So this morning I decided that Cindy Lou Who would be the first to give leading a go.
For the first run my expectations are very low - I'm mostly watching and trying to orchestrate a positive experience for the youngster. I want to put very little pressure on the young dog and do what I can to make the run a success.
One of the things I do to ensure that is to surround the youngster with solid, skilled leaders - for Cindy that meant Tess in co-lead and Missy and Boo (yes, her Mom) in swing. Even if she were to mess up badly, I had enough support up front that I wouldn't have to get after her for anything.
I also don't want to put dogs in the team that will be noisy and 'distracting' to the new leader (I have a few dogs, like Tramp, that are great dogs and exceptional leaders, but they are noisy and some dogs may misinterpret that when under stress)
I also was running the same trail that we had run for the last few runs so the odds of her wanting to go the way I wanted her to go were good.
Of course we can't control every situation that may arise on a run - but the trick in this situation is to control every situation you can!
Most runs I go out actively seeking 'trouble' to present training opportunities. In those situations I am disappointed if I come back into the yard without having to get off the ATV to teach something - but for starting a new leader, that is EXACTLY what I want. I'm hoping that the only times I will need to get off is to dish out praise and pets!
Most of my young dogs don't have a lot trouble holding lines tight during hook up as they are excited and know the 'out trail'. Cindy was no exception.
She did a nice line out with Tess for the entire hookup.
One last pet and round of praise and we were ready to go. It's important to keep the speed under control for these runs. The last thing you want is for a youngster to feel that they are being overrun by the rest of the team. That will usually turn them off leading in a big way.
The key things I want to see in a young leader is that they are driving in front of the team and that they will scramble if they inadvertently fall back.
In my opinion EVERYTHING else is trainable!
About 3 miles into the run we ran into one of those 'unpredictable' situations coming around a corner and finding one of my neighbours puttering towards us on a noisy old tractor.
Keeping my hand on the brake in case things fell apart, I watched to see how Cindy would deal with this. She did super!
The entire run was exactly as hope - uneventful. The only stops were rest breaks and praise breaks.
At the end of the run snacks and LOTS of praise were handed out.
Although my leaders are normally the last put away Cindy got put away first. It is just too tough, in my experience, to ask a young leader to stand around after a run and I don't want to have to correct her a bunch of times. I don't wish for her last memories of the run to be anything other then pleasant ones (not that any corrections given at this time would be anything even vaguely harsh).
An excellent first run accomplished!!!
I will 'set up' a number of further successful runs for her in lead before very gradually and thoughtfully taking away her safety nets, one at a time. How quickly she progresses will be strictly be dictated by her. If she deals with the new challenges well for a few runs, I'll add more challenges - but if she doesn't I'll stick at the one area or even back up a bit.
You will never wreck a young leader going too slow, but you certainly can by pushing them too fast.