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Sunday, November 14 2010

There is nothing quite so humbling as taking a herding lesson - except perhaps looking at a photograph of yourself.  Nothing quite says "lay off the holiday fudge" like a photo where the photographer is focused on your dog and not on making YOU look good. Today I had both of those little humbling experiences and I feel like horse hockey.

 (Holy Crap!  Is that my butt?!)

Okay, in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad . . . I'm in my 40s, I'm getting fat, and my dog and I suck at anything resembling something more than basic farmyard herding.  Let me grab another piece of fudge while I tell you about it.

Here goes . . .  We haven't had an officical herding lesson since last March.  Now while other folks bemoaned the fact that their dogs haven't SEEN livestock in months, I bemoaned the fact that my dog works livestock every day but we do it WRONG.

 Ironically, WRONG has been working for us.  We speak the same wrong language.  We dance the same Wrong dance.  We get the job done, but I know that we can do better.  Sooooo . . . it's time for lessons again.

I told our instructor that I was confident that she'd look at us and ask what we've been doing since March when she last saw us work. (She was much more tactful than THAT!) She watched us work, politely pointed out that my handling really, really, REALLY sucked, (She was much more tactful than THAT.) and that the dog and I had compensated for our lack of training by developing a communication that was INCORRECT. Add to that the fact that the dog had trained ME as much as I had trained HER (and we were both doing it wrong!) and you had two people (dog and human) who didn't have proper basic flanks.  (I KNOW!  How humbling!) So she tried to show me AND teach the dog at the same time.  Simple flanking commands . . .  But this time she wanted it done right, not this bizarre Pseudo-herding bullcrap we've been doing! Eegaads!  When you took away our incorrect communication, we sucked. And God help me with a sorting stick!  (I've been doing that wrong too!) Soooo  . . . Bless her heart, she tried to show me what she wanted, while showing the dog.  It just wasn't working.  (The dog is clever.  I'm a bit slow.) 

You see, the dog and I have developed this language. It's wrong, but when you try to change it, we both get confused.  Sooo . . . our instructor asked if Lily would work for her.  (probably not)  It made sense though.  Teach the dog what she wanted, then give the Newly Educated dog back to me and teach ME what she wanted.  That sounded good in theory, but in reality, there was not a snowball's chance in Hell that Lily was going to work for her.  (because Lily is a titty-baby)

It was ugly.  It was really ugly.  Lily bucked like a marlin on a fishing line.  She acted like she'd never had a collar or line on in her life.  It was a rodeo! It was painful to watch.  (In reality, nothing she asked Lily to do was unusual at all.)  Lily's reaction to me leaving her and having someone else at the helm was, and I quote,

 "I don't know you!  I don't wanna know you! You ain't my Momma, and you can't tell me what to do!"

 Lily Having a Hissy-Fit!

Friends and Neighbors, it . .  was . .  ugly. Lily had absolutely no intention of working for her while I was there.  So after some discussion I left the field and went to hang out with other handlers.  (Despite what the dog will tell you, she was not abusing Lily. Lil acted like she had NEVER been on a collar before.  Talk about a Titty Baby!)

Lily is planning on LEAVING the field!     

A few minutes later she returned Lil to me. (I think most of the time was spent convincing Lily that yes, she COULD and WOULD work for someone else.  "You will not DIE if your mommy leaves you.") Then using some trash cans and a sorting stick, she taught me the concept.  It's not like it was THAT difficult, but somehow when you had dogs and sheep in the mix, it was confusing me.  (I felt like such a doofus!)

So we thanked her for her time and we went home.  Then we grabbed up four of our own sheep and tried what we'd learned.  Eureka!  That simple little concept which had us falling over ourselves when the Instructor changed up our Wrong Language seemed easy now that Lily UNDERSTOOD the Right Language and voila, I was able to move from training trashcans, to working with a Border Collie and sheep again!

So we called the instructor, (who was still working in the cold with someone else because Lily and I had hogged so much time), to thank her for her time and patience and let her know that we FINALLY got the concept.  I hope . . .  unless of course we don't, then will we practice it wrong all month . . . And when we see her at the end of the month, we will be back at square one again.  Oh dear . . .

