That Winning Feeling by JuneSavoie is a really great book (If I borrowed you my copy, could you let me know? I can’t seem to find it.) Yes, it is aimed at the equestrian, but the principles and ideas shared in the book can definitely be applied to many areas of life. Especially dog training.
I wish I had my copy handy because there is a part where Ms. Savoie writes about holding the image of what you want in your head. What you picture, is what will transpire. If you go into the arena thinking ‘train wreck’, guess what?
Anyhow, if you don’t have a copy, or haven’t read it, and you work with dogs or horses, I highly suggest you put it at the top of your TBR list. I’m brining it up because since my last training post the effects of going into a session in less than an optimal state of mind have been driven home more than once.
When you’re fortunate enough to have your own facilities and livestock to train with whenever you please, folks figure you’re pretty lucky. And you are, no doubt about it. But the aforementioned facilities and livestock come with a huge assortment of baggage: care, feeding, never-ending maintenance, and unexpected emergencies multiplied by X number of beasts. That means your ‘free-time’ is not always so free. Not that I’m complaining. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But when you also have a full-time job outside the home, and various other commitments besides, finding the time to work your own dog isn’t always as simple as strolling out to the back yard and moving sheep around. Forcing the issue when you’ve had a long nine hours at the day-job and aren’t in a particularly good mood is the ultimate bad idea. It’s something I tell my students not to do. It has always been something I try not to do, and most days I succeed, but the pressure is on. Nationals looms. I’ve succumbed to unwise behavior and idiotic decisions.
Several times over the past couple of weeks I’ve dragged myself out to sort sheep after getting home from work with a bad attitude. Grady has become my sorting/pen dog since losing Shaine. He tries, bless his remedial soul, and he’s slowly getting it, but there are days he tries my patience. He’s not quite to the point yet where he totally understands the job and I can just turn my back to focus on the sheep. It’s amazing how quickly you can get spoiled in that regard. Shaine and I had our issues to work through, but she was really beginning to excel at the practical work. And Grady is the biggest goof on the place. He may be a big dog, and pushing…nine years old? But his mental maturity is…well…non-existent.
Anyhow, dogs can sense a handler’s mood damn quick, anyone who says otherwise needs to spend more time with them. Some react by actually trying harder to please (Grady). Some by shutting down. Some ignore it and you and just go about the job they *think* they’re supposed to be doing (Quinn). If your name is Jig, you paste on a sadistic grin, find the proverbial last nerve, and proceed to jump up and down on it with great vigor. That results in your handler experiencing quite a spectacular melt-down. This is preceded by much flailing of arms, and spouting of commands punctuated by the kind of language more commonly heard in R-rated movies. All of which results in a general feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt, which leads to believing oneself completely incapable of training a dog to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.
So, last week when I felt myself starting to fray at the edges, I chucked my stick out of the arena and spent some time just walking about with Jig and the sheep. I took the pressure off both of us. Okay, not entirely, because I still expected her to be nice to the stock and not make them nervous. It went surprisingly well. Well enough that for the next several sessions I worked her in the big arena with no stick. We focused on a bit of driving (baby steps), handling light stock in a larger area, not pushing, and penning. I came out of it thinking maybe I could actually train a dog. At least a little bit. Hopefully Jig came out of it more confident and feeling a bit more in control.