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Which Side to Send?


Donald McCaig
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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

I had a lovely disagreement with David Saunders at Dawn Boyce's trial. Here's the issue: Given a trial field where one can send about as well to either side during a two day trial and given an even handed sheepdog . . . IF the dog has trouble on one side Saturday (crosses over, only finds his sheep after numerous redirects etc) what do you do on Sunday - send him the same side figuring that he's learned his lesson and will do much better this time or send him the other side avoiding yesterday's confusion?

 

 

Donald McCaig

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IF the dog has trouble on one side Saturday (crosses over, only finds his sheep after numerous redirects etc) what do you do on Sunday

 

Good question . . .

I'd try to make sure the dog sees the sheep from the post on the Sunday. If that's not possible, it would just depend on the dog - if it was one of my "thinkers" I'd probably send the dog the same way because it's learned where the sheep are and (hopefully) won't make the same mistake again.

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After watching several runs (assuming I wasn't first) I would send my dog to the side showing the most pressure on the lift/fetch.

 

If first, toss a coin

 

edited: If cows are visable in the neighbor's field I would send the dog on the side that didn't have any cows cause the dog might try to go for them :blink:

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I guess it would depend on the dog, I think that I would send the dog the opposite way the second day, unless it was something that I have been dealing with that I wanted to work through, then I would send the dog the same way and be prepared to stop and redirect the dog a lot sooner, even within a few yards of leaving my feet.

 

At a trial I was at a bit ago there was a hollow where I think the dog lost view of the cattle, Jake came up short and crossed over when he came out of the hollow a few other dogs came up short and tight, so when I had my next run with Ricky I stopped and redirected him when I saw him taking the same path as Jake telling him to cast out bigger just to be sure that he didn't fall into the same trap, vs. waiting to see if the younger dog would make the same mistake. I had a second run with Ricky in Nursery and just sent him the opposite way the second time.

 

Deb

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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

I had a lovely disagreement with David Saunders at Dawn Boyce's trial. Here's the issue: Given a trial field where one can send about as well to either side during a two day trial and given an even handed sheepdog . . . IF the dog has trouble on one side Saturday (crosses over, only finds his sheep after numerous redirects etc) what do you do on Sunday - send him the same side figuring that he's learned his lesson and will do much better this time or send him the other side avoiding yesterday's confusion?

 

 

Donald McCaig

 

To be quite frank, Donald, I always tell my students to send to the pressure unless there is some physical or mental reason to do with the dog that you can't; these being: doesn't run well on one side, dog loses sheep on one side on the way out etc. It doesn't appear that any of this kind of stuff prevailed at the trial in question so I would say to send to the pressure. (Send to the side to which the sheep tend to want to go)..Bob Stephens

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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

Two examples:

 

At the Gettysburg Finals, a road run along the left side of the field and 3/5's out, on the left, a broad swath cut across the field left to right. The dog was invisible to the handler and could see neither handler nor sheep. Once in that swale many crossed over.

 

The right seemed the obvious way to send but dog after dog got confused and had trouble. They were seeing (or not seeing) what wasn't apparent to the handlers who had walked field and studied that field.

 

So. My June had her eye on the road movement. She clearly hadn't seen sheep movement at the top and, if I sent her left would run out until she realized it was cars not sheep, at which point, confused, she'd continue out and into that swale. At which point, I believed, she would cross over.

 

So, with redirects at the ready I set her up on the right. She had her first whistle not thirty feet out, her second and third before she swung into a proper outrun. We lost 8 points per judge on that outrun but (a) she didn't cross over; she did qualify for the semifinals and during the semifinals she run out perfectly - on the right.

 

Those who have said, it depends on the dog, the pressures and the circumstances are 100% correct.

 

Example #2: June again. The Pecos River SDT was in a large previously irrigated previously alfalfa field with high deerproof fences on the perimeter and shoulder high mesquite in what seemed an oversized brushy tennis court. Although the spotters were on horseback, the brush impeded vision. A web of red rubber (extension cords?) crisscrossed the field and as we walked to the post, I understood why. A seismograph thumper truck set up on the right side of the field and starting whoomping the ground, its strobes whirring and popping.

