Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I promised a tip on tight, slicy outruns and this is the first installment. Many times, novice trainers end up with a dog that sets out on his outrun nice and wide from his handlers' feet. As he runs up the field though, he's getting tighter and tighter and ends up blowing into the sheep or racing across too tight and fast at the top. If you think about the shape of that outrun, it's upside down from the ideal pear shape, where the dog widens as he runs out and lands nice and deep, setting up a calm lift.
Many times, novice trainers try to deal with this by pushing the dog even further off to start his outrun. I find that for a lot of dogs, if you'll actually do just the opposite, and start the dog tighter, or even move him straight forward towards the sheep before giving him the send command, that the shape of the outrun will improve. The dog tends to begin his outrun with a more proper attitude, is feeling less pressure from the handler, and is in contact with the sheep from the beginning of the outrun. You have to be a little careful about this with a dog that has a ton of eye, but even dogs with eye prefer this sort of outrun, where they can check the sheep and bend, check the sheep and bend, as opposed to just running pell mell, not in contact, until oops, there's the sheep, let's bang into them.
So, if you're having outrun problems, stop to think about whether it's an upside down outrun you're getting.
Monday, April 28, 2008
It was a good dog weekend. I had a student come in for 2 days of lessons with a really nice daughter of Kent Kuykendall's old Bill. I enjoy time with both the owner and the dog a lot, both very nice. My friend Lauren was around both days and she's really doing well with her new dog Mac. It's so nice to see them coming together as a team. Laura and Mary came out yesterday and they're always fun to hang with, and both of their young dogs are doing well and coming along. We put Linc (my Bart's littermate) on the sheep and he was all turned on and into it in no time, looks like he'll be a good one and a nice fit for Laura. I popped Bart out with the sheep so they could see him, and he was terrific. I set him down and jokingly said "here's his outrun" and the little snot ran out and around the sheep like a pro. Actually, little snot isn't exactly an appropriate term of endearment any more for his 28 pound (yes, 28) self. Big snot.
Saturday and sunday morning were especially nice and a couple of those times that make me so appreciative of the dogs. My lesson sheep (yearling hair ewes) are mixed in with the ewes and baby lambs on the big pasture, so there's a good bit of sorting and shuffling to be done to get them separated. Saturday morning Zac and i got it done pretty handily with an International shed but Sunday the sheep were a lot more difficult. Zac was in heaven doing sheds to push off ewes and lambs, turnbacks to catch and move them when they'd try to rejoin, cutting here and there hard to hold groups separate and all that fun stuff that just makes a sheepdog feel like a sheepdog. He was just so satisfied (in his let-me-back-at-em Zac way). That dog just loves to work. He's got his faults (they all do) but he's sure the dog for me. I just marvel at his ability and fire. After getting all of that job done, i went up the hill with Jet to gather up the wool wethers from the wooded field i'm keeping them in. Zac is a little too keen for that job sometimes - i let him do it last week and he came out with a big scratch under his eye. He has no regard for taking care of himself when there are sheep around. Anyway, Jet is a good gathering dog with a strong fetch. The wethers were all over those woods in little packets and i just sat there at the gate on my atv, directing Jet and sending her back and pulling her in or pushing her out, and it just struck me what an advantage it is to have a really trained out, finished dog. They really are quite amazing creatures, these dogs.
