Sunday, December 29, 2013

Do You Get Emotional?

I liked this short article from a blog I have added to my blog list for a while, to see how I enjoy it longer term. The topic of this article is, Do you get emotional when working with your horse?

It's really good advice and a good read. Thanks to Kathy F. for the link to the article.

As they say when things get emotional the best thing to do is to put your dog up and go get a cup of tea. :-)

Do You Get Emotional?

I am really trying to modulate my voice with Spot (and the other dogs) and keep the commands light and inviting, and the corrections in that harsher tone (but not use my commands as corrections, either). Whew! Hard work, but all worth it.

Spot and I have had three sheepdog lessons in a little over two weeks' time. That plus my vacation time, to work him more, has resulted in us really getting started together as a team. Today when we worked, it really felt like I was "workin' a dog". Yes! I am very grateful.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Interesting Video of Double Gather

See this link for a video showing a 1000 yard double gather by a sheepdog named Spot. :-)

Sheepdog Trial Challenge, Hawke Hill

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Turned the Corner

In the last couple of weeks, Spot and I have (finally) turned the corner in getting him started as a sheepdog. Yesterday, we turned the corner on the lack of daylight, with the Winter Solstice. It's a good time to think about where you have been and where you want to go!

Spot and I have had the good fortune to have a couple of lessons with our trainer on a weekly basis. This has helped us to really get started, along with great friends who are helping on our home practices. I thought we were started before, but we really weren't. We have another lesson scheduled soon, and from there I hope we can still have lessons regularly although it won't be weekly. Spot is stopping much better and is much more mindful of where I am and what I am doing, both on and off the sheep. He's 16 months old now and while still acting like a puppy in many ways, he shows he is ready for more and more as the weeks go by. We're ready to start baby fetches and other little moves to continue his sheepdog training. It's all dependent on the stop though. He is so fast and so ultra-keen. It is a huge relief to be able to work him more reliably! Talk about another learning experience. The other day I read a quote from someone that said, "train the dog in front of you, not your last dog"; so true!

We're now officially into the week of Christmas, so I hope that everyone has a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!   We are still dry and brown everywhere, with no rain...the below picture shows green grass but only because the park is irrigated by the city. All I want for Christmas is some rain...

Ryme and Chief on a walk at the park earlier this week

Sunday, December 8, 2013


I picked up hay yesterday so the truck was loaded. Today I was to deliver the hay to where our sheep live, so I could only take one dog with me in the cab of the truck. I took Ryme, since sometimes he gets left behind and misses his turn, and Friday was his birthday and all. So Ryme got to spend several hours with me alone. His facial expression had that soft puppy look with ears back, soft brown eyes and wanting to please, the whole time we were out together...not the hard look that he gets when he is stressed. We worked sheep and hung out with friends...and he was "soft" in his face the whole time. I hope he enjoyed himself. I had a good time just hanging with Ryme and working with him. We are still chipping away at "take time" while driving.

I'm grateful that the hay has not gone up in price again despite our drought. It's still $17.99 for a bale of alfalfa which is a lot, but it could be much more. We were trying to feed some grass hay, but with all the horses in our area, the good grass hay has gone into the twenty dollar range. So we went back to alfalfa for the sheep, as that is the cheapest. Due to the unusual cold, we are giving the sheep a bit extra.

It's so cold I have put a corduroy blanket on Chiefie, since he is 12 years old. He seems perkier with the blanket on even though I feel guilty for making him look like a silly house pet. So be it...if it keeps him more comfortable. The house is not exactly warm! The dog blankets are left over from Augie and Alix. It seems fitting in a way to pass the blankets on down, like hand me downs.  I used to put the blankets on Augie and Alix daily during the winter, when we had caregivers in the house and the dogs had to stay outside as a result. Augie and Alix were in their 'teens and I worried about them being too cold outside.

Spot got some work today with help from some very good friends, for whom I am very grateful. There are glimpses of something fantastic if we can work through it.

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

5 Years Old

Ryme turned five years old yesterday. It's hard to believe that time has sped by so fast.

