Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Making it Real and Back to the Future

Recently a friend whose ewes were getting really close to lambing, needed to sort said ewes out of a bunch of other sheep and move them to their lambing location that is more in-by. We showed up at the right time and the dogs and I helped to sort the groups. It was nice to put their training to work - making it real - in a helpful situation. We could have gate-sorted the sheep but that is hard on the gates and on my knees. So, I sorted them using a mini-international shed for all but the last few, who got gate sorted. First Ryme helped me to sort six training sheep out of the bunch and those were put away. Then we worked quite a while to sort yearling ewes out of the rest of the ewe "bunch".  This was a lot more difficult because some of the yearlings were really attached to the big group and kept running back to the older ewes. We got this part way accomplished, and Ryme was apparently getting tired. So I broke off and got Spot and gave Ryme a rest. Spot and I finished the job and we put the bred ewes in a pen to be loaded on the trailer and put the yearling ewes out in a pasture to graze. When you have a real job to do it makes it really clear why all the training we do is so important and not just being incredibly picky about clean flanks and stops.

Of course it was raining lightly during this chore and I suppose I should be glad that it was not just absolutely pouring. We are still having a record rain/weather year. It still feels like winter and we are more than halfway through April. It is a good thing that the bred ewes went to their lambing spot, that morning, because the first one delivered healthy twins, late that afternoon, and another ewe had a single, that night!

Back in my childhood we watched the Jetsons' cartoons on TV, and we were led to believe that commuting to one's workplace would eventually be accomplished in a blink of an eye in a space ship that traveled at the speed of light. Astro the space dog was often present in the passenger seat of the space ship. :-) Now in a similar fashion, my commute has been shortened to a few steps, because I have joined the ranks of the WFH set.  Back to the future, for me. It takes some getting used to and I have not fully made the adjustment, yet. The dogs gather around my work space and sleep, most of the day. So far only one conference call has been interrupted by a loud squeaky toy being tossed around, when I mistakenly thought my (soft) phone was muted. Back to the future. It's an odd combination, an ages-old tradition such as bringing ewes closer to home for lambing, and a Jetsons-like work experience.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Been There, Done That; Got the T-Shirt: McCormack Days Two-Three

Day Two of the McCormack Ranch trial was not nearly so windy; it was a beautiful sunny day with only light winds. In the afternoon it got pretty hot. I know some of our dogs (and people) are not acclimated to the heat yet, this spring. Spot and I had another run and we tried to make the best of it after the first day's failure to even get out to the sheep.

The Saturday course was the same: left hand drive, shed-pen-single, with the time reduced from 15 to 14 minutes. This was still ample time to complete the course if the work was efficient and moved the sheep properly. Some folks finished with one to four minutes to spare, even!

I sent Spot to the right this time, as I had initially wanted to do the first day but then got swayed by watching others and switched my plan. Today I stuck to my original plan. I had to re-direct Spot out four or five times, but he got out there, thank goodness, and lifted the sheep. The fetch was not all that pretty, nor was the drive, but we got around. I think we missed all of the possible gates but we were not far off the mark. We did our shed, moved on to the pen, where time was called, and we got 54 points. So no pen or single points, for us.

McCormack Ranch trial field
 What a beautiful trial field and setting! The sheep were fantastic. What a nice thing to be able to have time to do the full course of shed-pen-single. No one had to feel super-rushed through the work if they kept their sheep at a nice pace and their dog worked them properly.

Saturday scores
I'm so glad that Spot and I got to run at McCormack. I don't have any regrets about moving him up in class even though we now can't go back to PN. I am only looking forward.

Friday's scoreboard
I was thrilled to get a score even though Spot and I did not complete the course. It was a decent, respectable run for our first time in Open. :-) I figured out something I am doing that I will need to fix; I am stopping and flanking him too much and I need to let things flow more. I wanted to try to handle more this way on Sunday.

