Poor Gel had a melt down this morning … and I learned a lot from it! This was not the first time and probably won’t be the last that I’ve put him in a position where he gets overwhelmed. Gel does not like pressure, never has and probably never will. It is now my job to anticipate this and to keep him where he needs to be so that he can work through the episode without shutting down. He didn’t shut down on me this morning, but it was close. Good dog.
I had the brainy idea of taking a small number of lambs out of the fenced-in area where they stay normally and work them in the large field that abuts the fenced-in area. My rationale for this was that the lambs I was working would be heavier moving away from the others and give Gel some good driving practice. Normally when I take the whole flock out, as soon as Gel gets behind them, they high tail it off at such a rapid pace I get left behind and Gel looses contact with them.
In theory, it should have worked, but they were lambs and lambs never do what you think they are going to do. It was extremely difficult to get them to move away from the rest of the crew. I gave up on trying to get Gel to drive them away and instead had him wear them to me. That worked okay, but when we got about 50 yards away and I set him up to begin driving, the lambs doubled back to the fence. I sent Gel for them, and I see it in my mind now as clear as a bell, but I didn’t see it then: I put Gel in a very high-pressure situation and was too far away to help him.
When there’s pressure, Gel starts to flank wider and wider off the stock, thereby completely loosing contact. When he looses contact, the stock escapes. One of the lambs rolled herself over the fence back in with the rest of the flock which left us with three. The more I tried to direct Gel in an effort to pull the remaining lambs off the fence and back out into the field, the less responsive Gel became and the more frantic the lambs got. When I could see it was a no-win situation for all involved, I asked Gel to fetch the lambs to the gate knowing they’d readily go in that direction and I put them up. It was really hard for me not to loose patience with Gel, but I remained cool and made sure he ended on a successful note.
As with agility, I saw the holes in our training this morning. Instead of expecting Gel to do what he normally does when there was so much pressure, I should have gone in there and helped him. He can do the work, I know he can, it’s a matter of keeping him in the position where he can work and be successful until he becomes more confident in high pressure situations.
When I trial him, I need to make it a point of watching the stock so I’ll have an idea of where the draws are so I can plan and position him accordingly. This is tough for someone who still does not have a lot of stock sense, at least not when I have to think on the fly. One day, it will come, I hope!
I had a very good training session with Fern this morning. She’s so bright and responsive to training. We worked on lie downs and a bit on targeting. I am pleased that I can tie her out when I’m working Gel and know that she’ll be quiet. I did work Gel in the fenced-in area before I took the lambs out into the field and I noticed Fern was paying attention to the movement of the sheep. She hadn’t done this before. I think she might still be leery about working sheep at home so I’m not going to try it for now. She can keep working the ducks. Those ducks are proving to be very useful creatures. If only they’d start laying again.