Thursday and Friday I went to audit Tenley Dexter's clinic in Missouri at Purina Farms and got some good reminders on things that I wasn't doing that I had learned at Bob Vest's clinics and some new ideas to fix some problems. That's one thing about herding- there is always more to learn and some days I feel like I really know nothing at all. The clinic was full, so I just watched every one else, but then I came back to the farm where my parents live and worked with Hank on the "out" in the arena with sheep, worked Tessa on a line in a small pen getting her to turn her head out as we walked around the fence. Then when she was moving out away from me parallel as I stayed more in the middle (and the sheep were going to the middle of the pen rather than hugging the fence, which told me she was thinking "around") I'd drop the line, let her go around 360 degrees, step in front of her and get her to stop. Then repeat with the line work. Letting them go round and round beyond just a small amount to give them a reward will wind them up to get faster and closer, which Tessa does not need. I also tried getting her to walk up for the first time, and she was pulling to the side, so I kept her on a short line and tried to straighten her walk toward the sheep.
With Dodge I worked on having him down and stay a ways behind me, and walk up as I faced the sheep. I think that will help his driving confidence if I do a lot of that and don't insist that he goes out in front of me.
With Pepper I did the same thing as Dodge on driving but for a different reason. She tends to forget I'm there and drive at high speed until she thinks she needs to run around to the front. So I'll do some nice long walk ups starting with her far from the sheep but me near the sheep so I can be in her field of vision. Then I can make her flanks correct using the stick to show her also.
One of the interesting things about the clinic was comparing the methods to the Gordon Watt clinic I went to last summer. Their methods seem exactly opposite- line vs. no line, small pen vs. open field. But when you get to the essentials, they agree exactly on what is important. Getting the dog's mind right is the basic idea. There are different ways to get there, but that is the goal. Letting the dog work is used as a reward for good behavior. They might not put it exactly like that but I see it as "you give me the step back, the out, the softness of response, the give, the right attitude and I will let you go around the sheep." Otherwise they get more pressure until they do give and they do not get to go around the sheep if they have a wrong attitude.
Personally, starting dogs in a pen works for me because there is a lot of room for error in the open and I don't want the dog chasing the sheep all over.