Friday, October 17, 2014

Judging AHBA Recently...

I had a really great time judging an AHBA trial a couple of weekends ago. There were two courses offered, the HTD and the HRD.

HTD is a small "border collie" course, i.e. it is like a pro-novice course except that the level III handlers must also perform a ribbon pull (instead of a shed, although a shed can be used in this class) after the pen. Some black-headed Dorper sheep were used for this class and they were a challenge to keep within the boundaries of the course area. If handled correctly, however, they were very workable. It took proper dog work to make it happen and no mishaps.  In the level III class, however, on this course, I felt a bit like the Grim Reaper. There were very few to no qualifiers...ugh. The ribbon pull and the pen were the downfall of the level III folks: flanks and stops... oh my.

HRD is the ranch course with a series of exercises that resemble real-life "chores".  Some more broke sheep were used for this course, and the success level and the scores were higher. But it was not easy and those who did it well and scored higher, had to work at it.

The Vacaville facility is a joy to work in because it is impeccably maintained and the number of volunteers normally exceeds the number of jobs available to be done. What a concept! The people who train there have a club atmosphere and they cheer for each other as if on a team. It is so nice to see. They had a cake for one of their folks who had won an award at the national level, from their breed club (it is a breed not really known for working livestock). Everyone cheered for this gentleman's achievement.

I do enjoy judging, in small doses. One day, smaller trials, are the best for me. It requires a lot of focus and stamina and sometimes it is hard to maintain both at a consistent level, all day. I want to do a good job and I try really hard. It pains me when I have to call someone off the course or take major points off because of neglectful handler choices.

Normally it is not the dogs in these situations, who lose the points; it is the handlers. Several people had really nice dogs, and they reminded me of myself about a dozen years ago when I was in their same boots.  I talked to some of these folks after the trial, and told them that they had really nice dogs. Everyone is on their own journey.  This activity has such a huge learning curve. The more I learn, the more I feel that I am really still at the bottom of the mountain, just starting up the trail.

One really practical thing that the more novice people needed to work on, was in keeping an eye on their dogs and the other eye on their sheep. They tended to go for one or the other but couldn't handle keeping both in their perspective at the same time, which led to their downfall at places on the HRD course where they needed to open or close a gate, or perform a gate sort, etc.  Their dogs were (understandably) just trying to cover.

Overall though I had a really nice day and enjoyed the company of the several volunteers who clerked and timed for me. They were an enthusiastic bunch who wanted to help out, and to learn. I'm sure everyone is very appreciative of such a nice facility where folks can go to AHBA trials and further their learning experience.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tune Up

Coal and Ryme had their tune up this week, that is, their chiropractic tuneup that is way more than just that. Coal was pretty good, with just his inside toes flared up, most likely from running on the concrete-hard, dried-out ground.  Coal is in good shape, body-wise, with good muscle tone and strength, which was all good news for me since we have two trials this month. Ryme was (again) a mess with his troublesome right rear leg. I checked back through my journal notes and this leg has been plaguing him for some time. What to do? I am trying to keep Ryme together in one piece so that he can work sheep at least on some level. Working sheep is key to keeping Ryme somewhat together, mentally and emotionally. I'm adding in some different supplements and herbs. I had already changed the dogs to (mostly) their "winter diet" back in August but there is some frozen lamb and mutton in the freezer waiting for a few cooler days, to be added to the dogs' food.

Another birthday pic of Chiefie with his pal, Ryme
Spot gets to see the chiropractor once in a while, but for now he is mostly made of rubber so he doesn't really need it. We have to budget our time and expenses for the ones who really need it. Chiefie used to have treatments but he doesn't tolerate it well, so he doesn't get an appointment any more. The main thing I try to do is trim Chiefie's long tail so it does not drag on the ground and thus pull on his back unnecessarily (this a tip from our doggie chiropractor).

