Monday, February 21, 2011

Back from Zamora 2011

The boys and I are back from the Zamora sheepdog trial, 2011 version. Coal had two runs in the Open and I was really pleased that he was able to run out and bring me the sheep. Especially during trial #1, the course, the weather, and the sheep were winning alot of the time, so being able to just get the dog out there and the sheep down the fetch was no small accomplishment. Coal was very game and we timed out during part of the cross drive (as many teams did). During trial #2 with a slightly altered course, we actually got all 'round the course and timed out attempting the single. There is a lot to work on but I'm very happy with what we were able to do, and most especially that Coal left my feet with purpose on both outruns. It was also a huge thrill to see him coming down that big hill with the sheep, on both runs.

Rime ran today in the Nursery. The outrun was shortened (a little!) and the drive compressed. The pen was moved across the ditch to join the rest of the course. The same sheep were used as in the Open. There were several good runs before us as well as a couple of blow ups; gotta love the nursery class. What I was most pleased about with Rime was that he ran out so purposefully from my feet. This was Rime's first nursery trial and only about his third trial of any kind and certainly the first where I have not "helped" him on his outrun by walking out. The distance and the hills did not seem to bother him. Rime is very green though and has never seen anything like these range sheep so he put a bit too much body language into his run and we were rightfully DQed on the drive.

The trip was fun but we are glad to be home!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Photos from August 2006

These are photos I ran across looking for something else (as usual). I like their colors and the lighting. It's sharp contrast to all the wet and mud right now.







Some sheep we used to have

Sonoma County grapes
And of course, Bid

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paul Morgan Painting

It's very exciting because it looks like I am really going to be able to get an archival-quality photographic print of this oil painting by western artist, Paul Morgan. One of his other paintings is going to be used on a poster for the upcoming Hotchkiss (Colorado) sheep dog trial. Both paintings are going into the printer next week to be photographed; one for the dog trial poster, and the other, for me!

If you look at these photos of Bid, you will see why I fell in love with the painting. Take a look at the other art on the Paul Morgan blog; there are lots of really great images captured in oils.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Raw Diet for Dogs Link

This link with a veterinarian talking about why a raw diet works so well for dogs and cats was posted on Facebook by the SFRAW co-op. I thought it made a lot of sense, so I am re-posting it here.


My dogs are still eating raw. They have been on mostly raw food for about a year and a half now. I am really happy with the results and now that we finally have a freezer, it should get even easier and cheaper as time goes on.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial 2011, Auction Quilt

The annual Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog trial is coming up on the calendar. Raffle tickets for this year's beautiful auction quilt are now available!

I bought some quilt raffle tickets last weekend at the annual RESDA  (Redwood Empire SheepDog Association) meeting. The feel of the fabric in your hand and the size of the quilt are not done justice by the photo. Each year Judy M. outdoes the last!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family Dogs as Therapy Dogs

This will probably be the last blog post of the "three-parter" that was inspired in my thought processes by reading the new and delightful little book, "Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?"

My dogs are family dogs first and sheep dogs second. It's just a fact of life when you live in the 'burbs, and even though we work with sheep at least four or five times a week, and care for our own sheep in our little sheep co-op, they are still house dogs when we come home and wash off all that mud and gook. They live in and around the house and are first and foremost, my companions. The fact that two of the three can now work sheep respectably well and are useful stock dogs, is a huge bonus. But on some nights they can be found down at the park chasing tennis balls and socializing with our friends' JRTs and other breeds...and having a wonderful time just being dogs. They have brought me dear friends and fabulous experiences, and also were very important to our parents as well.

I don't think it's any secret that in the recent past we were care givers for elderly parents. Before the parents needed so much care, they were clearly very attached to our dogs. When Bid came to the household as a baby puppy he became The Little Prince and could do no wrong. But when Chief arrived, Bid had to scooch over a little bit because Chiefie won their hearts in a different way...Augie presided over the household like the elder statesman.

My dad went to exercise class several times a week, nearby at an adult retirement complex; he called it the "old ladies home" as if he were the youngster of the group in his late 80s--not! Anyway one evening I came home from work and noticed Dad squirming a bit. Finally he 'fessed up:

Dad: "I took Augie to the old ladies home today."

Me: "You did WHAT?"

Dad:" I took Augie to exercise class."

Me: (thinking quickly about law suits from the retirement facility about the dog in the class who was not certified TDI and wasn't even bathed recently, heck maybe not in months) "you took him to the building and took him inside?"

Dad: (squirming a little more ) "Well...yes..."

Me: "Did you put his Halti on?"

Dad: "Oh yes, of course. He had the Halti on."

