something a little different with her, I would not let her work unless she obeyed, I did no get angry with her, I just stopped her when she gave me the wrong answer and then would let her try again. I also made sure that she did not volunteer for work, she had to wait until I told her what I wanted. We spent more time not working sheep, probably 80% of the training sessions Riley spent not working sheep but working to do what I asked, stopping or returning to me. This program short circuited Riley's escape program, she is the one that will clear 6 foot fences to avoid requirement, the last time I tried to trial her she flipped me the paw, after refusing to stop at the top of her outrun. She proceeded to totally quit her sheep, leaving to sit on the set out persons lap (Thad Fleming), that was over a year ago.
Both Wayne and I had a moment of heart failure before his run began, as he was waiting for the sheep to be set he lost track of Riley, she was lying behind him...was... next thing you know she is off loping across the arena to go visit all the spectators. We call Riley our social butterfly, she literally flits around all happy to see everyone. I thought for sure she was going to slide out through the gates to find a soft lap to land on. Wayne kept his cool and coaxed Riley back to him, the sheep were set, he gave her a Comebye, I expected her normal flutter around that she does, teasing us with the "Should I work today...or should I go find a shady spot", but, that was not there, she hit her stride and went right to work, she was hooked, hooked in a way that we have never seen before.

Time will tell, maybe I have finally figure out how to communicate with this little dog, it will be interesting to see if the glass ceiling has been shattered or if maybe we just peaked through a little crack. Marc has told me over and over, if you don't get to the root of the problem you will come full circle back to the problem. So here we go, we are back on the road with Riley, will we just keep going forward or are we going to come back full circle?
I had quite a few moments of frustration yesterday and as I am typing now, I wanted to celebrate Wayne's successes, but it was tough to do. While he basked in the lime light with the dogs he ran I wrestled with the short comings of the dogs that I ran, granted I set him up with the dogs that would offer him the highest chance of success, I have to admit that there was a twinge of jelousy, even though I trained these dogs sitting watching them win is not the same as winning with them. Brings to mind the old saying, "The Cobblers kids have no shoes", much the same as the "Horse Trainers own horses never get road". I see a trend beginning, the dogs I'm training for others to run are doing well, my own, well..they are suffering.
I guess it's time to get back out into the training pens, Jake already had some work this morning handling the sheep for the vet. I need to get Riley out an continue our exercises that we began last week, I'm going to continue working her twice a day. Jay will be here this afternoon, his session today will be to refresh our working relationship and continue to build on the foundation that I established over the last couple of weeks. Hmm...wonder how much I'll have left for the dogs that I was going to trial this coming weekend...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sharon takes the Caddy out for a spin

Jake Jr. (JJ)

Last night Sharon came out to work with Jay, as she arrived we had just finished up using both Jake and Jay to test out whether or not all the ewes would fit in the rear compartment of the trailer, really tight, they all got tucked on but it's not going to work for traveling.

From there Sharon and I walked out to the pasture so that I could show her where Jay was at with is training. He really is changing, I'm still not happy with how he approaches sheep, especially if the sheep are coming toward you but it is managable and I think over time it will get better.

I let Sharon take over the reins, things were going well until she took to long to decide what she wanted done with the sheep, the sheep proceeded to make a break for the barn really close to the fence. She sent Jay on a come bye which would take him between the sheep and the fence, actually causing them to run harder, and rather then recognizing that she sent her dog into a no win situation stopping, and flanking the other way she proceeded to urgently yell Come-Bye, Come-Bye!! This put Jay into overdrive running hard to get to the sheep, all the time I spent getting him to honor the pressure of the sheep went out the window that fast. In the blink of an eye she sent him into the pressure I was trying to show him he did not need to always go to. Poor Sharon just does not understand that we don't catch up and stop sheep by chasing them, he dog is just doing the best to do what she asks working together to defeat the cause.

After that episode I decided to hand Jake keys over to Sharon, some would wonder, why I would do such a thing? Turn a young dog that is just getting solid in the Open level to a novice that is making major mistakes in the livestock handling department. Why, well I trust Jake's decisions with the livestock, he was able to show her what she should be expecting, he eased around the sheep and executed what ever command she gave with near precision, which identified how many commands she gives without purpose. At one point while she was trying to set a line with Jake and sheep to the little bridge we have in the pasture she exclaimed "I didn't do anything, the sheep were going off line and I just stood there watching!" She finally saw one of the many moments that I see each time she is here, when she just stands there watching her dog and not being proactive, not helping him, not giving him direction, just letting him do what ever he pleases with the sheep.

Jay went home last night, Sunday will be his and her next trial, my fingers are crossed that she can maintain what I put on him this past two weeks.

After working with Jay and Sharon I took a few of the cattle dogs for a spin, wanted to check out that flank, well, they were not very happy with that program. Clyde just plain told me to stuff it and Buffy started to get with the program. The annoying thing about the cattle dogs is that they play these distraction games when you don't let them move stock, ohh the flowers smell good, ohh this is good poop. It's alot more work getting them to stay hooked in on a proper flank, they would rather be hands on allowing the pressure of the stock feed their drive. In reality, the pressure of the stock is what drives the border collies also, it's just they don't need as much pressure to be stimulated, oh, except Jill. It's time for Jill to move on to a pet home, the plug has been pulled.

