I have always wanted to experience each of the dog sports that are most interesting to me: agility, herding and obedience. Each brings new challenges and new learning experiences. My dogs usually let me know which one of these they can excel in and perhaps stay healthy and sound for many years.
This spring I had the opportunity to take Susan Garrett’s “Recallers” course. It has been one of the best training and learning experiences that I have had since I started training my dogs. The course was so much more than recalls…. And for me it changed the course of my dog training and the decisions that I would make or reflect upon each step of the way. We learned about the value in creating games as a way to overcome challenges and to teach new behaviors. Always looking for the positive and joyful way to teach and train.
I have been looking forward to starting Myst herding. I put her on sheep at 5 months of age and she seemed to not only have a lot of instinct but also to really enjoy this natural genetic talent to work with sheep. Realizing how important foundation work is for each of these performance sports, I wanted to work with someone who is currently very successful in open field herding. I chose a woman who is one of the top open field handlers in the country and traveled to northern California with both dogs this past week.
I was excited about finally getting to work in an open field with Kaffee and to learn about how to work with Myst. She has been on sheep a few times since she turned 11 months old but has been a lot of pup to work. I learned from this woman that if I was going to herd with Myst our sessions would be filled with what I have come to know as negative corrections. She was not backing off from her sheep with a flag or walking into her space and had no fear. I was told that she would be a challenge and it would be a long road ahead to have her be correct and give the proper distance in working with the sheep. She would perhaps be OK for arena work where she could stay tighter on her sheep but not for field work where distance is required.
Initially I was very disappointed. I had really wanted to herd with my little red girl. I had a lot of time to reflect on what I had learned from Susan…. Training should be joyful for both the handler and the dog… there should be joy, desire, fun and most importantly teamwork or a partnership.
Reflecting on a previous Border Collie I had who had so much eye and who I had to constantly argue and fight with to keep her off of her sheep, I knew this was not the path that I wanted to travel with this happy puppy who so enjoys working and training with me. Our life for the past year has been filled with games, joy and fun. She has learned so much and is doing so well. What I now realized was this could all be changed if my herding interactions with her was in any way negative. Susan always told us that negative training manifests itself somewhere… even if it is in decreased motivation or drive. I cherish the relationship we have now together and I am thankful that this woman was honest with me so that I could reflect on what I have learned in the past 9 months about new ways to train.