He's a challenge for me, as his view of the world is not quite as it should be, for a good working border collie. I keep trying to work with him and he clamors to work with me and the sheep. He's a great ranch dog and excels at sorting. We're trying to teach him to hold sets for others to practice outruns; it's a slow process as Ryme does not always lie still to allow the working dog to take the sheep away from him. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, so we're only doing it with experienced dogs where it does not matter if things fall apart, and with friends who don't care whether things are always perfect. I'm also still working on his driving, even though plans to trial him are pretty much gone. Ryme does try though, so I don't give up on him. When he has worked, he is happier and that much I can do for him. We're lucky that he has places to go and work. It's not all what I had in mind for him five years ago but it's been a learning experience.

This has been a hard week, with work and the daylight hours so short. The weekend is most welcome, for all! The boys all got to work today and everyone was pretty rough around the edges what with time off, plus the unusually cold weather and the brisk wind to puff them up (and the sheep). Chiefie enjoyed a ride in the warm cab of the truck to the feed store to buy hay and dog food. And at least we got a little rain overnight. We'll bundle up and see what tomorrow brings and maybe with it some smoother dog work.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I'm always grateful but recently the gratitude list contains these thoughts...

I'm grateful for four days off of work so that I can put in some extra time working my dogs, especially Spot. I was also grateful just to have some down time.

I'm grateful to have good places to work the dogs on a variety of situations and different sheep. We're very lucky to have excellent places to work.

I was happy on Thanksgiving to go work dogs for a few hours and then come home and roast a turkey. The boys and I shared turkey dinner and I was very grateful! We followed up our dinner with watching that holiday favorite movie, A Christmas Story! I love that one.

The four days off work and training dogs each day created an optimum situation to try to make some progress with Spot. The weather was clear and I had new booties to use on his feet so he would not tear his pads and be sidelined from that as a result. Each of the four days we went out and worked sheep.

Day One (Thanksgiving), he seemed like he was trying to work with me and there was a little progress. He stopped sometimes. For the first time ever it felt like we were more of a team working the sheep and less chaotic.

Day Two, it was less fun. It seemed like Spot and I were just putting in the effort but not with any results and not really working together. I tried not to be down about it. I knew that there would not be improvement each and every single day.

Day Three, we had a breakthrough! Spot actually stopped and laid down at the end of his cast, on balance. For the first time ever! I felt like I'd won the lotto. For someone looking at us for the first time they might think we were not too good. But for Spot and me it was a major step forward.

Day Four, no breakthroughs, but just a continuation of what we have been doing. Some casting around the sheep, which is just gorgeous...and a few stops. Spot is clearly trying very hard to work with me. What more can I ask? He is super, super, super keen. He is trying to fit in with my abilities and limitations. We're both trying.  We have some yearling wethers who are quiet and are working just great for Spot. I'm very grateful for them!

As for the other dogs, we had a great practice on lambs that showed all the holes in our Open dogs. Oh my! Nothing like getting your false sense of security shot out from underneath you, so to speak!  Coal gets mesmerized by lambs, even older ones, so it is always a battle to get him to work lambs properly. I'm very grateful to have those lambs to work on.

For Ryme I am trying to get him driving better and at a little bit more distance from me without him blowing up. It's slow, just like everything else. But we're working at it. Even though it's a lot for me to work multiple dogs, I'm grateful to have dogs to work. They are all different and keep me digging deep to find what each one of them needs as an individual.

I'm also very grateful to have kind friends who are willing to toss around ideas, help me to set up training situations for my dogs, and set up training dates to help keep us all going. There's a lot to be grateful for!

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Incredible Instinct

We brought in a pair of new ewes to the flock. They look pretty much the same as some of the other ewes that we have (same breed). It was so interesting, however, to see the guard dog's reaction to the new sheep. All of the sheep were penned up including the new ones, while we loaded up some others who were moving to a different site. Neve, the Maremma guardian dog was in a different pen to make loading easier and getting in and out of the pasture easier (sometimes he wants to dart out of an open gate).