Riley: The stop is the key, if I could just get her to stop anytime I ask we would be in the money, ahh, somethings are easier said then done....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life without a flank

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and find that there is only one shopping cart left, when you go to push that cart down the aisle you find that one of the front wheels are stuck, it won't swivel, it's just stuck going straight, you can go forward, you can go back but you can't manuver very well to make the turn at the end of aisle. Well, that is what it is like to have a dog that does not flank properly.

I just came in from another good work out with Jay, that's when it came to me, he too was missing a proper flank. That is what I have been spending most of the last week and half acheiving, yeah along the way I had to get him to factor me and stress obedience with him. It was not until I got him to give me those two things, which add up to his mind, that I could show him the right place to flank. As I was able to help him find that correct pressure point, the place where he would have a working advantage with the sheep he suddenly discovered rate and pace.

Jay still easily falls into his old habits, but as I maintain a relentless spirit he is supplying me with more useful work. We still have a way to go before I can dial him and move the sheep around the course just by giving him simple directions, but it is coming. I actually hate to see him go home, I would so love to get him solid on these basics so all Sharon would have to do is worry about where she wants her sheep to go and which path she wants Jay to take them down. It is where Wayne is now with Jake, granted there are still glitches, there are times that Jake feels passionate about his idea of where he should be and wants to go, but for the most part he is quite simple to handle. Wayne and I were laughing yesterday as I described moving Jake around the sheep simular to driving a radio control car, my voice commands replacing the joy stick, Pete, his breeder refers to it as driving a cadillac. It is quite a feeling to behold, to know with almost 100% certainty that you are going to get result you expect as the command leaves your mouth.

I'll be going out to work more of the crew, more updates to follow. I might just have to crack out some of the back burner dogs and look a little closer at that flank or lack thereof....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peaks and Valleys

Cash driving Cattle at the Southern Iowa Cattle Trial
This is a picture from a couple years ago of a dog that I was training, I brought him along as far as I could. He now is working out in Western Iowa. When I sold him my thought was that I had taken him as far as I could, but now I realize, I took him as far as I could at that time. I often ponder, if he was still here would I have him doing more?

Sharon came out yesterday to see how Jay was doing and take him for spin. The spin was short lived, it wasn't long before he was getting back into the swing of walking all over her, but he was maintaining a good relationship with the sheep. I think that I have made some pretty big gains in his level of competence with the sheep. He no longer is mindlessly blowing around them, circling just to show Sharon that he does not have to listen until the sheep get to a corner where he would just plant them there.

I'm seeing some rate and pace, he even proved that he could make good judgement calls with the sheep while I was being distracted by the pups, we were driving the sheep down the L pasture when Cecil realized that he could fit under the he comes to save the day!!! With his three littermate tagging along. Luckily, Jay kept the sheep on line down the middle of the pasture as opposed to letting them drift toward me, his normal trick, allowing me to round up the little monsters before they found themselves in a bad situation with the ewes. For the first time ever I did not have to direct all my attention to Jay in an effort to support him, he was supporting himself, and doing it right!!!

I have also expanded Jay's toolbox, he has an "in" command that I am using to help him index his flank and I can now reflank him to build him out further, evidencing that he is offering a square flank with just a touch to much pressure release, these are tricks that Jake developed while going down this road, it's so nice to recognize the landscape...I know how to get refinement from here, atleast on his flanks. He still is not in the right place on his flanks, but we are getting closer to the right channel, ideally, Jay will find the right place himself and I will not have to use either trick except for when we find ourselves in a situation we should not have been in.

This new thinking Jay is kinda of a nice dog. I can stop him when he makes a mistake, help him through figuring his way out of the mistake. We even had a couple of nice situations present yesterday so that I could begin introducing a proper Look Back. Normally Jay is so locked onto his sheep that it would be impossible to get him to even consider that he should look someplace else, or he might glance and then take off on you to go circle his sheep, he just was not open for any dialog.

But yesterday, I saw change. I could put a little pressure on him and you could see him wonder what it was I wanted, his head would tilt and swivel. I could have a silent conversation with him speaking only in pressure and release until he suddenly turned his head and looked at the sheep behind him. That was when I would say "Away to me", he was off like a shot, he knew exactly what I wanted at that moment, go flank around that set, totally forgetting about the group he was previously working. His flank was perfect, I didn't even have to remind him to go deep at the top or to honor his sheep before he lifted them. It was a good moment, and the fact that we were able to repeat the moment made it great!

If I can just build in good decisions on Jay's part it will be so much easier for Sharon, then her job is to just conduct the orchrastra, rather then worring about tuning the instruments. Thinking about it, I've been here before also, with Jake. It was at that point where Jake was not in need of constant tuning that Wayne could take him over. Yeah, he needs a tweek here and there, but it's minor stuff that is easily adjusted. Getting the dog to the point in training where you can reward it with silence and the stock rewards it with compliance is a really great place to be, the dog likes being in that place and will fight to get back there. As I reflect this morning, I am realizing that I need to get my dogs into that place earlier, not as a whole but within each element. Show them how rewarding being right is.

