Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fall Open Trials 2015

I'm feeling fortunate that Coal and I could run in a couple of trials this Fall of 2015. Coal is nine years old but running well and seems to be feeling very perky. I am doing a few things differently to hope to keep him running well. My vet told me that it was OK to give him some Metacam the night before a trial and the night of, so I have done that. I am also giving him a small dose of the Energy Edge (glycogen) before we run as well as a full dose afterwards. So far, so good. His chiropractor gave me some exercises to do on his legs, and that seems to have also helped. So we will continue with whatever trials seem to be a reasonable distance for him, at least for a while!  :-)

Point Pleasant was Halloween weekend and it's a field Coal has run on many times. It is so nice to have a fairly local trial to run in. Both courses had dog-leg fetches and the outrun out through the gate as they usually have at this trial. The driving was, as always, tricky but doable. The run out the gate has become old hat for Coal. We were able to shed both days, but then ran out of time going to the pen each run. I would like to finish a course. Big sigh. 

Coal has gotten some ideas into his head this past year about cross driving. Once I recognized this I started working on it both to try to figure it out and to try to fix it. But, I guess it is good information to know that dogs do change, even older ones who were pretty well trained. His driving has always been a strong point. This year he is very touchy about taking a little inside flank whistle and whooshing it into an outside flank, instead. I worried about his hearing; but apparently he can hear pretty well. He took my instructions by whistle at the top of the field at Spencer's, to complete the dog-leg there is something else going on. Meanwhile, I set it up in practice and work on it. And I have to watch him very carefully!! Most of all I need to set up that drive line way back. There is so much about advanced handling that I just do not know.  We had a really good run going at Spencers' on the second run, but it got ruined by him crossing the course due to the cross driving issue. :-(

Our shedding, on the other hand, seems to be OK. I'm proud of myself for remembering a couple of things that I have been taught by our trainer, once we get into the shed ring. One, is to take a deep breath once we get there, no matter how short I may think the time is. And two, remember that we have the skills to roll the sheep into the position that I need, to take the required shed, whatever it may be. Even if there are three sheep sticking together and one loner, I can roll it and make it two and two, if that is what is needed.

My focus is something I need to work harder on. In our next trial a couple of weeks later, UC Hopland, I simply forced myself to focus by repeating the focus word to myself as we went around the courses. We had two decent, respectable runs at Hopland, which is a true achievement for Coal and me. I have always loved that trial but we have never done very well there. It has the most beautiful trial field, healthy sheep, and a great staff. Coal and I had two nice runs which was wonderful...although we still timed out on our pen each time. Again, I am wishing to finish a course!

The first run had a possible 100 points, with a shed and pen following the outwork and drive. Coal actually got ninth place with 79 points in this run out of about 46 dogs, I think. If we could have penned he would have been well up in the placements. Oh well and oh my. The second run had a possible 90 points; the shed was dropped due to time requirements and the possibility of fog delay (as usual at Hopland). We absolutely had to finish the trial by dark on Sunday afternoon --and dark comes so early these days -- so unfortunately the shed went by the wayside. I was a bit bummed as I thought the shed was fun and I have been having trouble penning! :-) Our second run earned only 66 points; we had some trouble on the cross drive but not our usual/new problem (above), thankfully. I was trying to keep Coal well back on all the drives, so he did not get up into the eye of the sheep and cause everything to lock down. On the second run the sheep started to run on the cross drive and since I had him so far back I did have to flank him to the outside to stop them from going back up to setout. Unfortunately I let him go just a little too high and they did get stuck at the second panel. Finally I got them unstuck and we proceeded to the pen where we ran out of time.

So, there were some good accomplishments, trying to focus and keeping things together. All in all Hopland was a great trial for Coal and me. His outruns were fairly good and that is his weakest element; I did whistle him out because I want him out there and I accept taking the hit on the points. That is fine because I'd rather have him out there paying attention. I'm trying to take charge and manage our runs, rather than just stand there at the post thinking that "gee, I hope he does well."

Something amazing happened at Hopland which had nothing to do with Coal. We had volunteered to be back up exhaust person in case someone's dog got too hot or overexerted. The handlers were supposed to stay and help the next person to exhaust their sheep, but it is nice to have a backup just in case. I took Ryme for this job since he was not entered in the trial and that is just the kind of close to medium sheep work that he enjoys. In the past he has always been worried about people he does not know, and certainly any dogs that he does not know. I had him out with me on leash all day Saturday and Sunday at the trial, and Ryme was actually a social butterfly! There were several dozen spectators, especially on Saturday when it was sunny, and Ryme was making friends with all of them. I was shocked! He was begging for bites of people's picnic lunches, letting strangers pet him, and seemed nonplussed by everyone and everything. This was so nice to see that he is finally (after seven years, almost) getting more comfortable within his own skin. People who know us had to check to see that it was actually Ryme out there with me instead of Coal, since Coal is so friendly and Ryme has always been apprehensive about the world. What a bonus!

