Thursday, July 31, 2008

Natural instincts!

Today, I am a very happy dog. Not only did I get to go to agility practice, but I got to herd (well, you may just want to say, chase) some sheep. Yes, I said SHEEP!!!!!

Back in early April of 2006 at about 20 months old, I saw sheep for the very first time. It was a little seminar put on by my agility trainer's sheep herding instructor. Just a few of us young pups getting a look (and maybe even taste) of sheep for the first time. It was an instinct herding test; a test to find out if you have the instinct to herd. That's one of the pics of me at the seminar picking up a stray.

And boy did I! The first time I saw those four legged furry things, I went nuts! Then they let me have my turn at herding. I loved it. I craved it. I absolutely had the best time of my life. Here's a vid of that herding test from way back in 2006. You can see, those woolies made me crazy.


Our agility trainer has had sheep for a couple of years now, and I have to put up with seeing them nearly every time I go to training class. Just this year, they moved the sheep grazing area right next to the jumpers practice ring. And what happened today? Yep, they were out in the field munching up a storm. And they had the gall to do that while I was trying to run agility.

I was a good boy, though. And it was good practice. I paid attention to doing my agility thing throughout the entire 30 minutes. But after that, I just wanted at 'em. Over the year, Trainer J has mentioned that maybe I'd like to go see the sheep. Well, today Mum let me. Now that I'm healed up and running really well, she thought it would be a pawsome reward. And boy, howdy! It as a stupendous reward.

Only scary thing was Mum couldn't get me off of them. You see (sometimes like Gracie does in agility competition runs) I loose all my hearing when I'm on sheep. Something that was mentioned at my herding instinct test back in 2006 was a concern that I may not be able to be controlled around the little woolies. Maybe with some formal training, we'd be able to see if I could. But without that, there was no way I was coming off my duty of herding those little guys.

So just about the time I got one of the woolies into a corner and was working to get them out, Mum tackled me! Can you believe it? She tackled me. Was the only way she was getting me back. And I squealed for her to let me loose, until she got me back in the car.

The entire time, Mum had the biggest smile on her face I've ever seen. She said, 'there's just nothing better than seeing a dog do what he's born to do'. You said it Mum, just give me more! And thanks for letting me at 'em.

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So on to what happened at agility practice today....

The hour started with Gracie, she had to work the jumpers ring with the sheep in the grazing field right next to her ring too. It was great distraction work for Mum and Gracie. And Gracie did pretty well. She ran off once or twice, but we were pretty proud of her. Gracie got a taste of sheep at that herding instinct test too. She had only been with us about four weeks. But they let her give it a go and she was a natural herder just like me. So seeing the sheep at practice today and not running off was huge for the Gracester.

She did some jumps to a tunnel, then some weaves. She's been having trouble with weaves when Mum is on her left, but no problems when Mum is on her right. But I think they got that fixed this week. Gracie does her weaves fairly independently when Mum is on her right, but Mum still needs to help her by keeping her hand low, out and in front of Gracie's nose when Mum is on the left. But they'll fade that soon enough. Mum really likes Gracie's weaves, and only believes that she'll get faster and faster at them, even thought she's already faster than me.

Then they did some work on running some short sequences. Like me, Gracie gets kind of bored after they do an exercise more than twice. So they moved on to new sequences pretty fast and Gracie kept her focus really well.

Mum signed Gracie up for two show n go's and a CPE trial in August. Since it's been a year that Gracie has been on agility trial hiatus, it's time to see if she's going to lose her brain when she gets out there in a trial situation. Sure hope she can be good and focus on her 'work.'

After Gracie it was my turn. We started with some jumps to a tunnel, then a difficult weave entrance, two more jumps, back into the tunnel to another difficult weave entrance. Nailed it. And that was with the sheep just grazing in the next field. Next!

Then we went over to the other ring. Worked on a couple of jumps to the frame, into the tunnel and a tight turn up the dog walk. And what did I do, yep, bailed my contact again. So we tried again, yep bailed it! And that was with Mum decelerating and shortening her stride at the end. Something that worked last week. But no, not this week. And probably not in any upcoming trial either.

So then it was time for a big 'what to do about the dog walk contact' discussion. Lots of talking going on with Mum and Trainer J. But here's what we all decided to do to fix it.

One of Mum's big concerns is that I don't have specific criteria set for making the yellow. Never have. It was a problem in the beginning, but then I seemed to get it well enough to get bunches of Q's. Then I got hurt a few times, I got slower, and the dogwalk wasn't a concern, I made the yellow.

But now things are different. I'm feeling at my best, and confident. I want to go! So they both think I need criteria. And they both want me to do running (better for my body shape and size). Without a dogwalk in my backyard to practice on it's kind of difficult.

So, the plan is to teach me to run over a mouse pad. I know, sounds funny, but wait. Mum is going to get a mouse paid (yellow), teach me to run over it on the ground, click as I touch it with a couple of paws, then throw a treat bag, or target out about 5-10 feet. All while not slowing me down. Then, when I'm at practice on a dogwalk, they are going to place the mousepad about 5 inches from the bottom of the dogwalk, with a hoop over the end. Then throw the treat bag, or target way out from the dogwalk. Then fade the hoop soon, and then fade the mousepad by cutting it smaller and smaller, soon thereafter.

That's the plan for now. We've read lots folks methods for teaching running contacts, but without a dogwalk, all of them would be difficult. This way, they believe, I can still train the criteria at home, and put it to work at practice sessions each week. Maybe it's a crazy idea, maybe it will work, maybe it won't. Guess we'll see. We'll keep you posted.

We also worked on the 'circle of doom.' It's a set of six jumps, formed in the shape of a polygon (I think that's six sides). Anyway we did serpentines with it, and then we did threadles with it, then we mixed and did a few serpentines and threw in a couple of threadles and back to the serpentines. Made Mum have to work her brain early this morning. The whole idea was to utilize the backy uppy on the threadles, and not allow me to pass Mum's plane. An additional benefit is that I kept pretty good speed even two and three times through the circle. Not something I used to do.

Then we put the backy uppy to work on the jumps, tunnel, weave, jumps, tunnel sequence to put me in the opposite side of the tunnel the second time through and it worked great! It needed to be a little smoother, but it worked! Just needs some practice. A nice alternative to the RFP which Mum doesn't do very smoothly anyway.

With all this herding and agility, Mum sure isn't going to need to check out those Fenphedra reviews, fur sure!

Mum was really happy with everything I did today. Got home, and what did I want to do? Yep, herded birds. So I did that for 5 or so minutes and Mum made me come in for a rub down and stretching. Ahhhh Mum!!!!!

1 comment:

Ricky the Sheltie said...

Wow your day sounded absolutely fabulous! A lot of agility practice and then SHEEP! I had a great time the first time I was allowed near sheep, but I had to be on a long line so there was an easy way to get me off of them!

We'll be interested to know how the "mouse pad" training goes because we would love to do running contacts too.