We're trying to get ready to leave on thursday for the Shaker Village trial in KY this weekend. The dogs are all working pretty decent, though perhaps not as fit as i'd like, going into the Bluegrass in a few weeks. Spring farm chores have just cut into my training time, but that's how it has to be. Moss' trial debut will be this friday, in ProNovice, and i'm just as excited as can be to see how he'll do. He's been working so well at home. Yesterday i put him around a Nursery/Ranch course at home and he did extremely well. I wish he'd been out to more fields and on more unfamiliar sheep but i think he'll do okay at the trial. The Open dogs all look pretty decent. All 3 get to run this coming weekend, which is nice. Only 2 get to run at the Bluegrass. Right now i plan on that being Zac and Spottie. If Spottie has trouble, i'll run Jet the second day. It's hard to believe the time is coming when i'll need to retire Spottie, but it surely is. I've started keeping my ears open for a great retirement home for her. She's still running well but realistically, at 10 she probably will need to retire before the fall. If the perfect place for her comes up, i'll have to consider it. She's still fit enough to teach a new partner for a couple of years. She's sure done a good job trying to teach me. :-)
Thursday, April 24, 2008
What i decided to do was intentionally bring the sheep low on my crossdrive, in what is called a "banana drive", so called because of the curved line. If you bring the sheep low and then aim back up into the crossdrive panels, it's way, way easier to see if you're going to go through the panels. Think of how much easier it is to tell when you're going to hit the first drive panels. It's the same principle. You'll lose a couple of points for being offline but less than you'll lose for missing a panel.
I found that over time i got a lot better at hitting the panels, and i don't need to "banana" the crossdrive quite so much. One skill you might want to work on with your dog to make this work a little better is a nice fast inside flank, because you'll find yourself needing it sometimes to turn the sheep into that crossdrive panel so you don't miss it low.
Next up -- strategies to deal with a tight, sliced outrun.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
First up -- Hitting the Crossdrive Panel, Part 1
Get on the course before your class and watch someone walk the crossdrive line, picking out markers as well as you can. Don't pick out so many that you get confused while you're running. For me, 3 is ideal. Find something at the beginning of the crossdrive, fairly close to the drive-away panel (maybe 10-15 yards into it) so you can check that you're online soon after making your turn. Next, find something somewhere around the middle of the crossdrive. Note where that marker is in relation to the fetch panels, so you can find it quickly while you're actually running. Next, and most important, find something fairly close to the crossdrive panels so you can tell if you're online or not going into the panels.
Next up: Hitting the Crossdrive Panel, Part 2, or "My Depth Perception Stinks, what do i do about it?!"
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Here's the Tuesday training article. As usual, i'd love feedback and/or suggestions on future topics.
This week I thought I’d spend a little time talking about training voices. It’s something that people tend to not think that much about, but it’s very important to the dogs and really the first or second line of communication we have with them (along with body language).
When we start trying to use a whistle, we fret about how it sounds, about how consistent the tones are, sometimes we even record the whistle commands so we can practice and get good, reproducible sounds before subjecting our dogs to them. How many people stop and put this kind of effort into studying how they speak to a dog while working it? I honestly believe that a good part of the “presence” that experienced trainers have with young dogs is a well developed training voice. There are no magic phrases for dogs (they don’t speak English) but there surely are magic voice tones. An experienced trainer can walk into a field with a dog and by using only one word repeatedly (any word at all), used with appropriate tones and body pressure, have a dog behaving and working nicely. It’s all about how you say it, not what you say.
As for so many things when it comes to training dogs, our natural reactions are just the opposite of what we ought to be doing. When things get wild on the field, or our dog is gripping, running like a fool, generally just being a knothead, we start yelling in loud booming voices (men) or voices that rise in pitch at the end of a phrase (women). Both of these naturally wind a dog up and we’re putting pressure on our dog with our tone when he’s already feeling plenty of pressure (that’s why he’s being a knothead to start with), and we just make things even worse.
Stop to think about your tone in different situations with your dog, and try to give him as much help as you can so he can be successful. Say he’s going into a tight corner to pull sheep out. That’s a fairly stressful thing for most dogs, especially early in training. So as he starts into the corner, speak to him in a tone that conveys how you expect him to work – a nice, steady, confident, elongated sound. Try to do it *before* he gets wound up and worried, and just speak to him in a quiet tone that lets him know you believe he can do it, and that you’re there with him. Chances are, that little bit of soft tone will be just enough reminder to keep him quiet as he works. If you have a dog that’s a little soft, always speak in really confident bold voices. Try to avoid fast, excitable tones with a too fast, too excitable dog.
