I just got home from the 2013 ASCA Nationals (which will get its own post) and i feel like i’m busting with things to talk about. I worked for judges during Finals cattle, Finals sheep, Finals ducks, pre-trial ducks and Nationals ducks. I also worked the gate at Pre-Trial cattle, but only learned that when the door weighs more than you do and the wind kicks up it is hard to keep said door shut. I was drug about by an object. While all of the judges i sat with made a variety of comments, almost all universally said some version of the same thing: the dog needs to be able to hold the pressure.
So first lets talk about what pressure is.
Everything has pressure. You have pressure, i have pressure, the stock has pressure, other dogs have pressure, even the fence has pressure. We learned the barbell exercise because Molly would not go into a small pen with sheep. Between the fence and the sheep it was a vortex of pressure and she couldn’t find a way to work around the bubble. Most of working stock, is in some way, working around the pressure bubble. For upright dogs, who use their own pressure, this is especially true. If you think about pressure being a bulls-eye, the livestock is the center, the next ring out is their pressure and that line between the second and third ring is the space your dog uses to move stock. Further descriptions of Pressure can be found in the Working Aussie Source article by CynDee Cooper.
What dogs sometimes do is poke the bubble.
Poking the bubble happens here at minute 1.08 & 2.19 etc.
Call it diving in or whatever suits you. She pokes in the sheep move and she’s immediately out of the pressure zone. When it is done especially hard, you end up with sheep in all directions. Like the kids behind you in the movie theater who kick your seat and then lean way back in their seats. Same thing. 😉
So what it supposed to happen?
Depending on your stock, there are a few possible answers but they all come back to the same place. When the desired action is forward locomotion, the dog needs to either be behind their stock or no further up then the shoulder. And the dog need to know that is the place to be.
The shoulder is the point of balance on most four legged critters, your dog included. If you are doing the cross drive and your stock are stopping, but the dog isn’t quite to the head… venture to guess the dog is at the shoulder. Many people would gripe: but my dog is supposed to wear! That is true, but wearing happens behind the stock and should be about the animals hip. Any further up and you will first turn the stock, then stop the stock, then be at the animals head and have a confrontation. You can get your dog behind the stock by either teaching your dog Get Back, which a lot of trainer do or installing a hitch (we use Lie), then flanking to adjust the dogs position. None are perfect and depend on the comfort of the dog and handler. I have been known to use “knock it off, what are you doing?” but i wouldn’t call it a command.
An additional note: Holding pressure is also true when working the heads. If the cow gives your dog a dirty look, and the dog doesn’t have the miles to know when to hold its ground, you need to help your dog. However attempting to work the heads in a trial scenario and doing so unsuccessfully can prove increasingly dangerous as the cow *may* decide that a fight with your dog is a fight the cow can win. If your dog is hitting heads to a describable end, then that is one thing. A dog that is only hitting heads due to a lack of confidence or miles is a dog itchin’ for trouble. Hitting the head is an important skill. A dog can hit the head and swing around to position behind the cow and take advantage of inertia. Stock in motion is more likely to stay in motion. Repeated hits often serve only to aggravate a 1,500lbs animal. Which is just as unhelpful as it sounds.