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Running straight up at the sheep at trials


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Taz just turned three and we are the classic novice handler/novice dog combo.

 

I have been at this with Taz for more than two years, and in that time we have entered three trials. Last night, we entered an arena trial at a county fair. I had high hopes for this trial--we've learned a lot in the past few months and we went to a Kathy Knox clinic a couple of weeks ago. Taz has been running really well for me--relaxed, wide, feeling his sheep well.

 

But every time we trial, he just runs straight up to the sheep at top speed. Obviously he upsets the sheep, so his lift is a disaster, and he won't lie down at the top. Last night was no different.

 

He did settle after that, as did the sheep, but it's a bit disheartening. I know I made a few mistakes. For one thing, I was really nervous. There are not very many novice classes at trials where I live, and I don't get too much opportunity to see what Taz and I can do at a trial. In addition, though I thought I was yelling, the people on the sidelines reported that couldn't hear me much, so I'm not sure the dogs heard me very well over the fair noise. But the biggest thing is that Taz really wanted to go in the come by direction and set himself up well to go that side, but I thought he should go to the away side and tried to set him up to go that way. He wouldn't bend out at all and stared straight up the middle at the sheep--and still I sent him that way (what on earth was I thinking?)

 

It was actually kind of a last-minute decision to enter Taz in this trial, as I had plans to not trial at all this year and then enter him in pro-novice/ranch next year. But it seems we might be doomed to be one of those somewhat tragic folks (in my opinion) who never make it out of novice. Is it better to not compete until you are able to truly blow away the competition or is it better to get lots of experience competing? We do fantastic at my trainers, not as fantastic at other places where we work--I am always trying to bring Taz to other places to work to gain experience working other places. I know that's part of it. But I think my nerves are also a big factor.

 

Sorry this is such a rambly post--I'm just kind of at a loss here...I really thought we'd do a lot better last night.

 

On the other hand, somehow Craig and I managed to place last night in the ranch class--the first time I've ever won money at a trial! :rolleyes::D:D

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Hey chicky

You know what they say-that which does not kill us, only makes us stronger right?

 

Lucy can be a nut ball when first working sheep. I mentioned this to a clinician we saw recently- that it is almost her time to be a nut job for the first few minutes, get it out of her system, and then calm down. He suggested we work on starting more. That is, take her out, do one exercise, stop. Wait. Take her out, another one, etc. Basically, get her to be more comfortable (and a bit more restrained) by practicing this more. It has worked so far. As to him chosing a side- I think it is better for younger dogs to be allowed, when it looks like they are going to go that way no matter what- to go that way. I think it takes LOTS of time and experience for a dog to trust your judgement on strange sheep in strange places.

As for doing well, etc., it isn't a matter of blowing away the competition- you just want a solid dog who uses his tools appropriately :D That may mean just doing more trials, and working through it- in the meantime, get him out to strange places more, and start him a whole lot. Make it so that he can do solid work no matter where he goes. Then you can be successful when you trial.

 

Julie

ps: great for Craig!

 

Taz just turned three and we are the classic novice handler/novice dog combo.

 

I have been at this with Taz for more than two years, and in that time we have entered three trials. Last night, we entered an arena trial at a county fair. I had high hopes for this trial--we've learned a lot in the past few months and we went to a Kathy Knox clinic a couple of weeks ago. Taz has been running really well for me--relaxed, wide, feeling his sheep well.

 

But every time we trial, he just runs straight up to the sheep at top speed. Obviously he upsets the sheep, so his lift is a disaster, and he won't lie down at the top. Last night was no different.

 

He did settle after that, as did the sheep, but it's a bit disheartening. I know I made a few mistakes. For one thing, I was really nervous. There are not very many novice classes at trials where I live, and I don't get too much opportunity to see what Taz and I can do at a trial. In addition, though I thought I was yelling, the people on the sidelines reported that couldn't hear me much, so I'm not sure the dogs heard me very well over the fair noise. But the biggest thing is that Taz really wanted to go in the come by direction and set himself up well to go that side, but I thought he should go to the away side and tried to set him up to go that way. He wouldn't bend out at all and stared straight up the middle at the sheep--and still I sent him that way (what on earth was I thinking?)

