Sunday, April 10, 2011

Like glue

The novice sheepdog trialler's lament: "At home, she does it perfectly!"

What I'd like to know (and feel free to offer input- the worst I can do is delete your comment) is- how on earth are we supposed to sort out an issue before a trial if the bloody mongrel only produces the issue on the trial ground? Hmn?

Case in point: Fly and her sticky cast.

Now I have multiple issues with Fly, and yes, some of them should be "sortable" at home and I do need to pull my finger out and sort them. But what is really blowing any motivation I have for training her as well as chance of our success at present is the fact that she sticks on her cast. She will run maybe 3/4 of the way down the ground (maybe 30% if she's feeling particularly obnoxious) and then she sticks. If I whistle her on, she'll jerk forward and creep a few paces, then re-stick, repeat ad nauseum until we've shed a good wad of points, then when she gets to the edge of the danger zone, she'll zoom around behind them and pick them up, often over-running in the process. Her lift is often fairly straight, but the tension that's built on her creeping approach has already stirred the sheep up, to say nothing for the dog and the handler. So by the time she collects the sheep, they're planning a hell-for-leather escape down the ground, Fly is hyped up beyond listening, and I'm developing a migraine. It's usually irrepairable damage. I've tried sending her to the heads or to the tails, and while she's better going to the tails, she'll usually still stick.

At home, of course, she doesn't do it. She doesn't stick on a mob, and even when I set up a few sheep in a hook-pen type arrangement in the training paddock, she won't stick.

Look- I have proof:

Fly casting in our little training paddock. She was a bit over this exercise, which we had repeated a few times, and she was quite footsore (delicate tootsies, those Scottish dogs), but this is what she does every time (except quicker, usually, and she usually stops in a stand), in big paddcoks or small yards, on light sheep or heavy sheep, on mobs or just a few. See? Not sticking, and she does listen to her stop whistle!

I have no video of her casting in a trial, but here's a technical diagram. Probably the handler's face should be bright crimson or even puce, but otherwise it's pretty accurate:

So, clever readers, thoughts?

My whining about this problem was overheard by our local trialling sage, a figure slight in stature but enormous in presence, wisdom and experience, much like a sheepdogging Yoda but with smaller ears. He did give me some food for thought when he asked me if Fly is looking for sheep when I send her out around a mob at home. On consideration, she isn't- she's totally focussed on the sheep she sees immediately ahead of her, and that may be the issue. Perhaps it isn't a casting problem, it's a focus problem, and I think what Yoda was getting at is that if I can free up her intense focus on the trial ground, she may lose the stick. So I'm thinking of heading out and working on some shedding/recollecting, "look back" type exercises, which I have never done with Fly. We'll see how it goes.