April 17, 2006

Herding lessons

One of the humbling things about our herding classes is not what I don't know, so much as what I do know that I forget under the pressure of sheep, audience, enthusiastic dog ...

I know that the goal in training is not to control or coerce Dusty, but rather to help her learn to control herself. This is what I do in agility and obedience, but somehow in the sheep yard all I can think of is controlling her actions. In my defense I think it is a common beginner mistake to keep pressure on the dog , never giving him a chance to choose to do it right or do it wrong.

Robert's repeated instructions to me were aimed at getting me to put pressure on to correct her, and then immediately take pressure off the moment she responded. If she didn't need to be corrected then she was to be left alone.

As an illustration, in our first lesson he got me to stand at one end of the yard, and to just let Dusty bring the sheep down to me. I did find this hard, but every time I went to 'help' or 'correct' Robert would say "Stand on the chain!" and I'd go back to the dangling end of the gate chain. Left to her own devices, Dusty did very well. She brought the sheep down to us without fuss or bother. Robert pointed out that most of the fuss and bother was provided by me.

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