Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sometimes

Sometimes it's all about working the dogs and making progress in their confidence level.


Sometimes it's about enjoying their company in the shade of a large tree on a weekend morning, when all is well.


Most of the time, it is both.

A Quandary

This post is about something that I and others have struggled with for a while. It is not about me or my current dogs but dogs that I see and am acquainted with. [Actually it could have been about me, with Spot when he was young but for now at least Spot and I are getting along. I have had to learn several special and important lessons with Spot but that learning process is the topic of the "Spot's Progress" labeled posts over the past couple of years! :) It could have easily been about Chiefie and me, way back when.]

The quandary is this: a person buys a young dog or a puppy, or even breeds one and retains a puppy from the litter. Then when that puppy is old enough to start on the sheep, or even just "try it out" as we often do at 5-6 months or so, it is very apparent that this puppy is way "too much dog" for what is often a beginner handler, to handle and train.

Those first few works, or even the first couple of months of training, and the approach that is taken, are SO important.

And besides training the dog, what about the handler? He/she has to learn a whole new set of rules for  working with the super-keen dog.

What does this person do? It is a huge quandary. They don't know enough to know what to do, or who to ask to help them. They only know that the cute little puppy has suddenly changed into something they had not reckoned with. It is a super-keen, fast-flying, sheep (possibly eating)-machine. They are scared that the sheep will knock them down, with puppy flying right behind the sheep. It is all bewildering and happens all wayyyy.......... toooo fast.

Or, the puppy has something physically wrong with it, and after that problem is corrected, it comes "back" to its work with so much vigor that the handler is taken aback by the intensity that has developed. This was the case with my Augie, years ago, who had intestinal surgery to repair a problem that had apparently been brewing (but I did not know about as he was so stoic). After his surgical recovery, he came on like gangbusters, and eventually without the proper resources to help us, I quit trying to work sheep with him. :(

Even the more experienced, (for lack of a better word, "intermediate") handler like myself will take a step back and say "whoa...this puppy is not at all like the other few that I have started".  There might even be two pups in a litter who are night and day. One is easy, one is hard. The handler says, "I need help for the hard (for lack of a better term) one." But where to find it? There are trainers. How to find the right one? How to get into the rotation with someone who is appropriate?  Clinics are great if with the right trainer. Clinics do not, however, always happen in the right time frame or geographic location to help us when the timing is right for our pup. And what happens when the clinic has ended?

For some reason, I am often asked to help people find dogs or pups. I am not exactly sure why I am asked but I guess it is perceived that I can network with the sheepdog folks. :) It's something that I approach, now, very warily because then if the dog or pup turns out to be gangbusters, then in my heart I feel responsible (even though intellectually I know I am not as no one can predict how a sheepdog puppy is going to turn out).

Meanwhile, I have no answer. I know the trainers that I prefer and the methodology that I see working for me and that methodology keeps the dogs in contact with the sheep despite the pup's over-enthusiasm. I know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had to work with some of the greats in the sheepdog world, for Spot's advancement.  But it seems like over and over again, in the past year or so, I have seen and talked with folks who are experiencing this quandary. I am understanding in great degree, now, why people buy started and trained dogs, or even pups who have been put on the sheep at least a few times, to assess what their basic approach may be.

Totally unrelated, below is a picture of Coal that I snapped with my phone on the summer solstice, a few days ago. Coal was easy to start but not necessarily easily categorized as easy or hard to train. He has a lot of eye which for a beginner made him both easy and hard. We went round and round and even "to the woodshed" (figuratively - not literally) a few times. I had a really great trainer helping me with him - one of the very best in the world. I was not ready to learn everything that Bill tried to help me with Coal but we did get there.

Coal on the Summer Solstice, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jack Knox Clinic at Tulelake

The guardian dog keeps watch over her flock.

We went to the recent Jack Knox sheepdog training clinic at Tulelake and had a wonderful time. Spot was entered in the clinic. My main goal was to get Spot out somewhere different, but also wanted the lessons with Jack. I enjoyed our lessons with him in February up at Hopland so I thought it was worth another go, as long as we are in training-not-trialling mode. :)

There were no major breakthroughs for Spot but that is fine. I wasn't really seeking a breakthrough of any sort. Overall the clinic was very good, with a varied group of people and experience levels which always makes it interesting.  We  (Spot and I ) ended up working on something unexpected. When sent to gather the sheep off the fence in the arena-sized field, Spot would slow up too much on his outrun.  I haven't really seen him do this at home because we don't have any smaller spaces to work in. Jack's response when he saw this hesitancy was to have me call Spot back and start over, and really encourage him on his outrun to RUN and not creep along. It is not wrong for the dog to slow up a little when approaching sheep on a fence but he shouldn't slow up that much. After these little gathers we would have Spot  bring the sheep on a fetch and I would practice our stops and flanks and do a little driving across the arena. Jack reminded me that I should be seeing the "ribs" of the sheep as we do a cross drive - not the heads or the tails. The heads should be coming towards me on the fetch and not on the cross drive.

