With Ty, I tend to forget that the first year of Bonnie's schooling was completely under the supervision of an expert. Not so, my Ty dog, for whom the high price of gasoline has forced a much more seat-of-the-pants approach. There are good and bad sides to this. On the good side, I have to learn to read my dog and his readiness to progress all on my lonesome. That really helps me learn to watch my dog for cues. On the bad side, I make really stupid mistakes.
For example, after Ty had been moving the goats around the small pen, and then, with a good bit of drama, teaching them that they didn't have a choice about going through the gate into the dark and brambly forest where they were supposed to be grazing down the firebreak, I got a little above myself. Ty was doing okay on this straight fetch through the familiar corral. And he was doing so nicely on sheep. I figured he would also do okay moving the goats around a big open area, so I brought him in through the gate too, and asked him to gather them up.
I did stop him . . . after awhile. And my goats only suffered small flesh wounds. I suppose I should be grateful for getting off so lightly. But the difference between placid, dogbroke sheep in a flat field and a wild mix of spooked kids and dairy does in a forest was one I hadn't bargained for. Not doing that again for awhile.
It is so easy to forget how young Ty is. This despite every experienced trainer I talk to saying the same thing: he's young yet. You have plenty of time. There's no need to rush things. Training is safer and smoother if you let your dog mature before starting in. Ty still eats pencils and steals gloves. He's a kid. At the same age, Bonnie was a yipping fool, racing around the round pen she wouldn't be leaving for months.
Our last practice on sheep, I began trying to leave him on a down, at least getting a few feet away, before sending him to gather; the sheep, you understand, being about ten feet away. This turned out to be a major struggle. The second I took one step away, he was off like a rocket. I fought him and fought him, unwilling to give in. Finally my friend stepped in and helped by putting him on a long line and stepping on it if he broke his stay. But he still was not getting the concept.
It was all about timing. When I waited until I knew the sheep were positioned for him to pick them up easily, and when I released him at least a microsecond before he lost control and went off without the word, it was easy! He is a natural worker with a great sense of cover and a relaxed, confident style. When I set him up to succeed, gosh he looks great. When I am clumsy or over-confident, or just as bad, over-protective of the stock, we do some crashing and burning.
So, to help my dog at the macro-level—is he ready for this challenge? and at the micro-level—am I cueing him at the right time so that he succeeds? —it is all about timing. That's my reflection for today.