If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you will know Dillon has been a challenge. There have been times when I questioned if we would ever overcome our many issues. Many times frustration overcame good sense and I took it out on him by being blatantly unfair. All I can say is it’s a good thing Dillon loves me as much as he does. He’s willing to forgive and forget just about all my transgressions. And it’s a good thing I pulled my head out of my backside and started training to his strengths instead of pounding on him for his weaknesses.

I’ve gotten in some steady work on all the dogs the last week or so. None have shown more improvement than Dill. He gets to do the bringing in and sorting, then I’ll give him a break and take him out after Jig and Cian for an actual training session. Suddenly, I have a dog who does that thing he never wanted to do… gather. It’s far from perfect, and he’s only good for about 75′ or so, usually with a redirect when he starts to pull up short and look back at me. He also has a tendency to slice. And he does it all at warp speed. At this point, I don’t care. He’s doing it. I can finesse it once it becomes more fluid. Right now, I’m working more on getting him to SLOW THE HELL DOWN once he gets behind the sheep. He still doesn’t realize the point of the gather is to bring the sheep to me, not just round them up and take them blasting past.

You get two clips today. In this first one I send Dillon on a short gather then attempt to get him to lie down part way in and walk up nice and steady because, as those who know me are aware, I like mashing things together working on two things at once. Please note, it’s an Away, the direction we’ve had problems with in the past. Dillon wasn’t taking my downs, and we’ve got lots to work on, but it’s all about baby steps (something Dave reminded me of when I told him how things went).

We’re also working on the take pen. Dillon is more than happy to help in the pens, he has no qualms about being in tight spots, but no way, no how, does he want to bring sheep out of a pen when he might lose them. When having him take stock out, I generally have to open the gate only wide enough for him to squeeze in, then quickly swing it open when he gets around. Opening the gate all the way and doing what I do in this next clip has never provided these results. Yeah, he’s pushy. Yeah, he’s fast. And I don’t particularly like the way he wears behind me as we do a bit of walking about, but we’ll get it sorted out in time. The ultimate goal is to have him enter the pen without me, of course, and control the stock calmly and slowly right from the get-go. It’s something I’m working on with Cian and Jig as well.

It feels like Dillon and I have had a long overdue breakthrough. Or maybe we’re just starting to understand one another a bit better. Whatever the case, I promised him a kiss on the lips after our last session, guess I better pay up.

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The Year of Training ~ Update Numero Uno

I bet you all are sitting there, tapping your fingers on the table, looking at the calendar (because you have nothing better to do with your valuable time), and thinking I’ve gone and missed my first week’s update right out of the gate.

Wrongo. I wanted to wait until after Dillon and Jig had their chiro adjustments to see if there was any news to share. I was also busy putting together some short video clips.

Let’s jump right in with Dillon. Dr. Robin came out on Friday morning for Dillon’s first ever chiro adjustment. He was not amused. It took quite a few treats and lots of patience on Dr. Robin’s part to allow her to work on anything other than his front end. The findings were that, yes, he had some restriction in his neck, a few spots on his spine, and in his pelvis, all on the left side. Would this impact his wanting to flex his body in that direction? Possibly. He honestly did look like he was moving a bit freer when we were done with him. Unfortunately the heat and humidity has moved back in, so no testing the theory for several days.

We did get in a few days of training during the week, however. I purchased this nifty, bendable tri-pod that holds my cell phone, making it much easier to video my training sessions. I can put that little sucker just about anywhere. Mostly the videos are for me, alone. I’ll share a few clips here and there, however. Today you get three. The first one illustrates Dillon’s problem area. There are captions. No comments on my handling. I ain’t perfect and sometimes I confuse myself and my dog. At one point I probably confused the sheep as well. Those parts I try to edit out. In any case…

Watching the entire session I noticed many things I don’t get to see while training. Number one was how much tighter and less relaxed Dillon is on the Away side. Number two was all those good things he does that I love and give me faith we’ll get through this.

Okay, on to Jig. When Steve was up a couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity for some one-on-one time with him due to his flight getting totally jacked up which led to him staying an extra day. (Hurray!) I’ve been getting a little frustrated with my training sessions with Jig because she does really well and it’s hard to fix problems when they don’t crop up at home. We’ve fallen into a routine. Steve saw the chance to shake up that routine and leapt on it like Rebel on a mouse. This resulted in me having a glorious meltdown and it was AWESOME. Why, you ask, would I consider a meltdown to be awesome? Because it suddenly felt just like a trial situation and now, finally, I could address some of the disconnect Jig and I experience elsewhere.

