When You Say Nothing At All

I ended up working Molly at Fido’s this past weekend, but it was unplanned so there is no video. I *really* wish there had been. There were many interesting moments when i was left wondering exactly what the heck happened – in a good way.

We’ve been doing steady work on the drive these last few months while also working inside flanks. They are linked items and we have been previously working them as separate concepts, so when inside flanks are solid it should be easy to just slide that command in during drive work and off you go. Our problem with inside flanks has, is and may always be space.

I don’t make enough space.

Space between Molly and I.

Space between the sheep and I.

Space between Molly and the sheep.

We are using the triangle pattern to drive and its great – if you can provide enough space so your dog doesn’t twitch uncontrollably trying to fetch the sheep to you. I realize how weird this sounds, but i’m finding that if i’m within 50′ of the sheep, we are no longer learning to drive. I am simply stopping her from fetching them to me.

I made a point to use whatever tool i could to make space. After setting her about 50′ off her sheep, and me 50′ directly perpendicular to the sheep… we started off. That 50′ that i gave her sounds like a lot, but her power is in her motion so i have to give her enough room to get moving. Since the arena is only about 250′ long, we don’t go very far, but with more distance, i can slow her down and help her feel her sheep. She will also inconsistently take her inside flank. A lot of that inconsistency is my telling her too late. Then we stop motion, i call her my way to create a little more space and then send her moving again. After the second or third stop motion, i started to self correct more quickly. My timing got better. I could see the change in her work when i gave her the space to be responsible for driving the stock instead of us battling the fetch.

I found myself getting quieter. (quit laughing) Screaming makes her fast and deaf. Too many commands are confusing and make her either flat or tight. Reward marker words make her tip into me because of how we’ve used those words off field. A quick lesson for those doing any reward training… go to your dog to reward, don’t have them come to use unless that is the exercise. Her reward is often my silence. That doesn’t mean i don’t encourage her; just the opposite. However, if she is on track and to the job I am not going to get in the way. In that situation even direction changes take a different, softer tone. She can be in the far back yard staring at a squirrel and hear a can opener inside the house with the windows and doors closed… she can hear me in a quiet field with a soft voice.

One thing we did discover is that Molly can’t not have a group. There is an arena trial skill set that involves the ability to leave an ornery beastie behind, typically near the take pen. For a long time, i thought we had that skillset, but i was wrong. We had one sheep who didn’t want to play so it hid in the corner where there were other sheep on the other side of the fence. Molly and I had the larger group nearbyish and noticed him chillin out in the corner about the same time. She did a nice soft pick up out of the corner and pointed him toward the group, which normally works well. Not this time. He just did a little loopie and went back to the corner. Which left Molly standing in between the group and the single. About 110′ from one sheep tail to the other. Molly has a wonderful “leave it” and she was facing the group.

“Leave it Molly, walk up”
Over the shoulder glance.
“he’s fine Nutty. Leave it, walk up”
“Come By” Because she’s still facing the group and i’m thinking she can being the group to the single.
She swings around to come into the single, who then proceeds to freak out a little. So she swung out on the Way side and put him back in the corner. More statue dog. The group is equally unimpressed and the lead sheep does a little foot stamp.

I ended up changing my position so i was further from the group and calling her to me. Then swinging her out around the group and getting everyone back together. We did some more drives and fetches with out new buddy in the group. He presented an interesting challenge as he kept trying to turn back. She had to be on the spot. Her work actually improved.

I also tried a few flanks into the fence with the sheep right up against and then stopping her to pull the sheep directly off the fence. In AKC this is a 4/5 line, but i think of it as a useful test of the the dogs stop even in a high pressure spot. She did well. I wasn’t in applying pressure against the sheep, but she did a nice job of stopping and turning into her stock.

The take-aways are:
1) long sessions are ok if the volume stays low
2) you should be getting close to the stock to help. if it won’t help, don’t get close.
3) need to practice splits. LOL

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