Sunday, July 20, 2014

July Rain

While back home in Illinois they are getting a lot of rain, normally here we don't get any rain from May to October. We are also in a serious drought, because we haven't been getting enough rain from October to May, either. The past week has brought two different short episodes of actual water falling from the un-heard of event in these parts for July. It is delicious and refreshing, and oh-so-not-enough for the parched landscape. But, it is good for the soul anyway. And plus you get to see if your windshield wipers still work. They do. :)

July has been quite a busy month. We went to Carmel over the Fourth of July and escaped the firecrackers at home. I am told by my local friends that it was the worst year ever for the illegal fireworks here in town. We had a great time getting away to the ocean, the cool weather, and no booms, pops, or smoke.

The beach was really busy because of the July 4th holiday. So it was hard to find space like in the above picture, to walk the dogs off leash. This walk shown above, was about the only time, unlike in other years past when the dogs have had more freedom.  There were just dogs and kids everywhere, so that part was not as fun as perhaps in the past when we have gone and the Fourth was a mid-week holiday.

Besides our trip to Carmel, it feels like other activity has been nonstop. I have been working dogs a lot it seems. Spot has really turned the corner on his progress in the past few weeks...he is partnering up and wanting to work with me, for which I am really grateful.

Spot is doing short gathers, lift and fetch...and a few steps of a drive here and there. We're working on his flank commands and stops. It looks more and more like we are getting together as a team, and that is really encouraging. :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer's Here

Summer has arrived!
I had a blast judging the RESDA trial at 7 Oaks Ranch. A pair of agility friends volunteered to clerk and be the timekeeper even though they are not RESDA members. Wow! What generous and thoughtful volunteer action! We had a great time having a picnic under a huge oak tree and watching the dog trial in the best seat in the house. Thank you once again, Celeste and Micky! Woo hoo! And Sue came along to watch as she is figuring out her own judging routine for later in the RESDA year. It was a most enjoyable day. Not too hot, there was a nice breeze all day, and just a wonderful scene laid out in front of us. The handlers and sheepdogs were treated to great sheep from a local provider who brings the most consistent and lovely, well cared-for commercial ewes to a dog trial in two trailer loads among whom you can hardly pick one individual from another. Wow. They make it so easy to judge. I believe they are a cross of dorset and corriedale for the most part, and folks take note, this is a really nice cross for dog work and trialling. And they are beautiful sheep to boot. The field was in beautiful shape, thanks to a huge effort to get it mowed in time for the trial. There were a lot of great runs; I love judging in the field. I was pleased to find out there were no ties in the placements so I felt like I had done my job well in sorting the work of dogs and handlers.

June 21st brought us the Summer Solstice, and more importantly, Alix's birthday. I always think of Alix during the Solstice, which fits her personality I believe...she was always on the upbeat with those happy feet of hers...she would have loved the longest day of the year in which she could have played and run with the boys to the utmost.

This past Sunday I ran Coal and Ryme at the RESDA trial at the Sonoma-Marin Fair. I was super proud of both of my boys, even though we didn't complete the chute or pen, because they both tried very hard and gave it their best. Ryme has come so far! I was wowed by his being able to run out around the arena and pick up the sheep off the rail. This is nothing to some folks but to me I was absolutely wowed. He and I have worked so hard to build his confidence to where he could do this. I know the scores don't show it but both of the boys gave it their best and I was very pleased with them.

I am still working Spot and we are making miniscule little bits of progress, here and there. I am trying to be patient and waiting for that magic age of two years old and beyond where we might be able to expect to pick up the pace of progress, even a little bit. Meanwhile he remains the sweet dog that he has always been, away from the sheep, and has matured into quite the looker despite his funny ears.

Today is Bid's birthday, June 25th, so he has been in my thoughts all day long. It was hard today at my work not to write 6/25/99 all day. What a guy, Bid, always fondly remembered and taken too soon.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Training Wheels Are Off

Spot, approximately 21 months

Spot and I have been working the big girls' and boys' sheep for the past couple of weeks. The more docile training sheep (Dorper/Dorset wethers) that we have been using primarly, have moved to another location, for another pup to get started. So Spot and I are using the Scotties and our work became more difficult. I keep reminding myself that we are working the advanced sheep and the reason we have Scotties is because they are that way.

Thanks to my brother for the phrase about the training wheels because that is exactly how it feels. You want to step up and move forward but after you take those wheels off, you feel a lot more wobbly and less certain, on that bicycle. Things can move a lot faster and go in different directions than perhaps what you had planned!

