Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BSP 2011 -- Schutzhund Obedience

This past weekend, was the Bundeseigerprufung--the German national Sch3 championships.

This is the obedience routine of the winning pair. I love the precision and evident relationship between dog and handler. The handler also does an exquisitely controlled job of handling the dog throughout the routine--she knows exactly what she is going to do, what the dog is going to do, what is allowed, and what is needed by and for her dog. Beautiful training, beautiful performance.

Oh, and Jubilee passed the 2nd leg of her JHD! I'll post the video of that soon. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Herding lesson with Jubilee

This is the second real lesson with Jubilee in which she worked calmly and under control the entire time. I am working the AHBA JHD class trial course at first, then I just do a bit of training. I spent a lot of lessons with her where she blew me off and was pushing the sheep hard and was zooming around them in full circles. In this video, she wants to overflank regularly (cover more than just one side, she wants to do more than half circles--you can see her wanting to come around to the heads of the sheep), she is disagreeing with me about walking them along the fenceline and I am teaching her that she can just cover one angle of them. She is being a bit squirrelly about following the sheep close to the fence and wants me to pull them off the fence so she can cover them more. She does not yet know flank commands by voice alone and sometimes I have to tell her to lie down to get her to change directions behind the sheep. You can see her tail go up as she contemplates running between fence and sheep, and then when she has done it, she is all wound up and excited. This is an area of conflict for many herding dogs and she just has to work through it.

What she does in this video that I am thrilled with is settle down and walk/trot calmly behind the sheep. She begins to "wear" on her own, only covering the area behind the sheep that needs to be covered in order to have the sheep move where we want them. She never pushes the sheep so hard they run past or over me. She starts off a bit sticky on her downs, but she starts to figure out what I am asking as we move on--you can see me try to "push" her out of the down in the direction I want.
She ends up being very responsive to directional/flank indicators from me. She learns to cover and push them along a fenceline without trying to come around to their heads and move them off the fence so she can have more fun chasing them around. And we end the lesson with her calm, clear, in control, and being very smooth. Good girl!

I've gone back and forth on sharing this video. First off, I am in it. ::dies, crawls away, looks for brains:: Second, while it shows truly amazing work to me, it is all in context. She is at a point in her training where I have just gotten control. I don't like the pressure that she is showing. I do like that she is listening and learning. With another lesson or maybe two, I hope, she will understand more of what I am asking and the signs of pressure from me will even out into smooth work and understanding of what is being asked and that responses on her part further the work instead of hindering her fun. That's the hope, at least.

Largely, this control has come from doing obedience work away from the sheep--training for rally. In this training process, she has really come to like the idea of our partnership and engaging with me and the push-pull of I ask, she does, she does, I reward, and from her perspective, she asks by doing, I reward--so she feels like she has control in our relationship, too. I don't know why she didn't get this at a younger age, but I'd say it's because she's always been extremely independent and drivey--and self-rewarding. She's very hard and resilient and not easily deterred when she's in drive. :) And in herding, she knew she was faster than me and was pretty sure that her idea of fun and what the sheep should be doing was better than mine.

This weekend, we go trial for her 2nd AHBA JHD leg, then I'll need to find an AKC trial to get her final Rally Novice leg.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My GSDs and Sheep...

Back in 1995,  I shared a house near Yorktown, VA, with a friend who wanted to learn about herding with her Border collies. I had recently moved back to Virginia from grad school in Oregon and I was job hunting. I had two dogs--Thorn, my American-line GSD (born in 1992) and Frost, an import-bred German working-line girl (born in 1994). My friend loved Border Collies and wanted to trial at the highest levels and she was buying a small farm and a few sheep and she needed a housemate.

In Oregon, I had trained Thorn in tracking, agility, and AKC obedience--he had gotten his CDX before he was 2 years old. And then I fell in love with doing bitework and started learning about the three-part sport of schutzhund. I started out first with a group doing personal protection training, then just worked him with a friend of mine who was learning to do decoy work. We learned from talking and from books and videos and visiting a couple of clubs--we figured it out as we went along.

I trialled for Thorn's BH at a DVG club in Corvallis. So, back in Virginia, I was looking for a club to continue learning about schutzhund and starting driving up to Alexandria--two hours up on early Saturday mornings, and four long hours home through DC-metro traffic.

As much as my friend loved Border Collies and herding, I loved GSDs and schutzhund. I wanted to learn everything about GSDs--breed surveys and conformation shows and biking for the AD and pedigrees and hip xrays, bitework, tracking, obedience, working in drive, understanding the interplay of courage and drive and biddability, control versus instinct, conflict versus teamwork, and environmental pressure and handler pressure and the pressure coming back at the dog from his engagement with the helper... or the sheep.
Frostbite v Pantara, KK2, Sch1, CD

You see, I was also having the time of my life learning about herding. I watched Border Collie training and trials. I learned how to care for sheep, how to trim hoofs and clean lanolin glands. I helped rehabilitate a few BC rescues that came through our hands and started a few young dogs on sheep. And I tried to herd with my GSDs.

Frost was dripping with drive. She would do anything for food and anything for a toy. And she liked the sheep. But her drive was greater than her capacity to be guided by either her instincts or by me. She would gather and down--but she would scream the entire time she worked. And the sheep would move faster and she'd run harder and she'd whine and whistle and scream. And finally, after a whole lot of getting nowhere very fast, I had to stop with her.