Jay will be with me at least through the end of this week and possibly next, Sharon is thrilled with what she saw last night, exclaiming "He is working like the dog I want to see", I teased her by saying "There's a dog that you want to go out and buy".

JJ: I went back and working on one thing with JJ, his stop. It's kinda a strange thing, I've noticed that he just has not been with me lately, but that changed when I gave him one thing to focus on being right with. That was when it all made sense, if the dog starts to go wrong you stop it, but if you can't stop it then you have to correct him for not stopping, when is the dog ever going to be right? Funny thing this stock dog training, it's not about following a book or someone else's program, you gotta find your own program. You have to learn these lessons on your own, when you identify something that works it sticks. Eventually you just integrate it in, it turns to second nature which leads to forgetting that you do it. It's not that you forget to do it, you just don't have an active awareness of it anymore, it's automatic.

Riley: I've not spoken about Riley before, she is JJ, Ben, Dixie, Jill and Weasel's mother. Riley has talant, Riley has will, Riley uses her talant and will to do anything but what I request. I've place Riley on the back burner, she comes out when I think I have learned a new lesson to see if maybe that lesson will be the key to her engine. Well, I hate to get my hopes up, but she gave me more willingly yesterday and show the highest level of work ever. I have her trained, she knows her directions, even her inside flanks, she has a stop, she drives, she fetches, she gathers, I just can't get her to execute the requirements when I want them. I went back and repeated JJ's lesson, just gave her one requirement to get right and made sure that I was not going to accept anything short of 100% compliance. Once she submitted to the fact that I was not going to give she began offering me more right answers. Time will tell how long she will stay on the front burner, I even had a fleeting thought of taking her up to the fair this weekend with us, is it possible that we could get that much change that quick.

As I reflect while I'm typing some words are flowing back to me. Nearly 2 years ago during my lesson with Marc as I worked Riley he threw a statement/question at me, "She knows the requirements left, right, stop and walk up, when are you going to hold her to the requirements?". How strange it is, did it really take me two years to finally hold her to one of those requirements?

Bea: How frustrating it can be to work Bea, one day she is willing to work with me the next she is not. I think I just overloaded her yesterday and she froze up again by placing more expectation on her then she was able to succeed with. This little dog is going to hold me to finding the pieces of the puzzle and being careful to place them in a precise fashion. With her, it's all about peaks and valleys, though last night we were off the road and bogged down in the ditch.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The view from the other side of the fence

Jake Moving Cow/Calf pairs off the hillside near Coon Rapids, Iowa
Jake had another good work out today moving the cattle from one grazing pod to another. He did some really good things, but then he did some really poor things. There were a couple of cows that wanted to take the fight to him, full war was never declared, with Jake opting out. Not a good thing, but then again he did live to fight another day, and did end up the winner, getting the cows moved to the intended location.
Today I let Wayne work both Jay and Bea so that I could see how the pair worked for someone else.
Jay: Started out by being beligerant, wanting to ignore Wayne. I coached Wayne through the process of getting himself factored in. It only too a minute, one good kick in the butt (literally) to get Jay on the same page as Wayne. From then on out it was a great work out, Jay showed some rate and pace today on his own that has never been seen. Wayne declared "I could run the dog Pro-novice this weekend"; I don't know about that one. Sharon had planned on picking him up tomorrow, they arrived home yesterday from the South Dakota trip. I called her and asked if she minded if he stayed through the end of this week. She has a trial this Sunday and I really feel like that I have made a break through with him, if I can get it firmed up we may just be able to get the two of them to finish the trial season in style. We will be attending trials at the Rice County Fair next Sunday, followed by North Iowa Fair and Adair County Fair the following weekend. That will be the end of Sharon and Jay's trial season for this year. Keep your fingers crossed that she can get out of Jay what Wayne and I are getting.
Bea: Over dinner Wayne was telling me what I should do with Bea, so, I told him that he should take her out for a spin so I could see what he thought I should do with her. He found out, it's not as easy as it looks when you on the other side of the fence. But, I did gain some insight watching the pair. After a few minutes I stepped in, took over the reins and went back to something she knew, fetch...but when she arrived at the top I made her stop until the sheep had moved a ways off of her before letting her drive, this seemed to help her to understand how I am expecting her to drive, using her power to hold a line not just bump and wear from side to side. I also played a little "get excited game" her old trainer would get her excited and then let her slice and fetch which led to some pretty severe gripping. I got her excited while asking her to flank, she would try to slice, I stopped her, then got her excited, she would try to slice, I would again stop her, after about the third stop she made a change. I got her excited and she kicked out into the nicest flank actually going as deep as she could at the top.
This was where I ended our work session...with the exception of putting the sheep away. When I had her drive the sheep to the barn she went back to her old method, I growled at her, lied her down then gave her a flank, off she went, on the most perfect flank, she landed nice and deep on the top side and brought the sheep around like a pro. Maybe there is hope for her yet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Setting a solid corner stone for the foundation