Here’s the scenario. I had been fetching sheep from the holding pen, across the barn yard, into the round pen. Steve suggested, since I’d proven I have controls on Jig, making her drive them across instead. Sure, says I, cause I’m always up for a challenge. I’m certain the sheep start to view the round pen as the coliseum meaning they aren’t all that keen on going there in the first place. In any case, driving them away from a very heavy draw and into said coliseum brought out the crazy in me. I may have even started twitching. It also showed how, in times of stress, Jig and I loose our functionality. I start nit-picking, my voice escalates, emotions run rampant — who thought I could get that kind of stress at home?!!? The point of it all was to start to find challenges for Jig and I instead of going out, sorting sheep, working on the same exercises in the same manner. Seems like such a common sense thing but… well… the Routine Trap had snared me good.

So here’s a short clip of when it actually worked just a bit too smoothly. This group of sheep made it look easy.

And, here is an even shorter clip I call Bad Kathi, wherein I should have just shut my mouth when Jig had them close to the gate and trusted her to finish the job. Instead, I got antsy, didn’t trust her, tried to micro-manage her with, of all things, a lie down, and we lost them. This was a tough group of sheep to begin with. The white one was a huge cheater that caused us many problems. I finally had to call it a day and finish off with a fetch.


I’m going to work really hard on NOT overdoing that fun little exercise, and continue to look for other opportunities to test us.

No clips of Cian. I think I only worked him once or twice during the week. Pretty soon I’ll start putting a few more demands on him because he’s doing well with the self-control aspect of the program.

I’m just hoping this heat wave doesn’t last too long. I don’t do well in heat and humidity. Makes me all sorts of cranky.

Happy training!

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A Slight Reboot

Life has been busy of late. That’s my explanation for the lapse in posting… again. I tend to set myself these crazy-busy schedules until I’m reminded there just aren’t enough hours in the day and something has to give before that something is me. Unfortunately, it’s generally the blog that suffers first which recently led me to question the why of it.

I started this blog because 1) I’m a writer at heart and that particular muse demands an outlet, 2) I hoped sharing my training journey might just resonate with others on a similar journey, and 3) those folks in #2 (and perhaps others as well) might just find themselves enlightened, inspired, and, if nothing else, entertained.

Because it kept falling off my plate, I toyed with the idea of ending the blog, but my muse staged a revolt. And, since I have dubbed this The Year of Training, and because of reasons #2 & 3 above, I’ve decided to put a bit more effort into it and use the blog as my training journal. I actually do keep one of those, albeit irregularly, and highly recommend it. I go through mine frequently to remind myself just how far I’ve come as well as to refresh my memory on how to approach a certain problem. How, you may ask, is that different than what I have been irregularly posting? In essence, it’s not. I am, however, going to aim for weekly entries that go into a bit more depth than in the past.

To kick this off, I’ll start with an introduction to my dogs and where each one is at in their training in the event you’re new here or just can’t keep them straight. I’m currently working three dogs. Crazy much? Yeah. That’s been established.

First up: Jig, 6 1/2 years old, one cattle leg shy of her ASCA WTCH. We’re fine-tuning everything in the hopes of making a bid for Finals in 2020. Jig and I–okay, mostly just me–tend to have frequent disconnects wherein I completely lose my shit. This generally happens at trials, though I learned just a few days ago that it can also happen on the home turf while training. The trigger seems to be when we find ourselves in a tricky situation. I start to get a bit buggy, Jig starts to push and, as you all know, the more frantic we get, the more our dogs react. So along with making every effort to remain calm and in control,

Image result for animal zen

Oooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm

I’m also working on getting Jig to be more fluid in her response to my commands. We need to tighten up her ‘There’ and improve her driving all while I attempt to stop pinching her and allow her to work even if it isn’t perfect. Also, when I see things starting to fall apart I need to FIX THEM instead of waiting to see if she will. I seem to keep expecting her to know things she doesn’t.

Dillon is next in line. 2 1/2 years old and currently my main challenge.

