Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I don't think it is any secret that I love the UC Hopland trial. The weather was beautiful, except for the fog that delayed the trial on Sunday and Monday mornings. It was great to see everyone since I have pretty much sat out of trialling for a year. I had a good time volunteering and did not mind donating my weekend days to be there for the Open on Saturday and Sunday. It is my privilege to help out with such a class event. Ryme and I served as backup exhaust like we did last year, but this year we were barely needed. Things ran so smoothly that we mostly just sat on the sidelines and visited, like regular spectators. :)

Ryme and I were busy helping! LOL (photo by Marnie N.)
The trickiest part of the trial seemed to be the lift, and the first part of the fetch. This section required very careful handling and very correct approach by the dog. We watched one team after another fall apart and RT but there were also some very good runs where the teams handled it very well. Good dog work and stockmanship were both very well rewarded by the healthy UC ewe flock.

On Monday, Spot and I ran in the PN. The start of our trial was delayed from the original time of 8 AM to almost noon, by the heavy fog that hung over the field and made it impossible for judge or handler to see the course. Finally the fog lifted after we had just sat around drinking coffee and people visited with one another all morning.  Spot was the third dog up in PN.  I have debated with myself about posting these videos but I have finally decided to go ahead. There are some good parts and some not so good parts of our run but overall I was very pleased. Spot ended up with 60 points which was more than any of the other teams received. First place. I was astounded. He earned it, though. That lift and top part of the fetch were beautiful. There are places where I should have handled more and places where I handled incorrectly. But I am thrilled with the way he listened and performed in his first trial in a year. The videos are in two parts. The first part is up to turning the post and the second video is after turning the post.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


I come from the Illinois prairie. Flat green land created by the ancient glaciers, as far as you can see. But like many, I am drawn to the hills. Part of my fascination with the sheepdogs has to do with the connection with the land that comes with them. Without sheep, no sheepdogs. Without land, no sheep. Some types of sheep are just made for hills. It's what they are about. Some sheepdogs are made for hills and it's what they are about too. I am told that Spot is one of those hill dogs.

Hill dog Spot on the top of the field of dreams

Once upon a time I was told that Chiefie was the ideal hill dog; it is too bad that I was too green in my sheepdog career to fully give him the chance to develop. Regardless, I thrive on my occasional experiences out on the land when working dogs or going to or from working dogs. I'm also told over and over, that "hills make a dog" and I truly believe that phrase as I've seen it happen with all of my dogs, not just Spot, as they grew into their work.

If you look closely there is a person and two dogs on these hills. One of my very favorite places. :)

I have started PT this week for my leg issues. I was given a questionnaire to fill out before my interview with the therapist which was to evaluate just how affected you are with your physical issues. One of the questions was about whether you could walk a mile or not. I answered yes. I can walk a mile. At least I can walk a mile on these fields in the photos. :) I probably wouldn't like to walk a mile on pavement but I could if I had to. Would I hurt afterwards? Probably. At least when I am walking on these hills it is for a good purpose and something I am working hard for. It makes me want to keep up with my PT assignments so that I can better enjoy these hills and the dogs.

Flying Mule posted this video about Hefting in Scotland which is a short piece about land management and sheep. I found it extremely interesting and it is what gave me the thread to tie this blog post together (which I have been thinking about for a while but couldn't come up with a theme).
Watch it. It's good. :)

Hefting in Scotland

If you watch the video then look at my photo above with the tiny person in it with the two dogs, it will look very similar to what is in the video. The main exception being, of course, that the land is green in the video and it is brown in the photo. But, the sheep trails are the same, whether in Zamora or in Scotland.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

That Confidence Topic, Again

Spot update: we have had a few more weekend lessons with our trainer, and we've had our ups and downs with that. The bigger gathers were going well until they weren't and so I have gone back a little bit to try to re-build the confidence again. In the past few weeks, I've learned that I need to maintain a great deal of confidence in myself that carries over to Spot. He feeds off of me directly even when hundreds of yards away from me, behind the sheep.