Lilly tuning on Cecil
This weather is nuts, rain in the morning, then we get a few hours to work before the humidity sets in followed by oppressive heat finishing the day with more rain. The pastures are toast, Wayne brought home a load of hay today, the sheep, horses and ponies are back confined to their drylots. I've been watching the hay market, the price dropped about 25% from last week to this, our hay supplier expects it to drop again. I suspect we will be back into the $1.50 - $2.00 a bale range by the end of the year, a load better then the $4.00 plus that folks have been paying. Today's load ran us $120 a ton, comes out to about $3.00 a bale, first cutting alfalfa/orchard grass baled just last week.
Today Barbara Jean and her Aussie Timothy came up to visit. I helped her to find places where he was blowing her off and not factoring her in. The pair came up for the first time a number of months ago, another owner at her wits end fearing that her only option was to have her dog euthenized. There's nothing really wrong with Timothy, he's just pressure sensitive and tends to be anyplace except where he should be. He had developed a habit of fence fighting with the neighbors dogs and tends to try to get aggressive while on walks on leash. Strong and firm leadership takes care of all of these issues, I've gone down to Des Moines to work him through his issues at home. The issues began to manifest, I stepped in letting him know it was not going to be accepted and the angel hallo appeared. Barbara Jean and him still have a long way to go, but they are gaining. She was thrilled to go to her first agility competition last week and ended up being embarressed by his sillyness wanting to visit with everyone, not a bad problem compared to what he used to do. He used to bark at any dog that walked past his crate, now she does not even have to cover it up. Granted he still ran off to do his own thing during her agility run, but he was far from dangerous, just being a silly Aussie that needs more discipline.
We took all the pups out for another leash lesson, what a bunch of monsters. The work I'm doing with them at this point is to help teach them that pressure is a teaching tool or aid to help them find the right answers. Seek the release and you will find the answer to your problem, feel no pressure from me and you are doing a good thing, please keep going. This is the cornerstone for the entire training program, the more solid I get it the clearer we will be able to communicate.
Cecil is a hoot, not going to be a dog for just everyone, if you give him an inch he takes a mile. Barbara Jean had him in her lap on his back, he just wagged his tail with this big happy smile as she rubbed his tummy.
The tri-color smooth coated male that still lacks a name sure seems like he going to be nice pup, has a lot of try and is willing to look to you for answers.
Meg, she's a bit strong minded and will get huffy when you correct her. Today she was being sassy, I held her muzzle for a second, she told me she didn't like it, I released and rather then thinking about her lesson she lunged to bite me. So she was met with a correction. How dare I correct her, she sat back and retreated giving me a dirty look as she went. I called her and she told me where to put it, so she got her first walk down. I'm not going to leave her be in that mindset. Yup, I made her mad, and I worked with her until she got glad. She is also showing signs of turning onto to livestock, at one point I saw her covering the head and trying to hold ground from a distance while watching the sheep in the nine weeks of age, oh my.
Rosie, she's also showing some signs of being interested in livestock. I'm handling little Rose with kit gloves, she lacks concentration. Her littermates all feel strongly about wanting something, a piece of sheep poop, a corn cob maybe a piece of bark. When they are wanting something it gives me an opportunity to unlock them and ask them to go somewhere else. Well Rosie just is not that interested, she doesn't stay hooked long enough on any one thing, hopefully this will not be the case when she goes to livestock.
Jay: We made some nice progress today. I think it is the first time that I was able to help him with his placement around the sheep. Typically he is in such a hurry that by the time you get him stopped he is majorly out of position. Not today, as he was walking up he started to flank, I was able to stop him on the first wrong step, growled at him and he came back to the walk up. I about threw a party!!! Granted, it took me about 10 minutes of dry work just to get him flexible, I would not let him go to stock until he showed me that he was going to work for and with me. That warm up time paid off yielding me a nice training session. Hopefully when I work him tomorrow he will be willing to give sooner so we don't need to do so much dry work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ha!!! Who's thinking Now!!!

Jay working at the last years Sheep Festival Trial
It's a funny thing how the right information whaps you right up side the head at the right times every now and then. Today while reading some training advice I ran acrossed a post about stopping a dog and making it think while it was fetching the stock. I filed the information in my memory banks thinking that next time I work Jake and if he drops part of the flock I will make him work his way through is debacle rather then redirecting him. Well, I didn't have to wait, Jay, Sharon's dog brought that information back to front and center.
Good old Jay is a tough dog to work. Many handlers have suggested that Sharon go out and get a different, easier dog to work with. But Sharon will have none of it, she is either going to succeed with Jay, or die trying. I mentioned yesterday that I am taking care of him while she is on vacation and using the opportunity to work through some of his issues.
One of the most annoying things he does is just roll mindlessly around the stock, sometimes flanking around, sometimes through. When he walks up he sometimes drives the stock, sometimes drive a hole through the flock and then flanks around when he finds himself on the other side. All these little antics are allowed, not because Sharon thinks they are right, but because she can't stop him.
Well, I think today might be the beginning of the end. I got the bugger to think!!! He was walking up and getting ready to make a mess of it, I got on his case for the mistake and stopped him. We repeated the same situation a couple more times. Then, all of a sudden before he got to the point of the indiscretion he stopped released a little pressure and honored the sheep. OMG, Jay made an adjustment based on the sheep!!! Stop the presses, new headline for the Sunday News!!!
I'm not saying that the dog is fixed, no way, but I think we may have found a path through a thick overgrown forest, hopefully he and I can find our way through together....before he goes home next that's wishful thinking.
I used Jake today to tend sheep down the driveway, next to the cornfields. He did something that I have never seen him do, he flanked out a few rows deep into the cornfield to get around the sheep, typically he treats the corn rows as if they are a fence. I think this was a good thing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Help!! I've fallen and I can't get up!!!