Dillon doesn’t seem to understand the gather and is extremely resistant when asked to take the Away flank. By comparison, his Go Bye is smooth and relaxed with no hesitation. Most every dog favors one direction over the other, but I’ve never seen one this insistent on avoiding it. That makes me wonder if something happened to him on an Away side that I never saw. To cover all my bases, I’m going to rule out any health-related causes. I’ve scheduled a chiro appointment for him next week, and he’s got an eye appointment in August. We’re back to working in the round pen until I can get him going both directions smoothly, and because it’s a nice area to free him up as well as help him better understand the fetch.

 

I’ll tell you this, the dog wants to work and has no quit in him. And, as several people have observed, Dillon truly wants to please me. There’s so much to like in what he does, I just need to be patient and work through this.

Cian is the baby of the group. He’ll be a year old on July 2.

 

He doesn’t get as much work as the other two, and the main focus right now is helping him learn self-control. We’ve done quite a bit of foundation work so he has a great down, and understands moving off my pressure. He is also super biddable and very keen.

As you can see, he also has a very long tongue. I hope he never trips over it.

There you have it. Three different challenges, at three different ages. They definitely keep me on my toes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dillon’s Day ~ Slow, But Steady

One of the pitfalls of training alone is that it’s sometimes hard to see improvement which, in turn, can lead to frustration and discouragement when we get to feeling like we’re spinning our wheels. Thankfully, I have friends who turn up from time-to-time and aren’t afraid to tell me what they’re seeing. Such was the case over the past weekend. My original plan was to have one of them work Dillon because it’s so much easier to see what’s going on when you aren’t in the thick of it. Yes, I could just video our session, which I have done in the past, but I really wanted to know if I’m the source of our problems. The only way to do that was have someone else handle him. Dillon, however, is apparently a bit of a momma’s boy. No way was he working for anyone else. So much for that great idea. Watching me work with him, however, they both agreed Dillon is doing far better than he was the last time they saw him. I definitely need to hear that because, you know, what I said up there.
I know I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m finding Dillon to be quite the challenge. Not only is his working style different than what I’m used to, he watches me — a lot — which I’m sure must be something I caused, I just don’t know how, plus he’s still a bit immature. I don’t give up easily though, especially not when I see potential. Bringing out that potential is my responsibility. I made a commitment to myself and Dillon, among others, and I intend to honor it, even if it does stretch me as a trainer.
After spending some of our weather-induced downtime musing on our problem areas and the things I’ve already tried, I decided what I needed was a pen that wasn’t large enough for Dillon to ever feel as though he was in fear of losing his stock, yet offered a strong draw, as well as room to do some gather/fetch work. Enter the holding pen/alleyway turned training area.

Roughly 55′ x 16′, with a smaller 12×12 pen at one end, which adds to an already strong draw in that direction, this area comes complete with chickens. They refused to leave when asked and did get their feathers ruffled once or twice. It took a while, but eventually they went on their way.
In any case, controlling stock while allowing them to move toward a draw is one of the things we’re having issues with. When the stock heads toward a draw Dillon prefers to position himself in their path and hold his ground to prevent them from continuing on, that makes it a tad difficult to repen stock, move them through a gate, or take them anywhere they truly want to be.


This clip is a little dark from shooting into the sun, and for a lot of folks it won’t look like much beyond the basic stuff any young dog should know. You could even pick it apart because Dillon’s slicing his approach. The thing is, for him to leave my side, even in this small of a pen, and actually go on a ‘gather’ is monumental. One of the biggest hurdles I’m trying to overcome right now is lack of a gather/fetch especially toward a draw, as it was in this case. He’ll take his flanks if I’m between him and the stock, and if they aren’t in a position to get away from him, but sending him from my side typically results in a straight-on walking approach and a drive away or hold to a fence. Honestly, that’s what I intended to capture. I wanted video of a ‘bad’ example. Instead, I got this which, small as it is, is a step in the right direction and tells me my work and patience are starting to pay off.

Rebel Kitten is normally chief of the Distraction Training team but found himself otherwise occupied with Butthead, Dave’s bottle ram. Kudos to him for finding not one, but two substitutes. They weren’t quite up to Rebel’s standards, though, and soon abandoned the job altogether.

 

I’ve done quite a bit of work with Dillon on cleaning out corners and working in the pens to help build his confidence in tight situations. Here he shows the benefits of those tasks by making himself a gap to push through between the sheep and the fence with any hesitation.