A month or two ago, I put the long line back on Spot when I worked him. I just needed some more leverage on my side of the equation. Mostly the line is just there.  A couple of times, I have caught him with it and it made an impression. Today I worked him without the line but I carried it with me in case I wanted to put it back on. I didn't need it. Too bad it was so hot out today that we had to cut our session pretty short. I think we could have made some more progress.  He's getting better and better, about many things. We can do a short outrun, lift, and fetch. I am having him drive, just a few steps here and there, whenever I can set up the situation. And we are working on stops off balance (that's coming along slowly but surely) and on flanks just with the verbal and less body positioning and language from me (that will take a while).  Spot really wants to please and that's my ace in the hole!

Today is Memorial Day, which means an extra day off of work, some time to rest, and time to remember those who have gone before. In our family it was not just about decorating the graves of fallen soldiers but also decorating graves of our family members who had passed away. It is a day of remembrance and thankfulness.  Going to and from working the dogs, I saw lots of flags displayed. I particularly like seeing flags hung on rural fences, mailboxes, and gates. I know it is extra work for folks to put up flags that are not just at their doorstep, like mine, but I appreciate seeing them!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mother's Day Tradition

It's become a tradition to go to the sheepdog trial at Point Pleasant Ranch, for Mothers' Day. The Spencers always put on a nice relaxed trial day, and there is a potluck and the traditional Mothers' Day cake. This year was no exception and even with a full day with a lot of entries in all the classes, the day was fun and relaxed. They offered Nursery, Pro-Novice, Open, and Novice-Novice, which is a lot for one day but they pulled it off!  We stayed until the very end so as to support those in PN and NN (and also to miss the traffic backups that inevitably occur on Sunday afternoon/evening).

The Open course was outrun-lift-fetch, left hand drive, then Maltese cross with a turn in the center, then shed any two. Coal and I ran in this class and we had a nice run with just one pilot-error mistake by me, which cost us in the placings. We just barely skimmed the second drive panel, when I thought we were right on, which was too bad. Coal was taking every command perfectly. We ended up with a score of 85 which was good enough for sixth place. The winning run was a very smooth one by Judy L and Cam, with a 91. I was very happy with our work and how good it felt, despite my boo-boo!

Ryme ran much later in the day in the Pro-Novice, and we ended up retiring. It is just not his thing to wait all day for his turn at a trial. I knew he was not confident, the way he was hesitant on his outrun and then would not take my redirect. When he started to meltdown at the top, I said thank you to the judge and was on my way up the field as fast as I could get. A couple of good lie downs later, we brought the sheep halfway down the field, then turned them over to the exhaust dog. Poor guy, sometimes his wheels just do not stay on. He's still the best ranch dog, ever... less than a week later Ryme helped us to catch a two month old Scottie lamb who needed vaccinating, and he is worth his weight in gold for the calm way that he can do practical work like that.

I wasn't sure where Coal's and my run at Mother's Day would shake out with regard to the USBCHA points. But a couple of weeks later, when the webpage was updated, I was able to see that yes indeed, Coal did get one USBCHA point for that run. It is not a big deal to get one point, but for me that is a long-term goal attained. Now on to some other stake in the ground which I have not planted yet! :) It has been a long-term goal for us, competing only with ourselves, to get USBCHA point(s) at a trial other than Dunnigan. We have earned points at Dunnigan a couple of times, but nowhere else. Now we have a point at Point Pleasant. It's a new personal achievement, which doesn't mean much, but when you are breaking down your goals into small steps, this is a step taken. I have no intentions of ever taking Coal to the Finals, as he is just not that type of dog who can transfer easily to new fields and situations. But it is a marker that people understand that means more than just saying we are improving in our work.

The days are getting hotter, and a guy just needs to cool off!
There were a couple of friends running in the Pro-Novice who have either just moved up from NN or they have moved up in the past year. So we stayed to watch them, and their runs were very good! I was so proud of them. One of these gals, as we were walking over to check the score board, told me that she routinely used to sit and drink coffee on a Sunday morning and watch the BBC's One Man and His Dog, and never dreamed that she herself would be doing that very same thing, one day. It is so cool to hear stories like this!

