Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movin' On...

Movin' on and picking up the pieces...

I've been working Spot every night in hopes of getting him back to that "buttery" (for lack of a better word) state in which we make progress and move forward (and he works beautifully). When we have to take two or three or four or five days in a row off of sheep work, then it is almost like starting over. When I can work him three days in a row (minimum) by that third day, he is buttery and flowing. Ahhh. In this mode, most of the time he does not blow up; once in a while he will blow a little but then all dogs do at some point. Tonight it was what should have been a simple pickup off the barn/fence that threw him off. I just called him back and started over on opening up the flanks, as I was told to do by Derek. I am figuring out what triggers the problem at times (the guardian dog on the opposite side of the fence where Spot needs to pick up the sheep off the rail for example).

We haven't skipped any days recently...
The evenings are long as we head into High Summer, which allows me to work dogs on the sheep after I get home from my job. The sheep have to be put in every night, because of the mountain lion threat, so we will get out there even for a few minutes almost every evening.  Ryme and Coal can alternate sorting sheep and putting them away. Coal, by the way, has been attentive to command and almost picture-perfect on the home fields, since our RT at the Pt Pleasant trial. The little monkey. :)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bits 'N' Pieces, and Early May

Spot works the Scotties (mostly)
I'll post the cute picture of Spot first so that if anyone doesn't want to read the boring and rambling text that follows, they may choose to do so. :)

Early May has sometimes not been kind to me, I realized. I've now lost three dogs in a row in the week or two surrounding Mothers' Day. It's not that I'm dwelling on losing Chiefie but it is a big part of day-to-day, still. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

We went to the Mothers' Day trial at Spencer's yesterday. It was a very nice trial, a beautiful sunny and not too hot day in early May, and so good to see everyone. Since I haven't been to any of the spring trials in the area, it was great to catch up with all the trialling friends and spend some time visiting.  I had fun and the meal was great. There was BBQ tri-tip and many salads and lovely ice cream. :) Many folks offered their condolences about Chiefie, which is great. The dog people really "get it". But this also brought my mind back around to Chiefie for a good part of the day. Everyone is so kind, though. It was a good day.

But, it was also a sort of sad day wrapped around another (now) aging dog. Coal is 9, coming 10 in August. I entered him in the Open trial at Spencer's just for fun, to see what we could do. Lately he has not been wanting to take much direction from me at a distance, although he is still keen to work. At the trial there was a dog-leg fetch and he would not take direction from me to make that fetch. Had the fetch been the traditional straight-to-the-handler style, we would have been fine. :) After the post turn he seemed a bit fizzled, would not take his flanks and we bobbled the first panel. I decided it was time to walk off with dignity, so I turned around and thanked the judge and we RTed. I am not upset. I knew it was 50-50, based on what Coal has been doing at home, that this would be the outcome. I am a little sad but not upset. He has been a great trialling partner and taught me so much. Coal is still healthy, relatively sound, and still keen to work (although sort of on his own terms). He will do any job you ask, and is fairly obedient close at hand. We will hold sheep for others to practice their outruns, and still work and do chores, but not trial. It's OK as I had not planned to travel to any of the summer trialling opportunities in Oregon and Washington, anyway.  The painful part is that I now have two dogs who can't trial, and one who is not quite ready. That's the way it goes when you don't have a whole kennel full of dogs.  This is another thing that many of the dog people just "get".

Watching the trial, I have noticed that I see things more that I did not see before. I watched people setting up their sheds: those who made it look pretty and those for whom it did not go so well. I saw tight flanks, good flanks, and running sheep and quietly walking sheep. I'm just taking it all in. I think my eye has been developed a whole bunch this year, in this direction. I may not have a kennel full of trial dogs but I am getting better at recognizing good work when I see it. That's a good thing. :)

We're heading into the second half of May, now, which means foxtail season is here. Lots of work to do both on the ground and with getting Spot prepared to be a trial dog, eventually. Spot and I have a couple of clinics on our calendar, so that he can get some more exposure to new places. This kind of crazy disjointed and unpredictable year - 2016 - just rolls on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Best Medicine

The best medicine for healing your heart over a lost dog, is going out to the fields and working your other dogs. When I lost Bid at a too-young age, my trainer told me, "all you can do is focus all of your efforts on your other dogs." Even with the other dogs to take up the slack, the lost dog leaves a hole that never gets filled.