The best advice I can give when it comes to voices and working dogs is to stop and think about how the dog perceives what you’re saying, what message he is taking from your tone of voice. Speak in a voice that reflects what you expect from the dog. And if you need to use a voice correction, stop to listen to yourself and see if your tone is one that might be actually making your dog worse instead of better. Consider videotaping your working session and listen to your voice, and watch how your dog reacts. Try on your dog’s ears for a little while and get inside his head.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Whew, what a long weekend. I took off friday since my brother was in town. It's been ages since i took a day off without spending it driving to a trial or some such, so that was pretty nice. I got lots of dog working in, lots of sheep moving and sorting, lots of catching up on farm chores, even managed to get my yard mowed. I love those sun up to sun down busy kind of days. Now back to work monday so i can rest up, whew.
Moss was really good this weekend. Peggy and i got together all 3 mornings to work dogs and hold sheep for each other, and he seems fine with that picture. I think he's easily ready for ProNovice now, even on a little more difficult sheep. We'll see in a couple of weeks at the Shaker Village trial. He's still awfully young but i think he'll do fine, and i'll be making sure it's a good experience for him. Denise uploaded the video she took of him last weekend at the farm and you can see it here --
I gave Bart a little go at the yearlings yesterday and he was pretty amazing. He's not even 4 months old yet but he was heading breaking sheep hard and turning them back. I backed up with the sheep to the fence to see what he thought of holding the sheep there and he looked like an old hand at it, whipping out to catch the ones trying to break off. Wish i had video of that, it was just pure instinct in this little fuzzy black body.
And i have a new lambing dog this year. Gael was wonderful last year with some really nasty ewes but she's just too hard to hold back, so i tried Jet and she really is doing a terrific job. A big black ewe nailed her yesterday, or rather tried to. She went at Jet and Jet just calmly opened that big mouth and met her head on, and she's been staying in line since. After seeing that, i decided to just go ahead and use her for my main lambing dog since it didn't seem to hurt her feelings or make her lose confidence. She was hit hard and unexpectedly once when she was quite young and it put her off pretty badly so i've always been a bit protective of her but she's up to the job and is enjoying it. Her balance is so good that she's really spectacular holding a ewe and her lambs off by themselves.
Spottie was her usual good old self in training this weekend. She just keeps going and going. Someone called her a "machine" one day last summer when we were out training, doing long outrun after long outrun after long outrun, and i think that was a perfect way to describe her and a very nice compliment to her.
Zac did an interesting thing today in training. I sent him on a long outrun where the fetch would be out of sight for me. When he got back to me, i noticed he was wet. I thought maybe he'd grabbed a dunk in the pond, which he'll do every once in a while, like on his outrun, if it's on the way out. It turns out though, that one of the sheep had gotten way down on the bank of the pond and the only way to do a proper flank and bring it out on line was to swim the flank! Peggy said he'd done it perfectly, never lapped at the water once, and rose gently out of the water for a nice lift. Pretty cool.
Anyway, it was a good weekend with plenty of time with the dogs, time to visit with friends and family, lots of things checked off the to-do lists, even some fishing yesterday and few new pictures of the new lambs. I'll upload them to the Pbase site (link to the right).
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Zac was a very good boy with the ewes and lambs. A couple of the ewes thought about challenging him but he was very patient and is learning to work them. This is the first year I've used him at all with the babies and moms. The lambs just had to go over and check him out!
And finally i have some more recent video of Moss working. Peggy kindly agreed to come out and get some of him for me. He was pretty good but not quite as sharp as he was over the past weekend. He wasn't taking his stop or slow down commands especially well last night, where over the weekend he'd turn in and gear down on even a small peep of the whistle. He's sure getting trained though, and working very well. Denise got some video of him over the weekend and i'll post that when she gets it finished.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A lot of people have a very hard time internalizing the commands for flanking. You'll hear it from novice handlers quite often --
"Come bye, oops, sorry, i mean AWAY!"