 

June thought it was the niftiest thing she'd ever seen. I set her up wide left, readied my redirect whistle and she crossed over twenty feet in front of my feet. She did get most of the way to the thumper truck before I recalled her.

 

When I came off, the course director said, "Sorry 'bout that."

 

"What would you rather have, a dog that can find goats or a dog that can find oil?"

 

They gave me a rerun, the thumper truck left and again I set up June on the left and again she crossed over - as she did the next morning. She really,really wanted to investigate that truck.

 

Bud Boudreau remarked that our tendency is to assume they learn from their mistake so we resend the same side. "Send the other side," he advised.

 

I thought about it. Over too many trial runs, I'd made the assumption Bud noted: "The dog screwed it up but found his sheep, tomorrow he'll do better." Overall, they hadn't.

 

While trialing is a mental game, evaluating dog, sheep, pressure, weather, course conditions and how much room is left (among other niceties), it is also habit. At the post, nobody calculates: what's what is NOW.

 

Everything I can reduce (enhance?) to habit, I do. My whistles are habitual, my dog's feelings for me (and mine for him) mustn't be altered by a fracas that morning outside the motel. We have our rest times and our work times and rules for each. When a sheep's ears come up, neither the dog nor I have the luxury of thought, we react.

 

I think that when a dog is confused Saturday (for reasons we often don't know) on an outrun at a particular spot he has never seen before - even though, with redirects, he eventually finds his sheep, he's more likely to be confused if sent to the same side Sunday.

 

This is a subtle matter and perhaps that Saturday failure effects me as much as the dog. THE RIGHT SIDE IS CURSED!!!!

 

Still, if my dog goes wrong on the right Saturday, I'm predisposed to send left Sunday.

 

My experience since the Pecos River Trial has convinced me Bud was right.

 

Donald McCaig

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I was at a trial in KY a few years ago. It was being held for the first time, so a new field, etc. There were rolling hills and at least two swales where handler could lose sight of the dog and the dog lose sight of the sheep. I sent Kat left the first day (to avoid the set out trailer at the top, which was fairly close to the set out spot) and she crossed in the first swale. So the second day I sent her right, thinking that she should know where the sheep are from Day 1, and maybe there was some feature of the terrain that would make her more likely to cross when sent left. She crossed the second day too. Sometimes I think there's no good explanation for why they cross, and it was especially odd for Kat since she knows that how I set her up indicates how far and wide she should run. I've been fortunate to rarely have a dog cross, but as in this case with Kat, it was definitely puzzling (unlike the time I set Twist up on my right and then told her "Come Bye." Of all the times to be obedient...).

 

So anyway, I usually try to watch the dog's body language and if the dog indicates strongly that it still wants to go to the side it crossed on the day before, I'd probably go ahead and send that way and just be prepared to redirect (at least I'd have some idea of where the dog would be likely to cross on that side, having seen it happen the day before). I've watched a lot of handlers insist that the dog go out to one side when the dog clearly wants to go the other way, and the result is often a cross over. So for me it seems like six of one, which is why I'd send the dog the way it indicates it wants to go, even if it is to the side it crossed the day before. The way I see it, the dog is just as likely to cross if you send it the opposite way when it's telling you it wants to go the same way.

 

J.

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So anyway, I usually try to watch the dog's body language and if the dog indicates strongly that it still wants to go to the side it crossed on the day before, I'd probably go ahead and send that way and just be prepared to redirect (at least I'd have some idea of where the dog would be likely to cross on that side, having seen it happen the day before). I've watched a lot of handlers insist that the dog go out to one side when the dog clearly wants to go the other way, and the result is often a cross over. So for me it seems like six of one, which is why I'd send the dog the way it indicates it wants to go, even if it is to the side it crossed the day before. The way I see it, the dog is just as likely to cross if you send it the opposite way when it's telling you it wants to go the same way.