We sent Spot up a big, big hill for a larger bunch of sheep that were not held by a stock handler. The sheep took off, climbing up the hill and Spot was out on the bye side, gaining ground on them, but would he be able to cover them before they went over the hill top and got away from him? I found it necessary to block out the talk from those sitting behind me and just focus on what I wanted to see, which was Spot bringing those sheep back over the hill to me. It was like in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated movie, when the Bumble and Yukon Cornelius disappear over the ice cliff into the abyss. What would happen? We could not see. We just had to wait. Well, as in the movie, Bumbles Bounce! I focused and visualized the sheep coming back over the hill and down the ATV track that runs down the hillside. It took a while. But soon, I saw sheep's ears appearing at the top of the hill, then sheep and then a black and white dog behind them, coming down that track. Whew! Good Boy, Spot. I was a believer.

It has not all gone that well. A couple of lessons later, Spot had trouble lifting these same sheep off of a spotter. They are dorpers and dorper crosses, big and fat, very dog broke and wise, and they know to cling to the stock handler. Spot was just not sure. I had to walk partway up the same big hill and urge him onto them. It has been a mixed bag. Since then I have been working on building his confidence again, as best I can. I've been having him push sheep off of feed. And sending him for sheep that are breaking away towards a draw. And calling him in on the heads after I have let a few go to create a draw.

In our latest lesson I just did what I call meat and potatoes. Spot did a few shorter outruns and I just let him bring them. I now know he can run out there at the big distances with the big boys on the hills, so shortening the outrun to keep him confident is not a bad thing to do. We did some driving. He was good. His flat walk is a thing of beauty. :) And then, we shed. The trainer's sheep are almost impossible to shed. But in our last lesson we got not one, not two, but three sheds. I will take that as a sign of our combined improving confidence.

Shedding at Zamora. Photo by Marnie N.

It's a long walk out to the field where we have been working. I'm not sure of the distance, but maybe a mile. I'm pretty proud of myself that I have been able to walk out there and most of the way back. Maybe not all the way back but at least half way back. I've been riding my new stationary bike too. All of this is certainly a confidence builder, for me. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Back To School

Back to School, or, "Confidence comes with Experience"

All the kids were going back to school early last month. Spot and I also went back to school, too, in early to mid-August. We've not been attending daily like the kids do, but we have put in some regular weekend lesson sessions over the past few weeks. It is really helping Spot a lot in his confidence and experience level. My main goal is to get him more experiences so that we both feel ready to trial, when the time comes. I am not sure, other than Hopland, when that will be as there are so few PN trials to go to.

All the cool kids are playing with this iPhone app, called Prisma. It has some stunning effects! :)
I had thought that Spot was pretty good about taking sheep away from a stock handler ("spotter") but when you add in a lot more distance and hills, the ATV, some in-your-pocket sheep and a couple of extra dogs at a place that is not "home", it got a bit more tricky. We have been working on building Spot's confidence to lift sheep off of the stock handler. I've been enlisting any friends I can get to help me when practice on the home fields, but at "home" Spot does not seem to have any trouble with it. He is getting better and better about lifting the sheep at the lessons so I am sure we will work it out. But that is one of the things that we have been working on, over the past few weeks. His fitness level also wasn't up to par when we first started back to work in early August, after the pneumonia, but it is much better now. Next time we will be experimenting with chicken broth to try to entice Spot to drink some of the Energy Edge after his lesson. So far he has not wanted it just mixed with water the way Coal was eager to take it.

The driving is getting better and better as the experience level increases. Spot's outruns on the hills are still not quite as confident as I would like but they are coming along. I am hopeful that we will both feel prepared when our turn comes to finally go to the post after a year off of trialling. We're also working on his shedding and I think I got ahead of myself a little bit in the lessons with that but he IS shedding. I want to go back and work on some more beginner shedding, just calling him through a larger group, before we try to whittle it down too much to 4-5 head in a more trial situation scenario. The days are getting shorter for practicing at home, so I am really grateful that Spot's training has come together so well when soon we will have much less time to work sheep while winter is here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

August Birthdays

I seem to have very good luck with boy dogs who have August Birthdays. Augie was born on August 20th. Coal on August 29th. Spot on August 22nd.