Poor Spot got left out of both of these trials since there was no Pro-Novice. But it is he who I will be focused on, over the winter in our training. Chiefie rode along to UC Hopland both days, and seemed to both enjoy himself and handled it all OK. So now we are almost into the holiday season. We have lessons scheduled for Spot and we wait for the Winter Solstice to turn the daylight around.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Since the four days of Derek S. clinic earlier this month, I have been pondering the placement of pressure on the dogs' sheep work and trying to use that skill and everything else that I learned to better all of the dogs that I work. Spot was the working student in the clinics but what I gained from listening and watching for four straight days, is helping all of the dogs.

One of the main concepts was to apply pressure ahead of the dog in order to influence him or her. We were not applying pressure on or at the dog. Putting pressure directly on the dog would likely only make him run faster (been there -- done that!).  We were putting pressure on a piece of ground ahead of the dog's path, in order to get a better-shaped flank. Or we were putting pressure on the ground ahead of where we wanted to stop our dog; and if necessary (in my case with Spot) we would meet the dog at that stopping point, or near it, if he wasn't stopping crisply for us. It takes a lot of concentration and focus in order to do a good job at this application of pressure, and it would be easy to fall back into just working our dogs the same old way and getting the same medium results. I've been trying these techniques on all of the dogs, and they are all improving under this system. It is clear, with few grey areas.  Clear for them; clear for me...everyone is relaxed, staying cool and working within the system.

Another main concept was that the dogs should be (mostly) walking. On the outrun, for sure, they can and should be running but the rest of the time they should be mostly walking. We worked and worked among those of us participating in the clinics, to get our dogs to walk. Most of the people were able to do it but they really had to focus.  It is pretty darn clear to see when the dog is walking and the sheep are walking or just lightly trotting. Many of the folks in the clinic were rewarded with a real change in their dogs, by making them walk. Everything got calmer. The sheep were happy and the dogs were happy. The people were smiling big broad smiles. It was really cool to see. :-) We felt a little bit better when Derek recalled that it took four years for him to get his fabulous Laddie dog to walk.

In connection with this I am using this information to get my too-flanky dog (Ryme) to walk more straight into his sheep so that he gets up into a slow walk from a down, and not jumping sideways into a flank because that is easier for him. I have nothing to lose in making Ryme a better work dog and I learn more and more from him. The sheep will respect him more if he walks straighter into them with authority and we will get chores done more quickly and efficiently.

Spot also sometimes want to slip to the side on a drive; I can do several things to keep this from happening but most of all he needs to be walking...he needs to stay straight...and he needs to listen. Spot also needs confidence building, I have realized; so we are working on that as well. Walking straight into the sheep yet keeping a cool head, seems to require confidence in a dog and the more they do it, the better they will get.

Here is the hard concept for a dog like Coal: the dogs should be listening for the words, and not what the sheep are doing or what your body positioning is saying or any other cues. So Coal and I have been working diligently to get him back to listening and being (more) flexible in his work.  Coal's flanks can get messy and since he is so nice to his sheep, he partially gets away with it...but it is just sloppy and can also get us into trouble. So I am using the pressure on the ground technique to try to clean up Coal's flanks a bit; he knew those clean flanks at one time but he will slide if I let him. Even an old dog can get caught back up on his old/new tricks.

Today there was the opportunity on a beautiful Sunday to just go and work the dogs and take as long as I liked to do it. The weather was not too hot, for once, and the sheep and dogs did not get too hot. I worked each dog twice in turn, and was able to address a lot of these concepts and more that I have been wanting to work on. We got to work yesterday too, for which I'm really grateful. The daylight in the evenings is getting so short now, that dog training after work during the week, will soon be done for the winter.  Coal is being reminded of running out through a gate on his outrun, for next week's trial. Spot has just been introduced to running out through the gate, and we are still working on his patience of putting sheep through a gate and then not chasing them after they get through it! Spot and I are also working on him patiently penning the sheep as part of his combination confidence building/ and patience gaining exercises.

Remembering: we are supposed to be the brains of this outfit. :-) I can't just go to the post, or go out to train, with the idea of  "oh I hope he does well".  I have to take control of the situation and make it work. I have to focus; I can't be a "monkey brain, jumping from tree to tree!  As Derek S. told us, we have to be the trainer; we have to be an actor or actress, if necessary on that day, to convey what we need to communicate with and to our dogs.

Photo by Maureen L.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sheepdog Fantasy Camp

In the past several weeks, I have been away at what I am lovingly calling Sheepdog Fantasy Camp. It has been very hard to come back to Earth, this week, and work a full five-day week at my Real Job. Oh my.

First we went to the USBCHA National Finals. We had an absolute blast.