Dad was on a kick of wanting to take the dogs for a walk in the afternoons. He was very frail with a bad hip, and even though Augie was age 10 plus, he was still well, very strong. So I had insisted that Dad take only one dog (Augie) and that he put Augie's Halti on so that Augie couldn't pull him around. Little did I know that Dad would throw Augie into the back of the also-elderly Buick and haul him over to the retirement center to meet the old ladies. Actually it wouldn't have been any throwing at all. Just opening the door to the back seat of the Buick would have been plenty for Augie to hop in and go for a ride.

Dad: "I won't do it again. Unless I tell you beforehand of course."

Me: " But was he good?" (knowing the answer)

Dad: "Oh yes of course, and one of the old ladies really got to talking about a farm dog that she grew up with who looked just like him".

Me: (regretting what I was about to say) "OK you can take him again but tell me beforehand so I can bathe him. Therapy dogs are supposed to be bathed". (Thinking: Yeah and they are supposed to be approved and TDI certified, and all of that too!)

I think Dad took Augie back one more time then never took him again. The old ladies had enough to talk about with Dad about the beautiful black and white dog who had come to visit. And Dad would bring them pictures and brags about the dogs. It was enough. I breathed a sigh of relief. Augie had the heart of a lion but the finesse of a surgeon. Thank God.

In the next chapter of what was to come, Mother had become really fond of Chief. Of my dogs, Chief was the one who would stay close to her and sit allowing her to pet his big white head, endlessly. The other dogs would slink off and find a place to nap in the evenings. If Augie was the statesman, then Chief is the Diplomat. I can see Chiefie as an ambassador in a glitzy household, greeting guests and swooshing around, shaking hands, smiling and making alliances between former enemies. He is just that gregarious. With that long sweeping tail and the eyes rimmed with black eye liner, he can win your heart. As a puppy he would literally drag me across the street to greet strangers. There are very few people or dogs that Chiefie cannot get along with; and those few dogs, I think we should have listened to what he was saying about them, because he was right on.

We went to the nursing facility often to see Mother. At first, I took Augie because he was still viable and was so proven and reliable in this venue. (I took Bid one time and that was enough. His legs went helter-skelter on the slick floors and terror shone from his eyes. I wouldn't put Bid through that experience again.) Augie handled it well though. We only had permission to take the dogs directly into her room, however, the front lobby was always lined with folks in their wheel chairs during the day time. Some were coherent and some were not. Augie would stop to see each one who wanted to greet him. Often it was hard to hold back the tears to watch the elderly ones reach out to him. There was one lady who was non-communicative but if she saw me come in with Augie, she would reach out her hands for him. I always made sure to stop with him for her, even if I dared not stop for the coherent ones. 

As Augie got more frail, Chiefie took over the therapy-dog job. Chiefie was the consummate visiting therapy dog. As he had done at home, he would sit endlessly for Mother (and others) at the various faclities to pet his big white head. His almost too-long tail would swish back and forth and he adored the attention. One time, Chiefie even got to sneak into the ICU. There was only one other patient in the unit, a man who was regrettably, totally out of it. The nurses heard me talking with Mother about Chiefie out in the truck and asked me if I wanted to bring him in, briefly, to see Mother. I said, "sure!" So the nurse directed me around to a back door and in we came, with all the monitors and equipment on a Sunday afternoon. Of course Chiefie was perfect. He behaved like the diplomat that he is. Mother was thrilled. The nurse was thrilled. We only stayed a few moments. I knew the nurse could get fired for what she did so I didn't push the time limit at all.

I'll close with one more anecdote. The day that I was to pick up Coal from the airport was the day that Mother went into the hospital for the very last time. That week we visited her daily as she gave up the fight. Each hospital visit meant that there was that 10-week old puppy full of promise, waiting for me in the crate in the front seat of the truck. Coal and I have a special bond as a result, as I would walk out the hospital door and open the truck cab door.

I guess the point of the book, and the point of my recent posts, is that each dog has his job and it is an ongoing learning process; so on we go, to open that next "door".

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Thoughts about service dogs made me think about all of my dogs and what kind of retrievers they were and are. Often a litter of puppies is tested (especially in the other breeds, and for service/law enforcement/etc. pups) and one of these tests is to see if the baby puppy will retrieve a tossed ball of crinkled paper or a small soft ball or toy. It is usually considered a good thing if the puppy will retrieve the item and bring it back, or at least show interest in the tossed item. For working sheepdogs I don't know if this test applies, but I'd be interested to hear more about that. Anyway when I think of service dogs, in some cases I think of dogs who pick up dropped items, pull open doors, turn lights on and off, and so forth. I know there are many types of service dogs, and reading the book in the last blog post enlightened me to a type of service dog that I had never thought about. I have always considered the natural inclination to retrieve items back to me to indicate a dog's willingness to be a working partner with me, although it is certainly not a line drawn in the sand. And I've never participated in formal puppy testing. But I've been thinking back to my various dogs.

