Monday, November 30, 2009

Dog Training with Derek

Several weeks ago, my friend & dog trainer Derek Fisher came up to visit for a few days. Despite the absolutely terrible weather- wind & rain everyday- we spent most of the time working dogs. Derek brought his Jen and Mirk, along with two young dogs he's training, Maid & Bock. Derek & Jen laid down an awesome qualifying run in the semi-finals at the National Sheepdog Finals this year. I really like Jen, she's a sweet little dog, and very stylish. I like her enough that I put myself on the list for a future pup of hers. Derek was kind enough to take Jen out and shed off my rams so I didn't have to pen sort the ewes. Then, they practiced their international shedding and shed the ewes off from the market lambs so we could work just the lambs.

My own dog, Nick, is a an over-runner. He pretty much inevitably slices in at the top of his outruns, then runs too far past balance. I've been correcting him without much success. Derek watched us do one run, looked at me, and said, "You're correcting him too late. You can't fix him once he's already wrong." DUH! I sent Nick again, hollered BEFORE he over-ran, and he turned in right on balance. I've also gotten Nick to widen his outrun by correcting & resending him the moment he shows the slightest signs of cutting in. It's worked wonders! I even sent Nick on a couple of totally blind outruns last week- I knew the sheep were behind the orchard, but he didn't. He took off wide, hit the fence line, followed it around and out of my sight. I was getting worried when the sheep come over the hill with my little brown dog right behind them! I was so damn proud! I'm beginning to think that Diane was right when she told me I had an open dog on my hands.

The other thing I wanted to work on when Derek was here was putting a grip on Nick. Nick is a strong dog, and generally very pushy on sheep, but he has virtually no grip. Every now and then, though, a certain ewe or lamb will stand him down and Nick will back off. Derek put a few lambs in a pen (these are Feb-born lambs; they weigh 90-100 Lbs. Not little, fuzzy new lambs), and sent Jen in for back-up. Mostly, Derek had me flank Nick around the lambs while we attempted to get the lambs to scatter, to get Nick worked up about keeping the sheep together. Nick was confused at first, but one of the half-Katahdin lambs decided that she wanted no part of this game and kept splitting off. Nick finally got the idea, and nabbed the lamb when she came after him. In the pen, it seemed like Nick became more confident backing down the sheep, but I wasn't so sure about out in the "real world." A few days later, old number 14, a ewe I know to pushy & argumentative, decided she didn't really want to move and turned on Nick & stomped at him. Nick laid down, but didn't avert his gaze, and I asked him to walk up. He did. No hesitation. Walked right into a ewe who has come after him before. Number 14 (sorry, she has no "real" name) lowered her head, Nick showed her his teeth, and that was that. Yay! My dog WILL bite sheep when necessary!

With Lu gone, I've been spending a lot more time with Nick, out working sheep, both training sessions, and actual work. Nick's is running consistently wider, he's steadying down, and his driving is coming along nicely. He still drifts to the away side when driving, but I'm getting faster & better at correcting him.

I really, really like working dogs. I think I've gone nuts, but I'm thinking about a pup next. I'm on the bottom of the list for a Diane Pagel's Nan x Bobby Dalziel's Joe pup, and the top (I think) of the list for a Derek's Jen x whatever stud he picks pup... No, I won't be raising two! I'm not THAT crazy!

One day when Derek & I were out working, our local professional photographer came & took photos of Derek working. Well, of Derek's dogs working (yes, Derek, you're very photogenic, too, but people mostly want to dogs). Steve, the photographer, had some of the prints at the Pre-School Bazaar, Lopez's annual shop-til-you-drop fundraising extravaganza, and they were really nice. Someone was just buying a print of Mirk working some lambs when we walked up to Steve's booth. I can't wait to see the rest of the set!

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