I'm so thankful for the weekend and some time to step back, and regroup around my other dogs. I've done a little bit of reorganizing, which has shaken up the remaining dogs a little bit but not too much, I hope. There were four dog beds in the bedroom, and now there are three. I downsized the crates in my pickup from four to three, and reorganized what is in there to be more useful for the upcoming summer dog training. There is space.

We got out to work on the sheep both Saturday and Sunday. Spot was very good, both days! wow! I am working primarily on cross-driving, with him. That is where I am re-building his ability to drive proficiently, and be sure that he can flank properly behind the sheep when they are moving away from him. I want to get us both completely competent, and confident, on the cross driving before we move into doing a whole lot more of the drive away. We are also doing our other exercises that Derek suggested that we do. I was super pleased with Spot, since the dogs have not been worked all week. Normally it takes a few days to get in synch with Spot, but not this time.

Coal is not in the best of shape, which I am trying to remedy, but he's a gamer. He listens part of the time and part of the time, he's on his own plan. Coal makes me laugh. :) We are old partners who enjoy each other's company. Coal is now (hard to believe) the old dog around here; he is 9 and will be 10 in August.

Ryme is a good worker close at hand but once again we decided he's not a trial dog. I asked to have someone hold sheep for him to pick up, just as a test, and it blew his mind due to the distance. Ok, so I won't put Ryme into a trial. It's too bad because he does know how to do everything. Ryme is a tremendous help though.

The fields are lush and green and damp from weekend rains. The dogs did not get hot because the temperatures were nice and cool; it was perfect dog working weather which is a gift for me because it is the medicine that I needed most.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Life Goes On...

Life without Chiefie. We are still getting used to it but it will be weird for a while. The poor other three dogs have not been out to work sheep since last weekend. They are a bit crazy. I will wait to see, after they are worked some, if they are exhibiting behavior that indicates the loss of their friend. Ryme, in particular, was Chief's daytime pal; Ryme has been acting a bit weirder than normal, but then Ryme is already weird, so who knows? :)

When someone has been with you since December 2001, that is a long time. In December 2001 everyone was still in a state of shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When we went to pick up Chiefie from the airport, the security was high and the state of awareness (and fear) was noticeable. Christmas 2001, our parents were very viable and we had a fuzzy baby puppy in the house, who got dressed up in a big red bow and posed for Christmas pictures with everyone. Good times. :) But, it is a long time. Everyone has been so sweet and kind about Chiefie. I am overwhelmed.

This week has been very challenging. I had a huge work related challenge as well. That challenge now behind me (passing a professional certification test that I absolutely had to pass) I can try to re-focus again on getting my dogs worked, and Spot trained, and the others kept in shape.

We also need to get the wool off of our sheep. Our shearer has been sick but I think he is on the mend now, and our turn is bubbling up to the top of his queue. Now it is just the weather (which has had unsettled t-storms and patches of rain) that holds back the process. We, including our sheep, are all hoping it can get done soon.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On a Trip to Ireland

Last night I dreamed that I was on a trip in Ireland. I was somewhere near the ocean, but it was a sheep grazing/agricultural area. I was going to meet a friend on my trip, but I had not joined her yet; I still had a ways to go to get to the place where we had agreed to meet.

I came across a man, who was a working shepherd, and his shepherd's dog, a handsome black and white rough coated male border collie. It was Bid. Bid was with this man and was his work dog. I saw Bid and called him over to me. Bid was happy and greeted me, and I petted him and talked to him and he wagged his tail. The shepherd and I had a good conversation. Bid was in great shape and in the prime of his life. Then, soon it was time for the man to go and do his work with his sheep. Bid turned and left with the man as it was his job to do. I was happy to have seen Bid and interact with him. I continued on my journey in Ireland.

My mind has been traversing a lot of varied things lately, is all I can say.