Coal just turned 10 years old on August 29, 2016. It is so hard to believe that he is ten. I am not celebrating...I wish he were turning five twice for a second time, but not ten. He is happily engaging his retirement from trials. From time to time I call him The Poodle...because he yaps. He is merry and bouncing around, apparently feeling wonderful, but he barks with joy whenever he feels the need. Yikes! :) I work him lightly to keep his brain and body in shape. He likes holding sheep for other people because he knows that job and I don't have to tell him what to do...he's on auto pilot...his favorite situation.

Coal and I were doing chores on a recent evening...I love this light!
Spot turned four years of age, on August 22, 2016. Spot is looking very mature, and bulked out like a young man coming of age. He is really working well for me and is such a character. I really love his stable, happy, solid temperament. And the way he lifts sheep...oh my. :) It has taken a Village to bring him to this point and I am most grateful...there are many folks I would include in that village. We are getting ready to run in our first few PN trials, I hope. And I also hope we will be able to move up to Open before too long.

Spot enjoying some nice cool green grass (not at our house!)

Dear Augie; I miss him so. What a grand, grand dog! :)

Humboldt County Weekend, 2

Coal and Chi were the super-swimmers

Look at that water! :)

Ryme in the Eel

Spot has no experience with swimming so he was cautious about doing more than cooling his feet.

Working with the lambs at Boggy, Spot and I were able to achieve some more success in his experience and training. The lambs have been worked by dogs but not very much. They are curious and slow. They wanted to stay together! At the end of our Saturday work session, I did a mini-International style shed and kept letting a few lambs go, creating a strong draw. I would let a few lambs go and call Spot up to hold the rest. We did this a few times and the pressure got stronger. Spot held it! Yes! We got down to just two lambs...I wondered if Spot would hold them without blowing. He did! The two lambs wanted very badly to return to their mates...but Spot kept the "gate" closed until I said he could open it. This made my whole trip worthwhile.

On Sunday, we volunteered to help with the RESDA trial at the Humboldt County Fair, in Ferndale. Our friend with the lambs was supplying the sheep for the trial. There were only 10 dogs in the trial so it was very small and it was held in a very small, dark covered arena. I was glad that I did not have a dog entered in the trial although there was a huge crowd of interested spectators, probably 150 people or more at any given time. It was very well received. Ryme helped me to do the exhaust and he did a fine job. He had trouble hearing my voice though because after every run the announcer would talk on the microphone. Finally I switched to my whistle and that worked much better. It would be awesome if this trial could move outdoors to one of the green areas on the fairgrounds in Ferndale, and that would be much better, I believe. During one of the runs, a lamb escaped, ran down the midway, out behind the race horse barns, down the race track and into the racing grandstand, before he was captured. He was given a ride back to the arena on a policeman's golf cart. Oh my. This escape could have been fraught with so much disaster. Thank goodness nothing bad happened. Anyway, when the prizes were awarded, the winning run was obviously the winning run that earned the blue ribbon and the check. We got the lambs quickly loaded, they were taken back home and then all of us who helped with the sheep and the trial, went out for a much needed adult beverage!

On Monday, after way too much excitement, we kicked back and worked dogs at Eel Rock in the morning, took the dogs to the river, and I drove home through the Avenue of the Giants (the tall Redwoods), needing to be back to work and reality on Tuesday. 

Chi works sheep

Chi has no lack of enthusiasm for her 10 years!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Humboldt County Weekend, 1

Dogs having so much fun in the Eel River on a hot day

We spent a three-day weekend up in Humboldt County, last month. The dogs got some nice sheepdog work in, they got to swim or wade (by individual preference) in the Eel River and the humans had a blast along with some combination scary, fun, and exciting times.

Coal having a moment in the Eel River. He loves to swim!

Our friend Z's doggie, Chi, also enjoying the Eel River's cool water.

Spot got some nice work in at Boggy, on some lovely sheep, older wool lambs of various breeds: cheviot, perendale, romney, and crosses of same. I love Ferndale because it is almost always sweatshirt weather there. :)

Spot working lambs at Boggy, photo by Marnie N.
Where we stayed, is a little slice of heaven. More to come, in another post. :)

Looking towards the Eel River

The Boyz at Carmel, our favorite place