I am out of town this week, meeting with the good people at Dogwise in Wenatchee, WA. So I’m reprinting a post from 2010, which has me grinning like a fool because 1) It’s fun for me to read about Willie’s early driving lessons nine years ago, and 2) I’m using similar techniques with Maggie after watching videos on the Macrae’s online training program. You’ll see in my post that Willie needed to learn to drive the sheep in a straight line. Maggie, on the other hand, would drive sheep for miles in a line so straight it would bring tears of joy to an engineer. But she needs to learn to push on heavy sheep, rather than let them set the pace, so we’re again using Alisdair’s magic cones for another purpose.
So here’s a post from September 2010, with lessons from sheep herding that relate to everyone who has a dog:
Ah, lucky me. Last week I had two half-hour lessons with Alisdair McRae, who won the Open class on both Saturday and Sunday at the Portage Trial this weekend, which is pretty much par for the course with him. He is also a clear and kind teacher, and he understands herding dogs as well as anyone in the world.
I write this because my lessons reminded me of the universal importance of creating a win for our dogs, and the universal difficulty in always knowing how to do that. I wanted to work on my timing; Willie and I are doing nice outruns and fetches, but our drives look like zig zags instead of the lovely straight lines we are all attempting to achieve. I felt like I was always one step behind, and never able to react fast enough to turn the sheep back to where I wanted them to go. Alisdair said the problem isn’t your timing, you just need to slow down the pace. Miracle of miracles, in a few minutes Willie and I were doing so much better, but not just because we had slowed the sheep to a walk, but because Alisdair had made it easier for both of us.
He set out traffic cones in a lane that made it easier for my mind to see a straight line, and he made the drive very, very short, to make it easier for Willie. Once a dog gets too far away from his handler he begins to worry he’ll lose the sheep, begins to panic and either speeds up or flanks around to the other side and brings the sheep back to you, while you call and whistle yourself silly. He also set up a mini-trial course; I swear it looked like a trial course for a doll house, and told us to practice it until we were both comfortable at that distance, and then make it a bit larger overall.
“What’s important,” he said, “is that your dog is having fun.” And part of having fun is being capable of doing what is asked, yes? Such wise words, and true not just for dogs but for owners as well. I’ve found that so much of my consulting work was helping people understand the difficulty of what they were asking their dog to do, and helping them find ways to break it down into manageable pieces for the dog. But it was also my job to create exercises that were fun for the owners; things that they too were capable of, that made training fun for them as well as for the dog.
But it’s not always obvious how to break something into manageable pieces, is it? I knew to try short drives with Willie, but it never occurred to me to help my own brain by creating an alley-way, and the drive that Alisdair constructed was much shorter than I had been attempting. I drove home from the lessons thinking about the universal application of “setting our dogs up to win.” (And us too.)
I’m curious now: Is there something that you’ve been working on that would profit by making it easier for you and your dog? Or do you have a story for others to help them find ways for both them and their dog to win? (I’ll be you do!) I’d love to hear ’em.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Here are some photos from last week (we’re back in 2019 now!), with crazy color inside the house, and the hint of it outside.
One thing that has helped me is to stop trying to jump the the end goal (cleaning Sophy’s teeth properly, for example), and concentrate on the process of getting there in tiny incremental steps (this week I am going to teach Sophy to be happy with me putting the brush into her mouth). This was after I spoiled her earlier compliance by trying to do too much – if she let me brush them, perhaps I could also flick some of the tartar off with my thumb nail – and Sophy decided to ban brushing altogether. My vet laughed when I told him we were back up to 4 brush strokes, but six months later she was accepting a thorough brushing, provided I used her favourite toothpaste and didn’t attempt any flicking. And that was the other thing – learning to compromise. Poppy is very, very good about being groomed (an essential life skill for a poodle) but hates having her feet trimmed with an electric clipper, so I do them with small scissors – not as neat, but easier on her. In a competition you need to aim for 100% perfection, but in most other things in life the 80/20 rule applies, and accepting that less than perfect can still get the job done may make life much more relaxed all round!
MaryLynne Barber says
You’re in Wenatchee – I live in Wenatchee! Are you doing any public appearance?
Chris from Boise says
Such an important – and difficult! – concept. Thank you Frances for the report on Sophy and tooth-brushing; Rowan and I are (well, I am) struggling with breaking tooth-brushing down into infinitesimal steps. Your post was a perfectly timed nudge to NOT force it. Habi took a month to accept a toothbrush, Obi two weeks, and our new “princess” Rowan is at three months. Aargh! But she’s now letting me put my fingers in her mouth…
It’s one of those things that’s easy to understand intellectually, but oh so hard to put into practice. Obi is a star learner, and picks things up by telepathy, it seems. Rowan – smart as the dickens, but relatively new at learning, and a little timid about trying – is a humbling experience. She is unwittingly a very good teacher. Setting her up to win by starting at (or before) the beginning and splitting behaviors into tiny, tiny steps has built her confidence a lot. She wilts under pressure, so it’s easy to see when we’ve moved from “This is FUN!” to “Oh dear, I don’t know what to do – I think I’d best retire to the couch with a case of the vapors”. This forces impetuous me to be a more perceptive trainer. 🙂
Monika, Sam & Elsa says
Exquisite spring flowers!
I didn’t get a chance to post last week but I wanted to say BIG thank you for the hot air balloon advice. I have been busy implementing that and this morning had a small win when Kona walked out the front door and saw a balloon in the middle distance. Instead of descending immediately into the red mist of rage he barked a few times, then allowed me to distract him off to the side (playing “find it”!) We successfully walked down the street away from the balloon with only the occasional warning bark thrown over his shoulder. WOW!
We still have a loooong way to go and I don’t imagine he will ever be comfortable with unnatural flying things like balloons and helicopters but a calmer poodle makes for a happier poodle owner.
Thanks again for all your, and the communities, sage advice.
Chris Johnson says
Here’s a good book for those of you working on teeth and other grooming issues, and it’s available through Dogwise! https://www.dogwise.com/cooperative-care-seven-steps-to-stress-free-husbandry/#