Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Boost's First Herding Lesson

SUMMARY: Maybe should be titled "My First Herding Lesson"

Drove to Gilroy (about 45 minutes) with a friend and her 10-month old puppy Dig. Dig has had a couple of previous lessons; friend has had quite a few more with a different dog whom she'd decided doesn't really get the herding thing.

Spent a lot of time talking about what works and what doesn't, what the dogs are thinking and what they're not, what the livestock is thinking and what not, how to communicate, how to establish control, how to know that you're in control, and so on.

Watched friend and Dig work a bit (Dig wants to grab the goats); watched instructor work a young border collie, watched another student work a dog, watched instructor work Boost, watched friend and Dig, watched instructor work his young but excellent Kelpie, then I got to work the Kelpie to give me a feel for what it's like being in the ring with the livestock and not have to worry about the dog. Watched friend and Dig. Tried to watch instructor and Boost again but Boost wanted mommie, so I joined them. More watching. More talking. Worked Boost on my own.

All of that took about 3 hours, I think, and Boost was in the ring for probably no more than 10 minutes each of 3 times and maybe less than that. I got about the same, but not all with her.

OK, details. Boost's first time in the ring, she expressed great interest in the goats. Checked in with me (watching from outside) a couple of times but went right back to it. She circled quite a bit and went back and forth quite a bit but the big issue was wanting to dive in at the goats, so the instructor gave me a running commentary on what he was looking for and what he was doing to avert the behavior.

Second time in, he tried to walk her out to the livestock and she just wouldn't go with him; tried halfheartedly to jump out of the ring to get to me or to my friend. When I came into the ring with the instructor, she was perfectly happy to go back to the livestock.

We had a discussion about how ending a session involves just walking in towards the dog, basically cutting them off from going anywhere except waiting for you, and how threatening or intimidating that really can be to a dog, and maybe that's what concerned her after the end of the first session.

She got better about not diving in at the goats, but slowed way down, almost to a walk. Kept working them, but looked sort of half-hearted to me. We didn't stay in all that long (I think--I was trying to follow his instructions to "stay behind me"--yeah, right!).

When she and I finally went in alone, she seemed calmer but also back to being interested and running again, although not full-out, just comfortably (seemed to me). Went to mostly circling behavior, which isn't desirable in the long run (want them to always keep the livestock between them and you) but instructor said not to worry about it for the moment.

I had to push her back from coming in at the goats only a couple of times, and I had started to figure out how to walk with the goats without tripping over them or getting my coat caught on their horns. So then I practiced getting her to change direction and mostly just tried to keep walking the goats in straight lines back and forth across the small pen without getting them too close to the wall and keeping my eyes on my dog (a lot like agility--the instant you take your eyes of your dog, bad things happen!) and on using the long stick appropriately when needed to push Boost back or give her a little directional help. Another thing where the human needs to be at least as agile and coordinated as the dog, if not more so!

That's basically all it was. Someday I might have enough clue about what's really good herding and what's really bad and what the terminology is and all that. Or maybe not. This turned into a 6-hour trip including commute, lunch, waiting, and the long combined lesson. And not cheap, either.

But I really liked the instructor, I had fun chatting away about dogs and herding and agility on the way there and back, and it was well worth the experience.

Oh--I took my camera but it never came out of the car. The herding instinct test video from a year ago looks a lot like her first session today.


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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Foxes and Sheepies

SUMMARY: A long drive, Boost is a herding dog, Tika isn't, and there's a fox out there in the field!

I drove to Vacaville this morning with a lonnnnng-time friend; we've been vowing to do more things together and, after our trip to Golden Gate Park (sans dogs) a month or so ago, this was our next adventure, since I knew about one microbraincell more about herding than she did--maybe. At least I got to sleep in until almost 6! Not like 4 a.m. for agility!

Turned out to be a lovely day for a drive--beautiful sunrise with just the remnants of what had been rain clouds overnight.

The lecturer/tester, Deborah Pollard, was the one recommended to me by the testers in Arizona. I liked her style of working with the dogs much more, and she was much better about explaining to all of us naive onlookers about what she was doing, what she was observing, what the dog was doing, what might be some training things to note, and so on. All intriguing and educational. Now I know *two* microbraincells about herding.

Tika was the first dog up and really wanted to have nothing to do with it. She wanted to come back to Mom. She'd periodically dive in at the sheep, barking,and then lunge away to try to come back to Mom. Eventually Deborah had me come out in the pen with her, so then Tika reverted to moving away with her back to us and sniffing. D. asked me whether I intended to do herding with Tika, and I said not (especially now that I've seen 2 tests with her where she's not evidenced the moves), and she said that's probably good--Tika could probably learn to do herding, but "her heart's not in it," which I'd now agree with. Written evaluation includes "Nice dog but not for herding. Too much fear/prey drive." Here's a short clip of the first 2 minutes of Tika's session.

Boost, once again, did well. Her strong propensity to stay on her right lead (circle clockwise) really shows why she had no trouble making weave entries when bending to the right but always ran past them when bearing left: She really doesn't like being on her left lead! This gives me something to really be on the lookout for in agility--are there other patterns or situations where that weakness becomes apparent and manifests itself? And I could do some exercises with her just circling jumps on her left lead. Intriguing!

Here's about 5 minutes of Boost's session.

After I got home, I was standing in the kitchen telling my renter about the experience, half gazing out the window at the huge expanse of field (surrounded by suburban housing tracts) that will one day be a park, and noticed an odd-looking cat way out in the golden grass. "Is that a big cat," I asked, "or is it a fox?" "It's a fox!" he said, and we both ran for our binoculars.

