Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coal






Enter the latest addition to the group: Coal. He is my newest border collie, born August 29, 2006. Coal has been the happiest puppy and is just a friendly little guy whose goal is to get along with everyone, both two-legged and four. He arrived on a plane in San Francisco at the age of 12 weeks, and since then his tail has wagged nearly incessantly, showing his sweeter-than-sweet personality.




Coal’s pedigree is strictly working sheepdogs and I had very high hopes in adding him to our family that he would turn out well as a working dog. A little slow to mature, Coal didn’t show real working interest in sheep until he was eleven months old. But when he did turn on, it became obvious very quickly that he definitely has great natural talent. He works wide with careful feel for his sheep, whether they are fast or slow, light or heavy, woolies or hair sheep.Yet, he is willing to come in and push when you need him to. Coal also took to working geese immediately. I am thrilled with my fortune and so thankful in getting a puppy with such wonderful talent and a fantastic temperament. Most of the time, it is poetry in motion to watch him working.







Coal is now 17 months old and getting a bit of a mind of his own. Our lessons and training sessions revolve around shaping and expanding his experiences and getting him to comply with my commands promptly. He will either gather or drive, willingly, and cannot get enough work. As our trainer says, the outwork training is “all done” based on what he shows naturally from his genetics. For now, it’s a matter of getting Coal to listen to me, and for me to step up to the plate to work with such a talented dog. I am very excited about our future together.




Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chief


Chief is a blue merle border collie, born October 5, 2001. He is Augie's nephew, which is how he came to be mine. Like Bid, Chief is named for a favorite race horse. Chief's namesake is "Snow Chief", a gritty little black thoroughbred who raced in the late 1980s.

Chief resembled a baby opossum when he arrived here as a puppy. He was a fuzzy ball of grey and white fluff. But, he grew into a big, powerful, well-muscled grownup dog. Chief and I have done tracking, agility, and sheep herding together. Unfortunately, he has been plagued by soft-tissue injuries more than once, each sidelining him from working for close to a year. For that reason, he and I are now pursuing the more gentle sport of obedience together, as I try to keep him sound.


Chief has begun to take over Augie's former role of watchful family guardian. He is an excellent companion and is always nearby, keeping an eye on things.






Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bid




Ahh, Bid. He's named for Spectacular Bid, the racehorse. It also fits his personality, as Mr. Biddable. Bid tries hard to please, 24/7. His birthday is June 25, 1999. Here he is as an 8 week old puppy, just a day or two after he came home with me. In the second photo, he is a four month old youngster.





Whatever Bid may lack in talent, he gives 100% of himself all the time, such that he has been a very fun partner for me in doggie activities. He is my first "real" sheepdog. My brother and I started Bid on sheep when he was about eight months old. Bid took to it immediately in his very first session, and life for me changed forever.


I was afraid of heavy-handed (or should I say, "heavy-crook") sheepdog trainers, due to bad experiences with Augie. So I worked Bid on my own with my brother's help and by following exercises in Vergil Holland's book. By the time Bid was two years old, I decided that we needed more help and had a good reference to a prominent trainer in the area. We started taking lessons and a few months later he went to that trainer for 6 weeks of in-house training, which we followed with more regular lessons. This really helped us a lot. By that time, he was 3 years old.

At about age four and a half, we had a family crisis and I had to take a hiatus from regular sheepdog lessons for a couple of years. Getting back to some more regular coaching in the past year or so, has made a lot of difference. Lately I've been getting some really good help, which has boosted both Bid's confidence and mine. Some of the most memorable moments are out on the training field and not at a trial...but they live in our minds and hearts.

Now, Bid is 8 years old and I am hoping to run him in a few USBCHA Pro-Novice trials this year, so that I can gain more experience in that venue. We've had a lot of fun and some success enjoying AHBA trials. I love AHBA and it's a wonderful and supportive atmosphere for learning the sport; you still need all the same skills but you can apply them at distances that are not so great as in regular ISDS-style trialling. I am hoping to write more about training and trialling experiences with my good buddy, Bid.









Augie


It's very difficult to write about Augie. He is the one that dog people would say is my "heart dog". Rather than try to describe him all at once, I will introduce him and then likely will write more individually about various Augie remembrances.
Augie was born August 20, 1992. He came to me as an eight week old puppy. He seemed like a wise old soul, even then. Of course he was exuberant like any young border collie, but he had an air about him that spoke of dignity, bravery, and willingness.
Among many other actitivities, with Augie I finally got to try my dream of sheepherding. He was fearless and had strong heading instinct. He never let the sheep get the best of him.
Augie was a lot of dog and never quit. He was my protector, my soulmate and companion. He had the heart of a lion yet was gentle enough to visit the nursing home. He left us May 11, 2007, but he is never far from my thoughts.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Alix



















Alix was my first border collie and she was the “first” at everything except working sheep. Not only was she the first border collie in my household, she was my first flyball dog, my first tracking dog, my first obedience dog, my first agility dog. To date she is the only female border collie I have owned. Her “shoes” will be hard for another little female to fill. Despite Alix’s foibles, I am forever grateful to her and her breeder, for opening up the doors of the border collie world to me.

