Monday, March 28, 2016

Good Enough

What is good enough in dog training?  It is vast gray area that we need to pay attention to.  Demanding  perfection in every move will sour a dog quickly, eating away at initiative, instinct, and desire.  In training stock dogs we are constantly accepting performances that are less than perfect.  A young dog who is a bit unsure will get more leeway in being a bit rough when handing challenging situations.  A dog just starting to find it’s outrun will be left to figure it out through some tight and wavy casts.  A dog with a naturally careful pace will be forgiven pushing too hard (or even encouraged).  We give green dogs room to work out the moves for themselves, find their style.  We give room for dogs to explore methods they are uncomfortable with, such as pushing or extracting stock from tight places.  As long as the dogs are trying to solve the problem,  there is room to let them work it out and disregard errors along the way. 

We regularly take “good enough” as the dog learns the job.  What we accept today we may not accept next week.  We take “good enough” when the dog has a bad day, or we’re having a bad training day, end the session rather than fight.  We take “good enough” when we are asking the dog to apply what it has learned in a new situation.  Again, giving the dog room to work it out based on its current skill set.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.  We all have our preferences for work style in a dog.  Sometimes we get a dog that has a different style, and risk degrading that dog if we cannot adapt ourselves to this new dog’s methods.  Sometimes we need to step back and realize our demands are more directed at the innate style of the dog than the quality of the work.  We need to accept the different style as good enough.  The more dogs you have trained the easier it is to recognize the natural style of the dog as it evolves, and adapt your criteria to that.  Or, if the dog is truly unsuited, find someone more comfortable with that type of dog.

When you are working on skills that do not come naturally to a dog then there is not much room for “good enough”.  You need to be entirely consistent in your criteria or the dog will not figure out what the requirements are.  Examples are dogs that are difficult to stop, dogs that don’t turn off the stock on their flanks, dogs that are overly flanky and substitute a flank for a walkup.  With each of these you have criteria that you need to enforce virtually every single time.  You will need more time on simple foundation exercises to be sure the dog understands the requirements.  If you accept “good enough” because working on these basic skills can get boring or you are not paying attention, then good enough is what you are teaching your dog. 

Currently I’m working a very direct young dog.  Getting him to turn his gaze from the sheep to flow by them on a flank is like getting a toddler to walk past a plate of Oreo cookies.  Every time we come out to train it seems he has forgotten that “away” and “come by” mean turn your head and release the sheep then flow along them.  Once he begins his flanks properly the shape and speed are quite good, though he is prone to turning in early.  He’s a talented young dog, biddable and determined.  I am so very tempted to go forward and spend time on more advanced exercises.  But if I allow him to learn that my flank commands mean anything less than to break his gaze and turn to flow along the sheep then his weakness will become a long term liability.  If I persist and teach him that those commands have a clear and distinct meaning then we will have the tools to succeed.  Because he is not naturally inclined to break his direct mode, he has needed quite a bit of work on those flanks, often boring or frustrating.  I’m not expecting any miracle breakthroughs.  This will take work, and will take maintenance.  His flanking exercises began when balancing the sheep to me, then on the fetch when he is working further off, and again for inside flanks.  The correct flank has needed to be taught in each scenario separately, particularly inside flanks.  Certainly I’m enjoying some more advanced work, lengthening his outrun, the occasional split, allowing him to drive for longer stretches.  In all of these I’m careful to make sure any flanks are correct.  For if I accept “good enough” because I’m “impatient enough” then I’ve taught him that “Come by” means move to the left and march on.

Pay attention to "good enough", your decisions on what less than ideal work you accept, and where you intervene.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Life is made more of bits
than great shares of splendor.
The soft caress of dawn
A joke, smiles, and laughter

Some bits we craft ourselves
Alchemy of delight
Others are strewn as gifts
Mere moments shine bright

We sift the bits like gold
Wash mud and silt away
Prospectors panning life
We seize the bits each day

©2016 Maria Amodei