 

Honestly I don't feel qualified to respond on that thought as I haven't really trialed that much or at least with that many dogs and haven't in so long. But I was waiting to see that kind of answer.

When we did trial every time I fought the dog if he really showed signs of wanting to go the other way, he'd cross. It was always a conundrum as to what we'd do the next run. I had learned with at least Mick that I better play it safe and send him the direction he was favoring. Unless it was obvious I knew it was the "wrong" side.

 

And then that's not the scenario that Donald described in the original post so there you go....

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C'mon guys . . .

I can't believe I'm reading all these reports of dogs crossing over at sheepdog trials!

 

If your dog's crossing over more than about once in a season, you're sending it too far for its confidence level.

Take it home and get it trained - and THEN take it to a sheepdog trial.

 

Sheepdog trials are for competing, not for training.

 

(Sorry if you don't like this but it's the truth).

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Andy,

Your implication was that simply because we are discussing this topic our dogs must be crossing over excessively and therefore need more training. Your "I can't believe" comment certainly implies that it's not something you'd ever see, let alone need to discuss. So although you didn't say it in plain words, you certainly implied it.

 

Training discussions are just that: discussions. The whole idea is to learn from the experiences of others. Now maybe you've been lucky enough (excuse me, you've trained your dogs so darned well) that you've never experienced a cross over and therefore don't see the value in such a discussion. But if that's the case, then stepping in just to chide the rest of us seems a bit pointless, don't you think?

 

One of my trial dogs has crossed maybe three times in the nearly 9 years I've been trialing her. And one of those instances was the one I described, where I gave the wrong command. And yet, I can still see the value in having this discussion. I'm sorry that you don't.

 

ETA: And it's also odd to me that you were one of the first to respond to Donald's original post, saying it was a good question. Then later you come back with the "I can't believe." So which is it?

 

J.

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Did I say that . . ?

I don't think so.

 

No, you merely made unwarranted assumptions about how often the posters to this thread experience crossovers, and perhaps about the general level of sheepdog trialing in a country other than your own. To people who are in a position to see these handlers trial fairly regularly, your scolding them and telling them to shape up may have given the impression that dogs never cross in the UK. Having seen local dog trials in the UK, as well as Nationals and Internationals, I know that is not the case.

 

BTW, although we go to great lengths to keep this site non-commercial, it is okay to post a link to your website in your signature line, even if your website is commercial. However, it's okay only if your sig line is a true sig line -- i.e., the link follows your signature. Otherwise, it can give the impression that the self-promotional link is part of the text of your post, and can evoke a negative reaction, as you've seen.

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One of my trial dogs has crossed maybe three times in the nearly 9 years I've been trialing her. And one of those instances was the one I described, where I gave the wrong command. And yet, I can still see the value in having this discussion. I'm sorry that you don't.

I think there must be some 'crossing over' in the translation between UK / US English here. Either you're not reading what I've written, or you're misunderstanding it.

 

If your dog's crossing over more than about ONCE IN A SEASON, you're sending it too far for its confidence level.

Take it home and get it trained - and THEN take it to a sheepdog trial.

 

Sheepdog trials are for competing, not for training.

If your dog has crossed twice in nine years (your wrong command surely cannot be blamed on the dog) you don't come near once in a season.

 

ETA: And it's also odd to me that you were one of the first to respond to Donald's original post, saying it was a good question. Then later you come back with the "I can't believe." So which is it?

It's an interesting question. If you're a long way from home at two trials over a weekend, you're hardly likely to take the dog home and re-train it in time for the next day . . . are you?

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I don't think I'm misunderstanding you at all. You're not talking to a bunch of novice handlers here; you're talking (in this thread) mostly to experienced open handlers--folks who have regular success on the open trial field. If noting that we've experienced cross overs leads you to believe that we need to quit trialing and focus more on training, then perhaps you are the one misunderstanding this conversation.

