Donald McCaig Posted January 31, 2014 Report Share Posted January 31, 2014 Dear Sheepdoggers, A couple years back I was at a dog trainer’s camp where an intern escorted me to the conference center for a cup of coffee. I tied June to a water pipe outside. When we came out after an hour, June was lying quietly and the intern enthused, “Oh Good Dog! What a Good Dog!” “Why are you praising her for doing what she ought?” I asked. Johnny Wilson’s Peg was his daily companion shepherding the Scottish hills and in the summer, once the lambs were weaned, he took her sheepdog trialing where she ran twice, very well in the International. Johnny wasn’t a demonstrative man and never gave Peg a pat when she came off the course and one day, the boys in the beer tent were ragging him about it. “Oh, that Johnny – he’s so hard!” Johnny replied, quietly, “What makes you think Peg doesn’t ken what I think of her?” My standard practice: informational praise for young dogs in the small ring. Afterwards rare verbal praise (when a dog is faltering) but most praise (and correction) in tone of voice and whistle. The chirping continual praise I’ve heard at (some) training facilities makes me pity the poor dogs who are asked to make sense of what amounts to well meaning, intrusive babble. Not uncommonly, when a student takes his/her dog into my sheepdog training ring I tell them, “Don’t say a word.” If they babble I repeat the instruction briskly. But . . . Fly is the most fearful and worse socialized Sheepdog I’ve ever owned. She was afraid of trials, people, Anne, other dogs, sheep and her own genius. One at a time, patiently and persistently, I’ve helped her through some of her fears. Others – her inability to read other dogs and behave appropriately – I never will. Fortunately, saner dogs read Fly like, “Oh, there’s the Retard,” and give her slack. She is a splendid farm dog but at trials, her anxieties overwhelm her and she loses her wits. Specifically: she won’t take a down and rarely takes a flank on the fetch (“THEY'RE GETTING AWAY!!!) and at difficult drive panels she reacts to my necessary blizzard of commands by rounding them up and fetching them to my feet. Corrections drive her further into her mental funk. Knowing she’s been wrong feeds her panic: WHATEVER I DO IS WRONG SO WHY NOT BRING THEM TO DONALD’S FEET.WE”LL SORT IT OUT THERE!!! The connection between a dog’s home and work life is subtle. Everyone’s seen the novice handler who goes to the post with his/her much loved pal expecting that the dog’s reciprocal affection will make up for training lacks. Too often I’ve seen stunned novice handler, dog running amok and the cartoon balloon over the novice’s head would read, “But I thought you loved me.” Provided they’ve been properly nurtured, trial sheepdogs can perform brilliantly without human contact other than training, exercise, work and trialing. Indeed, a strong argument can be – and sometimes is – made that by kenneling them, they’re spared all that household/family sturm und drang they don’t need to be part of. In Fly’s case, I’m convinced that her off-the trial field successes have made her more confident on it and retiring her without animus at trial after trial has taught her that sheepdog trials are fun, Fly-safe occasions. So: How to get her to release pressure , to down when she fears she won’t be able to handle sheep and how to teach her to keep her wits at the over-lapping, split second“Away! Away! Come! Down! Come Bye! Away! at drive and crossdrive panels. Because once she loses it, it’s gone. She doesn’t bounce back, she quits. We’ve got a dozen Old Sentimentals to train on so I set up panels with a 15 foot opening on a hill where there’d be space for a short gather and fetch or drive through the panels. Work was deliberately difficult but I’d be near and Fly is reassured by my presence (Her inbye work has always been good). I wanted: a down whatever the sheep were doing and whether the down made sense to Fly and I wanted her to take the Command Blizzard at the panel which were narrower than trial panels with more sheep to put through them. Fly said she’d give it a try. Can Old Donald learn new tricks? Most days this month we trained. I praised Fly every time the sheep got through the panel and said nothing when they missed. Fly got praised for every off-her-feet down. It seems to be working. She downs more readily, the whistle blizzard doesn’t throw her off her stride and the other day, when she ran out half a mile to gather sheep that weren’t there, she took a stop and recall. So far we’ve worked on Fly’s home farm, familiar (if awful) old sheep and working (mostly) no further than a couple hundred yards. Fairly low pressure. Once the ice leaves I’ll take her to a friend's farm and see how much of her learning sticks and translates. I am using praise much more extensively than my custom. With Fly, that seems to be useful. Donald McCaig Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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