Friends ran their dogs at the Finals for the first time and we cheered them on!

My boys had fun!

We sponsored a great dog!

Coal and I worked as hazers on the double lift final day!

My ancient point-and-shoot Fuji camera caught these cool water drops as our sponsored dog exited the field on the Semifinal day..

More friends ran their dogs who happen to be almost family!
More friends ran their dogs! It was a great time! 
Oh, the Finals. We were there for one day of prelims, the semi-finals day, and the final double-lift day. We saw the polar bear hide at the Niles. Oh my. We got caught up in the excitement of the Calcutta (but managed to keep our hands under the table so that we did not get called on for a bid) and cheered Elgar on, receiving his well-deserved silver buckle for being the Supreme Sheep Spotter, ever for all time at least in the West. We saw some great dog and handler team work. The sheep were really nice, but touchy, and they tested the dogs. I ran into an old friend who I totally did not expect to see in that setting and it was great to greet her and her husband. Amazing things happened. My friends did very well with their nursery dogs; I was so proud of them. Oh and the geographic setting was outrageously beautiful.

I guess you could say that I had a great time at the Finals.

Back to work for four short days and then we were immersed with both feet into four days of Derek Scrimgeour clinic. I had Spot entered all four days in a working slot. The piggy bank will need to be replenished but it was worth it.  I am going to have to write more about the clinics; they were fantastic.

"Give him two more years... "

Then back to work for four more hard days and I drove to Chico in the evening, after work, for the Patrick Ranch sheepdog trial in Durham. I have not done something like that in many years, or at least when I was much younger. But I made it OK. Oh my. Sheepdog fantasy camp leads a person into stretching what were formerly known as boundaries!

Patrick Ranch was our first dog trial since Dry Lake in May and I knew I would feel rusty. I also remembered what happened last year with those tough little sheep and I tried to prepare mentally for them so I wouldn't act so rusty even if I felt that way. Suffice to say I was happy with our performance, much happier than last year's when I was feeling really badly physically.  Coal was too slow and nice to the sheep on the first day but did much better on the second day, putting in a nice gather and drive, only to have us run out of time in the shedding ring. We will do better next time. Coal is nine years old now and I am guessing that this is our final swing through the local-ish trials and I am just enjoying my time with him on the field, as much as I can. He is peppy and enthusiastic and fit. All things to be thankful for. :-)

Spot......was entered in his first ever Pro-Novice run on those tough sheep. I did not have high hopes and was resolute to use it as training time and work him just as we did in the Derek clinics. In his first run he surpassed all expectations and put in a clear round for 5th place and we even penned. Woo hoo!  So very pleased with the young boy and hopeful for his future. The second day's run was disappointing; Spot apparently got spooked by one of those aggressive sheep. It was not to be our day. I did not see that he did anything really wrong to cause one of the sheep to come after him but it is my understanding that is what happened. We have confidence building to work on and many other things, over this winter. I was so proud that all of his criteria from his training held up though, on the trial field and on non dog-broke sheep. Derek told me to give him two more years...I believe it will be worth it.

Spot penning at Patrick Ranch in his first-ever PN run!
I'm super grateful for friends who took care of Chiefie so that I could travel to the Finals and to the Patrick Ranch trial. Chiefie just does not travel that well any more. On October 5th, he had a birthday and turned 14 years old...I must get a new picture of the whole gang soon.

The other surprise was how well Ryme handled all the travel and contact with other dogs and people. It was amazing to see Ryme seek attention from people he does not know. He also worked exhaust at Patrick Ranch and was nonplussed by the naughty sheep but more importantly by being out and about with all the working dogs and their handlers. I was really thrilled by this development in my troubled boy toward being so much more comfortable in the world. Wow!

There is a lot more to write but at least I got started. Whew. Sheepdog fantasy camp... you were fantastic!! :-)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Weekend

It's been a very enjoyable but low-key Labor Day weekend: watching the scores come in from Soldier Hollow, working dogs, and doing cleanup chores at home. I'm super grateful for an extra day off of work for all those reasons.

Saturday I bought hay and was happy to see that the price has come down a dollar per bale from our last purchase. I am going to get another load so that we are stocked up for the next month or so. Things are going to get busy here, really soon!

I love this photo of Spot because it is so him. It's like he needs the miniature angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other. :) Well maybe not a true devil, but perhaps a teenager.  He tries so hard to be good and then sometimes, he just can't stand it, and he blows it. At the larger pasture where we work, there is a new pen for practicing penning with the sheep. These sheep, while pretty darn broke for working dogs, are not broke at all to going into a pen. Several of us tried and failed to pen them with various dogs over this past weekend. Spot is a very inexperienced penner; we have only worked on that task a little bit. On his first try on Sunday morning, however, he almost had the sheep penned; they were marching in, and I was starting to inch in to close the gate, and what the heck - Spot dove right into the sheep. Arghghgh. Back to the drawing board. As Derek S. would say, the dog is wondering, "why doesn't she kill it?" when we pen the sheep. Spot did not wonder why but thought about taking matters into his own paws.