When we turned the group of sheep loose in the pasture and let Neve out as well, he ran to the group of sheep and cut out the two new ones like a cutting horse. He held them off of the old group of sheep until he had inspected them to his satisfaction. Then and only then, did he allow them to join the group. The guarding and observation instinct of these dogs is just amazing and fantastic.

If you shed off a single lamb and if Neve is around, he  might rush over to see if you are doing anything untoward with that lamb. If a dog makes a tight flank that causes the sheep to scatter, you will find a Maremma in your midst very quickly. He is very accepting of the border collies and their work, but he also does not like improper work that upsets his sheep!  If a sheep dies, he will not allow vultures to come and clean the carcass, also. He is very observant of different types of birds; ducks, turkeys, and geese, are all allowed into the pasture as they like. But any hawks, vultures, ravens or other birds of prey get barked at and chased off.

This picture is from last year when we had green grass at this time of year. Right now we are so dry and in need of rain, that it looks like a moon scape in the pasture. We are all hoping that we get more rain and soon!

I worked with Spot a little bit on the sheep today. He thought about stopping, more than he has been. At one point the sheep ran away from him again and he cast around them pretty well and actually stopped on the mini-fetch. There was a teensy bit of progress. He is trying as hard as he can right now, I think.  Me too. :-)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Turkey and Pumpkin NV Instinct Biscuits

For our November review, the boys got to try out the Nature's Variety Instinct Turkey and Pumpkin grain-free biscuits. I hadn't thought about it until now, but hey, how appropriate to choose turkey and pumpkin in November!

Good job, Chewy!

We've reviewed several types of biscuits and treats for Chewy in the past few months as part of their blogger review program. The initial border collie taste tester here, is always Ryme as he is the pickiest. When I opened this box of treats, for the first time Ryme chewed up and ate the NV biscuit right away instead of immediately spitting it out on the floor (it's not a Milk Bone--horrors!!) and then sniffing it to see if he wanted to eat it. These Nature's Variety biscuits were a real hit with Ryme and that is saying something. The other boys all snarfed them up eagerly.

I've been adding some of the Nature's Variety Instinct chicken grain free dog food to their diets lately too. It's expensive so we are not using it solely. But it is a nice additive for the working dogs to up their protein and fat a little bit and to add some grain-free to the mixture. The boys really seem to like it and again even Ryme is eating it with gusto. It's a nice food to add into our rotation and I know other friends are using this food too as part of their feeding program.

Chewy is nice to work with and highly recommended if you need to order your dog food or supplies.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Runaway Recall

Now that the sheepdog trial season is over (for me at least), the focus is on working with Spot. I had a chance to work with him recently. I am hoping to get in more sessions with him over the Thanksgiving holiday.  It's a lot of prep work to get ready to work him; sheep sorted, gates to other pens closed, hay set out for training sheep to help hold them, and more. Spot is wearing booties to protect his feet from the sandpaper-like hard, dry ground, so those have to get put on him, a process for which he does not like to hold still! A backup dog (either Coal or Ryme or a friend's dog) is needed to put the sheep where we want  them and also to bring the sheep back if they run off.

The other day we had a fairly good session to start with, and I took a break to give both Spot and me a rest. It was cool out which is a bonus, now, so that he can work longer. The sheep -- a group of pretty dog broke wethers -- were on hay, munching away. Spot got some water and was catching his breath. Then all of a sudden I saw one wether leading the charge, running away from my dog working area. Big sigh. I tied up Spot, let Ryme loose and sent him to go find the wethers and bring them back. Ryme soon came back with three wethers and not four. The fourth wether was hiding, hoping not to be found, but Ryme went back and found him. Such a troublemaker that fourth wether was! At that point I decided that the troublesome wether's new name was 'Dog Food'.