Sure enough, there seems to be a fox living in those 300 acres. Wonder what'll happen to him (and, presumably, his friends and relatives) when they finally start building the park?

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Assorted Notes from Nationals Final Thoughts

SUMMARY: More assorted notes and thoughts.

"Free" handouts at check-in: T-shirt (nice, with 20th-anniversary info on back). Some sort of wallet or card holder thingie with the USDAA logo--I guess I'll donate that to my club's raffle. A round white plastic thingie with the USDAA logo, not sure what it's supposed to be, maybe a zipper pull? The usual nice keepsake pin. And--that's it.

Some final thoughts and memories:
  • Slim pickings at check-in (see photo):I realize that my entry fees pay for this stuff, but they couldn't find any vendors who wanted to donate or sponsor or even co-sponser check-in goodies? This is the World Championships, fer pete's sake. But maybe I'm spoiled; we don't usually give any check-in goodies at Bay Team trials any more. Hmmm, I wonder what they got in Norway at the other World Championships?
  • Vendors: OK, I'll admit that I mostly avoided the vendors this year to help my budget. But I always shop at Clean Run, and they weren't there. Neither was the vendor of the heavy-duty carts to whom I referred some people. Neither was the guy with the PVC dog beds for which I need replacement mats. In fact--the whole vendor area seemed extremely sparse. Are vendors not selling anything here and they've given up? Or did Westworld kill 'em (like Twin Creeks stupidly mostly did to Bay Team vendors)? Or did USDAA? That's always been one thing worth attending the nationals for--the shopping opportunities you don't get elsewhere. But not so much this year. Pity. One less reason to go.
  • Organization: Seemed to me that things went much more smoothly overall this year than in some past years. There were plenty of course maps, unlike in previous years. I still like the large computer displays with results, but they weren't showing all results (e.g., team standings), and although the binders were good for keeping the results organized, it was hard to stay up to date with 600 people all trying to read one page at a time of 30 pages of results. Overall, communication seemed to be better, things seemed to start on time, and I didn't see any major glitches with anything. A reason TO go.
  • Herding: For the second year, I took Boost for a 10-minute herding instinct test with three cooperative goats. Again, she seemed to do very well. But what do I know? The lady recommended a trainer in Vacaville (if someone in Arizona knows about someone in Vacaville, that speaks well), although I have no interest in driving 2 hours each way and paying a ton of $ to stand around while my dog gets all the fun. Still, my teammate noted that the border collie group with which she's associated is hosting an instinct test with real sheepies PLUS introductory lecture this weekend from the very lady recommended. In Vacaville. So I signed both dogs up; might as well give Tika one more go at it, since she flunked last year. It is scary signing the disclaimer about paying for damaged or destroyed livestock, but I think Tika's too much of a wuss and would be easily deterred if she seemed inclined to grab.
  • That lost purple riot tug After last year, when I lost two purple riot tugs and found only one, I was VERY careful with mine this year. But, lo, it vanished anyway. This year I got lucky; I checked lost and found one last time before leaving, and there it was. Whew! (I've put labels on 'em, but with all the dog activity, they don't stay.)
  • Getting whistled off: I thought that everyone was leaving the course after they Eed because they wanted to. Much to my surprise, when Tika Eed halfway through the Grand Prix quarterfinal and I kept going, the judge insisted that I leave. Someone told me later that, yes, that was in the rules somewhere (buried in 12 pages of fine print in the premium or elsewhere). Can you imagine driving 12 hours, paying $900 overall for your week at Scottsdale, and not being allowed to finish your run? At least we had 6 classes over the 5 days, not just one. And I realize that the days would've been much longer if they weren't whistling people off. But, jeez... it just doesn't seem right. (I finished the course anyway, saying "oh, sorry," or something like that, since I need to keep Tika moving or we'd be standing in the middle of the ring with her mouth attached permanently to my shoes.)
  • Reserved seating in the bleachers: Every year the premium says (I'm going to have to brush up on my fine-print memorization) that you're not supposed to reserve seating in the bleachers. Every year, people do it. So we do, too, because otherwise latecomers find no seats, or none near friends and teammates. The "out" is that it says that if the personal belongings are "unattended for any length of time" they can be cleared. So we counted how many people we had, amassed most of us at the bleachers with seat-saving towels, and arranged a schedule whereby we all took turns sitting in the bleachers attending our seats. Which is more than most people did--there were plenty of unattended belongings. There were things going on in the ring all day, and with more than one of us there, we had people to talk to, so it wasn't bad duty, and this still allowed folks to get meals, attend to their dogs, run their final runs, and so on, without getting shut out of the seating. It's not a perfect system. But I love sitting with all my friends and sharing information about the people who are running (or not). A big reason to go!
  • Attendance at the big events: I said "find no seats," but this year the bleachers never filled for any of the final events. This is the first year that I haven't noticed it being standing-room-only, at least for the Steeplechase and Grand Prix finals. Are people getting jaded? Funny. Maybe it IS time for them to move to a different part of the country so people again appreciate the opportunity to watch.
  • I can't say often enough how much I enjoyed watching all the final events. The full-crowd participation adds a lot, too; everyone is rooting for everyone to do well. I love it. And it provides inspiration for what to work on for next year to enable YOU YOURSELF to appear in the finals, you're SURE of it.
  • OK, I think that's almost all I have to say about this year. See you next year, with BOTH dogs! I'm SURE of it!

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