"Come bye, come bye, COME BYE! Oh wait, you're right, i mean AWAY".
I know i certainly had a very difficult time with this because i'm one of those people who just never has been able to tell left from right without a physical cue (looking at the back of my hand to see if the thumb and forefinger make an L for left). When I was first starting out, I went to lessons with a particular person who'd be standing on the sidelines telling me to go left or right to cue me for come bye or away - now i had 4 things instead 2 that i couldn't pull out of my brain with any speed and to get confused on! To this day, if you come to my place for lessons, you'll rarely hear "go left" or "go right" from me. I tend to use landmarks - "go towards the barn", "aim towards the porta-potty".
Early on, i found a physical cue to help me remember my flank commands. Hold your arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. Now point your index fingers at each other. You should have a nice circle made with your arms, and your fingers are pointing clockwise (come bye) and counter-clockwise (away to me). Picture sheep in the center of the circle and your arms are your dog's path around them.. You can tell which direction your dog is going, or which direction you want him to go, if you refer to which direction you're pointing. This works for any position your dog is relative to the sheep, whether driving or fetching. Now for the "trick". Look at your wrist and note where your watch is (if you don't wear a watch, get to Walmart right now!). If you wear your watch on your right wrist, the phrase you will want to remember is "aWay aWatch". If you wear it on the left wrist, it's "Come bye Clock". The feel of the watch on your wrist should give you a physical cue and a very, very quick way to check yourself on your commands (WW and CC).
I've also had a couple of people hold something in one hand or wear one glove until they get the feel for the commands if they weren’t watch-wearing people. A watch is a lot less Michael Jackson-ish on the trial field though, and you'll probably want to start timing your runs at some point in your trial career anyway, so you might as well get started wearing one now.
I'm sure different people's brains learn things in different ways, so this may or may not work for you, but it sure did for me. I know to this day i feel a little lost without a watch on if i'm working dogs. Good luck and let me know if this helps.
Monday, April 14, 2008
It was a good weekend - new lambs popping out, the sun shining, redbuds and dogwoods blooming, trees leafing out over the new green grass. Add in good friends and good dog working, and what more could you ask for?
Speaking of dog working, Moss was absolutely spectacular this weekend. He started taking his flank whistles on the drive and was just really, really trying hard to work with me and be a good sheepdog. I could easily have run him on a Nursery/Ranch course yesterday. He's turned into a real team player and the sheep like and trust him. My plan with him all along has been to train on him as he could take it, without any real pressure, mostly putting mechanics on him, and see if his keenness and talent would catch up, and boy is it. He's never tried to quit working or anything like that, but he was a little lackadaisical about it all, not really digging down deep and trying when it got a little hard. Now, at 16 months old, his heart is growing in leaps and bounds and he's turning into a really good dog. I can hardly wait to see what he's going to be like at 2.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
This is the tan boy, he's very photogenic.
Pamela's twins (Peggy has decided they'll be Patrick and Patricia. She's only supposed to name one sheep per year, but these are her Pamela's lambs so there ya go :-)
Whee, play time!
More to come!
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
This week's topic is making sure your dog enjoys his work. I know these dogs are hard-wired to work, and really can't even help themselves when it comes to work. They're slaves to their instincts in many ways. But you can create a happy, willing partner who will give everything he has working with and for you, or you can have a sulky, sullen dog that does his work with no spark and no heart. You can also create a crazed, frustrated maniac who tries to work in spite of you and it seems like he's working against you. The common thing with all of these dogs is a trainer.
Stop to consider what each of these dogs thinks of his trainer. "Happy" is relaxed and listening, and trusts his trainer to do right by him, helping him control sheep, confident in his abilities. "Sulky" thinks his owner is pretty stupid, asking him to do things that just make no sense, like making him lie down just when the sheep are starting to escape. He doesn't trust his handler and has just shut down mentally. "Crazy" probably has a trainer a lot like Sulky's trainer, but rather than shutting down he's grown a short fuse and closed his ears, and takes his tension out on sheep and instead of getting sullen he just runs faster and faster to try to get where he knows he needs to be, while his trainer screams commands at the top of his lungs (LIEDOWNLIEDOWNLIEDOWN!!).