The sheep were set back on the hay. Ryme was traded for Spot. But the instant that Dog Food saw me trade dogs, he again took off at a dead run to get away. But this time Spot saw Dog Food leave before I did, and Spot pulled the long line through my hand and I let go to avoid a rope burn. Spot tried very hard -- to his credit -- to cast around and head off Dog Food but it was too much for him. Dog Food then decided to try to crash through a fence and was unsuccessful, however, he was successful in breaking a water tub. The water tub had an automatic float on it, so water was gushing all over the place.

But somewhere in the mayhem, of loose puppy and running sheep, I had the presence of mind -- I don't know how -- to try to call Spot back to me.

That'll do, Spot, that'll do! I called out, in my most happy voice (while trying to catch up to the action)...and wonder of wonders, Spot came racing back to me, orange booties flashing, and his ears flying. That made my day! I figured my luck had all been used up and had run out, so I gave up on trying to work Spot on the sheep any more that day. But I was most pleased that Spot actually called off of the runaway sheep. Good times!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dunnigan Fall 2013

I had a great time at the Dunnigan Hills fall 2013 trial. Two decent runs will do a lot for stoking my enthusiasm for all things sheepdog trialling. Not that I ever contemplated quitting having and working dogs...but the trial part was getting pretty depressing. No false sense of security here, knowing that we were competing on a familiar field with broke sheep...but running two courses with Coal and almost completing one and completing the other, did a lot to put a smile on my face.

The course had a dog-leg fetch that took a lot of control, and a Maltese cross replaced the shed and pen. The cross drive was long. It was a challenging course, without being completely overwhelming. The sheep were combined from two flocks but they again worked together quite well. The first day we had eleven minutes but the second day, that time was cut to ten minutes. The first day, Coal and I completed (almost) the whole thing but two sheep were in the Maltese Cross (and two were already out) when the timer went off...somewhat disappointing but I was still really pleased overall with our work and getting around the course, making all of the panels and just getting it done. The second day I let Coal motor on a lot faster than I normally would; I was determined to finish, and finish we did! Woo hoo...with a little time to spare. 

The judging was great, from a gentleman who has been a sheep and cattle man all his life -- someone that others have told me he has a way with livestock and stock dogs. 
The setout crew was tireless and efficient...with consistent sets of sheep placed for the handlers, like clock work. 

Coal and I helped a little bit with exhaust on the Pro-Novice/Nursery day, but other than that I was free to just watch and try to learn from observing the trial. The dog-leg fetch brought up some philosophical questions among the handlers that were interesting to listen to. 

I think everyone had a great time and I am very appreciative of all the hard work that others put into this trial to make it a good experience. What a nice way to end my trialling year...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nothing to Write Home About but Still Grateful

Our runs at Hopland this year were nothing to write home about. I wasn't sure I was even going to write anything about it in the blog. The first run was not too great, and the second run ended almost as soon as it started. I love the Hopland trial and the venue, the sheep, the crew, the landscape, the hospitality -- just everything about it; but a nice respectable run there, has eluded us once again.

One habit I am trying to learn is to find at least one good thing about every run, even if it is a poor run. In our first run I was happy to find that Coal responded to a verbal lie down on the fetch, which we have been practicing. A slow down or stop on the fetch has been really hard for me to get from him, and it has burdened us in the past at trials when I couldn't make it happen. A verbal is less preferable than a whistle, but I'll happily use the verbal if that is what works. So despite a poor outrun, not so great drive and timing out in the shed ring, we did have a stop on the fetch. We just missed the fetch gates I think but overall the fetch was not bad.