I got her as a seven-week-old puppy. Her parents were Roxy and Star, both very good and titled obedience dogs (UD). Roxy was the most incredible dog I’d ever known…she was smart and independent and as Alix grew, everyone could see the similarities.

Of all our activities, flyball was clearly Alix’s favorite. She was not the fastest BC and she was certainly not the quickest to learn the game; it took almost two frustrating years to get her to run clean, and stay in her lane. But once it “clicked”, she rarely if ever made another mistake in approximately eight years of racing. She would run like clockwork for other handlers, and was a great “school horse” for beginner handlers. She seemed to know just when to pass and when to start. We enjoyed many memorable tournaments together all over the U.S. Just as memorable were the demonstrations that she performed in at various venues, such as at the U of I basketball halftimes, the NIT tournament, and at dog shows and stadiums all over the Midwest and in California. She took me places I never dreamed of, from McCormick Place in Chicago, to center court at the Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, to Las Vegas, NV.





After starting in flyball, we took up tracking. She passed her TD easily on her first try. She was not a good candidate for TDX because she wanted to “critter”. But, moving on to obedience, she earned her CD, CDX, Canadian CD, and U-CD and U-CDX over the years. Always happy but never precise, we made the judges and ring stewards laugh. When we moved to California, agility became part of the training schedule and obedience training for Utility eventually got shelved.






Whenever we went to an agility trial, Alix was convinced that it was a flyball tournament. She would do her little dance with her front feet, and bark like crazy…then sort of melt like a deflated balloon, realizing that it was agility instead of her beloved ball game, which she played through her ten-year-old year. In fact, when she was ten, she earned legs, titles, or points in three sports: obedience, agility, and flyball. She was a true campaigner.







As soon as I got Alix as a puppy, the dream began to try working sheep, but we had no opportunities. It was something I kept in the back of my mind all the time. When Alix was a year old, in 1991, I went to watch the famed Bluegrass Sheepdog Trial in Kentucky. That was my first sheepdog trial, and what a place for me to start! It was incredible, with all the well-known dogs and handlers of the time. I went home from the trial, still wishing to participate but had no way to do so.

As a middle-aged dog, she got to try working sheep for the first time, mostly after we moved to California. Any instinct that she might have had, was pretty much gone by that time. However there were little glimpses here and there, as shown in this photo where she is the BC heading the runaway ewe.





If impossible wishes could be granted, I’d ask for a “do-over” with Alix. She was a lot of dog for a first-time border collie owner/trainer. I made mistakes and have thought of how I wished I had trained her, had I known more. If I could have that “do-over”, I’d train her completely operant with the clicker; she responded so well to that system in her later years, but unfortunately had a lot of “baggage” from the other training that I was exposed to early in her career. She remained very forgiving in training, but in real life, the baggage was often exposed. I had to watch her carefully around dogs and people that she didn’t know, and some that she did. After her retirement at age 10 and a half, she ruled our household for another five years. The boys all adored her and she lived a peaceful and happy life, playing heartily with the boys and observing life from the backyard. She left us a couple of months after turning 15. Her body and her will, which had been so strong, for so long, just seemed to give out.

Alix, always fondly remembered: June 21, 1990 – August 24, 2005.




Monday, January 14, 2008

The Mother of all Sheep Stories


This story is from a late night in November 2003, and is the “Mother” of all of the “One for the Book” stories. This is how it goes…



“You get a few border collies, and somehow it turns out that you end up co-owning some sheep. This is how you get in trouble. I was just contemplating crawling into bed for the night. About 10 pm my phone rang, with my friend on the other end who works nights as a dispatcher for the county sheriff's office. Uh, Oh. This cannot be good. It is a major no-no for her to make personal phone calls at work. Turns out this isn't really a "personal" call. Uh oh. She says there are sheep running loose on the (very busy) road that just so happens to be near the place where we keep "our" sheep...Uh, Oh. The first two 911 calls were actually from people who almost ran over a sheep with their vehicle in the dark.

But, they can't possibly be OUR sheep, now can they? The deputy says they have two black-faced lambs with them. Ah ha, that can't be OUR sheep as we have no lambs. Whew. But then a few calls back and forth between the officers and the friendly dispatcher on the radio, and yes, we have got a description on the perps...7 white adult sheep and 1 brown Barb running with them. YIKES! My feet hit the floor. Apparently the "city boys" have mistaken the 1 barb for 2 black-faced lambs and the "country boy" deputy who came upon the scene as "backup" has ascertained that tiny distinction.

