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Guest SoloRiver

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Guest SoloRiver

Hi Penny,


In your introduction you describe the sometimes adversarial relationship you had with your dogs at the beginning of your handling career. This struck a chord with me because I have developed an adversarial relationship with my favorite dog around sheep and am not sure how to fix it.


Solo, as you know, is my best buddy and sweetheart. He also never gives me lip at any time off stock and is always up for whatever I want to do with him, very biddable without being a doormat, good to have long conversations with, all that kind of stuff. In other words, I have never felt that our relationship is deficient and he doesn't challenge me. This is the between him and me stuff, as you know, Solo and strangers is another story.


When it comes to sheep, though, it's like we've gotten into some sort of relationship rut. He's my first herding dog and has a number of qualities on sheep that make him hard to handle -- mostly that he's super keen, extremely pressure sensitive, rather hard and resistant to correction, pushy and grippy. He often seems very anxious that he is going to lose his sheep and has difficulty pacing himself. Between my inexperience when I started trying to handle him and his strong desire to do things his way we had very difficult time. The fact that he had a tendency to grip put a kind of frantic edge on my efforts to control him. As time went on, I learned more about where to walk and how to position myself to help him and all that good stuff but it seemed like I would always fall into old patterns with Solo.


Even now that I have a trained dog who I run in Ranch (with varying success) I'm still barely able to control Solo sometimes when we're just wearing around a field. It's gotten to the point where I feel that sometimes he is actively trying to evade me and we are fighting over the sheep. Rather than being abashed by my efforts, I feel at times that he basically thinks I'm just in his way. It's not always like this, but it's like this a lot and exacerbated by the fact that we haven't gotten to practice much lately. He's better when we work a lot, but still not great for me. Pretty much anyone can handle him better than I can.


What advice do you have for someone in a rut and stuck in bad working patterns with a particular dog? No one would look at Solo and say his working style is well-suited to my handling style, but he's my dog and I'm committed to working with him.

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Guest Penny Tose

Short of giving up a career as an academic in favor of sheep ranching so

that you can work Solo into the ground every day of his life until he learns

to conserve energy and be on the team, you are stuck. Sweaty saddle blankets

are the only way I can think of to change Solo's adrenalin levels and

stabilize his approach to sheep with you. You can't do that.


This leaves me with nothing useful to suggest that doesn't involve stuff

like shaking him until his teeth rattle or yanking him off his feet with a

line around his middle...neither of which will appeal to you and won't work

anyway if you feel guilty about doing them.


You have come a long way with Solo. I have noticed with my friends

who don't keep sheep at home that improvement seems to come in a joyful leap one day, then slide back down for several weeks or months but never get quite as bad as before, then start upward again. At some point, the handler gets to say something like, "Okay, we need to work on slicing at the top but there was a time when the dog wouldn't go that far from my feet." Of course, the same thing happens if you work more frequently but the points where the changes are visible are not so obvious.


By having a difficult first dog, you are learning how to train a dog. I realize that Fly came trained. With the next dog you start yourself, you will find that you have learned a great deal about starting a dog from Solo and about how to handle sheep well from Fly. People will say, "I wish a had some nice, easy, young dogs like yours." They will probably be patronizing you because they won't credit you with making it look easy if they haven't seen the beginning with the particular dog. This means you get to feel warmly satisfied and obnoxiously smug but, hey, you will have earned it.


Solo is teaching you how to start any dog. All his issues are going to add to your longterm sense of accomplishment with dogs down the road.


That's the best I can offer. Solo's contribution is no mean or unworthy one but, oh, it's tedious.


You actually asked about being stuck in a rut with bad working patterns, and I didn't answer. Okay, I'll try. I didn't answer because it seems clear that your relationship with Solo is set in stone and it's not a bad stone at that. You do get progress and forward motion eventually.


For others, I do have a suggestion which has worked wonders for me with a trained dog getting sour: don't work the dog for a month or two on livestock at all. Not even once.


Longer with a younger dog isn't so bad either. A friend has a difficult young dog...so difficult that she didn't work him for at least a year. It was too much trouble and too frustrating. She just started working him again. He is doing better. He has grown up. She is tougher minded and a better trainer from working her other dogs.


By putting a youngster up, you might miss some mental training windows. Still, that can be better than allowing bad patterns to become set in stone.






<small>[ January 18, 2005, 11:46 AM: Message edited by: Penny ]</small>

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