 

In order to discuss what one would do on the second day of a two-day trial if your dog crosses over on the first day, it's helpful to have examples of dogs who have crossed and how that's been dealt with the next day. It's not particularly helpful to snipe that we should take our dogs home and train them. I suppose if we lived where we could go to a trial in the morning, go home that afternoon and work on things that needed working on, and then get up the next day and go to another nearby trial, your advice might make more sense. But you're right: If I've driven 4+ hours to get to a trial, I'm not likely to leave if my dog crosses on the first day. Right or wrong, the trialing situation is a bit different here in the US than in the UK, and so we adjust accordingly.

 

And so a final question for you: You go to a trial on Saturday morning and your dog crosses over. There's another trial nearby that you could go to that afternoon if you chose. Do you take your dog home and train it, or do you go to the next trial, assuming that the dog likely won't cross on a different field under different conditions?

 

I think the point you're missing is that at home you can't train for every possible scenario, and there are times when you get to a trial and your normally fantastic outrunning dog does something out of character, like crossing over. You're at the trial; it's a long way from home. Do you pull the dog from the next day's running on the assumption that it's not not well enough trained or do you try a different strategy to see if you can avoid a cross over the next time out? That's the original question, and I think it assumes that we're not talking about novice dogs who may be in over their heads but rather seasoned open dogs who surprise you with a cross over. So what would you do?

 

J.

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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

Some courses invite crossovers. Both Edgeworth and the dearly departed Portage 735 offered every opportunity for a dog to cross. (I ran 5th, my first time at the 735. None of the first four dogs found their sheep. Luke found them and for the 1st time in my life I was grateful for a crossover).Derek Scrimageour told me about a scottish hill trial that typically required six redirects to avoid a cross.

 

And some dogs are more likely to cross. I've only had one dog who never did and she was a fence runner. My June is too clever. As she watches, she decides where those pesky sheep are and her lifetime gathering average includes several white barns, a group of children playing volleyball and - as I mentioned earlier, a seismograph truck. I haven't retrained her, I don't let her watch more than one run. Absent visual cues she is likelier to adopt mine.

 

That aside, I remember telling Jack Knox after the 735: "We don't train for courses like this".

 

To which Jack replied, "We don't teach our dogs to find sheep."

 

My question is: what is the dog thinking/remembering running flat out instinctually on an outrun he screwed up yesterday.

 

Contra David Saunders, when a dog goes wrong on an outrun -usually but not always an abortive crossover successfully redirected or not - i assume that he has set a mental pattern on that particular course. If I can't understand why the dog went wrong (and either side is doable) I routinely send him to the other side the second day. I can't speak for David's disagreement, we didn't go into it, but one might disagree with me by assuming dog rational reflection ("I found the sheep yesterday by avoiding that swale with the help of my handler's redirects, so I'll avoid it today") is more powerful than the dog's pattern memory "There's that inviting swale; didn't I go that way before?"

 

How do you think that dog is thinkin? How much pattern and how much reflection?

 

Donald McCaig

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Today i was doing large tricky outruns with my Nellie. The sheep were on the side of a steep hill, and the dog had to run through some knee high weeds on the way out. There was several outcroppings of rocks, and a truck and trailer on the side of the hill. When i sent right( the very 1st outrun) she was fine. When i sent left the for the first time she crossed.

 

I did not let her have aka fetch her sheep when she crossed, and called her back down the hill. I scolded her lightly and sent her the same way again. This time she was fine.

 

Now why was she fine the 2nd time left? Did she "learn" where the sheep were when she crossed? But she had already done an outrun the other way so she should have "known" where they were. Thou the hill was somewhat different terrain each way. Did she just bend out better because she didn't get her sheep and she has "learned" in her training that means bend out more?

 

I could see her whole body change when she started to come in. I tried to stop her and re direct, but she would not stop. I have come to the conclusion that with this particular dog if she looses sight of her sheep she can sometimes panic. When she does panic she tunes me out. I need to see the change in her sooner and she needs to let me help.

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