Whoops, I Entered a Trial

Winter of Herding: Day Nine


Another lovely day – crazy! Back down in Scio and talked about our really poor performance with any sort of specific herding task. We went to the small field and looked at approximate herding at a distance, which first Ian tried with Haku – but Haku did not feel like listening to Ian really at all. However, he did pretty well with me … you know, approximately. It was clear that a big part of issue was Haku just not responding to commands when I asked, and that I was not only anticipating that, but kind of accepting it and trying to compensate for it. Then back out to the big field and worked on a few things.

First, no shouting – which is just a natural thing to do when your dog is far away. Haku can tell when I’m not confident he’s going to respond when I start getting loud with my commands, and I am very much not confident he’s going to respond at a distance – shouting doesn’t help. Second, don’t shout his name before giving cues … you know, to make sure he’s listening. Three, fix it earlier – MUCH earlier. I am often aware that things aren’t going well, but accept ‘kind of’ because I don’t want to argue and it’s KIND of what I wanted. Four, I need to fix it immediately if I cue something and he doesn’t respond – NOW I can yell, but not the command, just the interruption … and then go back to normal voice. Five, lie him down before flanking, always, at this point to help him be successful. The fine art of yelling ‘hey!’ at my dog – I find it amusing.

So all this helped, I don’t like shouting – this was much more relaxing for me. Hard not to get into a frantic shouting mode though, especially when he’s at a distance and we were RIGHT at the gates and he chooses to ignore me and bring me the sheep instead – ARRGH. It all made a big difference though, so I think with practice we can start getting more precise.

Then as we were leaving I was talking about how I was planning to come watch the USBCHA trial they were having this weekend and Ian said that I might as well enter Haku if I’m going to be there. Which seems very foolish indeed, there is just about nothing I feel confident about with Haku and herding at this point. The goal was to maybe try a trial in February, after our practice this month – but I also did not expect to be feeling confident at that point either, so, hey – why not? I have been assured that no one really expects to do anything in this class, and most people are just going to leave the post and go help their dogs anyway. So a good dry run of seeing how a trial works and I’m just calling it a little practice, rather than a competition. The hope is that we can do a little something, and hopefully next trial do a little something more. This will involve a fetch, lift, turn around the post, drive and hold. All things we can, sort of, do. You know, approximately.

As for Navarre, he continues to like Ian and seems to be figuring out inside flanks. They worked twice briefly and after a break Navarre did much better. This month is not about him at all, but I’m really glad that he’s been getting to have some time as well – some days I think he may actually figure this herding thing out. But lying down … not so much, he’ll stop (you know, eventually), maybe even bow, but definitely not one of Nature’s Downers.

Winter of Herding: Day Ten


Oh good lord, this did not go well today. Back in Scio and I had been thinking about all the things I wanted to try, but it ended up we got a ram that had Haku’s number and all I got to do was try to help Haku move that damn sheep. Poor Haku, he sees a sheep coming for him and he is just getting out of the way. Not a powerful dog, my Haku, he will not be moving any sheep that challenges him. Even cute little shetland sheep. So that was frustrating, and Haku is just the sweetest soul.

We wanted to work on lifting off another person and dog, as Haku hasn’t seen much of that. Besides the ram issue, Haku was just cutting in weirdly with the person there, and, of course, the farther away I am the more I’m just at a loss how to help him. So not a lot of success with lifting off another team, and we tried doing this with Dove and Ian later on … which did not go well either, for either party. He COULD do it, but was not at all on balance to me, and then we had to go catch the sheep. Those little sheep can RUN.

We did work on some driving, but with me RIGHT there to move that stupid ram. And I tired my best not to shout no matter what catastrophe was going on, and I felt like we had a 60% success rate on Haku doing the correct flanks. So, yeah, not feeling AT ALL better about this weekend. Tomorrow is another day, right?

Navarre did pretty good with Ian though – more pushy, but with a little help he’s starting to get this inside flank thing. Pretty much terrible at actually knowing his flanks on cue, which is not something we’ve ever worked on – and it shows. His driving is getting more confident, much less going back in question to Ian. And, OMG, so excited. I have made two very happy border collies with my little herding adventure this winter, and, if nothing else, that makes it worth it. Bright thinks this whole plan is STUPID. She’ll get to go back to agility in February …

Winter of Herding: Day Eleven


Up to Brigands, I had things to do up north anyway and it was a ‘new’ location for this particular adventure, though Haku has been there before. We just did a little lesson with Dave, Navarre was pretty pissed when he didn’t get a turn – poor guy. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to write, “Herding today, it went well.” And I won’t be saying that today either. Maybe someday?

