Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Soft is normally a good thing, right? I've rode many horses that are "soft". Meaning, they are responsive to the aids. As a general rule I like soft. I like animals that look to me and respond to my subtle cue. I am for the most part a quiet, soft person myself. I'm good a reading people's body language and sensitive to those non-verbal cues. Likewise, I'm normally very good at picking up animal language cues. (I don't always like what they're telling me but I sure can recognize them.)

Today, I specifically went to Ken's to work Reba on the drive. (For the non-herders out there - a drive is where the dog moves the sheep away from the handler.) Deep in my heart, I knew I was messing up somehow. I just couldn't figure out how to surpass the plateau or standoff we had found ourselves on. With Ken's eyes, we worked on our sticky problem. The biggest problem is the Reba seems to be lacking some confidence and glues herself to my leg on the drive. Which for us is odd, because she's normally quite self-assured on stock. She's been a very natural little dog when working - until this. Because she's such a willing and obedient soul she was sticking by me. Imagine the dog - human conversation...

"Well, yes dog, I do want you to stay by me and not help yourself to the stock. But now, I also want you to walk away from me and move the stock away while I stay back here.

But, your tone of voice is getting strong mom, I'm not sure what you mean. Why do you keep calling my name? Don't you want me to circle the sheep? Oooh, you're tense. So I'm going to freeze right here and not move a muscle. That way I won't make a mistake. Uh oh, you're walking towards me. Do you want me to bring the sheep to you? Apparently not, since you're calling my name again. But I was just by you and you didn't want that. I'm so confused."

Poor dog. I figured out (with help) some things that I'm doing that are causing problems. Ken's sheep are also lighter than mine which helps, and she was chugging onto them like nobody's business which was sooooo nice.

My training goals are to keep a gentle, relaxed posture complimented by a quiet, relaxed tone. My biggest problem is I can be strident and can project. I rarely yell, but I can push my voice out of my tummy and really move it, especially when I'm excited. To not nit-pick on getting things perfect, especially when they confuse her. Things l normally would expect of her, such as staying by my side when we're heading out to the stock. Now, I'm going to relax and let her get ahead of me. To focus on what I'm asking her and to make sure I'm not inadvertently applying pressure that counters what I want. I also need to stay FOCUSED, so my timing doesn't get bunged up!

My biggest problem with this dog is that she's soft and responsive. She desperately wants to do the right thing and is sensitive to any negative pressure. Which will be positive down the road but is testing me right now because it magnifies any of my mistakes. But I can do it. Failure is not an option.

Heh, and I wanted a soft dog...


MTWaggin said...

Those dogs that desperately want to do RIGHT are sometimes the hardest to handle because they are more sensitive to our subtle cues - ones we don't even know we are giving.

Country Girl said...

I know, and I also know she's going to make me a much better trainer and handler. I plan to learn, learn, learn!