On our second run the outrun was even worse. In the run before ours, in which the dog ran way wide, the sheep had broken away from the spotter and ran back towards their corrals, which they repeated again on Coal's and my run. Since Coal's outrun was tight at first and then bordered on way too wide, we were not given a rerun; I didn't think we should have a rerun either, but I was pretty disappointed that Coal's poor outrun had again reappeared. We've been practicing a lot, at many different places over the past few months, and his outruns have been good. I was surprised. The next day, a friend prompted me to find something positive to say about this run...I had a hard time coming up with something. She suggested --with some humor --  that I could conclude that no one died! Well yes, no one died during our run! So there is a positive note that puts things in perspective. :-)

It's hard to believe that I've had Coal seven years this month. But seven years ago my aspirations were a lot different. This dog and I have come so far, that despite my disappointments about recent trials, I have to look back and smile and be proud at how far we have come. I didn't dream that I would ever run in Open and Coal is the dog who took me there. I'm super grateful for that! He tries hard and gives his all. We have one more trial before year's end. I'm just going to try to be grateful that we get to run no matter what else happens. Every time I go to the post I carry a crook that a friend gave me; and even though it's not a really pretty fancy crook, I feel that friend is with me, which is a good thing. And then we have the winter to try to get Spot going...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Working Setout

We worked as backup volunteer help at setout, on one of the days during the recent Hopland sheepdog trial. I wasn't sure what our role would be as there was someone assigned who was to be the main sheep spotter. I figured we would just fit in here and there and provide breaks for whoever needed it and try to help make it a good day for all. Mostly, Coal and I pushed the sheep away from the pens up to the main spotter. (Ryme did some of this too, but he had to stay on leash after he blew it and scattered the sheep all over when I gave him a chance to try. Ryme continues to be a challenge for me to find a suitable niche for him to work in, although he is learning to spot sheep for others on a more casual basis for practicing.)  Later in the day, Coal and I did the sheep spotting on the field, to give the main person and his dog a few breaks. It was hot out and difficult work to settle the groups by that time of day. We all tried our hardest to do a good job.

The scene at setout is always a different world than up at the trial field. You get into a flow of doing things to produce the sheep sets for each run. There are only a few minutes of downtime inbetween each run, so there is little margin for error (or for taking breaks). At most trials, you can't watch the runs, or you can only watch bits of them. You don't have time to watch the runs, and normally you are hidden in the background, on purpose, so that the competing dogs can't see all the sheep awaiting their turn. But when you see the scores, later, it all makes sense; those beautiful easy lifts turn into high overall scores, most of the time. The dogs who begin their contact with the sheep in a quiet and confident manner seem to best suited to carrying that mode forth throughout their run.

I helped a little bit at setout last year at Hopland, too, and have helped with other trials as well. Each trial has a different system, and the number of helpers can vary from just two people with their dogs doing everything, to what we had at Hopland, which was five or six people, at any one time. It's something that every sheepdog handler should take a turn at doing, though, if they are able to. Helping at setout provides a whole different perspective on many aspects of a sheepdog trial, and if you are lucky enough to be around real sheep people who are doing the work, you can learn a lot, as well. At Hopland there were several folks who work there at the University and they are very experienced at handling sheep and moving them around. Their method with the sheep could not have been quieter nor more efficient. It was like going to sheep school to watch them at work, in the pens. We had the easy job of coming in with our dogs and taking them off, and out to the field.

A couple of times in the past I have worked setout at Dunnigan, doing all of the pen work by myself with my two dogs. That is a much different setup but accomplishes the same task. I sorted off the groups of sheep for each run, got them out of the pens and if necessary, pushed them up to the spotter who escorted them out to the field. In rare cases we had an escort person and also a sheep spotter who just stayed on the field. One time we were really short handed and there were just two of us with our dogs and the spotter rode a four-wheeler back and forth from the pens out to the field, for each run. That was a true test of the dogs as they worked their hearts out and made this happen.

You learn a lot about the shape that you and your dog are in. You realize that you have to finish a job even though you are both tired. You feel a huge sense of accomplishment in making the trial happen, even though you have watched almost none of the actual runs. It is a good kind of tired, at the end of the day. Spotting the sheep on the trial field takes a very steady dog who will take command, yet work on his own when needed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

Time Change

I always dread the fall time change - "fall back"- that robs me of my "dog and sheep time" after work and before dark. It always feels like someone takes my fun time away. Now I'm counting the days until the winter solstice when I start to grab those minutes and hours back from the dark. There are fewer than 50 days if I counted it's not all that bad! Winter is a time to rest and refresh, but since that's when most of our sheepdog trials are, it seems somewhat backward.

