Last May I went to Patrick Shannahan's clinic for young dogs and I had a difficult time. Truthfully I had a terrible time. My head was in a negative space. When I say negative - I actually mean that my brain had been sucked into a negative vortex larger than the vacant space between Nancy Pelosi's ears.
I am not sure what I had going on emotionally and/or mentally - beyond the obvious mental problems already present. Maybe stress from home, kids, lack of sleep? Only my therapist really knows and thankfully she isn't telling.
When I told my friends I signed up for the same clinic again - their jaws dropped. They remembered my endless, obsessive complaining following the 1st clinic and wondered why I would go again.
But I liked Patrick and the way he worked with dogs and people. Let's be honest here, obviously the problem here wasn't clinic - it was me.
What it boiled down to was my attitude. I was talking to John last night about what approach I was going to take in writing about this clinic. When I told him what I was thinking he said something that startled me - since I normally don't expect such insightful things to come out of his mouth. He said "It is easy to have a good attitude when your dog does well, but when it sucks...it is a whole different matter". He was right - and for a moment I remembered why I loved him. Then he started snoring while I was still talking...
Last May Bonnie had a very difficult time - which I allowed to pollute my attitude. She liked the sheep well enough but at the first sign of pressure from Patrick she bolted. Sheep just were not important enough for her to handle the pressure.
This year at the clinic Patrick said several times "Is this the same dog as last year?". I was very proud of her.
The changes in Bonnie are not just on sheep. Looking back over the year I can see changes in many different areas. For example, she plays with toys, fetches balls, plays tug etc. I wonder if that has anything to do with her improvement on sheep? Perhaps her self confidence is growing? What ever it is, I like it.
The clinic was wonderful. Patrick has a way of explaining things that make sense for people at all levels. What I appreciate is his approach to working with many different personalities.
A training style may work for one person, but not for the next. The challenge is to adapt a particular instructor's training style to fit your individual needs or strength. It isn't about a precise technique, rather how to communicate what you need and want from the dog in a way that is clear and consistent.
The basics are everything.
If you cant walk at a comfortable pace without the dog shoving the sheep right over you - then you are not ready to move on to anything else.
Anyone want to tell me why it has taken 2.5 years for this to get through my brain? The push I have felt get my dog into a bigger field doing bigger and better outruns has been self imposed. Big beautiful outruns are wonderful. But if your dog never learned how to lift the sheep, move them at a reasonable pace, feel their bubble, respect your space - then what is the freaking point?
For example: Beth's outruns are gorgeous. But when she gets to the top she crashes into the sheep and then shoves them down the field like her ass is on fire. If I had spent more time working with Beth on the simple techniques I learned at the clinic, these things could be corrected. (When her leg heals - we will start at the beginning again - before we move out to a larger field).
I have been compensating for Bonnie. I haven't been walking...I have been running. God only knows, this may be good for my cardiovascular health, but it sucks for my over burdened joints.
I was just trying to stay ahead of the sheep while Bonnie pushed harder and harder. Wearing, weaving and anxiously letting her eye pull her right up their butts. It isn't a matter of her not respecting me or not listening. It is very difficult for her to listen to something I am not communicating clearly or consistently.
Bonnie is hooked on the sheep, she has eye, she has push, she wants to please me. Because I have not been able to convey what I wanted, Bonnie compensated for me by packing the sheep up against me as tightly as possible. Then I would start yelling "LIE DOWN". Waving my stick first at her nose, then at her head....even sometimes throwing it at her. She responded by running faster and faster, circling me more and more.
What I learned this weekend through many repetitions: When Bonnie starts to push the sheep too hard, or is too close. Walk through the sheep, with a strong "AH", waving my stick back and forth, say "out".
THIS IS THE KEY - The minute I see Bonnie's head turn, like she wants to leave and backs off...I give her the sheep, sending her around. If she comes in too fast, close or hard...walk through the sheep again, wave my stick - push her out. Again and again and again until she gets it through her head that she needs to stay back.
Monday morning following the clinic I had a session with Dianne Deal. Building on the foundation I practiced with Patrick - we had a break through *insert happy dance here*.
If you saw the video with Brynn (below) - you can see that she feels her sheep. She stays off of them. She does not wear (weave back and forth). You stop, she stops (most of the time). She is respectful of your ground and the sheep (to a degree). You so much as bob that stick and she turns out, giving the sheep more room.
I can back up, slowly. Bonnie has stopped the wearing, weaving and darting around. She walks in a straight line - at my pace. She is finally starting to feel the sheep bubble. WOW!
I say "out" and bob my stick...she bends. WOW!
The single most important thing I learned this weekend: Keep all emotion and inflection out of the given command.
I can correct Bonnie, I can go at her...wave my stick, growl, bark "AH HA", say her name in a gruff or questioning manner, but the minute I say that command...lower my voice and say it quietly, confidently and gently "lie down".
Make the command sanctuary, the correction should be uncomfortable - in the command is relief.
How many times have I been told that same thing?
Sometimes the most obvious things in life are the hardest to learn.
Here is a link to an excellent article Patrick wrote about corrections
Correction: Such a Negative Word for Such a Positive Result
To sum it up, the clinic was wonderful. It moved at a fast pace & full of relevant information. Patrick tries to apply the issues each dog is having to the group as a whole, keeping you involved even when you are not working your dog. He is a gifted instructor and handler.
It was wonderful to see old friends and new faces.
I highly recommend making a trip to Idaho for lessons with either Patrick or Dianne Deal. It is well worth the trip and time investment. The Boise area is sheep herding Mecca.
Patrick Shannahan's website: Red Top Kennels
Dianne Deal's website: Orchard Run Border Collies
If you would like to see the horrible pictures I shot of everyone click the link below:
January 2010 Patrick Shannhan Clinic
Wednesday night in photography class I learned about this thing called "equivalent exposure" and how I could have set my camera to pick up the action yet allow enough light in that these pictures would have turned out nicer. *sigh* Lesson learned.
As all things in life...there is always a next time.
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