Sunday's running order had us listed as dog six; not much time to get ready or get nervous.  The judge and the course director had changed the course around. They switched it to a right-hand drive, and put in a marked shed and pen instead of the traditional shed, pen, and single. Each dog and handler team got six sheep and two of them were marked. You were supposed to sort off the two marked sheep as well as one other plain one (the wild card), and then pen those three. I was really looking forward to trying this sort/shed as this is the type of work that Spot and I really enjoy doing. We have practiced this type of thing multiple times. But it was not meant to be. He again needed a lot of help on the outrun but he got out there after 4-5 whistles. Then he lifted the sheep and just barely started them towards us. I don't know what happened next but all of a sudden he appeared to be running back towards me, down the fetch line. At this point there was nothing to do but retire. It was somewhat dissappointing but I am not discouraged. This was our first open trial and I chose the biggest open trial in our area to move Spot up. Even the person who has been urging me to move Spot to open ASAP was a little taken aback by this move of mine; I am not regretful. I learned so much about the dog, and my handling and what I need to work towards just by running in this trial.

Oh and I did get the t-shirt :-)

Friday, March 31, 2017

That's Not my Puppy...Whew! Day One McCormack

The McCormack Ranch is a gorgeous site for a sheepdog trial. Green grassy fields extend out endlessly in all directions, to the Sacramento River and beyond. The sheep are fit and beautifully conditioned and sensible. The trial is so well-run and well-staffed with many volunteers and local involvement. It is a handler's dream location.  The only drawback today was the wind, which was blowing at 22-24 mph.  Arghghghgh.

When I first walked out to the course, I thought how well laid-out this course is. My gut reaction was to send Spot right. Instead I wavered by the time we were up, and I thought he had spotted the sheep (which were little specks due to the very long outrun but he hadn't, or he didn't realize how far out they were), but for better or worse, I sent him left. He started out well but I could tell he was not sure, because his head was up as he ran. I gave him a comebye whistle as a reminder and he went on, and then pulled up, confused. Oh no. Then he ran behind a hill and I lost sight of him. I blew recall, walk in and comebye...and recall, walk in again, and soon he reappeared in the spectators, sort of behind the post. We both tried hard to get him out to the sheep but it was not happening, he was lost, he had misplaced his sense of where the sheep were and I nodded to the judge's truck and retired. I am not upset. He tried hard, I tried hard, and we couldn't make it work today. We will try again tomorrow.

Then, we were at exhaust. The next handler had a nice outrun, lift, and most of the fetch, when suddenly a puppy appeared dragging a leash and it was very keen! The puppy ran into the sheep near the post and started chasing them. The working handler and I stood frozen, not knowing what to do! Soon though it was apparent the run was over and would be followed by a re-run for this handler. Meanwhile the puppy was chasing the sheep over the endless hills and almost out of sight! The puppy's owner came running and she and I started in pursuit, and I unclipped Spot's leash and said, Away. I sent him out blind over the hills to find the four sheep and the puppy. There was nothing else I could do but keep walking forward and wait. Pretty soon, here came the four sheep over the top of the hill, with Spot smartly trotting behind them, and the puppy leaping and jumping all over Spot. Spot says, I work alone! (LOL) but he put up with the pestering. The course director soon appeared on a quad, and between he and the owner, they caught the puppy and took her back on the quad to be sequestered  no doubt for the remainder of the trial. Spot and I took the four ewes to exhaust. I was very proud of his work being sent on the fly, out of sight, blind, to pick up sheep who were being chased by a puppy. Anything could have happened and only the right thing did. It made my day.

We will try again tomorrow. I have a good dog who is well trained, and needs experience.  There were some really nice runs. It is so nice to have plenty of time to work through the course and to do the whole course (shed-pen-single) without a huge rush. What a super treat for the handlers. Like I said, this is a dream trial so far, despite our own RT.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oh, Zamora...

PN and Nursery (first) scores from Zamora

In red ink, nursery placements from first nursery class
Oh, Zamora. The Zamora trial is always a lesson in accepting what is and not trying to impose what we think something should be, over the top. The Zamora PN run was not a very good one for Spot and me. He ran out well, but pulled up a little shorter than I would like. I waited too long to whistle him over; I don't know what I was thinking but I know I let him hang out there a few milliseconds too long. Anyway his outrun was not bad at all. His lift was fine; he brought the sheep down without hesitation which was nice to see. The top of his fetch was straight but fast; I tried to stop him and he wouldn't. This was my warning flag; uh-oh. Somewhere on the first half of the fetch he did stop for me and was coming forward nicely with the four ewes when all of a sudden he flanked himself Away without me asking for it and the sheep went sideways (towards exhaust), and we were done. Those range ewes are just unforgiving of any small mistake; this was only Spot's second experience on the range sheep. It's been a while since I have run any dog on them, too.  We tried to put them back on the fetch but things went all sideways from there and we ran out of time, just barely completing our fetch. It was the fastest seven minutes of our lives. I felt like I didn't even know what hit me. Yikes. I felt disconnected from him on the run. It was disappointing to not even be able to try the drive. This is going to be my next challenge: to stay connected with my dog at trials. The last two trials I have not felt connected; it was so unlike the PN run at Hopland last November where the feeling was right. We need more experience with learning to trial with one another.