Alix was a happy retriever of balls and toys; she loved to play. When I started working her in obedience I was a green newbie to that dog sport and when we proudly "graduated" from Novice with our CD I was aghast that I was being advised to force her to retrieve with an ear pinch. Force her to do something she already loves? That made no sense to me. It was at that point (and after some other unhappy experiences with "teaching her to jump" when jumping was something else that she already loved) that I pulled her out of training class. I went to the university library and checked out every book I could find about dog behavior and training -- yes even the old, moldy ones. I finally did teach Alix a formal obedience retrieve using a method outlined by Wendy Volhard. It worked very well and was enforceable without being painful or forced. The only problem was that Alix mouthed her dumbbell. We passed all of our Open classes but we never got high scores due to her mouthing the dumbbell and other small issues. Like any sport you have to be nearly perfect to get those high scores. She had trouble learning the utility scent articles (or was it that I was a newbie to training them? We'll never know.) But Alix loved her retrieve especially with tennis balls, which were her favorite thing.

With Augie I resolved to try to solve the dumbbell problem but didn't quite get there with it. He also loved to retrieve and would bring any item to me that I could single out for him. Augie was much more "directable" with his retrieveing and would search for things by name even when he couldn't see them. He could have easily been one of those service dogs who assisted a person with dropped items and light switches and pulling a wheelchair because he was so strong. In our training together, Augie also loved tracking and the found articles were often his reward. You could tell Augie "go find the other ball" and he would go looking, no matter how many tennis balls you might have in your hand or your lap already. Augie was a great working partner and much more willing to work for me. Alix loved the independent exercises like running, chasing the ball, and directed jumping. Augie liked the exercises close to me although he did love to jump. Augie still mouthed his dumbbell though. I tried some different things but wasn't into obedience enough to try the negative methods that I was being offered to stop the mouthing.  Even in their very elderly years I would play tiny retrieve games with Augie and Alix and the tracking/utility gloves. It was a game we could play to keep their minds engaged.

By the time Bid came along I wasn't really training in obedience any more, but one winter when he was about a year old I decided to teach Bid to retrieve a dumbbell as kind of a fun winter project and to give him something to do on the long dark evenings. Bid loved tennis balls and toys but wanted nothing to do with a nasty white plastic dumbbell thing. I took this on as a challenge to make myself think through the steps to make it happen. I experimented with clicker training Bid to pick up and retrieve the dumbbell which worked like a charm. He also didn't mouth it (maybe because he didn't like it to begin with). Bid, like Augie, could be directed about the area to find things that he couldn't see. He would retrieve endlessly if the object was a toy or a ball. He was famous for spinning with a heavier toy like a ball on a heavy rope or a heavier stuffed toy. He spun both ways so that he was even, which made everyone laugh hysterically. But I have to say Bid lived up to his name of being biddable as he was always one to retrieve whenever asked to. He always gave up the ball willingly and dropped it respectfully. Bid had a soft mouth.

Chiefie, Augie's nephew, will chew on anything. He retrieves down and back if we are alone and if I insist on him bringing the ball back; but if we are around any other dogs he will chase down a ball but not bring it back. He drops it for one of the other house mates to pick up and bring back to me. If he does return with the ball or toy, his natural response is to clamp down on it and doesn't want to give it up. In tracking he liked to find the articles and wanted to tug with them but he is very strong. For about a year I took him to competition obedience class after he was retired from agility and sheepdog training due to his physical issues. I clicker trained him to retrieve the dumbbell much like I had done with Bid.  By the time we stopped going to class, he had a pretty nice retrieve over the jump and on the flat; but, I always had to reinforce the "bringing it back" which I had never had to do with the first three collies. If we could have gone right into open and utility and skip the novice class, I might have gone further with the obedience training. Chiefie, like Alix, preferred the "working away" exercises to those close to the handler. But we had some issues with the novice exercises and training the other dogs on the sheep as well as taking care of the sheep took up more and more time. Chiefie has a different outlook about retrieving which is just as unique as his personality and temperament!

Coal loves to play. He almost always has a toy in his mouth when he is not working. In fact somewhere there is a photo of Coal working geese, holding a tennis ball in his mouth. I have never taught Coal any formal retrieve. I remember when he was about five months old, he started dropping items in my lap, out of the blue, and he has never stopped since. Coal lives to work and it doesn't surprise me that he naturally wants to retrieve. I'm encouraging him to look for items that he can't see. I'm sure he can  do it if I spent the time on it. Coal is a funny one in that he will drop any of his toys into any container that I am working with. I am sure this is a sign that he wants so badly to work with me! For example he will drop a ball into the dishwasher as I am loading it; he will go and get a toy if I am doing yard work and have a muck bucket to collect clipped weeds or flowers that have turned brown, and Coal will add his toy to the clippings. Sometimes this doesn't work out so well for his toy (like when he drops it into the dog-poop bucket when I am picking up the yard)! Coal has a fairly soft mouth and I imagine that he would not chew the dumbbell if I taught him a formal retrieve. If we are alone he drops the ball with no problem, however, like some of the other dogs he doesn't like to give up the item in the company of his house mates or play mates.

