25 May, 2010

First attempt at training with Stanley

There are some problems, but a success overall I think!

22 May, 2010

Stanley and the Clicker

Good news: Stanley is no longer afraid of the clicker. He is responding to every click by reaching toward the food, so it seems he has worked out that the click predicts a treat. Looks like we are ready to start training. Tomorrow I'll set up the video camera for our first try at my AVBT video.

Wish us luck!

16 May, 2010

Training 5/16/2010

Today we went to Fido's in the morning. I busted ass yesterday to get my homework done "enough" to have time this morning to take Lucy to sheep. It's only 35 miles to Fido's and 52 miles to Diane's. We were short on time and took the quicker option.

First I got rejected by the "parking nazis." There was an agility event as well as a Rhodesian Ridgeback fun day going on, and the parking people wouldn't let me park for herding. They sent me across the road where my car bottomed out. Sylvia came to the rescue and made the parking people let me park at the barn where I normally park for herding (along with the other few people there for sheepdog reasons).

Since there were a bunch of people at Fido's and Ken and Sandy were working in Clover, Sylvia sent me back to Trillium. I've never worked in Trillium before... where has this been all my life! Sheesh! I love Trillium!

First we had to find the sheep. They were in a holding area and hidden in the blackberries. It was a group of 12, so we shed off 6 to take into the big work area. (Note to self: being able to say "we shed off 6 to take..." and having done so as a matter of routine = major progress for Lucy and I)

Trillium is great because it has some terrain. It is an odd shaped field and has several knolls and gullies, plus some of the grass is tall right now. This allowed me to stash Lucy's sheep out of sight in several different places on the field and practice blind outruns as well as some blind driving.

First I set the sheep, then walked all the way to the top of a small knoll. There was a shallow gully between us and the sheep, and they were hidden from Lucy's view by terrain/grass but I could see the tops of their backs. I sent her right and she cast out, then was drawn in by the gully. *Bingo* this is exactly what we need to practice. I stopped her, nicely, and whistled her out. She bent, but not as wide as I wanted, so I stopped her harder and whistled her out again. She bent off hard this time and cast out, coming in deep behind her sheep. A nice fetch, turn and a little driving to a different area of the field to re-set.

This time I put the sheep in a gully between two knolls. If the gully drew her in, she would be right on top of the sheep. I was curious to see how she would handle this. I sent her left and she cast out very wide and deep from the start. I figured she had my number. While she ran out, I climbed to the highest spot near me so I could see her. She came into the gully and checked her sheep. She seemed quite surprised to see them there and bent way out, casting behind the next knoll and coming in nicely. I was not able to see her when she got behind the knoll, but when she appeared she was at balance, just a touch to the draw side. It was a thing of beauty.

On the fetch, she went into the gully and I knew she wouldn't be able to see me. I wondered what would happen to the fetch line, so just stayed quiet to study Lucy's response. As I suspected, when she crested the next rise she had pushed the sheep away from the draw side off-line for a crooked fetch. I blew a little steady and she realized where I was, then fixed the line. We shed them twice for practice (hooray, her stop is still good without pressure from me), and again did some relaxed driving to set the sheep in another new spot on the field.

We set the sheep in another gully to practice the blind outrun and out-of-sight start to the fetch again. Then I took Lucy to water and insisted she rest for a few minutes. I walked to another new spot in a low area, sent her right and then climbed up to a higher vantage point to watch her outrun. She was definitely with the "blind outrun" program at this point. She leaned in a little early, drawn in by the terrain, but just as I drew a breath to blow her out, she bent off on her own casting out wide. Again I lost sight of her but the sheep lifted straight. This time right before she would lose sight of me, I blew a little steady and waved my crook above my head gently as if to say "hey, remember *this* spot." She came out of the blind gully with the sheep nicely on line and had not pushed too hard on the draw side.

I was astonished. I mean, I know I am super lucky to have an amazingly well-trained dog and I have it easy because everyone else did the work for me before I got Lucy, but this was a new situation for her and I could see the wheels turning from one repetition to the next.

After this fetch, I had her bring the sheep to me, turn and then begin a drive. When she got near the gully that blinded part of the fetch, I flanked her to start a crossdrive, knowing she would have to take the terrain at a different angle and the sheep would not want to climb the hill but rather run the gully. Lucy did great, keeping a nice pace. I could see neither her nor the sheep for a short period (something I wanted to practice because I anticipate seeing it in an upcoming trial) but when both reappeared they were on the same line I had originally set. I was incredibly happy.

Again, we shed twice for practice, then drove the sheep to a new place for a final outrun. This time I set the sheep on top of one of the small knolls so that she would be able to see them when I sent her, but would have to run into the gully (agreeing to have them be out of sight) to get behind them properly at the top. I sent her left and she made it look easy. All I had to do was stand and watch in awe. A little more practice turning the post to set up the drive and a bit more shedding and we both quit on a good note.

Lucy is an amazing dog. I feel lucky to learn from her. Her confidence keeps growing and growing, and I see her method developing as she gains confidence in her work. She did some of the nicest, most consistent shedding I've seen her do today, even when the sheep were hot and she had 2 stompy ones.

Lastly, it was really good for me to work on lines when I can see the sheep but not my dog (tall grass, terrain). It was a good reminder for me to pay closer attention to my sheep to maintain lines. Patrick suggested this during my lesson with him and he was right.

Let's hope all the things I am excited about in training come out on the trial field in 2 weeks!

12 May, 2010

My first "real" trial season

Well, Lucy and I have been working together, tuning up for trialing. We've been doing approximately equal parts chores/backup/at-hand work and trial/panel/line work. There has been the occasional issue but overall I am very happy with our ability to team up and with the effort Lucy puts forth in spite of my steep learning curve.

I am a sheepdogging neophyte. I'm at the stage where I don't know enough to realize what I'm missing, what I need to train, what I don't really know. But I'm learning. I'm learning to read my sheep better, to plan for some give-and-take on the trial course, learning to recognize quality work in my dog. Lucy can still take my breath away with a big outrun. Seeing her check her sheep, then bend off and accelerate fills me with the joy I imagine she takes in doing it.

My mission for my first real trial season (meaning Spring/Summer bigger trials with my OWN dog) is to get my feet wet, step to the post as a team, come off the field as a team, reflecting first on my successes, second on my mistakes: learning from both.

I'll be trialing on 2 familiar fields and several new ones, with familiar sheep and new sheep. My first experience with range ewes is coming! (though Lucy has seen some before)

This will be a busy summer. Between taking my AVBT exam, a 3/4 college load, 2 jobs, trialing Lucy and planning to go to the agility national championships with Zora, I'm wondering right about now what the HELL I am thinking.

At the same time, I'm loving every minute of it. I reckon life is short, I'd better use the time I have doing things I love. And let me tell you, I love being Lucy's partner.