So, thanks once again to all who helped to make yet another year's Mothers' Day tradition.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dogs Eating Local and the Last of the SoJos

Recently I had a chance to buy some mutton/lamb from a local friend processed from cull ewes and a wether who decided that dog training was just not for him. That wether may have made a bad choice! But it was a good one for my dogs. Processed by a local butcher, it was a chance to get nice clean food for the dogs. We got one-third ground meat, one-third chunked up meat, and one-third bones. I mixed the last of the grain-free SoJos samples with the first package of the ground meat that I thawed. This made a lot of food for the dogs so I am parceling it out over a few days. Needless to say, they love it. It's nice to be able to mix in some fresh food with their kibble even if that doesn't happen all the time. I am still a believer in fresh food for the dogs and if the day comes when I can source enough of it at the right price again, I will go back to it. Meanwhile I feel the dogs are doing okay on their kibble, plus all the other variety that gets thrown in from time to time. I'm still mixing Fromm Gold with NutriSource grain free. All the dogs look good and seem healthy, crossing fingers and paws! :)

My friend made an interesting point about her cull ewes. If she sells them on, then someone else will no doubt try to breed them, even though they shouldn't be bred for various reasons. Either they had trouble lambing, or they were poor mothers, or they couldn't raise a lamb due to a damaged udder, or something. It is not good stockmanship to put that ewe into that situation just because we don't own her any more. By having them made into dog food, she takes the ultimate responsibility for their outcome. It was a viewpoint that made for a lot of thought on my part. That said we bought cull ewes from her years ago, for dog training, and they were some of the best dog training sheep we ever had! :) But then I think she knew that we were not in the lamb-raising business and did not intend to be.

Coal says thanks for the great meals; Yum!
The days are getting longer as we slide into the second half of May. This makes for more dog training time in the evenings, although we are also sliding into that dreaded time of Foxtail Danger. As always, it's a mixed bag!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ribboning Them Out

This guy is learning to shed.

Ryme is very happy about learning to shed!
Ryme is very slowly learning to shed. Only recently I felt confident enough to try it with him, ribboning out the Scotties and the white training sheep, and the two ewes with their lambs, all of them forming a sheep style conga-line that winds gently, waiting for an opening, making it bigger myself, then calling Ryme through and having him lie down. Then the next step, when sorting sheep to work, ribboning them out again, calling him through, having him take this group this way and that group, thatta-way. It's all so cool and unexpected. I am just thrilled by the willingness to work with me and improve his skills. It's not perfect, don't get me wrong but it is a milestone that was completely and totally unplanned.  The other night he chased down the group that was supposed to be let go but I forgave him and called him back onto his work and it was all OK. He doesn't know. I know he doesn't know. It's a learning process for both of us, which is what is so cool about it.

Yes Ryme still barks too much and he is sometimes a pain at home. But his work is getting better and better. The key to trialing him in any venue will be stopping him at the top. I don't know if our shedding will ever get good enough for trial standards but for now, it's farm-standard and just fine.

Wonders never cease and things with these sheepdog continue to amaze me!

Monday, April 21, 2014

This 'N' That...

Yesterday we had a small RESDA novice workday to help novices learn more about RESDA trials and what is entailed in running a RESDA course. We had more mentors than handlers, though, as we ended up with about five or so mentors, and only two students/handlers! It was still a nice day though and I enjoyed collaborating with my peer RESDA handlers. It was so neat that while we all have different types of dogs, we come from different paths to this activity, and we all handle and train somewhat differently...but we were all pretty much in agreement as to the discussion most of the time. I found that really cool although I guess five people who volunteer to be sheepdog mentors on a weekend morning are bound to be somewhat cool folks- lol! :)

Our two students were at very different levels as were their dogs but I think they both enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately one of the dogs got stung by a bee on her foot so her participation was limited really fast. The one lesson was, always have Benadryl available in this time of year or whenever there may be bees hovering about. The clinic format started with introductions, questions, and then walking thru the RESDA course step by step, without the dogs. Then each student ran the course with their dogs and one of the mentors judged the runs. We followed this with suggestions for improvement and the dog who did not get stung by a bee, did a second run and showed improvement. After that two of the mentors ran their own dogs through the course and tried to show what we are talking about and looking for. It was not as easy as it might have appeared! :) All in all a good format with plenty of time for questions. I hope we can do it again with a better turnout.

This evening there was time and daylight to get all three of my dogs out to train a little bit before dark. Spot was being fast and furious and somewhat exasperating but I was glad I did not give up. At the last we were able to set up a little drive, and he drove the sheep, with me walking parallel, for a little while.  It's not anything earth shattering but there is always that very cool moment when you realize you are driving with your pup for one of the first few times...and how great it feels.  Spot is a project, that's for sure! :) But we're trying.