As one of 800,000 (plus or minus) government employees on furlough, it's a good time to be thinking about compromise and The Big Picture. It's a better time to Think Globally and Act Locally. Usually I only apply this to breakfast, but I'm GROWING as a person.....
I really believe most of us hear what we want to hear. We sift everything through a filter of what is familiar and comfortable to us. If a trainer tells me,
"You need to correct your dog! Make him(her) know that you mean it! You asked for that flank 3 times. You need to ask once, and then get on his(her) ass."
I think that means I should probably get a new whistle. Clearly Jack didn't hear me.
"You need to work on things up close. He is slicing his away flank every time. You won't get nice flanks far away if you can't get them up close."
This means that Jack has a nice come-by flank. We'll practice that more because it makes us feel good and then I don't have to yell as much.
"He(she) is reading the livestock and responding instead of listening to you because that is what your dog has had to do in order to compensate for your off-timing; it's what he's been allowed to do because of your lack of corrections."
My dog has tremendous natural feel and talent.
But, really - I have tunnel vision. I tend to focus on small details in my work that are often detrimental to the bigger whole. Like in sorting sheep; I focus on the 5 lambs I want - just the lambs, as objects. And the gate, as hard to keep closed. And my stick as not being long enough. Not the process. Not how the entire flock is tensely moving from one end of the pen to the other and the motion is nonstop and when there is a brief pause in the motion, because I've remembered to STOP MY DOG so I can locate my 5 lambs... the only way to accomplish anything is to muscle things through or not through the gate. I only intermittently remember to yell LIE DOWN GODDAMNIT and only then when I am being run over.
In the end I will have 6 or 7 of the biggest, ugliest, nastiest ewes. The 5 lambs I wanted, meanwhile, will be with the rest of the discards, looking quixotically at me, chewing. Always chewing. It's such a big Eat Me gesture.
I also do not insist on getting what I ask for from my dog, even when I am wrong. This is why my dogs feel that everything is just a suggestion and, with my inprecise timing, my suggestions are really just chatter. Or rap music.
"Come bye! COME BY
What the fuck are you doing, Jai, I said come by!
AWAY! DID YOU HEAR ME? AAAA-WAY
YOUGETOUTOF THAT, NOW, DO YOU HEAR WHAT I SAY?"
Also, I have totally misunderstood the mechanics of shedding. Though many fine trainers have told me in many different ways, the How and Why of what happens in the ring, my approach has been more like a tag-team wrestling match. Or viking invasion. I'd move, my dog would move, the sheep would move, we'd all move faster in the other direction, some foul language, a foot stamp...more movement...and after a period of time we'd all be tired enough to either quit, grip, or something approaching a shed would happen. It was exhausting and never felt good. It's what I imagine shopping on black friday feels like. I hate shopping.
I've been going through somewhat of an existential crisis with training. Why am I doing this again? I'm not really movinf forward...I'm moving sideways, and a little backwards... Sure it makes my dogs happy, but so does snausage and sleeping on the bed. Lately, training has put me on edge and I dread trialing.
I argue with my dogs. I argue with Lavon.
The last of which led Lavon to setting up a lesson for me with his good friend and mentor, Don Helsley.
"Maybe you'll listen better to him. Maybe he will tell you some things in a way that makes more sense to you at this time than I can...."
I am a pain in the ass to train. Many nights I claim it's too windy or too hot to work dogs...or I would rather have a beer...
If I do work my dogs I give him excuses for all my dogs' and my bad decisions and behaviors. I had kind of hit a rut of malaise about it all.
Enter Helsley. I like Don because he really does not mince words. AND you really don't feel like he is open to hearing all your lame ass excuses about why your dog really needs to feel the success of a constant comeby flank.
"If you can't get it up close, you won't get it far away."
In watching really good handlers shed, it just flows so effortlessly. The sheep move slowly and the shed happens like choreography. My attempts look more like 5 sheep tossed in a KitchenAide mixer, at various speeds, controlled by my dog, while I try to figure out where to stick my hand to part the batter...until my dog grips, usually. That's even how my BRAIN processes it. It's made me hate baking.
"Your dog should be laying down if you are moving. If you send your dog, you need to stand still. Otherwise...you turn it into a race."
This was huge info.
When Helsley sheds, he walks parallel to the head of the sheep, smoothly catching their eyes, turning them, walking parallel to the head again, turning them again.
"Bring the sheep to your dog. If they get too close or bunch up, move them off and do this again."
I realize that I've been afraid to approach the sheep. Historically when I would, I usually was also flanking my dog. My theory was once we got them in that nice line, I'd step in, make a hole, and call my wagging, lip-licking Gripmaster 3000 into the void and we'd have a chase scene that ended in Thank You or
GODDAMNIT KNOCK IT OFF
SWEETBLOODYJESUSONAHOMESPUNCROSSLIEYOURASSDOWN.<insert needle scratching vinyl sounds>
Well, best case scenario.
Don gave me some exercises to help me and both my dogs - making the Big Picture small enough to make right. Walkabouts where we work up close on flanking squarely in both directions; and shedding, where I think about what I am doing - and all the parts that go into it, simultaneously - and quit fearing the shed as one would an IED.
I have nothing but time.