I always look forward to watching the other dogs being worked in these clinics. There were some amazing and phenomenal ah-ha moments, this time around, as well as lots of just plain good dog work. Old friends, new friends, good food, good times, and lots of laughs, were in abundance as well. There is always something fun about going to Tulelake ! :) Thank you to everyone who helped!

Friday, June 17, 2016

For Perspective

I've been reading through some of my old journals, motivated by what? I am not sure...there is probably a reason. Anyway it is neat to run across notes that I wrote down from my lessons that I had forgotten. Here is a gem. Our trainer was listing my assignments for my homework with Coal (then 2 1/2 years old) in the coming weeks, which included penning, shedding, taking sheep off of a stock handler, etc.

We were going to a trial the next weekend and I was told something I had forgotten. That next weekend at the trial I was supposed to watch the other runs and see how big the sheep look when they go through the panels (for perspective). It's one way to prepare that I had never heard of before.



Coal with first place at the Fall RESDA trial, 2009. 
Good times! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Back in the Saddle

Today the temperatures were lovely and relatively cool...so it was "back in the saddle" for dog work on the sheep.

I didn't get any pictures of Spot but he did some nice work today. Again I played around with sending him out the open gate, somewhat like I did last weekend, except that this time, the sheep were hidden in  a swale and in the shade of a tree. Spot did not know where they were. I sent him out through the left-hand gate, anyway. I was really pleased to see that he was willing to run out - even if somewhat hesitantly - when he did not really know where the sheep were. I kept whistling him out on the come bye whistle, gave some walk-ups and then more flanks...and finally he saw the sheep. Nice work!  That is what I need for Open, because sometimes the sheep won't be visible, if at all, due to terrain, ground fog, dust, lack of contrast in coloration of ground cover vs. sheep color, and so forth. I also worked again on Spot's cross driving with he and the sheep in one pasture and me on the other side of the fence. Spot is a little bit worried about that and he will look back at me, so I am just urging him on. I didn't carry on with this too long and soon went into the same field with him and closed the gate. I don't want him to get worried and do a blow-up and I certainly don't want to create tension in him. He is getting so relaxed in his work, and that is really nice!

I called him off, let him get a drink of water, and then we worked a bit more on driving with me a lot closer. Spot was not giving me very open flanks so we went through a reminder drill on both sides, about keeping those flanks open. Oh!!! :) "You mean I still have to do nice flanks? " says Spot... "yes you do," says I.....and we have the tools to make that happen, so I did.

Ryme got his own mini tune-up session today. He does not have much scope and I have been trying to open him up a little bit on his (little) gathers. Even for chore work, it will go better if his "tops"  are a bit more open and he gives me nice flanks. Plus, he likes to work and to be worked with.

On this little gather, I got some video.

Ryme's little gather

I had already done one little outrun prior, (not videoed) where I walked toward the sheep and put some pressure on the ground ahead of him to make sure that he bent out and went around the top of the sheep giving some room.

On this second attempt (videoed) he went out nice and wide, and deep enough. But then he seemed to get a little stalled out, lifting these sheep, which are lambs and do not move off of a dog as quickly as some of our really broke sheep do. All in all it was good work and Ryme finally did come on and lift when I urged him a bit. It's all good. He did some nice (close) work today. It's all about keeping him fit and happy, and also making sure his work is good when I need him to perform a chore.






Coal helped to put all the sheep back where they belong. Next time he will get a mini tune-up. :)

This weekend was just way too short!!!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Meat and Potatoes

This week has been meat and potatoes...not so much literally but figuratively with respect to the dogs getting out to work and what I have done with Spot.


It got hotter and hotter, this week, so that in the evenings when I went to put the sheep away for the night, my enthusiasm for working Spot (or the other dogs) was dwindling down to almost nothing. Uh-oh.  As a result I just went back to meat-and-potatoes for Spot: working on his flanks, stops, and nice pace, for very short periods before either he or the sheep got too hot. Poor Coal and Ryme got very little work but I did try to give them a run each night, of some sort to keep up their fitness. The foxtails (FTs) are popping up everywhere which is normal for this time of year; I am string-trimming them in their patches where and when I can.