Different sheep, new location, Haku started off just wanting to bring me the sheep when we started with what should have been a relatively simple exercise of driving the sheep to the gate. These sheep were not much into moving, and Haku was not much into listening – and, boy, is it discouraging when right off the bat you can’t do something that should be simple. Sigh.

So, we finally moved the sheep down to the bigger field and worked mostly on driving. It was nice that these sheep weren’t trying to bolt to hills, but I think both Haku and I needed to readjust to heavier sheep. We did, eventually, have some vaguely straight drives through some cones. Haku IS better at driving, especially at the farther distances, than he used to be. He’s much more confident with further outruns too, but we still have issues coming in too fast. We’re just going to keep moving forward, one of these days it will come together … right?

I think the lesson here is that in new locations and with new sheep, Haku REALLY doesn’t trust I know what I’m doing – and defaults to just bringing them to me until he gets a better feel for them. So, good to know. And thankfully we have been practicing in the field where the trial is this weekend, so that should hopefully help us. A little.

And we still have two more days until the trial, plenty of time to fix … everything!

Winter of Herding: Day Twelve

Getting close to the halfway mark, I’m pleased that I have been able to squeeze in as much as I have during the break so far. It’s been a fun herding vacation, though I’m not getting a whole lot done otherwise. Traveling there and back ends up taking way more of my day than I had anticipated, and when you’re doing that every day, I seem way busier than I actually am to take care of everything else I have on my list for break.

But herding has been really interesting, different and certainly challenging. It’s very helpful to be working with a dog that I don’t worry about ‘ruining’ or getting it right at all. Haku is enthusiastic and thinks it’s awesome pretty much no matter what we do, no matter how frustrated I get, how much shouting there is or confusing handling – he is in his happy place. He most definitely doesn’t feel the need for a break. He’s going to be sadly disappointed it’s not all about Haku when I return to classes in a couple weeks.

Today we had our dry run for our dry run at the trial this weekend. I tried to get as much information about how the trial would run, what we needed to do, when we needed to get ready, when we went out, when we started, what everything would look like, what we should look for – and, most importantly, what to do when things go really wrong. My goal is to give it our best shot, aim to get through the pieces in an approximate way, leave the post if my dog seems at all in trouble and try not to make too much of a mess of things. I have no ambitions for a score at this point, but I’m hopeful that sometime this year we will be able to get through it all somewhat smoothly. That day is not likely to be Saturday. That’s okay though, we’re just going to keep moving forward and see how much we can progress.

So our first practice run went … okay. Not GOOD, of course, that never happens, but it wasn’t a total disaster. As expected our first go he just can’t seem to lift the sheep gently, and those sheep are ready to RUN to their friends – so, yeah, no way in hell was he getting the first panels. I was happy to catch those sheep and bring them pretty nicely around the post, and we had some drunk driving going on, but some nice parts too. And, once again, nothing that was ridiculous. And the hold seemed fairly simple. Apparently I’m allowed to tell the sheep to ‘stay’, which I found amusing. Ian proclaimed it a good ranch run (where expectations are very, very low), so I’ll take it.

And our second run we actually got some sheep through the panels on the fetch – 3 out of 4! Then it kind of went to hell, catching those damn sheep. I’d love for my dog to be calm and thoughtful on his fetch, but unless he’s full out running to stop those little bastards from escaping, he’s not going to hold onto them – and they’re DETERMINED to get down field. And then our post turn was a mess, but some okay driving. We’ve definitely improved on driving the last couple weeks.

So our biggest weakness at the moment is that I have absolutely no control when he’s lifting sheep at that distance. He just learned how to do that the last couple weeks, obviously, with the bigger fields. He’s definitely got the distance now, very confident with his outruns, but he doesn’t have control at a distance yet. The good news, they aren’t using these sheep that are constantly trying to escape for the trial this weekend, they’re using different sheep, who will want to escape to a totally different side of the field. And hopefully not in such a vigorous fashion. I’m not going to fix our lift problem by Saturday though, so he’s pretty much on his own as I can’t really help him at all. BRING ME THE SHEEP, HAKU. Gently.