Dillon’s bad side is Away to Me. He’s far freer on the Go Bye side. Here he’s fast and tight, and would have likely fallen to the inside if I hadn’t given him an extra push. We’ll work on that, but I believe in facing one battle at a time.

You can see his Go Bye is a better. He’s still fast and tight, even considering the confines of the working space, but he’s relaxed and making the effort to get around.

Even though the pen is only a bit over 50′ long, I’m able to do some fetching from one end to the other. Turning back to the draw, Dillon will often want to charge ahead and stop our forward progression. The pen is small enough that I can easily block him and keep him behind, showing him a clear picture of what I want. These sheep were pretty heavy and content to stay with me. If they would have broke, I would have let Dillon go to head to fix it, then would have encouraged him to get back behind.
Baby steps.

Being as heavy as they were, this group of sheep provided an un-looked for learning experience for Dillon. One he handled very well. After working on a few take & repens, the dark-faced ewe decided she wanted only to be in that pen and tried several times to push past Dillon when we were moving the group to the other end. Dillon held the pressure when she faced him off and even had to make a few cutting horse maneuvers to keep her from bolting past. When one of the others joined her ill-conceived crusade, Dillon kept both of them at bay, moving in step-by-step. When they finally turned off, I had him lie down and then broke him off with lots of praise.
I quickly made note of which group of sheep I had, because that little exercise is going to do Miss Jig a world of good.


In a few days I’m heading off to a Deb Conroy clinic. It’s mostly about Jig right now, but Dillon and Cian will be making the trip as well. I want to run Dillon at least once. It’s always good to get them off the farm and on different stock. It will also be nice to have the opinion of someone as talented as Deb. Who knows, maybe she’ll give me some more tools to add to my box, and that’s always a good thing.

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Spring Has Sprung! I Hope

Sunday was a gorgeous day – finally – and I had every intention of taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon by getting in some training. First, however, I had to feed the bottle lamb. Done with that, I decided a quick walk-about was in order to check the footing in the pens and arena. The day before they had been slick and soupy. On my walk-about I noticed the duck-proofing was off on part of the arena fence. I don’t have ducks this year, so could have just removed it. That would have taken more time than I wanted to spend, so I opted for a quick repair with baling twine instead. Before taking care of that, however, I needed to bring over several wheel barrow’s worth of wood chips to fill in a soft spot in the roundpen, which reminded me that Cian’s outside run needed a bit of TLC. More precisely, it needed a great deal of woodchips put back into it. Out of the four dogs, Cian is the only one that manages to have more woodchips out of the kennel than in it. Not only that, but he pushes them to the back in a huge mound, creating a nice wallow in the front of the run. This time of year, wallow equals mud pit. Finished with those tasks, I managed to find a few more little maintenance things that needed doing. I guess that’s what happens when the weather hasn’t been conducive to anything other than the necessities. Anyhow, by then it was time to do afternoon chores and feed the lamb again. Needless to say, no dogs were worked.

Monday was another nice day and, given that I’d taken care of all those little annoying things the day prior, I was determined not to waste the little bit of free time I had after work.

These two were up first.

I experimented with working Dillon and Jig together a few times earlier this year after a suggestion by a friend, but couldn’t get to it with any sort of regularity to really gauge the results. My hope is it helps Dillon understand what I want, or helps me understand him, I don’t really care which way it goes. To be totally honest, my first hope was that Jig didn’t kill him. Jig doesn’t share well, and only started tolerating Dillon once he became more than a mouthful. To my surprise she never fussed with him, except once when they collided. Even then, it was just a quick warning snap and she kept about her business.

We’re working on the very basics, which is old hat for Jig. One thing I’ve noticed on any gather, short or long, is that Dillon will veer off as Jig brings the sheep in, and position himself to block any potential draw. I wind up with Jig pushing from the rear, and Dillon holding the front.

They really do work nicely together and, surprisingly enough, make a pretty good team. I’m not certain the tandem work is really accomplishing what I want, but I’ll stick with it for a while now that it looks like I might get some consistent training in. I need to give it a chance and not succumb to my tendency to move on too quickly.