Our wonderful doggie chiropractor was here and adjusted all three boys.  In addition, we had some great conversations about dogs and many other topics! :) Ryme has his ongoing issues and his bad rear leg but he is doing OK. Coal was pretty good except he has evidence of hard driving on his front legs and front feet; I need to make time to work on his front legs daily and keep the circulation going there. Spot did not seem to show any issues yet but I am still having him tuned up quarterly to stay on top of things. He got the fitness thumbs-up and rightly so.

Today being a day off work, we got to spend more time and work sheep and dogs at the larger field. Spot got to take some sets off of a stock handler, a practice scenario that we try to take advantage of whenever possible. Spot is doing OK with taking sheep off of a spotter. He can certainly use more practice with that scenario but is handling it all right for now. I sent him three times, and on the middle run I said nothing and just let him bring them. I know Bill wants us to do more work with Spot working more on his own, so I am trying to fit that in and see where we are, under the layers of the "onion" (so to speak).



This dog just wants to please :)
Tomorrow, perhaps; back to our (training) to-do list! :)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

There was a gentleman with the local VFW with a card table set up outside the Oliver's Market where I went in to buy a few things today. On my way out I put a $5 bill in his donation bucket and he offered me a red paper poppy, just like we used to get when we were little kids. He asked me, "did you serve?" which surprised me. I replied, "no, my Dad". He said, "thanks for remembering." Of course. I put my flag out yesterday; there are quite a few flags up in my neighborhood. A description that I read online said that Memorial Day is really for those lost in wars, while Veterans Day is for them as well but also those who survived serving in wars and made it back home. I am not sure what the difference is...but when I was a child it was called Decoration Day. We didn't just honor the military dead, but also we put containers of peonies cut from our yard, out at the grave sites of all the grandparents and great-grandparents and other local relatives. So yes, I do remember.

My training plan for Spot has benefitted from having some time off of work for the holiday weekend. Yesterday I was really low on energy after working in the yard and doing house chores all day. So I chose something from his training list that did not require a huge effort on my part. :) I picked the exercise of having him stay still while I move around the sheep (such as in a shedding setup scenario) and vice versa, he moves around  (on my command) while I stay still. And so on, repeated back and forth. He gets it pretty quickly. I practiced rolling the sheep into position as I have been taught. (Ryme had set up three ewes for us to practice with.) I tried to pretend I wanted a certain ewe and got her into position, meanwhile Spot had to lie down and stay. He was pretty good. I was so enthused by all this that I decided to try to get a single. We had a hard time getting that. I finally decided that he was not nailing his stop quite the way I wanted; I gave him one verbal correction about his stop and he got right back with the program. And then we singled almost immediately. It's amazing how that works. Then he worked that single quite a bit and did not chase her at all! That is huge progress for Spot. My low-energy training session got fairly pumped up after all but I was having such fun with him that it was easy to let it morph. :)

Today we had the opportunity to work at the larger place where we can train and I had planned in advance to take advantage of more acreage, and work Spot on the 'going out the gate'  exercise. There is one trial locally where the dogs have to run out thru a gate on their outrun. It is also a good skill to have no matter where you are. I used Coal to push the sheep out as far as possible into the field, opposite of the chosen gates. Spot was watching Coal do this, tied to the fence. I switched Coal and Spot and tied Coal up. Then I set Spot up for a left hand outrun. He did not hesitate and acted like the gate was not even there. Woo hoo! We did a little gather and I flanked Spot around and sent the sheep back up the field.

Spot runs out to the left, through the gate, for the sheep marked in the photo with a pink star. 


We did it again to the left and then I tried some cross-driving, with me on the near side of the fence in the photo, and Spot and the sheep about halfway up the field on the far side of the fence in the photo. This exercise needs more work so our to-do list got some additions to it today. He did OK but  not great with it and was clearly worried about where I was, which was not our norm for working at this location. It seems like every time I try something, the list gets longer although I am super pleased with all the great work that he is doing!

After getting him some water and breathing time, we tried the outrun to the right (out another gate).

Spot takes off on the away side.
Spot has just passed the gate opening in this photo, so he's kind of hard to see; but there he goes...the sheep are to the left and out of the frame of the photo, up the field.
Despite a little confusion once he got out there and realized I was back on the other side of the fence after lifting the sheep, I was super pleased with Spot's willingness to step out of the norm for this exercise. We will do more of this, and variations of it, as the summer progresses.

I hope everyone has had a great Memorial Day weekend!