Jake catches a nap after given a Lie Down, That'll do command during the demonstrations at that Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival

Every now and then I get a phone call from someone that is at their wits end with their dog. Today it was a real nice woman that lives just south of us. She had met us at last year Farm Progress Show, I remember her asking some training questions in regards to stock work. Her dilemma today was with a young male Mini Aussie that she just could not teach anything to. She jumped at the opportunity to come out today to get help with her dog.

Most of these well intending people have the same problem; they just don’t know how to communicate with their dogs. In many cases it takes me just a few minutes of clearly showing their dogs something that I want, the dog changes instantly from a nervous wreck into a happy ready to please little sweetheart and we are on our way. Nine times out of ten the owner shakes their head and says “I used to do it that way, but then I went to obedience class (or agility class, etc) and they said to do it this other way”. I just chuckle and say, “boy did you ever run amuck”. Today’s lesson was extra special, within hours I had a follow up call on the answering machine rattling off all the successes she has had with her little dog from the moment she pulled out of the driveway (he had a habit of barking like an idiot in the crate, fixed that right away) to the time she made the call. Let’s see, she was able to walk him on a leash without him running circles around her and tying her up, he went to his kennel and with one correction decided that barking in protest was not worth it and went to sleep, those are the ones that come to mind. Not bad for a dog that was deemed untrainable.

On to my own little charges that were worked today:

Jake: I used Jake to set stock into all the different work areas, with Jake it’s now more about using him and making sure that I’m not settling for less then he is capable of.

Weasel: Not a single blow up today!!! She thought about it, I growled, she about turned inside out to release pressure and get into a flanking position…Good Girl!!! With this new mindset I was able to start holding her to her verbal commands, she actually took it in stride and showed me how quick of a learner she is, even going as far as driving sheep right past me, holding them on line and taking them off across the pen. She might just make a nice little working dog yet.

Jay: Short-term training dog, actually he belongs to Sharon who is on vacation in South Dakota for a week. This is the longest visit that he has had here with us and I am taking advantage of it. The first few days I did not take him to livestock, he had to just go out with me and was not allowed to fixate on stock or look for work to do, he’s the overachieving type. He worked well, the toughest deal with Jay is not letting him run over you, he has it in his head that his job is to fetch at all costs and will go over, through and under sheep to get that accomplished if allowed. The key is to keep your thumb on him and working for you, as soon as he goes into work for himself mode there is no hope in him learning anything, he’s too busy fighting to get the sheep to your feet.

Bea: This was her first work since the day she overheated. I took her out briefly; she is Jay’s half sister and has the same stubborn fetch machine attitude…maybe something to do with the same person influencing their initial stock introduction…. Bea really has a hard time driving; she thinks she is going to get in trouble. This is a residual issue from her previous training, fetch and wear, fetch and wear, get to close, grip the sheep, get chased out, fly in grip again, get chase out, fly in harder take a ewe down, get chased out again this time by really ticked off trainer, go hide in the barn, this sheep thing is no fun. Slowly over time I have gotten a really nice flank on her, a great stop and the start of a walk up, then she freezes. I’ve been helping her along trying to show her that she can do it, it’s slow tedious work, and I don’t know if it will pay off. But heck, what else do I have to do?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Farewell Sweet Dora, we wish you well!!!

"Wait Daddy, she needs to say good-bye" exclaims the little boy packing Dora who was overflowing out of his arms. He waddles over to the dog kennel with the pup hanging down nearly touching the ground with her back legs and bends down so that Dora's nose can touch her littermates on the other side. No wonder I still cry everytime one goes home. Luckily this time the tears held off, until now.
Dora is off to her new life. The family that purchased her have a cow/calf operation and a feed lot. First priority to them was a good dog for the kids to grow up with, how well she works is secondary. Good-bye Dora, take good care of your new family.

In the beginning...