That’s something I’m going to really fight against doing with Cian. Those of you who know me, or are regular visitors here, know it’s one of my worst bad habits. Oooh, a little bit of success at Step A? Let’s just take ten giant leaps to Step Z!

Bad, Kathi.

Cian has been in the round pen a handful of times and is gearing up to start some more serious training this year.

He’s starting to get more confident, which manifests itself in him taking some cheap shots on the top side. I have to be very careful of my corrections at that point, as he can’t take quite that much pressure yet.

He squares up very nicely when I step into him, and he’ll down when I ask, and those are both some nice building blocks to start our foundation on. Slow and steady.

Yeah. Like that.

I finished up the day taking Jig out for some one-on-one. I want to make sure I’m completely in her head when we get to Iowa. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and will need to find many off-the-farm places to go train this year because at home she’s a freaking rocket scientist.

I’m thrilled spring has finally made an appearance. Hopefully it sticks around and we can settle into a regular working schedule again.

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Dillon’s Day ~ Getting Outside the Box

It’s been a while since I shared an update on Dillon. Don’t worry, I haven’t been neglecting the poor boy. As a matter of fact, he’s had to step into a new role as the chore/sorting dog while Jig and I focus on other things. It’s a big job which entails not only bringing in and helping me sort the sheep, but bringing in the steers as well. He’s a little ignorant about cattle at the moment, but he’s learning, and he’s getting more confident each day.

I’m going to admit, however, Dillon has been a challenge. For a time, I chalked it up to youth, immaturity, and silly-boy-dogness, so I continued working him the same way. Only, we weren’t being successful. I wasn’t seeing the results I felt I should have been.  Dillon’s a smart dog that truly wants to work. One of the things I like best about him is his willingness to keep trying. Even when I’ve gotten frustrated because something isn’t going quite right, and I’ve taken that frustration out on him (unfairly so) the boy doesn’t quit on me. If I lose it (yes, that happens, ain’t proud of it, but I’m human), Dillon comes back, stub wagging, ears up, eyes bright, willing to try again. Unfortunately, this was happening far too often because he just wasn’t understanding it, which led to me getting more and more frustrated because ‘it’ was one of the very basics, something I figured should have been so natural: a seemingly simple gather and fetch.

With age, they say, comes wisdom. I’m not certain I’m any wiser, but I am getting a bit better at stopping something before I come completely unglued. I can be a bit persistent, though. Or stubborn. Depends on your outlook, I suppose. When I run into a wall I try to find a way over, under, through, or past it. I fall into research and info-gathering mode. Try to find the missing piece to the puzzle. I think outside the box.

Dillon, however, forced me to not only think outside the box, but to put myself entirely outside of it as well. I left all my tools, all my preconceived notions, all my expectations of how I thought he should work, outside the gate and went into the small arena with nothing more than a group of my heavier sheep and Dillon. I didn’t give him any commands or directions, didn’t correct him when he wasn’t perfect. I walked around with my sheep and tried to pay attention to what Dillon did, how he did it, and maybe understand why. I also paid attention to where I needed to be to get the result I wanted.

It sounds stupid to admit that I can’t pinpoint exactly what happened, but something clicked with both of us. Maybe it was nothing more me than me finally shedding the preconceived notion of what I thought Dillon should be doing, and paying attention to what he actually was doing. He’s far different than any dog I’ve ever worked, and he’s pushing me to be more flexible and trust him instead of trying to force him into doing something my way just because that’s the way I normally do it.

This clip is really short and may not seem all that impressive to some of you, but for me and Dillon it is truly momentous. For Dillon to move freely into this pen and bring out the sheep, then kick around to cover, is one of the things we’ve been struggling with. I’ll take our little victories where I can find them, and build to bigger ones along the way. (I apologize in advance for the quality, I suck at filming and working at the same time and I was in the total wrong place. And, yes, it’s black & white.)

 

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Jig’s Journey ~ A Bump in the Road

Okay, honestly, it feels like way more than a bump. It’s more like a wall that I’ve hit at full speed. Or, better yet, the mother of all potholes with spikes in the bottom. No, really hungry alligators who aren’t even going to spit me back out once they’re done chewing me up. Or this…

Yeah, there we go.