And Navarre got his little time at the end, and I worked him this time – I haven’t worked Navarre for a while. Apparently I now need to switch cues, as Ian uses Comebye and I use Go-bye. So Haku gets to stick with Go-Bye, Navarre is Comebye – because that’s not confusing AT ALL. But it was true, he did respond better to comebye, which I still think is not a good verbal, but dogs are smart, they’ll figure out. So now I can’t use COME, I have to use HERE. Ah, herding.

So, the bad news, Navarre still sucks at the whole ‘walking with sheep’ thing. The good news, Ian says there no reason he needs to do that exercise, and he should only be fetching and driving without me moving at all. So, hey, apparently we get a free pass at sucking at an exercise we haven’t be able to do for years. Ian said that he already knows how to fetch, so there is no reason for him to do the whole walking with sheep exercise.

So, just looking at fetching and driving, he’s actually doing pretty well. I thought he was ridiculously close to the sheep both fetching and driving, but Ian said he was fine as the sheep weren’t running or spreading out – so apparently being 2 inches off the damn sheep was working just fine for him. So, once again, apparently that whole trying to get him to have distance from sheep thing for years was wasted effort. Ian then tried to take Navarre out to the big field to show that with more flighty sheep Navarre wouldn’t be that close – and Navarre promptly lost the sheep out the gate. Whoops. Being responsible for catching sheep has never been his job, I think.

Still, was kind of fun to run Navarre today. Despite still feeling like we were battling the same old issues, when given the go ahead to just let him get that close to the sheep he COULD move them pretty damn well. Navarre really likes driving! Now Navarre, he will get to do things when he’s ready – none of this rushing through the process like with Haku. Sorry Navarre, you have to actually do things correctly.

Winter of Herding: Day Thirteen

One last practice before the trial, and another uncommonly warm January day. I keep thinking we’ll finally get our Portland Winter, but it’s no where to be seen this year. We still have a couple more weeks that I consider ‘winter’, so we’ll see.

Things went suspiciously well for Haku and I today … very suspiciously indeed. To be fair, I had already decided I was going to just ignore his outrun and lift, as that’s clearly something we need to work on, but isn’t going to be fixed by tomorrow. Much more relaxing to just wait until he gets in ‘range’ and slow him down then. Then, once again, we weren’t GOOD, but it wasn’t hard today. Haku was responding to cues when I gave them, I wasn’t ridiculously early or late, we just got to … move sheep. In a mostly calm and relaxed way. We stopped while we were ahead after doing several fairly nice drives and holds with some fairly flighty sheep. So, yeah, that’s a nice way to practice right before a trial. And tomorrow … our first trial. It’s at the very end of the trial, I have very low expectations, I think we can do the things in a very rough sense – maybe some of it will go well, probably some of it won’t. It’s all good, love my little guy. Winter of Herding for the win.

As for Navarre, he worked with Dave today and it was interesting that he was less responsive than he was when I worked him yesterday. Definitely not lying down, and Dave was sprinting across the field to make it happen. I actually felt fairly good about Navarre’s lie downs the day before, so I was bit surprised Navarre was being SO oblivious.

Thinking about it more, Navarre’s much more relaxed at Ian’s than with Dave, but they are working on the same behaviors – but with two very different types of pressure. Dave is very quiet and uses physical pressure and moving into the dog, Ian uses verbal pressure and doesn’t move much at all, for the most part. As to why Navarre may feel more comfortable with verbal rather physical pressure, I would say I don’t use physical pressure in training much at all – never have. I talk to my dogs, they understand verbal pressure a lot more than physical pressure.

So Navarre definitely got more responsive with his downs by the end of the session, and he most definitely was not lying down at all in the beginning. However, you could see mentally that it was a lot of pressure that he doesn’t feel at Ian’s. Now I’m curious if I worked him at Dave’s what kind of response I would get. I haven’t worked him there in a long time, and he’s come a long way since then.

We did end at looking at some shedding, as unfortunately I think I’m going to have to learn it. I hear it can be ‘really fun’. It doesn’t LOOK fun, but you never know unless you try. So we talked about recall cues, and I feel for a shed a ‘come to hand’ cue seems really, well, handy. Navarre has a fairly good come to hand cue, as we’ve worked on it quite a bit. I did try it out a little in with the sheep, and it was hard for him, but he could do it. So I think once my herding vacation is over one of my skills I can work on with both dogs is coming to hand in the face of distractions. I can’t really use ‘come’ anymore as a recall cue, at least in herding, as that means something totally different. ‘Here’ is really general too. So step number one before we start looking at the world of shedding, proofing a come to hand cue.

But first, a real trial! I never thought I’d see the day, it’s fun doing something new!