Darinka is my third border collie. The second is Bonnie, out of my Kelly - our first BC, whom I trained with the generous help and patience of many people here and other places.
Darinka is not like Bonnie. In fact, she was not like anything. As a small puppy, on sheep she was 'a dog with a plan'. Her resoluteness around the sheep was almost scary. But she got over the resolute puppy stage and went into the instinct-crazed teenage-hood very quickly. And quickly, things went down hill. Not just with training but with my life, of which I don't want to write here, but it had a great impact on the training.
My main difficulty with her was that nothing seemed to work. I tried this, and I tried that, I tried every doggone thing in the book. I tried the same various things on various dogs that came to train thinking, maybe I was doing something wrong. It worked on them. It didn't work on her.
And then last February, I got a telephone call with the news I never thought I would get, and the life load went down to a manageable size. That evening Darinka lay down by my desk and went to sleep. That consummate wiggle-bug had never, ever done it before.
And from this point we were both ready to start over. Things didn't exactly take off, particularly that the physical side for me got worse - g an unusable shoulder and a partly torn ligament in the knee which I got twice after I was hit twice in the same knee by the same sheep from a small flock we had borrowed special for Darinka to train on. So there were long periods of me unable to train with her at all.
So a real new start was when went we went to a clinic late March, and I asked the teacher to work with her, because I still felt very nervous about the sight of sheep running towards me. So the clinic was therapy for me really. Later, I tried working with her with a knee protection, and then later again, I tried without it (since it limited my mobility a great deal).
So from that moment, after we came home I treated this a s new beginning, as though we had never trained before. Which was easy, since she still wanted to head like crazy, and had zero stop, unless she actually wanted to stop and then it was impossible get her to move.
I am not the fairy tale type, so things didn't exactly take off from there. But I took this time to finally calmly learn this dog. I decided to be much harder on myself and go easy on the dog. I thought, after a year of bungling, minimum fairness would require a year of fixing things, before anything happens.
At the clinic, I had learned something important about Darinka. The teacher said, "She is an honest, straight forward dog." So I started working with her with this in mind. I wrote about it in one of Donald McCaig's topics on (not) lying to the dog. E.g walking away from the sheep, I used to teach so that to the dog "that'll do" means - most of the time we will do a small outrun and sometimes we will go home.
Not with Darinka. For her "that will do" had to mean "we are going home" otherwise she kept running back to the sheep. It took a lot of will power for her to walk away from the sheep knowing it was over, but she did it most of the time (and sometimes, yes, she brought the sheep with her). And for walking away in order to come back - we have a different command.
The same with lie down. As soon as she realized that sometimes I come to her on lie down to put the leash on, would not lie down for beans. So lie down, was lie down, and no strings (or leashes) attached. And when I wanted to go over and pet her, I did that. And when I wanted to put her on the leash I took it out and called her.
She is a strange dog. There are a hundred little ways about her that are different. So I was ready for the continuation of slow progress, and I had shed my earlier frustration and impatience, and kept writing to various generous people for advice.
And about 4 weeks ago things started happening. She started to do things she had never done before. She resembled again that resolute dog, she had been as a small pup except now she knew how to put me in her picture. I have no doubt she had always wanted to put me in the picture, she just didn't know how.
And yesterday, she suddenly started doing outruns, nice shape, nice lying down at the top. Just like it was out of the blue. Not big distances of course, but previously she seemed unable to do anything with me at any distance from the flock (she would walk up straight until almost on top of them and then flank). And when she finished that lovely outrun (with me doing absolutely nothing except stand and say "away" to the dog at my feet), I shouted "super!" which is a thing I rarely do.
Later, at home, I watched a recording of this (it is still my important learning tool). I looked at her lying down at the top. I saw something I didn't notice when standing in the field. But I thought, no, that's impossible, particularly for her. I put the bit in slow motion - yes - she did it. She wagged her tail. Twice. The non-wagger Darinka, wagged happy with a job well done.