Spot has been absent from the blog lately, if anyone was keeping count...he's had some time off to grow up while we waited for our trainer to return from the finals. We had a lesson  with our trainer this past weekend. I have a new plan for Spot that is going to take some longer relaxed blocks of time to implement. Now that the darkness is here, little casual spins after work for a few minutes just aren't going to cut it for Spot. That's OK; he can use more time to mentally grow into his big, muscle-y hard-as-a-rock body.  Spot's only "fault" is that he is super, super, super, keen...and I want to do right by him. I need to order some new dog booties for him too, because I don't want torn pads to get in the way of our work once I get those open blocks of sheep time for him.

Coal and I were lucky enough to get in some practice time on our distance work over the weekend, too. Coal is feeling as peppy as a spicy jalapeno pepper these days! I am happy to see him so bouncy but he sure is full of himself! We are looking forward to our next trips to the post, and I can (almost) welcome that fall time change because it means those days are getting closer and closer!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Testing Our Training at Pt Pleasant Fall 2013

If trials are a test of our training, we took two exams recently at the Pt Pleasant (tenth annual) sheepdog trial near Elk Grove, CA. While we didn't flunk, we didn't quite get straight As, either.

Coal ran in the Open both days and it was fun for me because we have not trialled in USBCHA style since May. I was excited to be back at the post (or the tower, in this case). Some of the things we have been working on turned out well; and some of the other things we have been working on, were not up to par. The sheep were from two different flocks, but mixed and worked together quite well.

In this trial the post (tower), shedding ring, and pen were all in one smaller field, and the outwork and drive were in an adjacent larger field. The tricky bit was getting your dog from one field to the other through a couple of options through the gates. From years past I knew this would likely be the scenario so when possible we had practiced in advance the exercise of sending the dogs through an open gate to pick up sheep. But those practice sessions were all on home fields so it was not quite the same to go to a trial and ask for the same thing. The first trial day Coal needed quite a bit of coaxing to run out the gate but the second day he had it down pat. I was happy with his outrun, especially the second day!

We had some good parts (like Saturday's drive and Sunday's gather) and some rougher parts (like both fetches and Sunday's drive).  I think our scores were a 61 and a 63. I was sort of surprised that we had trouble shedding because Coal has been shedding well in practice. We can do better so we will keep at it.

It was fun to see all the handler friends that I have not seen since May or earlier last spring. The weather was gorgeous up until Sunday mid day when the wind picked up and kept on blowing, so hard that by later in the afternoon it felt like we were running in a sandstorm! There were quite a few firsts with friends and family running dogs in Open for the first time, this weekend...which made it all quite fun.

I'm grateful that we had the chance to run in a trial and we're looking forward to the next one coming up soon.

These pictures are of a friend and her dog and are only taken with my iPhone so they are not of the greatest quality. They only show the closer, smaller field. The larger field with all the outwork is out of range of the phone camera.

Ready, set, go!

Nice shed, first day.


After the shed, second day. The gate the dogs had to run out on the outrun is just to the very right of this photo.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

Ryme says he is ready for Halloween!

I like these smiley guys as they are cheery and happy... something we all can use right now.

Spot says I think I like this holiday thing? But I need to know more...much more...

Spot is ready for Halloween! (whatever that is, he says...)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Great Workday!

We were fortunate to go to a fantastic workday up in Mendocino County last weekend. Sponsored by RESDA and the ranch owner, we were treated to a 100 acre field to work in, as well as a 6 acre field, and as many lovely fresh Dorper lambs and yearlings as we wanted to have sorted out for us. The pastures were lovely hayed fields, with trees and a ditch providing some terrain to an otherwise level landscape. I felt like I was on a true holiday for the day! It was so nice to break out of the routine.

Coal worked well and I was so pleased. It was a great way to lead up to the two trials that we are entered in. To be able to stretch him out on the big field was surely a gift for which I am very grateful!