Other than Ryme's leg, the boys are all doing well. I haven't posted on Spot's progress in a while, but there isn't a whole lot to report. It feels sort of like Spot and I  are treading water; we're not losing any ground but we haven't gained much either (or at least that's how it seems). The days seem to be on a crash course careening to getting shorter and shorter by leaps and bounds each my evening dog training will soon come to an end for a few months. I am still hoping for another breakthrough for Spot, similar to what happened just before he turned two.

For the first time we did fall shearing on the Scotties, last week, so they got a tune up of another sort. It's an experiment so that we can perhaps better observe and manage their body condition over the winter. Some of them had six to seven inches of wool growth, since April. Our shearer said he had done several hundred head of sheep in the past week in addition to his regular day job. We were not the only ones. We'll see if it helps us.  Our shearer always has such interesting observations to share, about sheep. He noted that sheep in the fall, are stronger and fitter. They are better able to fight with being held off balance by the shearer for clipping. They have had to search more for their food to find it rather than in spring when they loll about, munching on clover. It does make sense that they would be more fit in the fall. I always learn something from the shearer.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Casting A Shadow

You can tell the days are getting shorter, lately, just by the way the light plays in the evening, despite the temperatures this week that feel like summer (hot!).

I do like this picture above of Coal casting a tall shadow and moving forward so purposefully and focused on the sheep.

I've been examining some of my needs lately, as far as sheepdog training. One of them is that I need to do better at focusing like this, as Coal does. I need to do better at leaving my work and other streaming miscellaneous thoughts at the pasture gate so they don't interfere with the enjoyment and engagement with my dogs.

Another way to look at this is that I need to work harder at exercising those mental muscles around being in the present.  I'm pretty sure this will help me with all of the dogs I am working.

I've also been lamenting not having any lessons or clinics to go to, and that's the sort of pity party that I shouldn't be RSVP-ing to. What I can do, however, is put more focus into my practice time and make practice harder. If I do that, then when we finally get to a trial, it will seem like a walk/trot in the park. :) 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Evening Drive

When we were teenagers, we used to go out just "driving around".  When I was really young, parents used to take their kids and sometimes the grandparents out for a Sunday drive. I am not sure anyone does that any more, with the price of gas and other constraints. But they were fun times.

Pictured above is Coal on an evening drive. Also a fun time! Coal is comfortable now, 8 years old, and (at times) working him is like putting on your favorite pair of broken-in work boots that suit you to wear all day, no matter what the day brings. These pictures are from one of those times.

At other times, though, I admit, that Coal and I butt heads! :) Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get him to respond properly to get the sheep where I want them to go and at what speed. It's all a balancing act to try to reach a higher standard of work.

Lately we've been watching the scores, videos, and photos from all the big trials both nearer and far away. Wow. Soldier Hollow, the World Trial, Meeker and now the USBCHA Finals and the International. So much to take in and ponder. Sometimes it's overwhelming. Such a high standard set at those events, to aspire to! I think everyone in the California sheepdog world was smiling for Michael Shearer and his win at the World Trial, though. He has been here several times to judge and he is such a nice man, and the real deal. It was his time to win and we're all happy for him. For me it put a happy spin on some timing that has involved some weird and sad stuff happening, not directly to me, but for those around me. As Lora is always saying, seize the day...excellent advice! Even if it just means enjoying the evening or Sunday drive.

 Still, there's some stuff that I just don't get and it crowds into my thoughts on my evening drives. Why do people dump an old dog (or horse) when they get a new puppy (or horse) or when they breed a litter of pups? Why do they breed a litter of pups anyway if they can't afford to take care of them?  That older dog (or horse) has provided a lifetime of they not deserve some retirement?  All questions that I cannot answer.

Granted, this is a disjointed blog post... many thoughts that may or may not belong together but no single thoughts capable of being sorted out to separate's like a mixed flock of old sheep and lambs, hair sheep and wool ! :) What has happened to all the bloggers anyway? I think that Facebook --while it has its place -- has sort of destroyed blogging...which is too bad. In a strange modern way, Facebook is like a Sunday drive...lots of visuals passing you by, some snips of small talk or conversation here and there, but not too much of longer or larger content (and no gasoline used), but certainly plenty of ground covered.

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?