 

It was actually kind of a last-minute decision to enter Taz in this trial, as I had plans to not trial at all this year and then enter him in pro-novice/ranch next year. But it seems we might be doomed to be one of those somewhat tragic folks (in my opinion) who never make it out of novice. Is it better to not compete until you are able to truly blow away the competition or is it better to get lots of experience competing? We do fantastic at my trainers, not as fantastic at other places where we work--I am always trying to bring Taz to other places to work to gain experience working other places. I know that's part of it. But I think my nerves are also a big factor.

 

Sorry this is such a rambly post--I'm just kind of at a loss here...I really thought we'd do a lot better last night.

 

On the other hand, somehow Craig and I managed to place last night in the open ranch class--the first time I've ever won money at a trial! :rolleyes::D:D

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Laura,

It's entirely possible that the pressure from the small size of the arena and the fact that you made him go to the side he clearly told you he didn't want to go were the root of the problem you had. If he's sensiitive to pressure, then I certainly would avoid trying to trial him in tiny spaces like arenas--at least till he's solid on a trial field. That could make all the difference in the world. I have a friend who was rather disheartened with a young dog she was running in P/N (single-leg drive). One day an extra nursery dog was needed at a trial and she ran that same dog on the big field and she did beautifully. I suggested she move the dog up to ranch (full course, no shed) and she did, and shortly thereafter she moved the dog to open. The moral of the story: some dogs just don't deal well with tiny areas. (That doesn't mean you should avoid them always, and in fact, I'd work on packed pens at home, as well as scooping sheep out of corners, off fences, etc., anywhere it's tight until he's absolutely comfortable working in close quarters with sheep and still giving them room, but for now I wouldn't try to *trial* in small spaces.) Oh, and as I'm sure you know, next time listen to your dog when he tells you which way he wants to go (unless you have a *darn good reason* not to). I even let my open dogs choose their sides unless there's a particular reason I don't want to (say, the dog will lose sight of the sheep running out one way and not the other). And congrats on the win with Craig!

 

J.

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Laurae,

 

If the dog's attitude is wrong, don't send him. From what you wrote, it seems that you can tell he is thinking of going straight up the field - fix his attitude then with a correction. While this can be hard to do at a trial, if he learns the meaning of the correction in training & is never allowed to run out when his attitude is not right, it should carry over, at least some, at a trial.

 

The correction that you would use would vary according to your dog & what kind of corrections that the dog understands now - it can range from a quiet - Eh - what are you doing? - to chasing the dog off the sheep.

 

Good Luck, Gail

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Yay for you and Craig (esp. after your last post about his shenanigans). Does Taz practice a lot with a holder (is there a holder in arena trials?)?

 

Hamish is always much tighter with a holder--and gets tighter the longer the outrun. I've been practicing a lot having him lie down when he's tight on the outrun and then taking a redirect--sometimes he'll do it, but often he won't--you lose points, of course, for the redirect, but I want him to learn to do it right. At a fun trial last week-end, I lost points for giving a redirect AND he got tighter rather than bending out, so we lost points on the outrun. Oh well--it's all about the process, huh?

 

The person we train with said that he should widen out with age and experience. I think you should keep trialing with Taz if for nothing else than the experience. I figure that if you're winning in the lower classes, you're probably in the wrong class.

 

I wonder if calling Taz back to you the next time he does that and making him do it right when he heads up the middle (e.g. by leaving the post and setting up the triangle) would be helpful. Many novice judges will let you do that--you retire, but you and Taz would get the experience. that might also be something worth asking the Expert about (or I'm sure our generous regular experts will give advice too).

 

The other thing might be to set him up far from the post on the side you are sending him pointing straight out (rather than toward the sheep) and behind you--you'll lose a point or two for this, but if it means he understands that running up the middle isn't the activity, it'd be worth it probably. As per our trainer, I usually set Hamish up about 5-6 feet from the post and basically behind me (so, if he's going away to me, he'd be about 5 ft away and at roughly 4 o'clock angle wise (where the post is at noon)--on the come-bye, he'd be at about 8 o'clock angle wise)--don't know if that makes sense or not, but I don't know how else to describe it.