I grabbed Bid and roared 16 miles up the freeway, meanwhile frantically calling my partners in crime, I mean sheep, to come and help. Meanwhile on the road my dispatcher friend calls again on the cell phone and says there are not one but FOUR "Units" as she calls them. By this I soon learn that this term means a deputy and a squad car, one per unit, on "the scene". OhMYGOD. I hate to drive faster for fear of getting the ire of the CHP who while they are brothers to the county sheriff's deputies they might not take kindly to my kind of "emergency". I get to the sheep field and find just one "unit" remaining, a very young "unit" who was waiting for me to show up. The four "units" had managed to herd our sheep with their squad cars into an empty field and shut them in....this field is two fields over from our field so we have no way of simply taking them back home...and the field the sheep are in is HUGE, did I mention that? The other 3 "units" have already left to handle other such grave emergencies as may befall folks in the waning hours of the evening in a small town.

So I parked my truck and walked up to the "unit"-- I mean deputy -- and say, "Hi" in my most friendly and sweet voice. He says, "These your sheep?"

I took a look at the deer (sheep) in the headlights, and said, "yes".

He responded, "how can you tell?" Good question.

All sheep might look alike in the pitch blackness lit only by squad car headlights. I said, "Yes they're ours". I guess since I am dressed rather sloppily in glasses and sweats hastily thrown together he decides I am not in fact a sheep rustler but a legitimate sheep person, whatever that is. We discuss what to do and he advises leaving them until daylight...which sounds great until he says to me, "ya know if this field is fenced all the way around?" YIKES. Did I mention that this field ADJOINS THE FREEWAY exit? YIKES. I bid adieu to the "unit", finally, after he has expressed his grave concern over the welfare of the perpetrators, having to spend the night outside "getting all cold and hungry" (in his words). Yeah, right. Like I care. They could be dog food tomorrow after all this trouble. Somehow with Thanksgiving coming, for some reason I am humming bars to "Alices' Restaurant". Yikes, I am dating myself.

So I drove over two fields to our barn and took Bid out of the truck, who thought this was all great fun. Did I mention that we had just been to the sheep barn after work to train dogs, and everything was tied up with a bow at nightfall? Did I mention that we have no electricity out there so it is pitch black? Darn that new moon! I got the big flashlight and Biddy and I started walking the field to see how they got out. I found a small gate left open by the neighbors. DANG! Well that's not what I said but that's all I can type.

By now my partner in crime, I mean sheep, had arrived. We decide that since we didn't know if the field that the sheep have been shuttled into is fenced that we should at least attempt to get them back that night. So we drive out into the field (yippee, an excuse to put the truck in 4 WD!) and shone the lights on the fencing...which we proceeded to cut in two places to make a place to bring the sheep thru. Yep, we're real rustlers now. It's a good thing the wine grape harvest and crush is over with so the vineyard people wouldn’t be out and about next door. We took the dogs out into the immense open field and we found the sheep a few times but each time they ran away in the darkness. About 12:30 a.m. we gave up and decided to wait until daylight. Did I mention the border collies were immensely enjoying all this?

At 6:45 a.m. things looked a lot brighter. It's amazing what you can do when you can SEE. With just two border collies, a pair of wire cutters, and a minimum of effort we managed to get the sheep back thru the cut places in the fencing and back into their home field, with only a slight foray into the high-end vineyard which borders the sheep pasture. A quick patch on the fence and we're home free. The brats, I mean sheep, are all in one piece and no highway accident was caused by them. WHEW. They didn't get all the way down the road to the Wal-Mart or the Home-Depot which could have been a real nightmare. Perhaps they heard about rumored auditions for Serta sheep and decided to give it a shot instead of being dog-training fodder. Who knows?

I was only an hour late to work. I'm really glad my friend was working dispatch that night. I’m thankful that there was no “film at 11” about this incident. I know Bid loves his sheep work, but I’m really questioning whether I would ever find a dogwalk or weave poles out wandering in the road trying to make it to the WalMart."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why "One for the Book"?


Over the past several years we have laughed and cried over events surrounding our pursuit of training sheepdogs, and as a result, in keeping sheep. Memorable events were given the designation, "one for the book". The original "book content" was humorously termed, "A Restaurant Review of the I-80 Corridor" but soon the tales quickly branched out into sheep and dog escapades of all kinds.


For me, the sheepdog pursuit began with my first border collie, "Alix", who ironically, did not really herd sheep. She never had much chance to even see sheep until she was older, so any instinct that she may have been born with, was pretty much gone. But without Alix there would be no further border collies to lead me down this path. As a result the next post will probably be about her.



The Boyz at Carmel, our favorite place