Thorn had drive and hardness, but his instincts didn't seem to tell him what to do past "gather the sheep together." I couldn't move him out, couldn't slow him down. A bag or bottle or a waved hand to push him out and off the sheep didn't faze him--did not affect him in the least. Something that would send a BC swooping 30 feet wide wouldn't even get an ear flick from Thorn. He was more than bombproof--he was undeterrable. Like herding sheep with a juggernaut. A pvc pipe poked against his shoulder and he'd turn and start barking at me. If it was someone other than me in the ring with him, at the first wave of stick or pvc or buggy whip to push him off and back--trying to gain some room for the sheep--he'd turn grab the stick and bite down, cracking it along its length, then he'd toss his head and jerk the stick out of the trainer's hand, throw it to the ground, bark again, looking straight into the handler's eye, just to makes sure his point had been made, and go back to his sheep.

So, no matter that Thorn was the most willing and eager and biddable of dogs when it came to obedience training or tracking or protection training--in herding, it all jumbled up.He wasn't hunting the sheep--he wasn't looking to hurt them. His instincts told him to do something, I told him to do something else... and it never came clear, we never moved past that beginner stage--him pushing too hard, me never able to back him off, slow him down, calm him down, control him, work  him, herd the sheep.
Blackthorn's Ashen, KK2, SCH3, IPO3

And after a year of trying, I had to move on. I had to move out of eastern Virginia to find a job. I had to give up on herding with Thorn and with Frost. And I had to decide--would I get a Border Collie and pursue herding? Or did I want to stick with GSDs and walk the walk in schutzhund?

So I moved to Charlottesville and began driving two and three times a week to schutzhund training. First to Alexandria,  Lynchburg, then to Leesburg, later to Berryville or Manassas or Fort Valley. I trialled in Maine and Texas, Alabama and Tennessee and Boston. I went to shows and trials and training and seminars. And I left herding behind for nearly 14 years.

And then, somehow, in the summer of 2008, I showed up at for a visit with Terri with a bicolor puppy named Jedi, a son of my Ashen and Nike, a grandson of Frost. I asked her if I could hire her to socialize him a bit, and left him there--just for a month! But he never came back home to me. Not even a year later, I got a phone call from Terri, "My German Shepherd herds sheep!" Jedi had gone to an AHBA trial and gotten his Junior Herding Dog title at barely a year old.

A few months after that, I went for a visit and discovered herding. Hunter, starting at age 3, showed a natural gentleness, great self control and biddability, and natural instinct. She'd bump the sheep with the side of her open jaw instead of biting. She wanted to listen to me and she wanted to work sheep. And Jedi's litter sister Jubilee showed great promise--natural balance, intense drive, and talent.

Hunter, with her maturity and her desire to please--her biddability--as well as her somewhat softer attitude toward the sheep, was easy to take to an AHBA trial and get that JHD in two legs, two tests. Not so much Jubilee. On Day 1 of the AHBA trial, going for her first JHD leg, she got dismissed for biting a sheep--and hanging on. Day 2 our routine was a bit insane--and very, very fast (I did the course at a jog!)--but there was no blood, and we kept it mostly together, and Jubilee got her first JHD leg.

Since I first went down to try again at this madness called herding, I have tested Kva and Kari and Xita and Macha on sheep. Kiva had instinct but not the bond with me--and she had a taste for biting sheep. Kari had instinct and desire and a gentle, gentle approach--she would take a feather-light hand.

Xita has had only 6 lessons,  3 of them this past weekend. And she is showing interest and instinct and biddability--starting a mature dog makes it too easy to overrule their latent instincts, so it can be all easy to teach them not to herd when you ask them to slow down, stop a second, change direction, move more slowly. It takes a delicate balance of enthusiasm and control, instinct and teamwork. But Xita is going to do well, I think. When we walk out of the round pen, she throws her chest against my side and grins at me, as if to say, "Thank you! That was FUN!" And that grin, and the one I return to her, is worth it.

But Jubilee, for the last two years, in our intermittent adventures in herding, has been a challenge. Like doing calligraphy with a jet rocket, to draw the picture for you. Jubilee has treated me in the herding realm with both disdain and disregard. I was, patently, wrong in my requests of her, to stop or slow down or change direction. What's more, I was no fun.

But somewhere in there, I started working Jubilee more and more in obedience, getting her ready for some rally trials. And I learned that I had to insist not only on respect, but on consistent respect. I could not give an inch of leeway when it came to control around the sheep. This is not about controlling the dog by force, but about insisting and demonstrating that my way was the only way to be around sheep, that going behind my back at an accelerating zoom was not going to be an option.

And piece by piece, step by step, something amazing has happened. Jubilee has granted me her respect not only in the trial ring but off the training field and in the round pen. And this hard won regard is, I think, one of my greatest training accomplishments. I had to learn, and Jubilee taught me.

This past weekend, herding with Xita and Macha and Jubilee was a layering of learning, an application of theory, showing the dogs how they could do what their instincts wanted them to do, what I wanted them to do. And that listening to me while hearing their instincts, they could have fun, could play with sheep. And on Monday, I drove the 180 miles home saying to myself, "My German Shepherds herd sheep!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Serious Cute

Hunter's boy pup has been hanging out with me (he goes to his new home this week), so this weekend, he went with me to the country to visit my parents. There, he learned about stairs, cow manure, swimming in the river, riding in the back of the Gator, and cow wrestling. He also fell in love with my mom and spent a lot of time crawling in her lap and getting hugs (and trying to steal her slippers and remove her bracelets and chewing on her pants and stealing rugs...).

Cow wrestling = mad puppy
serious puppy iz serious
these feet... look at these feet
Serious puppy is watching you!