Monday, September 1, 2014

Spot's Progress, 9-1-2014


Spot's work with the sheep is coming along. I am able to ask him for a few more finer points than I could approximately a month ago. I can't ask for new things each and every time, because I have found that might blow his mind and set us back. But here and there, I can ask for something new and he will give it to me. It probably helps if I ask at the right time, with the right feel in my voice and the correct setup for the situation in terms of field, sheep, and my position.

This past week, I was even able to ask Spot for his very first, ever, inside flank. Wow! The look on his face was priceless. "You mean you can DO that?" seemed to appear in a thought bubble over his head :)

We still have a lot of work to do. I am starting to feel the pressure from the shortening days as we move into Fall, so I am trying to get out there with Spot on every possible training day that I can. 

But on the positive side, I have started the whistles in the past week or so, where I did not feel comfortable to try them before. Spot is responding well to the stop, walk on, and steady whistles. I have thrown in the flank whistles here and there but only sparingly.

Occasionally we've had an opportunity to do a real little chore such as putting sheep up for the night, walking them toward a gate they will go through, and so forth. Those are days I will look forward to, when I can take Spot out with confidence and do most any chore that needs doing.  We're not there yet but he is improving.



I'm looking forward to what the next two months will bring, while we still have evening daylight to work dogs.

Hope everyone is having a great Labor Day! :)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Coal

Coal is eight years old; his birthday was on August 29th and I am just now getting the pictures posted that I took on the eve of his birthday. They are just iphone photos, so nothing too fancy...just some pics of the boy doing his thing!





And then the next day we went to Puny Paws Dog Boutique to buy some dog food (it was pay day of course) and Sue gave Coal a birthday cookie! How nice of her, but then she's really nice. :)



He got to eat it in pieces over the next couple of days. It was a hefty cookie! No, he did not share. :)

I admit, it's bittersweet realizing that he has turned eight. Where has the time gone?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Opportunities in RTs

Gosh if you spell out the word opportunities, there they are, the RTs!

Recently Coal and I had some RTs. It was our first HA trial in a long time. We were not prepared. I knew we weren't really prepared. But the RTs were a great opportunity. I came home with a renewed motivation to improve our performance.

There are many cliches about the bottom of the barrel, and hitting bottom before you can see the top, and so forth.

What this did for me was to open my mind and think outside the box a bit! How can we expand our training, given the limited resources available to us?

With some brainstorming and team work, we are changing up our training and dog work, and how  we use the spaces we are lucky to have. Meanwhile we dream about that 40+ acre field that we don't have...but I am not letting that stand in the way of trying to do better with what we DO have. Just sayin'! :) And very much enjoying and stoked on the process, too!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spot's Progress, 8-15-2014

This is another (short) installment in Spot's Progress. He is at the stage where I am trying to convince him that it is OKAY to drive the sheep and not just to gather and fetch them. He is a gathering fool, now, even though when he was a puppy all he wanted to do was drive them to the fenceline and hold them there. All has changed now! He has seen the light of gathering and wants to do just THAT.

Ahh, another lesson in patience for me. Yesterday evening we got a good flow of driving going. Whee! I was happy to be behind him watching him work and yes, DRIVING.  The sheep were flowing, and I had a rather large group out, which is what I like to use for training a younger dog. It keeps things happy. I was walking, Spot was driving, and the sheep were flowing. And when I laid him down and called him off, a very happy Spot.

And I should have stopped there, on a good note. Sigh.

When will I learn? :) When I work on new concepts with Spot I need to do just a little and then quit. That is what has worked for us to get to this point.

But, we still had a great time in the cool of the evening, with a nice breeze blowing in off the Laguna.

Postscript: There are a lot of bad things happening in this world. It has been a tough week for many. Some really nice friends had bad things happen. Some awful things happened that we saw in the news. It is touching many people, in fact most of us, and might make us lose hope, or get cynical or even hateful. But there are still good things in this world. There is still music. And there is still working a good dog on a Friday night after a long hard week at work that didn't have the greatest of news.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer in the State of Jefferson

Ok, anyone who knows me at all knows that I do not like hot. Hot, hot, not. I do not like hot. I sound like Dr. Seuss but I mean it -- I do not like HOT.

Despite this bias I managed to have a really fun time on our trip to the Summer in the State of Jefferson sheepdog trial this past weekend. It was not only hot (like 97 degrees in the afternoon and it might cool all the way off to maybe 91 by eight or nine pm, oh my.....) but it was also smoky from all the many fires in northern California/southern Oregon. I have mild asthma...I do not like smoky any more than I like hot. But I survived, and more than that, I enjoyed myself.