Cecil, a study of stong will
Cecil's polar opposite (still un-named)

It was Leash and Collar day. All five pups got their first lessons, giving me a hint as to what lies in their future training wise. Cecil is going to be a tough little cookie, getting him to factor me in and keeping it that way is going to be our biggest challange. The other extreme will be Rosie, she likes to change with the wind, if I'm reading her correctly she will be the one that will teach me the most out of this litter. I think our challanges with her will be getting her to focus and stay on task even with distractions while maintaining the ability to multitask (handle your livestock and listen to me). Where as Cecil could be one to blow through you to get to his stock, I could see Rosie being the one to blow around you. Step into Cecil and he may stop but then come harder, step into Rosie and she will stop but then go find something else to do.
These early days with these pups are funny, what I see today I may not see tomorrow. Everything I do with them influences who they will be and how they will react to pressure and stimuli. Just this little leash and collar session has changed these pups forever, if I did my job right I effectively laid down the first solid building block in the foundation of their carrier as working dogs. I can't make them be great dogs, but I can do the best I can to give them and myself the tools to help them become the best they can be.
It's their first step to independence, and they are going to flex their muscles and brains, they already are. Typically when I let them out in the yard they are right back to me, the least amount of pressure change sent them scampering back to me. Not after their lesson, they were adventureous and didn't want to come back when called, they discovered that pressure was nothing to fear, now they need to learn that with pressure comes requirement. Now the teaching begins and the job of limited access to things that you don't want learned.
I've already shown Cecil that ignoring me is not in his best interest. It's really a neat feeling when the pups pause even for just a moment to look to you, the look is priceless. The best way to describe it would be that they are taking pause to consider what you would like, or "can you please help me find my way out of this wet paper bag?".
I often think back to an article I read in the past, as my dogs teach me more the writings of Tony McCallum make more sense to me. It's a funny thing, I thought I understood the first time I read it, looking back, I didn't have a clue. You can find the entire article by following this link:
Training Starts When The Pup Is Brought Home

"If I buy a pup I start to teach it the day I get him. On the trip home, he rides next to me, perhaps inside my jacket. He gets used to my smell. I talk to him so he gets used to my voice. When we arrive home I don't just put my seven week pup in a cage. No, no, no! We now have three minutes in which we can form the basis of ten years of training.
“How do you do that? I take that pup out of the car. I get in an area where there's nothing he can get into or under because I don't want him hiding. I want him in a area where the only thing he knows is me. I put that pup down on the ground and I stand there and watch him. If he cries, 'Oh, oh, oh,' as I stand there, I say, `It's all right mate.' He knows that voice after three or four hours in the car. He knows nothing else — nothing smells familiar; nothing sounds familiar. There's no visual stimulus of anything except me, and that little pup trots over and sits on my boot. Pups always do. He might run off, have a little wee first, but if it's in an area where he can't get into or under anything, he'll come to the only thing he knows. As he starts to trot that five feet to me, I go, 'Wheo, wheet,' which is my `come' whistle, and say his name. As he sits on my boot, I'll say, `Sit, good dog.' So I've taught him his name, 'come,' 'sit.' And from here we're going to have an everlasting relationship.
“When he comes to me, I put my hand on him, reassure him and walk away. I wait until he has another excursion, another look around. Next time that little pup looks up, I go, 'Wheet, sit, good boy.' I pick him up and put him in the cage he's going to stay in that night. I try to make sure the pup had nothing to eat before I picked him up so he's got nothing to throw up in the car. I put that little pup in the pen and I reach across to a little eggnog I've made up for him. I put that bowl in there and he thinks, `Boy, I haven't eaten today.' As he smells the food and runs toward it, I put my finger under his chin and I go 'Wheet,' (my stop whistle) and his little seven week bottom sits on the ground. I take my finger from under his chin and say, 'Yes,' and he eats. I shut the little cage and go inside the house. That's a pup's first association with Tony McCallum. I'm a friend. I'm the only thing here he knows. I'm showing him: I don't hurt you or harm you. I don't actually make a big fuss of you. I can stop you from eating. I can allow you to eat. I can call you to me and I can place you somewhere. You are in my pack and you are quite low down, mind you. But I'm a benefactor not a dictator.
"If he squeaks, I come out and shake him. I don't like whining at night. I always set that little pup's cage at the back door and if I have to get up five or six times that night, it's nothing. I just come out. I get him by the side of his little head, 'Ahhtt, quiet!' and a lot of times, he wonders, `Oh, my goodness, what's that?' Normally, by morning he's tired like me and he stops that squeaking. It's, `Oh, I've got to be quiet."'

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dry work, the key to success

The Sheep moving off JJ

There was an interesting conversation not to long ago in regards to "Dry Herding", I had to laugh as old time group members poo poo'ed the idea of putting training effort into their dogs and/or themselves without either livestock or their dogs.

Dry Work is an important part of my training program, this afternoon and tomorrow I will begin leash breaking our 9 week old pups, the way in which I do it will be relative to the way we will communicate when it is time to go to livestock. I will teach them left, right, forward and stop. No, it has nothing to do with stock right now, but it has to do with me and building a line of communcation that can be flung wide open when the time comes that they are our working stock. It's not only about what they can do with livestock, it's about what they can do with the livestock while following my direction.

Dry Work comes in many shapes and sizes, when you visualize what a flank should look like in your brain before you ask for it. It is also dry work when you yourself goes out and moves around the stock applying pressure in different locations to see how the stock responds.

