Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Security Blanket

I've attached a youtube video of a young dog starting at sheep (this is about where Joe is at in his training - perhaps a step or two further along than this dog.)  Louise is a handler who lives in Northern Alberta.  Click on her name to go to her website. Sorry, I couldn't get the video on directly.

Working dogs is a lot like training horses, it often helps to have a set of eyes on the ground (so to speak) to watch and provide feedback.  While I know I don't suck at training the dogs (I'm not a superstar either), I occasionally feel as though I'm doing something wrong.  I've been feeling somewhat insecure in part due to a handlers snarky remark about Reba and Reba's recent rotten behavior.  The handler made a comment about how did I end up with two snarly dogs (both Tessa and Reba are not friendly with other dogs).  The implication being that I've caused my dogs to be antisocial.  Reba has also shed her sweet wanting to please personality and morphed into the dog that looks at you when you call her name and continues on her merry little way.  (Let me tell you, this about made my head spin off my shoulders!)

So I did what any self respecting person does, I called up my security blanket Ken, and spent the day in Drayton Valley with him.  When I say spent the day, I mean I spent 7 (!!!) hours working dogs with him.  I love working dogs with Ken.  Not only is he an outstanding behaviorist and trainer but he's able to express and share what he knows.  And is he is not easy on me.  If I'm messing up, I hear about it.  Which I like and need because growing as a trainer is important to me.

We worked Reba first.  Reba is a tricky dog because in some ways she's a very "soft" dog.  Meaning she is sensitive to what you are asking of her.  In other ways she's a very "hard" dog.  Meaning she has her own agenda and is capable of pouting or trying to manipulate to get her way, in that she doesn't want to respond to corrections.  After watching and hearing my concerns Ken reassured me this was just a stage and that I was on the right track.  We worked through some issues and improved the distance and quality of the out run (when the dog runs to collect up the sheep).  I'm going to focus here at home on being very firm with basic obedience until she moves out of her ignore the human problem.

A huge feather in my caps was Joe's massive improvements.  I had already decided that it was time to tighten up and become less forgiving of his quirks (like trying to chew on the sheep) which Ken backed up.  I used a 2-3 foot piece of PVC pipe (plastic hollow pipe) as ammunition.  Every time he dove in to help himself to a sheep I fired the pipe at him.  My timing was awesome and I was able to have the pipe hit the ground just as he moved into the space, thus deterring him from the action.  (Those of you who may have used pop bottles with gravel or a water gun to stop negative behavior - same idea.)  Joe was a superstar.  A tough minded super star but I was really happy with his progress.  He still won't let Ken pet him but he's better able to relax around him.

Tessa's outrun is horrific.  She's never had a particularly good outrun but for a dog as broke as she is, it's a bit of a glaring issue.  We worked at letting her make the mistake (not bringing the sheep to my feet) and correcting the behavior.  Basically we work to "shape" her actions into the correct behavior until it become an intrinsic behavior.  We also worked at the international shed.  In order to do this, the dog has to split the sheep into two groups and maintain control over one of the groups.  Too much fun.

Before I left, we worked two of the dogs in for training.  And of course talked some horse.  (Ken rides cutting horses.)  It was a great day.  I feel good about myself, and my dogs.  I know what I need to do and feel comfortable going out in doing it.  And regarding the other handlers comment... Ken believes that you can't change the dog's basic personality make up.  Even though I've done the right things (socialization, negative reinforcement when they exhibit poor manners) it doesn't really matter.  Give the dog to someone else and they'd still behave the same way.  Ahhh... relief.  

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