If you will stop and try to puzzle out what your dog thinks about what you're asking him to do, you can create a Happy dog for yourself. This is especially important with younger, less trained dogs. A dog needs to feel he can trust you before he can give you his obedience and give up a little of what his instinct is screaming at him to do. If you're going to ask your dog to give up that little bit of instinctive reaction, you have to give the dog something in return that he enjoys. Border collies are nature's control freaks, so don't ask the dog to give up total control. Ask for a down when it makes sense *to your dog*, not when your sheep are starting to break off to the barn and your dog will be out of position to stop them if he lies down. If you can figure out how to get your dog to do what you want, and when the dog does it, he's actually getting more control on the sheep, he'll love that. Let him go to the pressure and then ask for a down and he'll think you're a pretty good partner and pretty smart. When you start driving with a dog, ask for a little flank onto the pressure point so that your sheep slow down instead of running off, and watch your dog's opinion of you go up.
Over time, after your dog is pretty well trained up, you don't have to think quite so hard about what the dog is thinking. But it's pretty important to work on your dog's opinion of you when he's starting out and especially when he's about half-trained. We start expecting more of the dog just about the time we start asking for things that make less sense instinctively to the dog.
Lambing has started with a bang. I'm only lambing out 12 ewes this year - with last year's drought, i was concerned about how much grass we'd have this year. And lambing out 35 ewes last spring about wore us all out, so i decided to try to have an easier year. My little farm was overrun with over 100 sheep on it last year too so we didn't need to have a bunch of new lambs.
The first lamb popped out about 7:30 last night, followed by 2 sets of twins overnight, and another set about 10:00 this morning. At this rate, we'll be done in 2 days. Hah, i wish! So far, so good though. I'm fretting a little about mastitis after having a couple of cases the last couple of years but hopefully a little extra vigilance (okay, obsessing ;-) will be a good thing.
I'll post pictures later but so far we have:
White female single
Black/white female twin
Black/white male twin
Black female twin
Black male twin
Red ?? (to be determined) twin
Black/white ?? (to be determined) twin
Monday, April 7, 2008
Happy Birthday Jet!
I just love that picture. I can't help but smile when i see it.
She starting working before she was 6 weeks old and has never looked back. Look at those little legs trying to do an outrun on those ducks!
We also put the younger pups on the sheep again. I'd tried Bart a couple of weeks ago at Denise's and since the situation was good, i popped him out again. He was a tiny bit less confident this time but still pretty awesome. He's actually balancing the sheep to me and there's one point where you can see his head come down and he really gets the feel of moving the sheep. I probably won't put him back on sheep again for a couple of months. Here's his video from yesterday:
I also worked Billy and thought he was quite good. He's so smooth and is going to be really fun to watch. And a blast to train. I worked him a few times last week and he was being really stubborn about only wanting to go the away direction, so i picked on that a bit and got him more comfortable going both ways. You can see in this video that he still wants to be out working at about 10 or 11:00 to the sheep. It's very apparent when i ask him to lie down - he flicks back over to that spot if he can. It's gotten quite a lot better though and he's balancing and moving his sheep very nicely. He's such a sensible dog and it looks to me as if he'll have good power. I don't really plan to do a lot of training with him until he's a couple of months older. He's still only 8.5 months old. Here's his video:
Friday, April 4, 2008
"Kent began the day by explaining his philosophy on helping
people and dogs in the stockdog world. He feels that
anything he can do to help make the competition better only
serves to make him a better competitor in the long run."
What a great, healthy attitude towards competition. Definitely inspiring for me.
Also inspiring was the amazing outpouring of emotion for Walt Jagger after his recent passing. I didn't see anything about what a great competitor he was (and he was), or what trials he'd won in his time (many of them), but there sure were a ton of touching stories from people he'd helped along the way and everyone noted how much he cared for people and dogs. Another great thing to draw inspiration from.
