Pressure Cooker

Since our melt down yesterday, Gel has been acting a bit odd. Part of me thinks I should back off stock work for a few days (or weeks) and let things settle down, but when I think about that, I realize backing off isn’t going to address the problem. I know there have been times when we’ve worked stock that I’ve let Gel down and to some extent, he has reason not to trust me.

Learning to train a stock dog, how to read stock, etc. is extremely difficult to do on your own. I never go about things the easy way; why should I think this is any different? I’m glad I have a lesson tomorrow while Gel and I are in this funk so that hopefully we can work through it on different stock in a fresh location.

I spoke to my agility instructor about the problem we had and asked if she had any suggestions. She said that most dogs do not like pressure so it is not surprising that Gel doesn’t like it. Also, his personality and training history also indicate that he is not comfortable with pressure. Unfortunately life is pressure. We use pressure in agility and herding and our dogs must learn to work with it. She told me that I needed to reward highly when I put Gel in a high pressure situation and off-set the pressure work with something that is rewarding for Gel such as fetching the sheep to me. I know this and try to keep it in mind when I’m working, but often I forget. I used to think that getting to work sheep was reward enough for the dog, and for some, it likely is, but Gel has previously been conditioned to get rewards from his environment, so getting to work sheep is not always reward enough for him. Is that a flaw in his character? Some would say so.

That Gel does not like to come into me while doing agility is evidence of his avoidance of pressure in that environment. Part of the reason he doesn’t like to come in is that he’s almost always been rewarded at a distance. That has given him great distance skills, but he needs to be tightened up to be competitive in agility, which means he needs to learn to both work independently at a distance and to come in to me when asked. I’ve got what my instructor calls the “Circle of Death” set up in my side yard for practice. The Circle of Death is a set of six (or more) jumps set in a tight circle. I am to practice serpentines and threadles in this pattern. It’s hard for both of us.

Hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes with Fern.

Gel and I have come a long way from when we first started working stock, almost two years ago now. I am confident that we’ll work through this and we’ll both learn from it.