I could pretty much just copy my last post with only a few changes. I’d worked hard between SEMASA’s trial and the Coyote Classic, and felt I made some good progress with Jig. Then I stepped into the arena on Friday morning and it all went to hell in the proverbial hand basket. It never did get much better. I threw away any chance at finishing Jig’s WTCH or even getting close to a qualifying score by sprinting over the handler’s line on numerous occasions to remind Jig that I was, in fact, in the arena with her. And that I might, just might, prefer things done my way as opposed to the rodeo she thought we were attending.

Those who know how Jig can work and weren’t at SEMASA to see that catastrophe were a bit like…

Because, to be honest, it looked (and felt) like I was trialing an untrained dog with zero control as opposed to the advanced dog who knows how to read and handle her stock and can do some pretty nice things.

To say it caught me off-guard would be the understatement of the year, because we’ve been doing really good during training. Yes, I always expect some regression when going to a trial. This, however, was beyond my comprehension. Even after I got up in her grill numerous times, she still didn’t stop pushing. Okay, maybe by the 5th trial she started to tire out and realized I might not be pleased. Maybe. But she was still pushing.

One of the best things about the trials I go to, however, is the people. I had a great support crew on hand, and a couple folks whose opinions and knowledge I value. It kept me from exploding. Or melting down. Both were possibilities and could have easily occurred simultaneously. In fact, I’m pretty sure at one point they did.

Now that I’ve had a couple days to stew mull it over, and I’ve worked Jig again, some of which I videoed, I realize I have to take a fraction of the blame. Yes, only a fraction. As was pointed out to me by a friend who saw the video, my demeanor, tone of voice, and overall attitude are totally different when training vs in the trial arena, and she’s right.

I thought I was over the bulk of my trial nerves. Apparently, I’m not. I use commands I don’t use at home, or overuse commands I use only rarely. Lie Down being chief among them. How many times did I tell Jig to lie down during a trial run???? Every time I panicked. And the way she was pushing, that was quite a bit. I was also loud. Like we-can-hear-you-three-counties-over loud. Something else I have tried, over the years, to not be.

In any case, we have Nationals looming before us and, I admit, I’m slightly terrified. I’m anticipating the train wreck even as I train for success. Or at least a competent showing. At this point, I’d take a bit of calm, quiet control. I’m spending time training us both in that.

I think I need to take my recorded training sessions to Texas and watch them prior to my National’s runs to remind myself that I can be sane, rational, and quiet, and can use minimal commands and that, when I do so, Jig is quiet, calm, and working like I know she can.

If that fails, I’ll have a nice long winter of soul searching. Truthfully, at one point this weekend, I was ready to throw in the towel. Yes, I wallowed in a pit of self pity, doubt, and depression. I told myself I wasn’t a good enough trainer or handler to do a dog like Jig justice. Then I kicked myself in the arse because if I didn’t, I knew my friends would, and they kick harder.

“So you hit a bump in the road,” said one of those friends.

“Feels like more than a bump,” I replied.

“Fine. You fell down and landed on your face. You get back up and you fix it.”

I love my friends. And, all things considered, I still love my dog.

And, for those of you who saw her at her worst, here she is at something other than that.

**Editor’s note: at no point should this be read as or construed as a pity party. My only purpose is to vent, and to share my experiences with those who may have been, or might find themselves, in a similar situation.**

 

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Interlude

I owe an update on training and trialing, but between the insane schedule I seem to have set myself, as well as the whole ‘let’s change domain hosts and servers’ fun, I’m a bit behind. In the meantime, I rebuilt this lovely gallery of photos shot by my friend Bob Dusek. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words…

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I Need a Resounding Kick in the Arse

I believe I’ve mentioned (a time or ten) my propensity to rush my training by glossing over fundamentals, or by seeing results once and then surging forward, certain that tiny success was a sign we were ready to move on instead of staying at that level until I saw regular, predictable results. I thought I’d gotten better after Steve’s clinic. I had a new outlook. I backed up in my training with Jig, forced myself to be patient, to not succumb to frustration. I’ve been videoing my training sessions with both Jig and Dillon so I can watch them afterwards and get a clearer idea of where we are and what I need to do more of, less of, or just differently.

Just like me to have a relapse when things start going well.

I’m calling it The Most Monumentally Epic Set Up For Failure In The History Of The World. I told myself I did this thing to gauge our progress and highlight some holes. In truth, I did this thing because I’m an idiot and I have these great expectations where Jig is concerned and I was certain we could do it.

We didn’t.