If there's anything i can do to help y'all out there, give me a shout and i'll do my best!
As for the latest dog update -- I got Moss out yesterday and worked him a while, even though it was nasty and raining, ick. He's just hit this point where he's absorbing everything i toss at him and i didn't want to miss yet another day because of the weather, so we toughed it out. His driving continues to improve almost every time i work him and i started giving him some of the flank whistles as well, which he picked up almost immediately. We were both having such a good time that it didn't matter if it was raining. I guess that's a pretty good sign. I hope to work him a fair bit this weekend (it's supposed to be pouring rain tomorrow). I think you have to take advantage of the "window being open" on these young dogs sometimes. Even if it does mean you get wet shoes.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
This one just cracked me up.
There are more (and some of Zac) at my Pbase site - link is over there on the right.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
I've seen the Rocky Mountains
And the Gulf of Mexico
The California surfers
And palm trees by the row.
I've read the works of Shakesphere
And seen Picasso's paint,
The sound of concert pianists,
And heard the bagpipes quaint.
And all of these have thrilled me
But not one would compare
With watching collies working
A single or a pair.
There's magic in each movement
That Mozart never had
And beauty in each turn
That makes my heart feel glad.
There's silence in each answer
Of every whistled tone'
That Newton never thought of
Nor ever was he shown.
There's feeling in the handling
That only poet's know
Or men that work with sheepdogs
And feel the teamwork grow.
Wherever life may take you
In sunshine or in fog
You'll never quite forget it
When once you've worked a dog.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
So i was talking to a friend about her dog and it got me to thinking about the choices we give dogs in training. I like to let dogs have the freedom to make choices, and then watch to see what they choose and then give them feedback based on that. I'd rather tell the dog "this is something i don't want you to do" and then let him figure out how he wants to meet that. I like for the dogs to retain their initiative. So, for example, when i take a dog to sheep, i don't ask him to heel and i'm really not all that picky about the dog letting me go through gates first. What i want is for the dog to not take off and work without my saying to go, to not sneak to work. I don't care if the dog chooses to heel, bounces around, stares at the sheep, whatever. Just don't sneak off to work. If he does sneak off, i'll quickly meet him at the sheep and let him know working isn't allowed until i say so. I try to catch him when he just starts to think or commit in his mind to sneaking off though, and then tell him "no" or just let him know that's the thought i don't like. It's a whole lot easier to break that incorrect thought than to have to break the actual action once the dog's mind and body have both committed to sneaking off and he's right in the middle of the sheep. Anyway, the point is to let the dog make choices from the whole range of options and tell him which ones you don't like. That's the beauty of a border collie. Tell him you don't like a particular thing and he'll offer you 3 new things to see if you like one of those and it gets him what he wants (to work). "Oh, you don't like it when i think about sneaking off? Well, how about if i bounce around over here? Or over here? Or walk next to you? Or stand on my head?" They're bred to offer behaviors until hitting on the right thing. You just have to be clever enough to allow them to use this decision making and then give them feedback so they know the good from the bad. Add in a little positive reinforcement ("good dog!" or a flank command or "walk up" or whatever it is he's trying to get from you) when your dog hits on the action you're really looking for and watch how fast he'll learn. Take our sneaker-offer. Tell him "no" when you see the thought of sneaking off just forming in his mind. Now watch him closely, and if he makes a move to follow you, or stands calmly next to you gazing at the sheep (or whatever behavior you'd like to see) give him a quick shhhh or whatever command you use to send him. I'll bet you the next time he will try that same action to see if he managed to train you to send him to his reward - working the sheep. Yes, he's trying to train you at the same time you're trying to train him! (More on this in another post to come)
Now, imagine the dog stuck at a firm heel and not allowed to make those same choices. All he's learning is to walk at heel, not to do the whole give and take of his handler training him and him training his handler.
Pick your battles. And make sure you're actually teaching the dog what you think you're teaching it.