Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Following my own advice

Not sure what happened to the shy puppy that I had to sweet talk to get him to walk (on leash) around my neighborhood. He now struts with all the bravado and swagger I expect from a 16 year old human boy. Ten feet tall and bullet proof. The past few weeks he has decided how much fun it is to lunge and scream at the end of his leash whenever he sees another dog.

When Liam was his age he went through the same thing, although his response to other dogs was a lot more serious. Liam came to me when he was 6 months old, and I used a gentle leader and worked on focus games and classical conditioning to desensitize him to other dogs on leash. Gimli was a 'city puppy' who by default, learned to deal with traffic, people, bikes, skateboards and other dogs.I think poor Brees is suffering from 'suburban dog syndrome' who unfortunately, has minimal positive exposure to other dogs in my neighborhood. With a combination of poor weather and a gap in training, I realized that I just need to commit to getting him comfortable with dogs around him in all situations.

So I fit him with a gentle leader, which he accepted right away (good sign), and we started working super early in the morning. I take him out on a solo walk with a handful of mackerel treats and we work on 'silly walks', turn-aways, and lots of verbal praise mixed with treats. The worse thing about working a full time 'real' job is that I don't have the time I need to work him they way I want to. But I have to follow my own advice and look for small success's and not get discouraged.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Officially on sheep!

Brees and I made the 2.5 hour trip up to Searsport Maine on Sunday for a herding lesson with Suzanne along with my friend Amy and her GSD, Andy. We had a storm Saturday night and I was on the fence about making the long trip up in potential bad weather. However the weather quickly cleared and I am so glad we didn't cancel!
I think Brees is going through his second 'fear stage' as he was fearful of things that he has been exposed to. So we went slow introducing him to flappy tarps on the fences and noisy gates. We started on ducks, and Suzanne had me start working him on 'get around', and ' stop' to teach him not to rush into the flock once he moved him to the corner. He did well, and I am getting better at manipulating the rake and line and watching the ducks and my dog at the same time. My timing is still slow, but as Suzanne says, it takes a dog/handler team average of 3 years to work like a well oiled machine and even then the factors of livestock and environment are always changing. That made me feel better!
We put him away for about an hour while Andy & Amy worked sheep and they were fantastic!! Suzanne decided that the sheep were low key enough for Brees. So, I got the 'thighs of steel' workout walking backwards in the dirt barn while Brees joyfully chased, barked and worked his livestock. Like his introducton ducks, Suzanne wanted him to work on instinct. I moved the sheep from one side of the arena to the other, and Brees was able to hold them in the corner without rushing them. He did split the herd a few times and chased the singleton to get him back with the group, which was fun to watch!
I have to say I love herding! I love the smell of the farm, the dirt on my boots, and watching a dog work and working my own. Its so much harder than it looks and is one of the most rewarding sports I have ever done. Suzanne is a fantastic teacher who knows exactly what each student and dog needs and pushes her students to be better. She ends each lesson with a hug and encouraging words. We will make another trip up to Seasport next month and then back to the farm in April.