Chiefie has left the building, and we will all miss him.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Until a Few Days Ago

Chiefie portrait from November 2015, by Marnie N.
Until a few days ago Chiefie was having fun, as much as a 14+ year old dog can have. This week, I had to take him to the vet because he did not eat and had a fever, and we got some bad news. Through xrays and an ultrasound, we discovered that he has a mass on his spleen and on his gall bladder. Those masses could be surgically removed, but I do not feel he is a candidate for this surgery.  He is anemic due to the spleen issue as well. I have talked it over with the veterinarians and I am very sad to acknowledge that this means we are coming near to the end of our time together. I don't want to prolong his situation and I certainly don't want those masses to burst, or even more importantly, for him to be in pain. For some unknown reason, he was also having some pretty major back pain, which we now have controlled. We are enjoying a little more time together and next week sometime I will make arrangements to let him go.

That said, after getting him on some pain management this week, this morning he looks almost just about like he did about two weeks ago when we had our fun trip to Ferndale. He's begging for food, wants to go along with the other boys (although at a slower pace), and taking lots of naps. In between he is bright eyed, attentive, and interacting with his friends. What more could we ask besides a happy life right up (almost) until the end? The vet told me to spoil him, let him eat whatever he wants, and just keep his medication levels up and his food and water intake going.

We've had some great adventures and it seems like a very, very, long time ago since December 2001, when he came home with me as an eight-week-old pup who looked like a fuzzy white baby opossum. :)  I'm sure I will write more about him but for now this brings everyone up to speed. Happy weekend to all, and enjoy your dogs. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Flash Cards

My latest plan is to create flash cards for my dog training. I'm making a list of the things I want to work on, this summer in the evenings and on the weekends.  Flash cards are most likely a thing of the past, as are these sheepdog blogs (!) but then so am I! :) I thought it would be a great idea for evenings when I get home tired from work, but still want to get the dogs out to the sheep. I won't just do the same ole, same ole, whatever comes into my head...I will pull out a flash card and have a fresh idea of what to work on, and might (just might!) actually get through (or at least to) the many many things that need to get worked on.

I'm compiling the flash card list (I don't have actual cards yet) from the training plans that I got from Derek. I'm also adding in many of the things in the Vergil Holland book (the new one) where he mentioned things that you should practice before you enter a trial. I am part way through the book, the second time, adding highlighter and post-it note tabs on those pages where the exercises are discussed.  I don't want to hand-write on index cards so I need another idea to make the cards. Something that is not hand-intensive to create even more hand pain than I already have, from work. Ideas?

Our trip to Ferndale (where I thought of the flash cards, as we were winding up our time with Derek) was exactly everything I'd hoped for, and then some.  The clinic was held on a beautiful sheep and cattle ranch. Spot got to work out in an open field, no fences (except perimeter fencing, far away) on real sheep and a chance to put things together a bit from what we've been working on over the past month (and really over the past year and a half or so). One of my plans for this year is to get Spot out as many new places as I can, on different sheep, without actually taking him to trials just yet. This clinic was perfect for that. We worked on our basics that we have been doing, and we did more driving, and even a couple of sheds. The older lambs/young yearlings that we were working were pretty easy to split apart so it was a primo chance to try a shed with Spot (who is a beginner shedder).

Plus and even more importantly the group of people at this last clinic was just fantastic. We have all grown supportive of one another's attempts to improve our dog work. It is just a great bunch.

Here is the field in Ferndale where we worked (excuse the faraway i-Phone photo):

This looks like heaven to me!
This is a photo of my boys on the last morning of the clinic:

Ready for the next adventure
Training a sheepdog from a puppy to a competent adult that you can run in Open (or even PN) takes a lot of work. If you don't enjoy the process, then it would be best to either buy a trained Open dog or find another activity. The time and miles are worthwhile to me but it does seem to take, forever. The people you meet along the way, however, are jewels who also make it all worthwhile.  My friend hauled her LQ horse trailer into town so that I would have a place to stay for this clinic...I don't think people get much nicer than that. I enjoyed staying on site, at the venue. The little enclosed barn lot above in the photo, was just outside the door of the trailer. What could be nicer for the dogs and me? Not much. :) We are very lucky.