Friday, June 6, 2008

Multiplying Toads and Training Progress

It seems every time I dump the stock tank in the main pasture (every couple of days), there's a new toad under there. I started with just one, and am now up to four--three larger ones, two of which are grey and one red, and a smaller grey one. I don't find them under any of the other tanks--just the one in the big pasture. They all vacate the area whenever I dump the tank, but as soon as it's back in place, they must go right back under (they can get under because the pasture slopes and so I have a board under one end to level it, making a perfect hidey hole for critters of the amphibian set). The last time I dumped the tank I later found one of the toads basking in the dog's kiddie pool. I didn't know if he could get out, so I helped him out and off he went back to stock tank hotel. I'll be curious to see, as it continues to be hot and dry, just how many toads I'll end up with! Speaking of kiddie pools, I need to put one out in the pasture for Maia. I don't think the spring runs in the hottest weather (at least not above ground) and since I've seen her get in the stock tank to cool off, she might enjoy a pool of her own!

The Education of Raven
I have been trying to get Raven out in the round pen every day. It's gotten so hot here that I'm now getting up at the crack of dawn to work dogs. The very good thing about having Raven here is that she motivates me to get all the young dogs worked!

Raven has made tremendous progress in just a few weeks and with sheep that aren't really appropriate for beginner dogs. She started out much like her siblings Pip and Phoebe--a bowling ball with alligator teeth. In the beginning I thought I might need to buy stock in Blu-Kote and screw worm spray, but that phase lasted a very short while. The issues we started with were a reluctance to even go toward the sheep, let alone around them, or the mad dash in, teeth flashing. All of this is young dog stuff, but it was a little tricky because if I corrected Raven for the bad stuff, then she wanted to shut down and do nothing. I resorted to not letting her get away with just lying down and not moving--even going so far as taking her by the collar and walking her up to the sheep and around them. The other thing that helped was for me to go to the sheep and just ignore her. After a short while she'd get up and come toward the sheep herself and then I could step off and encourage her to go on around. The interesting thing about taking a dog who's nearly two is that they can take a lot more mental pressure than a much younger dog. The other interesting thing is that you can see big changes every day, which isn't always the case with a much younger dog, where the changes seem to be more incremental (largely because you don't want to put the same kind of pressure on a less mature mind).

Last night and again this morning we had some obvious breakthroughs. Raven is very one-sided and really prefers to go to the left. Until yesterday, if I switched my position to use body pressure to get her to turn to the right, she would simply stop and refuse to move. But last night, she actually started staying on her feet and moving away from my body pressure and to the right. She's way less comfortable going that way, which means that she slices in a bit and will try to grab sheep as she's going around, but this is a HUGE change for her. This morning, she was readily flanking around to the right, albeit still with plenty of tension. Also this morning I started doing mini-outruns with her, though only to the left. Now, when we walk into the pen, she'll still cling next to me, but if I give her some "shushes" she will go ahead and do a nice little outrun to the left. I won't push her on going right until she's a little more comfortable going in that direction.

We're not getting much wearing/fetching in, because the sheep are not dog-broke enough to stick to me when a young dog is behind them, so I pretty much have to catch them on the fly and start running backward to allow Raven a few steps of a fetch before the sheep blow past me and she flanks around to their heads to stop them.

Overall, the work is a lot calmer. I can see her starting to think and include me in the picture as well. It's not all frantic dashing about--her tension level is dropping and she's really thinking about what she's doing. Also, we've gone from a dog who would stop on her belly in the middle of the round pen and refuse to move to one who doesn't want to stop. That's a good change as far as I'm concerned because I'd rather have to work on stopping a keen one than begging a reluctant one up to work.

Having flown all the way from Alaska, I'm sure her world has been turned pretty much upside down. I'm quite sure she's not had to live in the kind of heat (upper 90s) we're experiencing now. Aside from the sheep work, I think the whole experience is maturing her in other ways. As I told her owner, I have been working with her evasive/manipulative behaviors off sheep and that has helped to build our relationship on sheep as well. If I call her and she flops over submissively on her back, she gets no reward (i.e, I don't try to cajole her into coming to me). She gets a verbal correction and I call her again. If she doesn't respond appropriately that time, she gets another verbal correction and I go get her and walk her to where I was when I called her. I then walk away and call her again. At that point, she usually comes right up and then she gets praise. Now she's pretty reliable about coming the first time I call and not acting all silly about it. Likewise when she's tied waiting her turn to work, if I go to get her and she flops over on her back, I don't bend down to unhook the leash. Instead I call her name, and when she sits up in response, then the leash comes off.

I'm having great fun with her. I can't wait to get her in a larger area and see how she comes along there. But I need sheep that are a bit more appropriate, because the sheep in my flock would just try to outrun her, and it's no good setting up something that will likely turn into a chase scene. So I plan to get a few dog broke sheep for her this summer (they'll withstand working in heat better than wool sheep as well and I can use them for my other youngsters too) and then sell them later in the fall. I can see already that once I have more appropriate sheep Raven will start progressing in leaps and bounds!


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I REALLY enjoyed reading about how you are training Raven; learned a lot!

Julie said...

Thanks. I'm trying to keep regular updates going here....