Monday, October 5, 2009

Herding Lesson

Yesterday Bug and I had a herding lesson. It was SUPER! What was really nice is that Blue and Iris also had a herding lesson so we were able to watch each other work. It is amazing how much you learn and see when you are watching someone else working.

As for our lesson, I am starting to feel like things are coming together. I feel like I am really starting to *get* it – and I know my dog does. It is a very exciting feeling.

We started our lesson by working on get around – walking around the ring. Diane has been reminding me to walk with a loose line since we started but it wasn’t until Amy said the exact same thing in a different way that it clicked. Yesterday I held my line at the end and used my rake if Bug pulled/charged ahead. He barely pulled and my line stayed loose.

We started by working an exercise that I think might be considered flanking (I still get confused about what is what). Walk up and keep sheep in the corner. Have Bug get around – keep him on line and stop him in the corner. This moves the sheep to the opposite corner – diagonally across the pen. The first time I was late with my stop and the sheep ended up moving to the corner next to us. Drat. But after that I actually stopped my dog correctly and, lo and behold, the sheep moved to the opposite corner. This is the first time my timing was ever right with this exercise. It was so cool!

The next exercise we worked on was a balance exercise. I put Bug in a down and walked half-way to the sheep. I ask him to get around toward the widest direction, circle the sheep – I move back to the barn and the sheep end up behind me. In this exercise, in the past when Bug would go from side to side trying to hold the sheep or get at them, I would move a lot when I used my rake to block him from the off-limits area (behind the plane of my shoulders). At the Jan Wesen seminar, Jan said, “Your happy feet are giving him happy feet.” It clicked. Mind you Diane has been telling me not to move for months during this exercise! Diane did not need to tell me not to move once yesterday! I think I made the connection that my movement is feeding Bug’s movement and you always want to be calm around the dog and the stock. This is a big breakthrough for me and I felt like it translated to other areas as well. I was also less frantic in my rake use. I think both Bug and I are finally understanding what our jobs are. It’s so neat!

Our first “That’ll do” after this exercise I had Bug on a very short leash. Diane said I need to give him line – he needs to know and understand that “That’ll do” means he moves freely away from the sheep with me. This made sense and I gave him the length of his line each subsequent time and he came happily with.

One thing I am still having a lot of trouble with is knowing when Bug has given to my pressure. When releasing him from a down Diane wants him to give to me. The first time she said he did it perfectly, the second she said he didn’t. At this point I really can’t see the difference. Perhaps watching other handlers will begin to make it clearer (I am heading up to Harvest Moon – a big ASCA event – to watch the herding trials at the end of the month). I asked Diane if it is just me and she said that it takes a long time to be able to see it – so that makes me feel better.

Something else I incorporated from the seminars, is the long quiet stroke which Amy recommended. When rewarding during a “That’ll do” she suggested going up to your dog and stroking them in one quiet, smooth stroke from head to tail. Given the excitement Bug feels about the sheep this calm reward is perfect.

The final exercise we worked on was fetching. You are walking backward and your sheep are in front of you (you are facing them), and the dog behind the sheep. Every so often the sheep would get by me – either due to Bug’s pressure or my negligence. Bug would scoop around behind me to push them back and I initially didn’t realize that he was doing his job perfectly and would use my rake to try and stop him, and keep moving. Diane told me to stop and that Bug was right. This is what I find most difficult about herding – sometimes you don’t know exactly what you are doing right or wrong. However the fact that-that finally made sense to me is huge!

It was really fun to watch Blue & Iris work. What I love is how different every dog is and the different challenges they present. Iris likes to work on her terms, so Blue has to teach her that she works on Blue’s terms and the reward is sheep! Diane had some great ideas that would manage the situation so that Iris doesn’t have a choice to not work – which included working on a much longer line so Blue could prevent her from quitting.

Thursday I am going to go practice with the sheep of a couple of people I met at the Amy Hill seminar. They live in Norfolk and practice multiple times a week. They said I was welcome to join them. I am VERY nervous I am going to ruin my dog somehow, but Diane gave me some specific exercises and rules that have made me feel a little bit more at ease. Keep Bug on line, work Jan Wesen’s Clock exercise, work on driving, and possibly a directional exercise. I hesitate to do the directional exercise because I had trouble with it the one time we practiced it at Diane’s. You and your dog walk up to the sheep. You send your dog behind you (away to you), ask for a stop then send the Go By ask for a stop. When we practiced before I had a LOT of trouble managing my rake and dog. However, perhaps it will be easier this time since my skills have definitely improved.

All in all it was a great lesson and we will be back there next weekend (and there will be another Cardi coming for a lesson, too – I guess they attended the herding instinct test at the Amy Hill seminar). I am trying to cram as many lessons as possible in before we get snow. I would like to be able to enter Bug in herding at the Specialty in April. Diane thinks that he will be ready to try for his PT. So exciting!!


Blue said...

I was very impressed by Bug's lesson!

Jules said...

Thanks, Blue. It was cool for you to see him work because you know how far he has come!