So for those of you who are lamenting because you don't have livestock to put your dog on, just think of this . . .you could be practicing it the WRONG way, EVERY single day!  Believe it or not, even though herding trial folks cringe when they watch us work, Lily and I always manage to get our work done. But just imagine how much work we could get done . . . if we were doing it the RIGHT way!

Ta Ta!  I'm off to go eat another piece of holiday fudge!  (and next time I will inform my photographer to not take pictures of my BUTT!)

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  9 Comments  |  Email
Herding photos add 15 lbs to the butt. That's a fact. ;-)
Posted by Libbye on 11/14/2010 - 08:54 PM
Kind of reminds me of a farm dog/farmer combination in my own household. Annie and Paul work the same way as Lily and you except you could add 15 pounds to Paul's butt and he'd still be skinny. So not fair. Beans and I on the other hand need a lot more work.
Posted by Peg H on 11/15/2010 - 12:52 AM
Forgot to say that Annie is less leash-trained than Lily, at least Beans does that okay. Also the training sheep look just like mine and I would be picking photos to make the sheep look good.
Posted by Peg H on 11/15/2010 - 12:56 AM
Thank you! I left feeling like such a country bumpkin failure. My goal was never to trial, but just to better communicate with my dog. However, I left feeling like there was little point in even bothering to continue lessons because we were so far behind. Then I remembered that we never had the advantage of starting with lessons and handpicked, well-mannered sheep. Yet she is my little buddy who will go out in the rain, in the dark, and in the ice, to work with half-wild goats, cows that want kill her, and protective ewes with silly lambs. . . because that's her job, and I need her. So she's a titty-baby. I'm okay with that. My little titty-baby will work her heart out for me. (even if I'm doing it the wrong way!)
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 11/15/2010 - 02:11 AM
I have nothing to say about the 'butt' shot. I too, no longer have the butt of a 25 year old. :) Wildly stupid question---if what you and Lily are doing, works for you, why mess with it. It's not like you're trying to sell and she needs to do it "right". I know you think you'd get more done, but would you really?
Posted by CeeCee on 11/16/2010 - 09:28 AM
It isn't a stupid question. It's a question that Other Half keeps asking. "WHY? She already does everything you want her to do." Well, not really. She isn't confident enough to do outruns of any distance. That's really the only thing I'd change. But trust me, we SUCK! Everything we do is technically all wrong, yet the animals get gathered, penned, sorted, and loaded. When he's of age, I'll send Trace back to his breeder to get started. In the mean time I'll work on myself as a handler. It's frustrating because I've trained schutzhund, tracking, obedience, flyball, agility, and search & rescue, and so I KNOW the fundamentals of dog training, but I don't know what I'm doing regarding training a herding dog. Thus, we suck!
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 11/16/2010 - 11:35 AM
It would be very helpful if Lily could do a good outrun in both directions (clockwise and counterclockwise around the flock for non-herding people). That's the Border collie's ace in the hole over other herding breeds and farm dogs. Herding is hard to learn until you start watching the sheep and not the dog. A started dog is better than a beginner dog like Lily for chores. You don't need trial-quality work and she doesn't need the pressure of trial-quality tasks, but more training would really be helpful to both of you. Just leave Ranger in the truck.
Posted by Peg H. on 11/16/2010 - 01:53 PM
I am a bit behind in answering emails given the activity in our lives the past few days. I am going to respond to yours this evening. But I have to say from the pictures I am a wee bit concerned at the long line and what I saw in the pictures - with regards to how it was being applied. Will write more later. But I don't think you should be discouraged - perhaps find another instructor who can work with you without making you feel terrible. You were not born with the ability to know how to work your dog 'properly' and the techniques we teach our dogs for the trial field are not typically what you need them to do in a practical situation. If what you and your dog have been doing works for you...then how can it be wrong? JMHO...
Posted by Carolynn on 11/16/2010 - 05:37 PM
Trace's breeder is trying to locate stockdog trainers for us. For other reasons, I decided to stop the lessons, and until we find a stockdog trainer, we'll watch lots of tapes, read more books, and be happy with who we are as a team.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 11/17/2010 - 03:55 PM

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