Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Linc seems to have a lot of tension when going between me and the sheep - and the tension exists whether he's at hand or away from my feet. It was one of the reasons I retired him at Robin's trial - I could see and feel his tension building every time I asked him for an inside flank. I was thinking that maybe fixing it at hand would be the way to go, so this past weekend down at Julie's I set us up in a corner - where the draw was - with a small group of sheep.
His tension is manifesting (outwardly) in several ways - putting his head down and zooming through the pressure, pulling wool, body slamming, and also in fighting me. I've tried various types of corrections, and anything that resembles a hard correction results in him fighting me harder. He seems to ratchet up if you will. Robin and I also figured out a few weeks ago that every time I'd ask him to walk up on the sheep from behind me he struggled to walk near my legs. If I touched him actually he'd rush the sheep, dive in, and sometimes pull some wool.
So we had lots to work on. We did a lot of work with my back to the fence, asking Linc to flank around between me and the sheep (and the fence that was behind me). Smaller, shorter flanks seemed to relax him some, but I had to get through to him first to be able to stop him where I wanted to. Most of the relaxing part was deciding what to let ride and when to let him know I didn't like what he was doing.
Corrections (when needed) from the belly as Robin says, as opposed to the screeching banshee method. The long low deep voice relaxes Linc. The screeching banshee voice makes him explode. The squeaky mouse voice makes him grab sheep. Say no to screeching banshee and squeaky mouse - they're like training your dogs while smoking crack. Not that I've ever smoked anything, much less crack. But it's alot like what I'd imagine training a dog on crack would be like. So I'm trying to just say no to myself.
I digress. I finally saw a HUGE lightbulb moment (and all I was looking for was really small changes) when I was flanking him between the sheep and the fence and finally got him relaxed enough to stop just before he went between the sheep and the fence. The sheep shifted slightly and moved a little bit away from the fence. I asked him to take a few more steps in and stop again. His eyes got soft and I could see the tension ease. It was like he was saying, "Ohhhhhhh! That felt pretty good. Maybe I will try that again!". After a few times of that he started relaxing there, and instead of busting through he started going through thoughtfully. After I moved us back out away from the fence he was relaxed going around out in the open also.
Staying near the pressure I asked him to flank back and forth between me and the sheep while not being on the fence - and he began to relax little by little, rewarding him with some fetches. My praising him seems to result in a victory grab so I couldn't communicate with him that way. So I interspersed the fence work and the more open work with an occasion to drive or fetch, and I could actually see him relaxing.
Every so often I'd walk over there and stroke him, and then send him around the sheep. The first few times I did that he was pretty wound up, but he was beginning to accept working with me, and that I wasn't the enemy but there to help him. It wasn't perfect, and I had to pick and choose what I'd accept and what I wouldn't. But still, we made some measurable progress this weekend. I'll be interested to see where we are this week. I might have to do it all over again. Then again I might not. I think part of what he needs is just (as Julie suggested this weekend) doing this stuff over and over and over until it begins to be humdrum.
This dog training thing - it's hard. I train MY dogs, but I'm not a dog trainer. In some ways I wonder if it's even harder to train one's own dogs - there's too much riding on it, as if it almost matters too much. Maybe years from now when I'm all old and leathery and am on my millionth dog or something I'll be able to be less critical of myself, my dogs, and my own abilities. Maybe.
Oh, and one more thing. The word from Sandy's dealership is that the fireball didn't do any more extensive damage other than that one fuse in the dash. Whew!
Photo by Robin French