First we did a long outrun with the sheep held for us. Coal ran out well and found the sheep with no problem. The lambs were getting hot and hard to move so after our fetch I decided to quit trying to drive them and just practiced some flanks.

Coal also spotted sheep for a friend's young dog in the 6-acre pasture, to help get her used to picking up sheep off of a stock handler. The young dog is coming along, almost three, and finding her way in things. Super to see!

Later we decided to set up a double lift scenario for another handler and I wanted to do that, too. First the other handler, who is much more experienced, showed us how it was done. We had enough friends with working dogs to have two packets of sheep held for us in opposite corners of the 100 acre pasture. Such luxury! My friend's dog nailed the double gather (she has done them in competition before) and treated us to a fabulous display of working dog and handler partnership.

The stock handlers were not too tired to hold sheep again so after the group was split back into two groups, they were taken out to their respective spots to be held for Coal and me. I can't even say how fun this was because I was on Cloud 9 the whole time.

Coal was really focused on packet of sheep #2; unfortunately they were spotted in the exact place where he had done his morning outrun. He did not see packet of sheep #1 off to our left. But with some help and whistles and stop and re-sends, he got out there, which I took as a great chance to show him that he can believe me when I send him somewhere for sheep. The turnback was done with a couple of whistles and the second packet fetched into home base with no issues. This was only the third time that Coal has had this scenario "set up" for him with two stock handlers and the whole bit. To say I was very pleased was an understatement.

Everyone else seemed to get in good work with their dogs and accomplish much of what they came to the work day to do. The ranch hostess provided us with ideal scenarios in which to work our dogs and one could not possibly ask for anything more! It was just fabulous and I am hoping we get to go there and work again. I feel very fortunate that I've had a couple of other chances as well, to stretch Coal out and work with him prior to the two trials that we are entered in.

As for the other dogs, I've been working Ryme as if he were going to trial, even though he is not (at least for now). If I don't then his work starts to fall apart. Spot's training sessions have kind of gone on hold although I have worked with him a couple of times per week, lately. I think once these trials are over then I will start anew with Spot.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lamb with Cranberry Treats

The boys have been asked once again to sample some Fromm dog treats from This time Chewy sent us some Fromm Lamb with Cranberry Recipe treats for dogs.

As usual Ryme spit his out the first time (as he does with anything new) but once he'd had a chance to check these out, he liked these treats (but not as much as his favorite Milk Bones - ugh!). The other boys really liked these Fromm treats. Normally they each get one when they go into their crates at night. They "put themselves to bed" knowing that a goodie is on its way!

Chewy has been very nice to work with on this sample tasting program. The boys have had a chance to try out some different things that I might not have purchased otherwise.

Some of the dog folks have not yet heard about how great the Fromm products are, in general, so it gives me a chance to say how pleased I am with their products! We use several of their dog food choices including the Classic (which is a chicken and rice dry dog food), the Gold (their mid-level food which is very good and the ingredient list starts off with duck and chicken I believe) and recently I tried Chiefie on the Pork and Applesauce from their Four-Star line. I have been happy with any of the Fromm products that we have tried this year. Fromm has a large variety of choices as far as protein bases, grain or no grain, and so forth. It's a family owned company that manufactures its own products. Highly recommended. If you like to order your pet products, Chewy's service is very good too and they carry almost everything.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One Foot...

.... in front of the how it seems the past few weeks and months...

Chiefie turned twelve on Saturday - his birthday is October 5th. He did not get a birthday party but we enjoyed having a weekend together. He is just the best dog...the last of the dogs remaining from when my folks were alive; he was my mother's favorite of my dogs, as he would sit with her by the hour while she patted him on the head. He never lost interest in her and she loved to find animal shows on television that would make him interact with the TV. PBS nature shows, African safaris, sheepdog trials, they were all the same to those two! Chiefie has made me a lot of friends and he seems to have his own little fan club. Rock on Chiefie! We love ya...

This is an old photo but I have always liked the connection that it shows between us. Ah for some green grass, I say!

