Previously I've attended the Helsley/Shannahan Sheepcamp to address My Suck in general terms. The experience of having these two really excellent trainers evaluate me and my dog and then offer suggestions for improvement is not just immediately helpful…infact, for me, initially it's just information that makes sense but will take years to sink in. (PLUS LUNCH!!) The information for me needs to metamorphisize into response; I believe that I get it when I can finally physically feel the concept, not just parrot it back for food treats. Years.
This year I went into Sheepcamp with something specific in mind. I wanted to work on whatever I had to work on to get Jai to stop getting us the Ironic Thank You off the field. Naturally this included ideas that I've heard for the last three years but still fail to employ. (Warning: HELSLEY HAS A TIDE BOTTLE FULL OF ROCKS!)
"Watch your sheep, not your dog."
It's taken me three years and I still stare at my dog as she's coming down the field. I tend to want to position her like I would the cue ball on a pool table. Her trajectory a straight line from her eyes to my corner pocket through the sheep.
"Your dog is using her eye wrong. She's using it to stop motion, which you have to start again, and then the sheep eventually get sick of this stopping and starting thing and shit happens."
P*trick didn't really say shit, he said something like,
"Those nappy-headed car seat coverfucks start gettin' up in a bitches grill."
Patrick addressed Jai's eye and how she was misusing it, basically picking the fight. He had me flank her, correct her for overflanking to catch a nappy assed ewe eye – keep her flow going and the sheep moving. She relaxed, visibly more comfortable in moving the sheep. She stopped laying herself down. Just a few of these exercises made a huge difference in her confidence.
Helsley wasn't worried about her grip and told me that I needed to stop being worried about it also or it would continue. I need to get it out of my head and start thinking about the Big Picture. I need to picture what I want and convey that to my dog. Again I am reminded of the mountain biking analogy of
"Look where You WANT your wheels to go, NOT where you DON'T want them to go…"
For whatever reason this observation by Don was when I noticed that I was still watching my dog and not the stock. Jai was fetching sheep straight to me, but to do so, because of the draw, she was adjacent to the group of ewes, not behind. The Dog Watcher in me wanted to flank her slightly to line up with my corner pocket, and would have…but that would have messed everything up.
When Don had us pen, he kept insisting I call Jai in,
"Call her in!"
"Do you have a marinade on hand? We're going to need it…"
"No we're not, call her in."
She looked so poised to grip. Her concentration was all on the sheep, she had her lateral movement thing going…I mean I would have laid money on it….but I always lose bets.
"WATCH YOUR SHEEP!"
So, I called her in and she moved the sheep into the pen. No grip.
Sometimes the information you get from trainers seems contradictory and that is what makes this such a tough learning curve. It IS CONTRADICTORY….because there are variables that change and need to be adjusted for. The dog, the sheep, the draw. Pants. It takes time to collect enough tools and information, for these concepts and strategies to become inherent enough to be second nature. To physically feel the communication between you and your dog and the sheep…the pressure, etc. Meanwhile you stand there and whistle the wrong flank and scream until you get it and your dog thinks you are okay at feeding and petting but why can't you wait in the car while she works…your dog thinks you are whistling a fucking hole in her head so she puts one in a ewe or two. The circle of strife.
Anyway, I loved sheep camp. So did Jai.
More later about our Puppy Sheep Kit and the All-In-One Trial Tool, patents pending. The other GREAT thing to come out of sheep camp – a sisterhood of invention.