Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trading Problems

Life is conspiring to keep me from training dogs this week, it seems. But today i did manage to get Billy out for a few minutes of good work. I'm trying to get him enthusiastic on his driving and waiting for him to enjoy digging in and pushing on the drive. He loves to boss the sheep on the fetch, so i know it's there and just has to be brought out and encouraged in driving. I worked him today on the whole flock, which numbers 44 right now, with 21 wool sheep and 23 hair sheep. As a group, they're pretty heavy but Bill has good enough power that they move off of him fairly well. I spend a lot of time walking along with him on the drive (and walking and walking!). He's still a little tentative about getting out in front of me and following the sheep and will sometimes stop and not want to move forward. What i've been doing when he does this is to just give him a little flank and a walk up, just to get him moving. This works pretty well but it's not really encouraging him to follow the sheep like i'd like. I've tried voice encouragement but feel like it's actually putting pressure on him, even though i use a positive, upbeat voice. Sometimes dogs take it that way. Even if he wasn't feeling it to be pressure, i really don't like putting positive voice (and therefore "praise") to something i don't want to reinforce (his just standing there rather than pushing forward). I prefer to train by getting the action i want and then putting a positive (reinforcing) voice to it. Tonight i was sending him around the flock to catch them as they moved hard away and a little lightbulb went off over my head. He was really enjoying catching them so i decided to let him make them start running off before he got sent around. In other words, i'd have him drive forward into the flock to make them move hard away from him, and then send him in a rush around them to catch them (rather than just waiting until they were moving away on their own and then sending him). This seemed to fire him up a bit on the driving as he was getting a reward (catching the sheep) for doing the action i was looking for (pushing into the sheep). I wouldn't do this with every dog, since many are very difficult to hold behind their sheep, always trying to flank around to the heads. But Bill is pretty willing to stay behind his sheep, only slightly slipping around, not real hard, and i can also mix in inside flanks to send him to catch the sheep since he's getting the hang of them. He's already used to small flanks so i think i can rein in that "rush" around pretty easily once he's moving forward with more enthusiasm by just using them and showing him how to keep control of the running sheep with small flanks. I'm going to play around with it some and see how it goes anyway, stretching out the distance he drives before getting sent around. This is a good example of "trading problems" in training a dog, creating one problem to solve another in hopes of trading to one easier to fix. We'll see how it works!

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