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Denise Wall training May

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Denise Wall posted videos of her progress as she started and trained her pup May, from the time May was 8 months old until nearly two years old. I think these videos are such a valuable record of the training of a well-bred sheepdog by a good trainer and handler that I wanted to assemble them so that newbies and experienced sheepdog folks alike could easily reference them. Denise kindly agreed to let me post the links here, along with her comments about each.


MAY AT 8 MONTHS OLD -- http://vimeo.com/5237059


Due to a few requests here and privately, I'm going back and digging up these old May training videos. I hope to run May in Open at least a little this fall. If I do, I'll try to show what she ended up like as a competitive trial dog. Trials aside, I consider her to have ended up as a *very* good using dog with quite a bit of scope in different work situations. She's now 2.5 years old.


First off, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not trying to set myself up as some kind of great trainer. Because I'm not. Just average. When I trained horses and at least for a while training dogs, I'd say I had and used the lightening fast timing and correction techniques so effective for many. I don't know whether I don't have it now, or if I'm just too lazy anymore to use it, but now I try to think about it and set things up ahead of time so things are pretty calm and relaxed as much as possible. And so I can use the sheep and sheep pressure to teach the dog as much as possible. I find I enjoy training dogs more this way at my age. In addition, May is the fourth generation of my dogs and also the fourth generation where I've found too much pressure from me causes them to become hard and fight me or come in wrong on the sheep. As time has gone by, I've mostly figured out how much pressure will be enough to get a response from them while still feeling a (hopefully) good effect on the sheep, but not so much as to cause them to fight me. I don't like to start battles that make it only about me and the dog. I want it to be about me, the dog *and* the sheep.


That said, in watching this now, I see where my too sharp and fast kind of barking at her on occasion does exactly what I say I'm trying to avoid. Watch especially at the end, where my voice correction causes her to cut off the end sheep as she goes around. As I watch, I think a lower, more drawn-out growl would have been much more effective. Also my body pressure could have been slower in places.


As far as the training I did before taking her to stock, I did what so many working dog people do, I just tried to make a good (well-behaved) dog out of her. I had a recall off sheep ahead of time. I don't really remember but I'd say it basically happened pretty naturally either from watching the other dogs come to me when called and running with them, or from consistently expecting it from the time she was a pup (no treats involved!).


The "down" I got, what there is of it, on sheep. I don't think she knows what "lie down" means off stock to this day.


I'm sure I had to put sheep in a corner, get between them and her and catch her at some point in the beginning though. Also, I actually did have a short line on her in that first video in case I couldn't catch her. And I do step on it one time to enforce a lie down.


Anyway, there's not too much in this first one. Just a beginning exposure. I would've never made any pre-judgements about how she would turn out using this video.


MAY AT 10 MONTHS OLD -- http://vimeo.com/5241630


Another short one. Since she does a pretty decent job handling these, it may be hard to appreciate it but these were fresh lambs she was working at the first of it. She's always handled lambs well. A little naughtiness at the end but at least she's a clean nose nipper like her mom.


MAY AT 11 MONTHS OLD -- http://vimeo.com/5246467


Here's where the videos become a bit more technical in my explanations, and where we can see some nice areas of development such as the start of distance balance and feel on flanks, as well as a more appropriate response from her to handler pressure to widen out and such. Also, we can see areas of future problems, such as the dreaded cross-overs on the outruns.


This is also shot when I first got my HD camera, so those with the capability can view these at high quality if they like. I don't find Vimeo's format to be very good for action - some skipped frames and jerking. However, they should look a little better overall in HD.


MAY AT 14 MONTHS OLD -- http://vimeo.com/5248311


In this video, we see how May learns well from real work type situations. In fact, it becomes one of those double edged sword things like so many traits in working dogs. She quickly becomes so focused on what she views as the job that she only needs me to show her a few times and then I almost don't even need to be out there for her to do it. Her maternal grandmother, Molly, was like this so I should have recognized it early on. Not being too quick on the draw, it took me a bit longer to realize I would need to make sure I paid close attention to her ability to also be flexible to command in these situations. As I said in a later video, May is always a dog with a plan. Good when you need that, but you also need to keep a balance with flexibility to change as needed.


MAY AT 18 MONTHS OLD -- http://vimeo.com/5251388


More of May's development into a good farm dog during lambing season. Note that I'm still not using many commands but instead letting her figure things out mostly on her own, especially on her gathers.


At the end, I do some training on off balance flanks and introduce shedding. In retrospect, I probably should've spent more time on mechanical training with this particular dog. But as I said, I enjoy developing the natural that's bred into them so much, I have a hard time making myself do the drilling. My bad.


MAY AT 22 MONTHS OLD -- http://www.vimeo.com/5291433


Mostly sorting and shedding, some flank work and explanation, and a beginning "look back" at the end.


MAY AT 23 MONTHS OLD -- http://www.vimeo.com/5305406


Last one - Outruns and driving.


* * *


Denise's closing comments:


I want to qualify these videos once more. This is just one average trainer's experience with one particular dog. I'm not a big hat, though I've had a modest bit of success in the past. I do some hobby video and have some decent low pro video equipment and a good editing system. I started doing those video updates of May for a girl who bought one of her littermates. Then I kinda got into it and decided to challenge myself to learn better editing skills with each one. They were never meant to be any kind of training guide.


As for May specifically, I had a little more background on what might be future problems or strengths because she is of my breeding. I was expecting the tight and short left flank/outrun would be a natural fault in her. It'll need maintenance but it's not too bad considering. I think I addressed that okay from the beginning.


She is a bit too focused on what she perceives as the job. This will need maintenance to keep her flexible and I don't think I addressed this early enough or as intensely as I should have. As I said in another post, I've seen this before to a fault in her grandmother so I should have been more ready for it.


This maternal line also tends to fight too much handler pressure (for them), such as the pushing them way off and then letting them come back and have the sheep technique. They just won't go. If they're stopped or blocked, they plant themselves and if they're moving, they get faster and tighter no matter how correct your position and timing. (And this is not only with me but with people much better at using this technique than I am.) I caught on pretty fast to this and decided to keep things calm, try to figure out the right amount of pressure and be happy with a little give to handler pressure at first. (See the difference in May's response to handler pressure in the 8 month video vs. the 11 month one.) This attitude on my part allowed me to enjoy training her more than any other dog I've ever trained. I just relaxed and tried to set things up so she could learn from the sheep and we didn't have to fight. Now she "gives" to reasonable pressure appropriately so I think I had a good plan on that.


Lastly, something I haven't discussed before is this maternal line of mine tends to have a lot of "line" balance in them. I was prepared to prevent too much of this from becoming a problem. I could see pretty much from the beginning she was going to be able to naturally throw down and drive sheep in really straight lines with very little help. Using a larger number of sheep, and heavy full Dorset and Dorset cross sheep (which is conveniently what I happen to have) that don't flock quite as tightly as some other breeds, I've kept her pretty free flanking. Also I didn't work as much on driving as I would have with a dog with the opposite tendency. If I can put off letting her discover the joy
of holding a really tight line on the drive until she's around three years old, I think she'll end up more balanced in scope over all.

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