It's been over a month since I last blogged about herding with Peekay. Since the end of October we have only been out practicing four times. Three times we have been to our home field in Watkinsville and once we attended a clinic in Townsville, SC. We have also missed a couple of practice opportunities because of bad weather and yours truly being sick with a very nasty cold.
I have entered Peekay in our herding club's American Kennel Club Herding Trial. The trial will be at our home field in Watkinsville on December 27th and 28th. Peekay is entered in the Herding Intermediate A-Course Sheep class both days. Having received two qualifying scores in AKC trials earlier this year, she needs to obtain a qualifying score on one of the days to earn her Herding Intermediate A-Course title. Of the 5 AKC herding classes, the Intermediate class is second from the top. Very few non border collies even attempt the jump from "Herding Started" to "Herding Intermediate", let alone have success.
Here is a summary of our recent practices:
Nov 4 - Watkinsville, GA : Cross drives continue to improve. Multiple times Peekay was able to shoot the gap between the fence and the flock and then reverse direction to get them to walk across the field. Out runs were also good. On our final run we executed a near perfect cross drive. I drove home to Alpharetta with a big smile on my face.
Nov 18 - Watkinsville, GA :With missing a week because of illness, and concentrating on the cross drive for weeks, Peekay developed a bad habit at both the "Y" and "Z" chutes. I have trained Peekay to follow the livestock into the mouth of each chute. Once in the chute she is to keep walking until till just before the sheep exit the other side. It is at this point I give her the "Back" command. Upon hearing this command, Peekay should do a 180 degree turn in the chute, and exit the same way she entered. Upon exiting, she should loop wide to pin the livestock against the fence, preventing them from retreating on the course. In this practice she was very reluctant to enter the chute. When she reached the mouth of the chute, she would swing wide. If you draw very light sheep, you usually can get away with this. But these sheep were not light. Sensing no pressure from the dog, the sheep were stopping in the middle of the chute and wouldn't exit. I had no choice by to take Peekay a step back and repeatedly make her enter the chute and exit on command.
Nov. 23 - Townsville, SC : It's always good to go to different places and practice. Dog's are truly creatures of habit, and often associate training to specific locations. I constantly witnessed this when I taught dog obedience classes when we lived in Florida. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had a student explain to me how well their dog would perform the exercise they just flubbed at home. Training at different locations offers re-enforcement to the dog that commands are to be followed at all times and places.
This practice session we worked on the basics of flanking commands. Peekay does not have a very good "inside flank". We can get away with this in our current trial class, but certainly will not go far in the Advanced class. I worked on techniques to teach the inside flanks with the help of my instructor John Stokes. I originally planned on attending the clinic on Saturday, but because of my cold, I decided to stay home and rest and attend the clinic on Sunday. Most of the handler/dog teams were novices, and not using our field. They had two round pens staffed, and both had several dogs in queues. Peekay and I were fortunate enough to be just 1 of 3 intermediate teams. This meant we received a lot of field time and one-on-one instructions. I came away with some good ideas on where we need to improve, and how to get better. However my focus is to have Peekay ready for the December trial, so I won't make any radical changes in my training techniques until after the trial.
Dec 2 - Watkinsville, GA: We went right to work on the Y and Z chute problem. Peekay was much improved from the prior week. Towards the end of practice, she was entering the gates on her own, and exiting on my command. The practice had no major wrecks, and I considered it a success.
Present at every one of these practices was Peekay's stablemate "Lauda", our 12 year old GSD. He is still battling his Degenerative Myelopathy , arthritis, and bone infection. He has his better days, and his not so good days now. It's difficult for him to stand up for any length of time. I always walk next to him to catch him in case he stumbles. On November 24th, we came very close to losing him. It was the day after the Townsville, SC practice, and the next morning he just couldn't stand. We made "the call". He was to be put down at 11 AM.
We spent the earlier part of the morning petting him, hugging him, and letting him know he was special. Something inside of me told me to give him one more chance. I helped him up and supported him as he stumbled down the ramp I built for him in the garage. I gently released my grip from around his midsection and let him walk. We continued to walk to the yard and do his business. He then became the same old Lauda and began to explore the nearby bushes. With relief, we called the vet back. He still went to the vet at 11 AM, but it was only for an examination.
I know "Pal" doesn't have much time left. I know any day now could be his last. I am just grateful for every day he is with us. He's the best.
Speed is good.