I had the wrong sheep, the wrong set-up, the wrong mindset. I got frustrated and fell into old habits (read: flailing about and yelling incoherently). Jig, in true Jig fashion, tried to figure out what the hell I was going on about and do what she thought was right, only to have me get after her more times than was even remotely called for because her attempts weren’t exactly what I was after. I even recognized what I was doing only a few minutes into it but couldn’t manage to stop myself because, “Dammit!” says the Ginormous Idiot in me, “We should be able to do this!”

Only, we weren’t. And part of me knew that going in.

By the time I finally did call it quits, Jig was staring at me as though I’d sprouted horns out of my head. I’d botched things so badly, when I called her over she came to me in that slinky, ears flat manner that’s a sure sign I’ve been unreasonable and unfair. I’m surprised she came at all. I wouldn’t have. I wanted to smack myself. Repeatedly. With a two-by-four. Preferably one with a rusty nail in it. Then offer the opportunity to anyone who wanted it.

I loved Jig up and apologized for being so unbelievably unfair. She’s not as forgiving as some of my other dogs have been. She doesn’t forget such indiscretions easily. She’ll keep trying for me, but I did some damage to the trust and confidence I’ve been attempting to carefully build back up and strengthen.

I’m going to continue to beat myself up about it so as to not forget how stupid I was. The last thing I want is to repeat that performance. I’m also, however, going to put it behind me and move on–or rather back, once again, to the exercises we were doing that were starting to show results and ask my dog to not hold my irrational human behavior against me.

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Moving Backwards to Move Forward

What a glorious weekend we had for the Steve Shope clinic here at the farm last weekend! The weather cooperated wonderfully, and the group of handlers and dogs was one of the best yet. All eager to learn, all super-supportive of one another, and all at various levels with their dogs. We certainly gave Steve a work-out. He, in turn, pushed some of us outside our comfort zones in order to get the best from our dogs.

For some handlers ‘outside the comfort zone’ meant merely turning their back on their dog. For others, it meant moving outside the pen. Literally. Talk about exercising trust in your dog while losing the ability to micro-manage them. A trap I fall into far too often.

I was one of those who Steve had work their dog from the opposite side of the fence. Yes, I put Jig in the round pen with the stock, closed the gate behind her, and took up a position well away from the action.

There I am, on the wrong side of the fence, pulling Jig through on an inside flank to send her all the way around.

I’m not sure who this was harder on; me or Jig. We were working on freeing her up a bit, making her flanks more fluid. Removing me from the picture not only forced me to ramp up the level of trust I’ve shown her, but also prevented me from orchestrating her every move. Honestly, I really needed a drink when we were done! The results, however, were showing even after just a couple sessions.

This is an exercise I’ll continue, and was just one of several Steve left me with to help plug those huge, gaping holes in Jig’s training. It’s not going to happen over night. I will need to exercise patience. Yes, that little virtue I seem to have a problem with.

“You know the problem with instant gratification?

It’s not fast enough.”

And, even though I swore I wouldn’t push Dillon like I have other dogs, it appears I used the same process on him as I have on Jig.

  1. Spend a few sessions on the basics
  2. See results
  3. Jump immediately to advanced work
  4. Become frustrated because things aren’t going as planned
  5. Continue to try to force the issue
  6. Bang head against wall
  7. Repeat Step 5
  8. Repeat Step 4
  9. Repeat Step 6
  10. Drink

This is not a training regime I recommend to anyone.

As for Dillon, I admit, I was getting a bit worried about the boy. It’s not that he doesn’t want to work, or that he’s out of control, and he has some really nice, natural moves. I just felt he wasn’t as far along as he should have been at his age. Felt. Past tense.

Dillon, in a moment of maturity, showing keen interest and control.

I now see there are only two current problems plaguing the boy:  #1 – he is a young male and is currently a tad mentally immature. #2 – me, as explained in Steps 1-10 above.

Yeah.

No more of that. Our new training regime for both dogs is as follows:

  1. Spend as long on the basics as needed to get consistent results
  2. Move forward only when Jig or Dillon tell me they’re ready
  3. If something isn’t working, either back up a step, or go on to something else.
  4. Don’t force it.
  5. Don’t get frustrated.
  6. Enjoy the process.
  7. Take time.
  8. Repeat #1
  9. Have fun.

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