Rime, the most unusual dog I have had since Alix, is the world's best retriever. He is content to get a ball and bring it back endlessly and will drop it right at your feet. The guys at the park love this as they can throw the ball a really long way and Rime will always go get it, bring it back, and drop it. Like Coal I have never taught Rime any formal retrieve. He just loves it. Like Coal, Rime can be annoying, dropping toys in your lap. But I also take this as a key to Rime's sometimes difficult personality; he is really willing to work with you if you look for the right "door to open" (thinking back to the Temple Grandin movie that I enjoyed recently) to what makes him tick. I think Rime is really lucky -- and I am really lucky -- that we can work on the sheep as often as we do. In Rime's case, the sheepdog work gave us a communication system that has carried over to help with some of his fears in the rest of his world, much as retrieving for fun has done for him in a smaller way.

This is one of my longer blog posts, but I have enjoyed writing it and I hope if you have made it this far, that you all have enjoyed it too.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?

The big brother was kind and thoughtful to give me this book for my birthday last month. It is available from Outrun Press. I read it over the past weekend, in a couple of evenings and found it very enjoyable. Both of the authors are accomplished in their fields. Years ago I had read Carol Lea Benjamin's "Mother Knows Best" and had enjoyed her whimsical and heartfelt line drawings (which are present in this book as well). Denise Wall's writing is thoughtful and to the point on a subject that is obviously very near and dear to her daily life and her family's. And, her photos are great!

The dual plot was almost like unraveling two mysteries side-by-side. The story line follows two female puppies from one litter who grow up to lead very different lives and serve very different purposes. One puppy is a working sheepdog; the other puppy is a service dog who lives in New York City. There are other puppies from the litter who are mentioned -- it is not a litter of only two pups, by the way -- something I had wondered about. Part of the mini-drama was following the pups in the litter to see which one would be picked to be the city/service dog.

The background given on border collies and how and why they work the way they do was well organized and understandable. Of course since I am a working collie aficionado it all made sense to me! One of the main points of the book throughout, is the emphasis on how the working heritage of these two pups made it possible for them to excel at their jobs. In addition to telling two good stories, the book is a not-so-subtle statement about the careful selection and breeding of working dogs.

For the sheepdog puppy, May, it only made sense that she should come from a long line of proven working farm and trial dogs. But for the service dog puppy, Sky, it was different information for me than what I had previously been offered about the best types of service dogs. In my limited exposure to service dogs here in Northern California, it seems like the trend is towards conformation lines of goldens or lab-golden mixes, and the less reactive the better. In the past, corgis and even border collies were even used locally in the service-dog training schools around here in addition to the goldens, labs, and shepherds. The emphasis on the working heritage of both puppies got me to thinking and I am guessing that more than one blog post might come out of this !

Another charming part of the chapters from both authors was that they each detailed the interactions of their other dogs with May and Sky respectively. The household relationships will be relative to anyone who has a multi-dog household. Anyway for now...if you get a chance to read this lovely and enjoyable little book....DO.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunny and Warm Photos

The weather here has been unseasonably warm and dry, while at the same time our friends across the country in the midwest and east are experiencing what seems to be a never ending round of snow storms, ice storms, and very cold weather. Right now we in Northern California have an embarrassment of riches in our weather. I'm sure we will get our "due" of rain and cold any time now. But until then it is enjoyable to feel that warm sun. Thanks to Teri for once again getting some nice shots of my boys when we traded off working our dogs on the sheep.

These first three shots are my boy Coal. He has such a friendly outgoing temperament, loves to work sheep, and is a great partner when I have him help me with chores. Off of sheep he is a silly clown and loves to play....constantly. You will find him with some sort of "binky" in his mouth 24/7 when he is not on the stock - it will either be a ball, a bone, a stick, a toy, or whatever he can find. Coal doesn't just wag his tail; he wags his whole body. Coal is truly a happy little guy.

Coal driving, with some of our sheep

Coal cooling off after his turn
These last two photos are of Rime cooling down in the little "pond". The dogs and the sheep are not quite acclimated to the warm temperatures, so we had to take short turns of working. Rime is looking quite grown up in these pictures. He is still very much the two-year-old in his work. We have our ups and downs but his work is coming along. We were fortunate enough to have lessons last weekend that were very helpful, for both dogs. Keeping that momentum going is the goal!

Rime cooling off

Guess where the sheep are?