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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything

Today Spot got his first exposure to taking sheep off of a stock handler. Well, not exactly. I should say to be more precise, that today Spot got his first exposure to having a human being standing near the sheep (who were eating hay) when he went around them on his mini-outrun practice. Since the opportunity was there, I took advantage of the extra person and asked them to go stand by the sheep when I sent Spot for them.  We didn't have that person along with their dog out there, just yet. The presence of just a person was enough to throw Spot off his normal course. He came in tighter than normal and didn't go deep and wide like he normally does. He seemed to be thinking, "What is HE doing out there with my sheep?" if you could have read the thought bubble over Spot's head.

We will work on this, some more, obviously. I thought it was not too early to start. Spot is ready. We'll help him if he needs it.

I was happy to see that by the third time, Spot was almost back to his normal form around the sheep.  We took a break, Spot got some water and cooled off. Then I sent him for the sheep again, with no person near the sheep, just so he could be successful in his familiar manner. It was good.

The other boys got to work, too. Everybody was relatively good. :) Then they got baths after we got home; well I should say that everyone but Spot got a bath. Spot's shiny short coat doesn't need much upkeep so I just wiped him down with a wet towel like you would rub down a horse. He's good to go. :) The others needed full baths and pedicures, and were far overdue for it. The weekends never seem long enough for everything I want or need to do!



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Essential Teammate

There was a discussion recently over on Facebook about how no one blogs any more. I do like to blog but I often do not have the time to sit down and be creative. That said, there were several folks who encouraged blogging to continue. So okay, I will try! :)

I had a thought last night about my right hand man, Ryme, that I thought I could blog about. He doesn't get the kudos that sometimes the other dogs do. But I could not be doing what I am doing, without his help. Ryme does all the sorting and sheep moving that makes it possible for me to work the other dogs.  I am working an extra dog for a friend, so that makes three dogs I am trying to work (besides Ryme). Ryme never quits, he never gives up, and he just keeps doing what I ask. Go get the sheep in, help me get the sheep sorted. Move this group here, move that group there. Deal with the cranky mama ewe, or, the uneducated ram lamb who thinks he can walk over the top of the dog.  Gate sort this group, shed off those mamas and babies so they can get fed. Hold the sheep off of me when I am wheelbarrowing the alfalfa out to feed. Yes, all that and more.

So even though he is not a trial dog, Ryme is a very essential part of my dog team. Here's to you buddy, I couldn't do it without you!


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 sky...an 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. :)