The weather was beautiful; it was a clear, cool, sunny day with none of that famed Zamora wind. The PN/Nursery folks really lucked out, for once. There were some really nice runs, better overall than many of us were expecting to see. I am glad for everyone who had a good run. I am still puzzling over what I need to do to get better focused and in connection with my dog for next time. This dog is certainly teaching me a lot.

I can remember my first time running in Open with Coal at Zamora; I was so thrilled that Coal actually ran out there on that huge hill and brought me the sheep, I almost forgot to whistle or do anything else. :-)  There was another year when Coal and I ran at Zamora, the year Alf Kyme judged, when we actually got our shed and I had my hand on the pen rope before time was called. That was a real high point for me. It is not just another trial, at Zamora. It's not just another field with sheep on it. I would like to be able to disassociate from the surroundings, and just be more in the moment when I run my dog, but it is hard to set those thoughts aside when you are standing at the post, especially at that place. I have been very, very fortunate to have run my dogs at Zamora several different times. I know there are many handlers out there who would love to give it a try.

Bill Slaven and Alf Kyme, in 2012

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spot March 2017; Listening; Hearing

Below is part one of a little video that I didn't know was being shot...while Spot and I were "tuning-up" on our home sheep before some of the recent trials. It is from a unique viewpoint, that is someone was standing right with the sheep when he picked them up from near her and then worked them right up to and around her. Thank you Marnie N. for the video! I really like how he is listening. He is a listener! :-)

There is a part two of this video also. The work  in these videos is not all perfect but it's nice. Of course it's on broke sheep at the home field but it is nice to have a record of what Spot and I have worked so hard for.


Yesterday I volunteered all day at the ABCA-sponsored BAER (hearing) testing clinic at the Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trial. It was a full, long day, but a great one. More than 35 border collies had their BAER testing done and we got DNA cheek swab samples on all of them and a few more who did not need the BAER test at that time. The veterinarian who performed the testing was so patient and kind.  She worked tirelessly all day to perform the tests and collect the data. Those of us who were volunteers helped by collecting the cheek swab data on the dogs and organizing the paperwork. It took me back to my (non-licensed) vet tech days doing the cheek swabs and holding dogs. I have to say that most of the dogs were so well behaved and willing. It was amazing how they allowed us as total strangers to stick toothbrushy-type things in their mouths three times and swirl them around on their gums without hardly putting up any fuss. It really says a lot about the temperament of our trial dogs!

Spot was the first dog to get the BAER test; he was kind of the guinea pig  for those of us who were new to the process. I was a bit nervous that he might not pass or even that he might not hold still for the test. In fact he buddied up to the veterinarian as if she were his long-lost pal. I think she just had one of those countenances that speaks to animals as a friend. Spot was very well behaved for his test, and he PASSED!  Woo hoo! I was so relieved. Some of his ancestors appear in the pedigrees of dogs who do have early onset deafness. None of his immediate family shows it, but since we don't know yet how it is carried, I was concerned. Anyway at least for now he does not show it and he is 4 1/2 years old, so I am hopeful. Whew. Now we can move back to our trialling mode in earnest. :-) I really enjoyed working with the volunteer crew. What a great bunch of selfless and hard-working ladies who have only the health of the border collie in mind.  Tomorrow we go back to Zamora for the pro-novice trial.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spot at Sonoma Wine Country

This is a video of the first part of Spot's PN run at Sonoma Wine Country sheepdog trial, March 2017.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brothers, Bookends

We had a chance to get Nick and Spot out together a few weeks ago. Gloria took a few nice photos even though it was (surprise!!!) raining again. It was so special to see Nick and Spot walking up on the sheep side by side. Brothers and bookends. The first litter and the last litter but obviously cut out of the same piece of cloth. So much fun. :-)

Brothers and bookends; cut out of the same piece of cloth just a few years apart.

The Boyz at Carmel, our favorite place