Other than the awful penning episode, however, Spot was pretty good this weekend. I am using him for any chores that I can.  At the larger pasture, we've been going out to walk the llama in with the sheep before we can really start working, which is something new for Spot. He doesn't want to stay with me, behind the llama, but he wants to run ahead and work the sheep. No, buddy, this is the job - you walk with me and we bring in the llama, first. But also you need to pay attention to that llama and stay out of his way.

Coal and I are working on his getting back into shape, mentally and physically, for the fall trials. He seemed to bounce back pretty quickly today even though it was pretty hot out by the time we went out to work and we did a fair amount of work. Fingers crossed that we get into some of the trials. And that it cools off!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Boys of August

Coal and Spot have birthdays in August. Coal turned nine years old on August 29th. Spot turned three years old on August 22nd. Time was running out for me to get an August birthday picture so I just grabbed these with my cell phone camera, on the night of August 31st. :)

Coal is in pretty good shape, except for those darn stiff feet!

The birthday boys of August

Spot's infamous tongue makes another goofy appearance

I am ready for ACTION! 

(rolls eyes)... let's get this photo shoot over with and back to sheep

Chiefie is not a birthday boy (his birthday is in October), but I did get this sort of nice picture of him recently, as well. Chiefie has been sort of uncomfortable with a lot of scratching (and there are no fleas) so I started him on an all-fish  (no other proteins) diet, which seems to have helped at least somewhat.


Spot has been working (for the most part) really well.  He will have a minor meltdown here and there, but mostly we are on the road to improvement. I still don't understand the occasional starbursts, but at this point they seem related to slow or heavy sheep. I am going to work on getting him more comfortable in close with sheep and pushing them when they are slow. I think I can set up that situation a few different ways. It is frustrating though. What few chores we have, I am trying to do them all with Spot so that he has to listen to me and still work through a situation that is not just training for trials. I hope it will help.

Coal and I are trying to get tuned back up for the fall trials. I hope we can do it. I'd love to have one more season in open with him. The first set of entries went into the mail on September 1.

Ryme is always a good helper. He is happy to do any sorting, moving sheep, helping to catch, whatever. I don't think his bad leg will hold up very well on this hard ground, though, so I am not trying to just train on him much at all. Just chores for him, for now.

This summer still feels hot. Of course it is dry and hot as well. I hope we have some winter, this year, and if so it will be quite welcome.

The Rest of July

I spent a very long, but good day judging the RESDA trial at the Johnson Ranch in Boonville, in July. I had great help; two friends volunteered to clerk, and then I had another volunteer on the spot at the trial. It is much easier to judge when you have great helpers. I really appreciated that they volunteered to drive all the way up to Boonville just to help out at the trial, and neither are running dogs, nor active in RESDA. Such a nice crew! The field was nice; the sheep worked well, lunch was delicious, and we were blessed that it was not too awfully hot, with a nice breeze. There are lovely shade trees to sit under at this trial, for which we were very grateful. I'm glad that my assignment is over with though. It is a bit stressful, to judge, knowing that people are working towards year-end points gleaned at each of the trials. I can only judge what's in front of me, and I try hard to stay focused on good dog work and proper sheep handling. It's all one can do.

The next weekend, we went to the Sonoma County Fair, to watch the sheep shearing contest, take in a little bit of the Fair, and watch a little bit of the RESDA trial. The sheep shearing contest was fun, and we got to cheer on our own shearer!

Shearing contest at the Sonoma County Fair

The Ladies (juniors, actually) class...with mentors

 After fortification with an ice cream/root beer float, we went on over to the RESDA sheepdog trial which had just started in the big Chris Beck outdoor arena.

Tom and Angus pen!

Tom and Angus exhausting their set of sheep

We got there in time to see Tom and Angus put in a pretty nice run.  I watched about five runs and then headed for home, to pick up a dog and go out to put our sheep in for the night. Still worrying about mountain lions and coyotes...and trying to keep the sheep safe.

It seems like it has been a hot, hot summer, or else maybe I am just getting less tolerant of the heat. The ground is hard as a rock when I go out to work dogs. It hurts my feet and I know it is hard on the dogs, especially Coal and Ryme who are older. Coal already has bad feet and I don't want to make them worse.

I'm still working on Spot and his driving, especially. Inside flanks, outside flanks... driving away and cross driving. Any old driving that we can do. At the bigger place where we can work, I am trying to drive in a big rectangle, all the way around the field, with varying success.  Spot is trying; I am trying. We're trying.

I know people say, that there is no try, you just do. Well then OK, I am doing! :)