Monday, February 28, 2011

Herding and HRD

Friday, I got up at 4:30 and drove to Isle of Wight, Virginia with 5 dogs in the truck.

I got in a herding lesson with Macha and Hunter before 10 am. Hunter was not where I would like her to be--she doesn't really trust me and watches for me to turn my back so she can dart in and grab a sheep while I'm not looking. She and I need to do some work on building a foundation for training. She had the misfortune to be born a few months after the deaths of Thorn and Frost--and I think I wasn't up to putting a lot of training into her first few years. Because one of the things I value most is that strong working relationship, accepting that Hunter doesn't really trust me feels like admitting to a failure. But, I suppose, it's really just that I have to think hard on how to fix that which is broken between us.

Macha... she was brilliant. She has lots of drive for working the sheep and she is very responsive to praise from me. She's showing a strong desire to work with me as well as a naturally gentle approach to her sheep. Not scared of them--pressing close against them in a tight spot--but not feeling the need to bite them to make them move. She was fantastic. Amazing. Awesome. Then we worked her again in the afternoon, and she was again fantastic. Amazing. Awesome. I can't wait to work her again on sheep. In the meantime, I will work on teaching her some mechanical commands--sit, down, stand there, get back--with obstacles like the picnic table and a ball as a reward.

At 10, we stopped herding and met with the SAR/HRD (human remains discovery) group. I walked along with several dogs as they did their 2 acre searches for cadaver sources that L. had planted earlier. It's good for me to learn how not to signal the dog and but how to keep an eye always on the dog, watching for that first moment when the scent is found, the change of behavior as the dog zones in on the strongest scent and then indicates the find.

Then a couple members of the group helped me introduce Lynx to some source scent. He was brilliant. :) I am going to make a series of posts about how I started him on indications and how we introduced the scent--so I won't go into detail here. But it was a thrill to watch him thinking through and testing the criteria for what would get him his reward. He is so much fun to train--he's like a thinky version of his grandfather Ash, with only half the squeaking!

After HRD training, I and T. ran out to lunch then up to pick up some sheep feed, then back to her farm for a few more herding lessons. We worked Jubilee. In her last herding lesson, she had made it clear that she far preferred chaos and havoc to calm and obedient. I had decided on a zero tolerance policy on disregarding the down/stop command and she had, quite literally, rolled her eyes at me and then shrugged off me placing her in the down. So, I brought her out on leash on the prong collar. I asked her to down outside the gate--she did. I entered the area with the sheep--down. I walked toward the sheep--down. I stepped away from her and she held the down. I called her to me and she came promptly. For all of this, I'd had a loose leash and had given no corrections or leash pressure or anything other than a calm, quiet command and calm praise. I asked for another down and I pretended to turn my back on her. Her ears popped forward and her eyes got intense. I pretended to keep looking away but I stepped so a small tree was between me and Jubilee. T. said something to me and I shifted to look at T., knowing that Jubilee was going to lunge -- and she did. The line between me and her tightened against the tree and she popped herself on the collar. I called her to me and asked for another down. And... she was good.

She was done fighting me. She was prompt in her responses to everything I asked, so I gave her a chance to work the sheep. She stayed responsive and respectful, stopping behind the sheep and walking slow when I told her easy. She even stopped on her own and walked the sheep forward toward me--not running me over with sheep flying like popcorn, not taking 5 steps after every down command, not causing havoc and reveling in it. It's amazing how good she is when she is good.

I left shortly after a second session with Hunter and Macha and got home after dark. My puppy sitter had been by twice to visit Xita and the puppies and all had gone well. Despite the speeding ticket I got on the way home, it was a *very good* day.

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