There were firefighters in all the motels in town, and in all the restaurants and coffee shops. They had come from all over California, and whenever we had a chance, we thanked them for their sacrifice of being away from home, and their service to our state.

Neither hot nor smoky managed to dampen the enthusiasm of the sheepdog triallers who showed up to run in this really fun, well organized trial. The field was lovely, and huge. I am guessing about 40 acres? And the sheep were lovely, and huge. Suffolks. But not bad Suffolks. Since they are worked regularly by dogs, they worked well, unless it got too hot (see paragraph #1 and #2) then they got rather sluggish. So if you ran in the first half of the order you had a pretty good chance. If you ran in the second half of the running order, then you really needed some luck. Suffolks are different and they are certainly nothing that Coal has ever worked before. They were as big as range ewes, almost, but with none of the touchiness of range ewes. The Suffolks also do not flock as much as some of the other breeds of sheep, which created an issue if you had one ewe going this way, another ewe going that way and perhaps a weaned half-grown lamb going a third way. The dog cannot be in three places at once so you'd best not get yourself into that situation in the first place which Coal and I learned the hard way on the first day. sigh. The second day it was really hot when we ran (I think I have mentioned the temperatures, just maybe) and Coal is just too nice. He ran out and then couldn't or wouldn't lift the sheep off the setout point. Disappointing, but they were going nowhere. So thus Coal and I ended up the trial with two RTs. Not exactly what I had in mind but also not a huge surprise. We are so out of practice on trialling. We had not been to a trial out of our immediate area in two years.

The trial committee had thought of everything. Because of the fire danger all around us they had strategically placed fire extinguishers all along the barrier between the parking and the trial field. They ran out and brought in our orders of deli sandwiches, each day.  There were dog cooling tubs both on and off the field. There were tents to gather in the shade under, and hand wipes outside the porta potty, and tons of hospitality, help with questions as to where to go eat and references to a great auto mechanic and whatever you needed. There were smiles all around and lots of helpers. Everyone pitched in. Just the kind of trial that is fun to go to. A lack of drama and a huge dose of fun and good dog work. If I am able to, I would certainly be happy to go back to a trial in the State of Jefferson! And maybe we will do a little better.......I am working on it! :)


Monday, August 11, 2014

Spot's Progress, 8-11-2014

Taking a cue from over at Flying Mule Farm and Ernie's Progress :), here's another installment in the ongoing Progress of Spot.

Last week, before we left for the State of Jefferson, I was afraid to jinx myself by revealing publicly that Spot had helped me with feeding the sheep, not once, but twice.  It is true, not just a rumor, however, that Spot has walked out with the wheelbarrow of alfalfa flakes, and me, "guarding me" from the sheep until I get to the place where I want to spread out the hay. Of course it helps that none of the sheep want to be near Spot. The sheep have gotten used to Coal and Ryme, and they will walk pretty closely to grab a mouthful of some of that green alfalfa off of the cart. But with Spot, the sometimes impetuous "new kid", they kept their distance.

Spot's eyes were as big as dinner plates the first time I tried it. I actually hadn't planned it, but he was there and I was there and so I just opened the gate and out we went into the field with the hay. He could not believe that we were walking among sheep so close and not doing anything but walking. I just kept saying that'll do and talking to him like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. I really like to take a dog out with me to feed. Our sheep have horns and I have gotten caught by a horn by accident which is no fun and quite painful.I want the sheep to keep their distance until I have the hay transported to the chosen location.

Our other big brag is that I worked Spot on the big trial field at the State of Jefferson, on the Suffolk ewes, when practice time was offered after the trial. Spot was a little bit excited but I was so pleased to see that most, if not all, of his behavior was very similar to at home. It was a little over the top but not by much. Very exciting for both of us! It was his first public outing...and I was so glad it went well. We did not totally embarrass ourselves. :)  We were so grateful to be offered practice time on a lovely big field with sheep that are different than ours! Fantastic!

Spot will be two years old this month. Other dogs might have made it to this level of training at about twelve to fifteen months of age, where he is almost twenty-four months. I am trying to not look at how long it is taking but how much progress we are making, which this summer has been a LOT. I can't try to force a time-based agenda on the dog. Making the transition to simple chores is a huge step forward.