Thursday 30 April 2015

"Did You Just SNIFF ME?"

"Did you just SNIFF ME?"

"Seriously, do that again and I'll unleash all levels of Ginga Ninja badness on you"

"These paws are lethal weapons and could take you out with one skillful swipe"

Yeah, KD he is SHAKING in fear.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall!"

You keep telling yourself that, Girlfriend!

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Being a Better Musher Through .....SHEEP!!!

Bet and I were out for another herding lesson at Landing Trail Stock Dogs today. As with her previous lessons, she had a blast and is now napping away the afternoon on her Clouch.

I LOVE seeing her have such a good time!!!

But there is an added benefit - I TOTALLY believe it is making me a better musher!!!!

How does this.....

make me better at this.... you ask???

Well I've heard it said over the years that dogs don't generalize well - meaning that if you teach a dog to sit outside on the front lawn, they may have trouble sorting out what the same cues mean in the house. The bigger the variety of situations you can work with them in, the better they will eventually UNDERSTAND the concept of 'sit'.

I think humans are much the same.

Today Lisa was getting after me for the tone of voice I was using with Bet. My 'away to me' and 'come bys' were too up beat, encouraging Bet to CHARGE after the sheep like a sled dog leaving the starting chute - and my 'LIE DOWN' was more question than command.

I KNOW this stuff like the back of my hand when it comes to a dog team. I preach constantly about tone of voice and body language when working with sled dogs - however take me outside of my comfort zone and watch all that knowledge take off like a dog team without a musher!!!!

Being reminded of the effects of pressure, voice tones/inflection, body language and the likes is a FANTASTIC refresher - and I can't help but think that, like the dog learning to sit in a million different places, it is helping me understand what I'm doing and asking out of my dogs better.

That'll do, Curly Tails....That'll do!

Tuesday 28 April 2015


I am frequently asked about training leaders, so thought I'd share an incident from this morning.

As many of you know Missy is a leader - a race leader, in fact. She lines out, she sets a good pace, will readily pass distractions, and most of the time, takes her 'Gees and Haws' beautifully. She is well on track to be the next 'go to leader'. So that means we need to get that 'most of the time' thing out of the way this summer!

The first step for me is to sort out what exactly was going wrong - when and why?  It turns out if I give her a command early enough and it is something she thinks is a good idea, she will take the command. However, it appears that if she doesn't like what I'm asking or I ask for it late, when it is 'harder' to do, she can't be bothered. That doesn't make me in the slightest bit mad, I like independent minded women, it just helps me set up the training situation to show her that obeying is not optional.

To take away any 'crutch' Missy might lean on I put her in lead this morning with other dogs that are not top notch 'Gee/Haw' leaders and we headed off. The trail I chose had some 'tricky' corners that I knew she wouldn't like and I made sure to not give her good warning on them, calling out the command at the last moment.

She got the first one with only the slightest hesitation but didn't even attempt to get the next one. I stopped the team and gave her a moment to think about it. She stubbornly stared straight ahead, I'm certain hoping I'd give in and let her do what she wanted.

I shut the ATV off and headed up front.

Just a note here that you need to understand your equipment and it's limits. I know that if I shut off my ATV in gear, set the parking brake and crank the wheels so they aren't pointing straight ahead it will hold my 14 dogs in most situations. I know that if something truly fluky happens, like a rabbit running by while I'm off the machine, the team can dead drag the ATV - but I also know how to catch it on the fly (the ATV - not a rabbit!!).
In the past, with machines that were easier to get moving I have used bungees wrapped around the brakes to hold them tighter, blocks in front of the wheels or even had a person ride along with me. If none of those things are going to work for you, run a smaller team when you set up these situations.
Know you are in control of things so you can work confidently and are sure you can achieve the needed outcome. Were Missy to drag the ATV and team through that corner at this point, I will have taken her training back 2 steps rather than forward one!

Even in a situation like this where I am 99% certain Missy knows what I want and is just choosing to ignore me, I give her the benefit of the doubt to begin with.
I was asking for a 'HAW' so I walked up the left side of the team to where I want them to go. I patted my leg and said 'Missy Haw' to get her to come to me. When she does, I'll tell her 'Right there', 'Good Haw' and the likes. I will leave her there and calmly walk back down the left side of the team to the ATV. The goal is not to run to the ATV as fast as I can before she can make a mistake - we are TRAINING!
I also make sure to tell the rest of the dogs they are 'good' and such as I go. It helps keep my head in the right place and makes sure the rest of the team doesn't find this stressful.

Now, by far the majority of the time I know whether the dog is going to obey or move back. Their body language is EXTREMELY telling. If their bodies, heads, or even ears are cocked the way they wanted to go, odds are once I've stepped away, they will zip back to the trail they want to go down. CALMLY, I will express my displeasure with an 'ACKKKKK' and then walk back up front. With a dog that honestly doesn't understand, I will still coax them over, but in a situation like this morning, I step over the line and now go up the RIGHT side of line with much more forceful body language to 'push' (not physically) the dog away from me.
I am careful to not make eye contact with the rest of the dogs at this point. I want my more 'pointed' non verbal cues directed at the problem, not everyone.

I ALWAYS want my dogs to understand what I'm thinking and doing. While dogs are pros at reading body language, the easier you make it for them, the more relaxed they can be around you.
Should the situation arise that I have to charge up the gangline in a stressed and fast manner, I do not want my dogs freaking out worried that I might be angry with them. That has been helpful in all kinds of situations over the years!

Sure enough, long before I had gotten back to ATV, Missy had darted back to the 'right'. I turned around and headed back up. My signals were clear to her and she darted out of my way and back onto the left trail. I immediately stopped my stomping and told her 'Good Girl. Right there'.