 

I don't think that you can judge your potential based on only three trials--particularly as a green handler and green dog (plus, you won in open ranch with Craig, so clearly you have *some* potential.... :rolleyes:). A clinician said to me once (after Hamish had done a HORRIBLE chasing stint) that a dog that won't be bad, won't ever be good, and I try to hold on to that when I'm feeling frustrated (of course, I don't know that the same is true for handlers.....)

 

I bet if you polled open handlers, you'd find that many of them spent a year or more in the novice classes when they were first starting out. As far as I can tell from my very informal polling, most completely green handlers take 4-5 years before they can successfully compete in open trials. Some faster (esp. if they have a trained dog), some slower (given what a goober I am as a handler, I'll be one of those on the slow, scenic route....). I suspect if your goal is to handle in open, you will at some point.

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Thanks for everyone's responses--they're all very helpful. I think it's a great idea to have Taz practice starting to work as often as possible, and when I get my own sheep, this will be more feasible, as I won't have to pay for access any more. They'll be located half an hour from where I live, so it won't be quite as easy as it would be if I could just step out the door, but I think I can definitely start and stop working more often. And the thing about doing solid work with the appropriate tools--this definitely means working more places more often (I need to make more friends who have sheep :D ) and I think entering as many trials as I can (so, traveling out of state to find more novice trials), as Taz is pretty reliable at my trainer's place. He can do huge, sweeping outruns there, with quiet lifts and nice straight fetches. That's why I was fooled into thinking we'd do pretty well at the trial. I know every dog does much better on his "home field," though.

 

Julie, Taz is very, very pressure sensitive. I know he'd do better in field trials versus arena trials, but again I thought because we'd been practicing in my trainer's arena and he was fine, that he'd be fine in the arena at the fairgrounds. Of course, my trainer's arena doesn't have solid walls, a huge grandstand seating structure, or bright lights shining from above. That's the stuff I just can't duplicate anywhere else.

 

You can bet I will send him on the side he chooses (at trials) from now on. At the trial, in the novice class, we sent from the pen, which was in the left-hand corner of the arena, so it seemed logical to send him away, so he'd have lots more room. Oh well, lesson learned--unless I have a really good reason not to, I'll send Taz on the side he wants to go from now on, at least until or unless he shows me that I shouldn't trust his judgment.

 

And Robin, thank you so much for all the different ideas on how to approach this. There was no holder last night--and we'd been training especially for dealing with a holder, since the set out folks are friends of mine who have worked with Taz and me, and last year at this same trial Taz was a little confused when he reached the top. But this year, they just dumped out the lambs from the holding pen and shut the gate. I was afraid the lambs would start running, so I sent Taz a bit earlier than I probably should have.

 

It is difficult to get Taz to redirect via a complete stop when he is flanking. If I growl or say "hey," he will usually check himself and kick out (as long as I do it early enough, which we spent a lot of time working on at the clinic), but if I stop him completely, he becomes confused about what I want and either just stands there looking back and forth from me to the sheep or he walks up. I tried to growl at him when he ran straight up, but he either didn't hear me or (more likely) he was so keyed up that he was simply not paying attention to me. If this had been practice and not a trial, I would have started running toward him to correct him. I wonder if I should have sacrificed my run and done that at the trial. It would have been embarrassing, but would it have made an impression that he can't get away with that ever, even at trials? I guess it would have been better than watching the inevitable wreck, so I already know you'd all probably say "yes." Indeed, it is all about the process.

 

I am going to similarly cling to that statement made by your clinician, Robin, that a dog that won't be bad, won't ever be good. It may become my mantra. Actually, I know Taz is a good dog and has the potential to be a really good dog. It drives me a little crazy that we aren't able to prove it on the trial field yet (inasmuch as anything is "proven" in the novice class :rolleyes: ), but I know we mostly need to get more miles under both our belts, so to speak.

 

Thanks again for all your well-thought-out advice, everyone. It's very much appreciated. I am feeling a bit better about everything today, and am ready to go back to the drawing board...

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