Pressure is pressure, regardless of who applies it, what is different is the level of respect that is held for who ever is applying the pressure. Then there is the case of fear, if the applier is feared or is deemed unpredictable the reaction of the stock will also be unpredictable. We want our dogs to be predictable and to treat livestock fairly, if the do so the livestock will respond in kind.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Livestock is Livestock

Jake tending sheep in the morning at the Iowa Sheep & Wool Festival

Boy did Jake get a work out yesterday. We headed out to western Iowa to check out some cattle for an upcoming field day. The rancher would like a dog demonstration using his cattle...but the cattle have not been handled by dogs and have had coyotes pester them. Before we would agree to producing a demo for them we told them that we needed to work with their cattle a bit before the actual event.

Jake did a great job, first with a small group of replacement heifers with a bull in a 5 acre lot. First he had to deal with the typical cow curiosity, then survive the "Kill it" reaction and eventually get them to move off of him and stop for him. After about 1/2 hour Wayne was able to wheel this little group at a nice paced walk out and around feeders, into the dry lot, back out totally at his whims.

At that point we felt we had a nice set to demo with but the rancher wanted more, now he asked if Jake would be able to move a group of cows and calves from one grazing pod to another, the pods are 5 acre squares seperated by single strand electric, the rancher said a dog sure would be handy to bring up the stragglers. Off he, Wayne and Jake went, 40 pairs with a bull, once again never handled by a dog and good at running of coyotes. It was slow going at first, stand up to this one, don't let it have her way with you, push her back, but after about 10 minutes that group was off grazing in the next pod. But, wait, now they want to know if the dog can bring them back off the fresh grass.

Ok, here we go, I so wish I had not left my camera home it was a pretty sight watching Jake cast to and fro across the hillside working the cattle back toward the gate. Just as they were nearing the gate the old lead cow decided to change her mind and made a break back up the hill, Jake took off, cast deep and met her half way to the top square and flat footed. They stood their looking eye to eye for a moment or two, before the old cow turned and calmly retreated back down the hill.Jake was not perfect, we would have like to see him stronger at times, but then again he got the job done, the cattle stayed calm and controllable, the rancher was thrilled about seeing dog work that was practical to him that did not stress his cows. We are going to go back a second time before the field day just to remind the cows that a dog means business.

From there we stopped in to drop off a dog that I was working for a sheep producer for the past 30 days, nice little dog. I had her for a month, when she got here it was all "bust em up, run circles and be silly, when she went home she understood and executed her directions fairly reliably, had a stop and a walk up. We figured that it would be nice to drop her off at home since we were going right through, that way I could see how his place was set up and how his sheep responded to the dog. The sheep, Romanovs, were not what I expected, move off a person great, but a way. Stand there looking at it, followed by taking turns taking pot shots at the dog.
I showed the farmer how to help his dog move the sheep while keeping the dog with him. Previously when the dog could not move the sheep he just moved them for the dog and allowed the dog to run where ever, which usually was off out into the field flanking around to the head. He said then the dog would drive them back to the lot, or rather the sheep were glad to run away from the dog when it was in a direction they wanted to go. He would then throw a bucket at the dog, sending it to the house and then he would try again to get the sheep out to pasture, oh yeah, about 60 ewes.

Enough was enough, here comes Wayne with Jake, they spent the next 1/2 hour teaching those sheep that if they stood their long enough looking at the dog that it would result in a set of teeth firmly planted on the end of their noses. Kinda funny, this hardly impacted the ewes at first, they just would turn their heads, so Jake would grab the wool of their necks, after repeative lessons they decided that completely giving was a good thing. Early on when Jake would flank around to try to stop the group you saw no bend and barely a stop, by the time he was done they were bending and stopping as he was covering the eye of the lead ewes.

Near the end of the session the sheep decided they were tired of this game and made a break from the pasture to the dry lot, Wayne sent Jake to get them stopped. The onlookers standing just inside the dry lot all took cover up in the feed bunks expecting the sheep to run them over, but Jake got to the gate just barely ahead of them and stopped them in their tracks. The farmer shook his head and said "No dog has ever stopped those ewes from running through that gate".

At both places Wayne and Jake were able to get both sheep and cattle to yeild to a dog with only as much bite as was needed and without severly stressing the stock. There was not running or chasing, it was quiet and calm apply pressure, you move off, I release type of work. It was a good day and I'm really proud of our little dog, though not perfect, but he will get'er done. Marc Christopher repeated to us over and over at his clinics, if the dog handles one species of livestock properly he can handle all, it's all about pressure and release. He is so right, it's not about a cattle dog or a sheep dog, it's about a dog that can apply the right amount of pressure to get change.

I don't know how many times I kicked myself for forgetting my camera yesterday.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What the heck...

Say "Cheeessseee!!!"...not quite what I had in mind.

