I elected to work with Cian first. Kevin Evans (“Kevin”) knows Cian’s father, Whiterose Kep. Cian had some difficulty taking the sheep off the setter, but eventually he managed to do so. Then we started working. Kevin said that if anything, Cian was too natural. All he wanted to do was to balance the sheep to me. That’s a good thing, but getting him to go off balance is part of the reason why he flanks off into outer space. Unlike what I’ve been told by several other handlers, Kevin said that when he flanks off, to lie him down and then call him in. When he starts the frantic flanking back and forth, to lie him down and immediately ask him back up again. When he’s walking in straight, let him have his sheep, as soon as the flipping starts, lie him down again. He uses the lie down as a correction. “Lie down!” you are wrong.
I told Kevin that I thought that I had done Gel a great disservice by walking backwards for miles just having him keep stock to me. Gel is another one that is extremely natural. I thought that’s what we were going to do with Cian during the exercise he was showing me (wearing and letting Cian balance sheep to me). Quite the contrary. We were constantly asking Cian to go off balance and to flank in directions that were not comfortable for him. As soon as it got uncomfortable, he’d flank out, coming off the pressure, we’d lie him down and then call him back in.
In didn’t take long before I saw the smoke start to come out of Cian’s ears. His brain was burning up. This was the first time I’ve honestly seen Cian tired while working stock. We were making a thinking dog out of him. It wasn’t about balancing stock to me (something he can do with his eyes closed) and when he went into running mode, he was immediately stopped and brought back in where he would have to be accountable.
I’ve been told that I should put Cian on whistles right away. Kevin disagreed. He said I should make sure the dog is rock solid on his flank commands and once that is the case, putting him on whistles shouldn’t take more than a few days. Interesting. I felt that I put Gel on whistles too late, but by the time I started to put him on whistles, he knew his flank commands so it didn’t take long to get him on whistles. What was the hardest part about getting him on whistles was learning to blow them myself. Now that I’m pretty good at blowing my whistle, it shouldn’t be hard to put subsequent dogs on whistles.
Kevin said that most of the work that I’d be doing with Cian would be up close. That he was going to be a natural outrunning dog and as soon as I had his flank commands down, that I’d be able to progress in his outwork without any difficulty. I told him that I had thought I wanted to start driving with him as soon as possible and he said to start driving with him now, without his flank commands down, would only confuse him. I had been taught when starting a dog to drive to call him in to you to teach inside flanks. Kevin said that creates a dog that is constantly looking back at you on the drive (hello Gel!).
It seems that like agility training, there is a tremendous amount of foundation work that you need to put into these dogs. It is hard not to want to graduate too quickly to longer and longer distances, there is nothing prettier than a Border Collie doing a several hundred yard outrun. When you do that, however, you have a big mess that you have to fix. If you skimp on the foundation work, it’s harder to fix the problems later on.
So now I have exercises to work on with Cian and the same exercises will work just as well on Fern. Now that I see how Kevin starts his dogs, I realize that even though Fern has different issues than Cian, these exercises will achieve the same results with her as they will with Cian. I really wish I had time to take Fern out, but working two dogs was enough for me to take in and Fern has been feeling a bit off for the past few days. I got them a bunch of beef bones from a freshly slaughtered calf. There was a good amount of fat left on the bones. My dogs have been eating an extremely lean diet and I think the extra fat may have caused the diarrhea.
Off to take my dogs for a quick run …