The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Let 'em Soak

I used to take outside horses to ride every once in a while. We lived on a ranch and had lots of opportunity to give horses work, so occasionally people would send us horses that were having problems. Without fail, the first thing we did was turn them out in the horse pasture, about 40 acres, and let them relax. It cleared their minds, removed all the training pressure and let them just be horses for a while .

When I got Don it occurred to me that he had been trained a lot and most of it was ineffective. He sliced flanks like crazy. He took the wrong flanks regularly. He grabbed sheep with a vengence, ran through the stop and had absolutely no feel for stock at all. I worked him a few times and he seemed to improve a bit, so to find out what I really had, I took him to a bigger field and sent him several hundred yards, then waited to see what he did. I wasn't even a little surprised to see him cross over, blow me off completely, blow sheep off the lift like a tsunami, grab one by the leg and hang and rattle, then leave some behind while chasing the others. Ok, so I knew what I had.

I went back to the small field and schooled him, but every time I spoke to this dog he either turned tail on his sheep or hit his belly and ducked his head. It's hard to teach an animal when they're afraid of working for you and this dog was pressured up beyond his ability to recover. He was tense in general and in particular on stock, so, I put him up for a while. I let him soak. Except for morning walks, he stayed in his kennel, even while the other dogs were out or being worked, Don stayed in his kennel. I made him lay down before I set down his food and I made him stay down until I said he could eat. A few times while we walked I would call him to me and make him lay down. I didn't make eye contact with him when I walked by his kennel and I fed him last. My intent was to show him, without correction, that good behavior has it's rewards, so as he began to soften, i lightened up.

After some days I tried him again. I set up a situation where he would be tempted to grip. I flanked him between the fence and his sheep and he immediately grabbed one by the leg and hung on. I didn't yell or scream or correct him physically. I told him "that'll do", grabbed him by the collar and took him to his kennel. After days in there, he hadn't been out on stock 5 minutes and he went back in.

I repeated the plan above for a few more days then gave him another chance. I could tell when I walked him in the mornings that his attitude had improved. He was more attentive to me and much more interested in my approval so I gave him another try. I did the same thing and flanked him between the fence and his sheep. With enthusiasm, he flanked around his sheep as pretty as you please and, as an added bonus, stopped on a dime when I asked. I tested the stop a few more times. Beautiful! I thought, well, that worked. I sent him on a little gather. He left my feet like he meant it and was wide and deep at the top. Again he stopped on a dime. I flanked him off the pressure in both directions and he made the most beautiful sweeping turns. More instant stops. He had a lovely fetch and brought them all. He was having fun and I was too. He was such a good boy on that day and all I did was let him soak and figure out a better way.

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