While I was cropping puppy pictures this one appeared of Dora...the explorer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Little Successes

Well, it’s 1:00 in the afternoon, my kennels are clean, yard is picked up, horses feed and turned out to pasture, sheep are out grazing, I have posted another for sale ad for the mini on Craigslist, young dogs are crated and it’s time to start my training routine. First up today will be Weasel, I’m going to try to take that camera out with, I feel pretty good about what she has done in the past few sessions and am willing to venture that she will give me something good to photograph. Might be wishful thinking….
Interesting how a feeling can come to fruition…sorta like this Blog, I have hesitated starting a blog prior to now and placing if out into cyberspace for everyone to view for one reason, the thought of ridicule. Yeah me, some that know me also know that I’m not one to care what others think, I try to remind myself that what others think lacks importance. The blog is for me, so you ask; why not just write it down in a diary? It doesn’t work, I’m good for a day or so but soon find no drive to continue. My hope is that the thought of others reading will drive me to add more, a sense of expectation, be it the expectation of my training falling on it’s face or someone trying to learn from my successes and/or mistakes. So far, the feeling I had when I started this blog is coming to fruition, I am working my dogs more regularly and it is paying off, much like the feeling I had about taking the camera out with Weasel.
I'm so glad that I put a cord on Weasel today, if you follow it's path your can see that she was on a comebye flank, then she stopped and went away to me, and then stopped to drive. If she had been skipping stops the cord would not be laid ontop of itself.
I thought Weasel was going to split of the ewe and lamb on the left....

but look at that, a little turn of her head and flex of her body puts the ewe and lamb back in....yup little successes lead to big progress

Here is another cord story, she was walking in (pictures above), she released pressure and then came out on a flank. IMO, an awesome square flank.
Weasel: For the first time since the day I introduced Weasel to stock she was a joy to work with. Yeah, she still made some mistakes, blew up the stock here and there, but her approach was different. Typically she is beating feet, hell bent for election in an effort to take something to the ground, not today, there was some hesitation that has not been there before, she was actually thinking. At one point after finding herself in the middle of the sheep she took pause, the sheep all moved off and she elected to flank out and around as opposed to continuing on to take chase. That little moment lead to some really nice drives and she allowed me to show her that she did not have to flank all the way around the sheep and stop them to control them, but that she had the power to slow them, speed them up and steer them all without working so hard. I was even able to block her to the fence as the sheep moved off of her leading to a really quiet and controlled lift without her panicking. My goal is to keep building on her confidence and self control, I need to be careful to not overload her. Little baby steps from here on out.

Dixie: This is the first time I’ve brought Dixie out for a couple of weeks. I used her to help tend sheep earlier this summer, she was great at driving them both out and back home.. She is a littermate to Weasel and JJ, I plan to bring Ben out today also. Dixie did some nice things today, it’s almost boring watching her, flank, lift, drive, flank, lift, drive, flank, stop, flank. I gave her the opportunity to go out and crash stuff, but instead, flank, go to balance, lift fetch. She’s ready for some more real work, we will see how things go over the next few weeks, I might just enter her in the Rice County Fair trial to give her a chance to see different stock in a different place.

JJ: Did you ever have that feeling that you’ve been here before? Well, that’s where I am with JJ, I’ve been in the exact spot with Jake, and for the life of me I can’t remember what I did to get through it. He is at the stage of his training where he wants to do it his way or do nothing. I remember being here and I remember that it was a pivotal point with Jake, if I recall correctly I got Jake through it with a nice set of ducks. Sounds strange right, why ducks, well my sheep are not real challenging in the try to escape department, the ducks are more apt to want out of here. That allows me to set up situations where the dog really does not want to quit, they really want to control the ducks and will finally give and try the option I am requesting as opposed to doing everything their own way. You see, JJ is at the point in his training where he knows his flank commands, knows stop and knows walk up, but he only is willing to execute the commands when they are his idea, often times when I ask for the command he feels that something else is in order, and the wrestling match over who is going to lead the show ensues. Since the sheep are laid back and he knows that he can go and get them gathered back up I don’t have any strings to pull, he just says, that’s fine, it’s not that important to work today. Until he can take the commands I ask for regardless of the conditions he is not considered solid. I also know that if I can get him through this bump he will be a pro-novice dog. He has all the tools to get the work done; he just is not convinced he wants to use the ones I’m asking for. I often ponder if this is the moment in training that separates the successful trial dogs from the rest.

Willie working calm and nice
Willie: Today I put Willie back on a 25 foot cord. I set it up a few times where I knew that if I gave her a flank command that she would use her over the gate option. Before I flanked her I picked up the cord, gave her a chance to commit to the gate and then corrected her with a sharp jerk of the cord. It only took two of these corrections to get her mind to quickly leave that option, yeah she still looked, but without me saying or doing anything she would change her mind and flank up along the fence. I’m really glad that I waited this long, rather then putting the cord on earlier in the month to help with this lesson. Before today I would just keep calling her back into the work area. Since she has gotten ample and fair notice that the practice was no longer going to reward her, now it was time to let her know that it is unacceptable and she adapted well. I’m not so certain it would have been so well received 3 weeks ago.

Ben: I let Ben take the sheep back to the barn, he did a great job, first I had him bring the set from the square up to the yard then he went to the front yard to bring the rest of the flock in from grazing. I had lost site of him and feared that he was causing trouble, then the ewes came walking over the hill, my first thought, he has something down, he can get grippy when he gets excited….then I saw him gently wearing back and forth bring the flock down the hill.