Again her body language made it clear she had no intention of listening. This morning there was a nice flappy tree branch on the ground nearby, so I picked that up and stomped my way back up the right side of the team flapping the branch on the ground in front of me to push Missy back to the left.

It took about 3 or 4 trips up the team before she decided to give in. When she did, it was very obvious she had, all her body was 'committed' the trail I was asking her to go down.

I walked back to the team and off we went. Had she darted out to the right as we started, I would have slammed on the brakes, called out her name, and gone up front for another correction. Once you have gotten into this discussion, it is IMPERATIVE that you win.

Once around the corner I stopped the team and with very happy, animated behaviour walked right up to Missy and heaped praise and pats on her.

On the way back I chatted and petted up the rest of the team a bit.

I am a BIG believer in matching the level of praise to the level of discipline. In my opinion, if a verbal correction is all that is needed, then verbal praise will suffice. However, if you had to get off to correct, you need to get off to praise. If you don't, your dogs will start to believe that you only get off when you are correcting.
I also stop once or twice on each run to just love the dogs up and get their tails wagging!!

So that's it - no "BAA, RAM, EWE" or other magic formula to get them to listen - just fair and consistent corrections.

Also, if you are working a lot with a leader and putting extra stress on them, make sure to back off every now and again, bury them in the team and let them just have a stress free run. Stress is a good, healthy part of learning, but you should be smart about it and control when and where they are being exposed to it!
Young leader Neo getting a run back in the team after being worked hard at lead the last few runs!

Saturday 25 April 2015

Driving Miss Bittie - Bet

Howdy Ho Everybodies!!!

I don't have an interview this week, and this bloggity blog post is late because I was doing my new Baa Baa Sheepie thing... thing and then there was some other stuffs and things, and, and...


Last week the Musher asked if I wanted to drive down to Montanana with her to drop off Gem to Karen E Minion (all things shippy and packy).  Gem will be an agility dog and I can't think of a better career for her, since she lives to jump on things, run through things, stomp on things, leap over things.

So I packed my overnight bag and got in my front seat, and here is our whole trip in one bloggity blog.

We drove.

 Bet: Are we there yet?
Musher: We just left
Bet: That didn't answer my question.

Bet:  Look!  There's a cloud that looks like a unicorn jumping over a marmoset!
Musher: I can't look, I'm driving.

Bet: It's a shame you missed it, probably never ever ever ever ever happen again... your loss

Bet: Gem, get your feet off the ceiling and stop bouncing around!

Bet: Don't make me stop the truck and come back there, and turn that music down, I can't hear myself think!

Bet: Is it just me or are the trees exactly the same for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles...

Bet: ... and miles and miles and miles and miles..

Bet: Ok, I know we've been driving forever, but did you turn the oven off?  I didn't turn the oven off, did you turn the oven off?

Bet: Are we there yet?

Bet: I spy with my little eye something that begins with "T"
Musher: Is it a tree?

Bet: No fair, you guessed it right away, I don't want to play any more

Bet: OOOH MUSHER!  It's a baa baa sheepy thing!  Let's go herd it!!!
Musher: I don't think those kind of sheepy things like to be herded, Bet.

Bet: Wow, there's more of them, come on!  Let's herd them!
Musher: I'm pretty sure they wouldn't like to be herded Bet, those are wild sheepy things

Bet: It's a whole gaggle of sheepie things, and they do look all clumped up, but I say we go herd them any way!
Musher: They have sharp pointy point horns Bet.

Bet: Oh... they do?  Well, maybe we can herd them on the way back or something.

Musher: I spy with my little eye something that begins with "M"
Bet: Stop it, I'm not playing that game because you cheat.

Bet: Oh stop pouting, fine... is it Moose?  Of course it can't be Moose because that begins with "S" as in Stompy Moose.
Musher: It's Mountain

Bet: HEY!  What, I only get one guess and then you ruin the game and tell me... you don't know how to play this game... hey look, there's a mountain!

We finally get there, and drop Gem off with Karen E and then did a little sightseeing before we head back.

Bet: Make sure you get my good side while I'm posing as a dog looking at a mountain

Bet: did you take the picture yet?  The wind is blowing my ears back, did you get the picture?  Hello???

Musher:  What's wrong with my shoes?
Bet: Um... nothing, they're fine... really... totally fine... seriously... no really.

Bet: Ok, let me get this straight, you want me to look longingly into the distance while I lay in the window of some old building... right?

Bet:  Nailed it, just take the picture now, this concrete is cold and hard.

Then we drove back and on the way we stopped at Grandmom's house.  I love my Grandmom, she's the bestest Grandmom in the whole wide world.

Bet:  Um, Musher, we're late for Grandmom's house, just get your coffee and stop drooling on the steering wheel.

We got to Grandmom's house and had a wonderful time.  In the morning, Grandmom made me breakfast.

Bet: I love how you ensembled your house Grandmom, the counters really make the place pop!

Bet: I was just wondering if you could talk to your daughter about her choice of footwear... have you seen those things?

Grandmom:  Oh I know Bet, but you can raise them, but you can't get them to buy FABulous shoes.
Bet:  Yes, I've tried, and I know you've tried... can I have a little more syrup and if you don't mind, can you melt some butter for the pancakes?
Grandmom: Oh, of course, I can't have you eating cold syrup and butter!

Bet: om nom nom... this is perfect Grandmom!  At least you did teach the Musher your fantastic cooking skills!

Bet: The warm butter and syrup really makes the pancake, you are the bestest Grandmom!

And then we drove home.

- Bet