Coal and I are still chipping away at his work for the Open. We are now entered in two trials. It is so frustrating that all the trials in our area occur on back to back weekends in late October/November. There is no chance to go to all of them due to money and time off work constraints. But I am trying to tell myself that I am grateful to go to a couple of them. I just wanna run... I hope Coal and I will be up to the task. His attitude is good. I have to work on mine!

Just putting the work in, on Ryme. I am insisting that he do proper work even though he is not going to trial. It's good for me to work another dog, even if he just does farm work. In between farm chores I try to take him out at least once a week just for that he gets a training/work session where I pay full attention to his work and not just which sheep we are sorting. When money allows, Ryme will get "tutored" but it's expensive, like everything else. Sigh.

Spot is now about 13 1/2 months. Coal is smaller but Spot is sort of Coal's mini me.

The National Finals has started so it's hard not to stay glued to updates of the scores. It will be a long week, with one foot in front of the other.......

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Almost October

It's almost October and time has been blazing by in a blur, kind of like this photo:

Coal and I have been working hard to sharpen ourselves back up and I am looking forward to a little bit of trialling again. He's working well and we are dotting those is and crossing those ts, as best we can. Today we had an enjoyable workout with two other friends holding sheep for one another, and got to practice the turnback/double lift scenario. Fun!  

Spot and I have hit some speed bumps in our work so we are getting some help. He is super keen now. Poor boy tore his dew claw yesterday. Ouch! I'm very grateful for the friends who are helping us by observation and brainstorming though.

The days are getting shorter, and we've had a few drips and drops of rain. Can the little green shoots of grass be far behind? It is almost October...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

That Pesky Clipboard Again

Unexpectedly I found myself on the other side of the clipboard again. The person who was supposed to judge Saturday's RESDA trial wanted to trade assignments at the last minute (almost). I was previously supposed to judge the last RESDA trial of the season, in October. It was great for me to trade since the earlier trial was a lot closer to home. And now I have completed my judging duties for the year.

I enjoy judging in small doses. Judging really makes you examine your own handling and training.

It was a lovely field with crossbred wool sheep who worked great for the Open dogs. These sheep have been in a trial before and are managed in a large group at home by a dog and handler. So they are dog-aware but certainly not dog-broke. They tested the Open dogs quite well. There were quite a few nice runs. I was hard pressed at times to find places to critique but I did my best.

There were of course a few runs that didn't go so well. I encouraged those handlers to go help their dogs. Sometimes it seems the handlers have grown roots and don't walk when they should - or so it seems at least...

There was also an old saying in other dog events that I thought of: "don't make the judge think!" It's meant in a joking manner but really, if the handler is doing something that is so different from the norm, then that handler is taking a chance of losing a lot of points that they needn't lose.

Being on the other side of the clipboard reminds me that etiquette goes a long way. The thank-yous received are much, much appreciated by the trial hosts, work crew, club staff, and clerk. It's those little things that keep sheepdog trials happening.

Speaking of which: lots of big trials have been running: Soldier Hollow, Meeker, the International in the UK, and so forth. It has been hard to stay focused anywhere but on the various websites that offered updates.

In our little part of the world, there will be a RESDA-style sheepdog trial at Lambtown. Details can be found on the RESDA website.

As for my guys, we are just plugging away. The temperatures have been really much hotter than I prefer so some training opportunities are getting either significantly shortened, or skipped altogether. I am hoping to get more training time in soon. But for now it feels like we are having the heat of summer all over again. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Fun

Labor Day is here! Time to store all those straw hats, white sandals and white linen slacks...oh wait, I forgot !! I'm in California...and the midwestern strict rules of apparel etiquette do not apply here. I am not sure I will ever get used to that. :-) Seeing straw hats here in November and March just goes against the grain. My grain, anyway...

Labor Day for we sheepdoggers now means one thing: Soldier Hollow double lift finals. I have been watching the scores since the qualifying started. I was happy to see our trainer get into the final round. They didn't make the medals but had a respectable score. On, to Meeker. Someday I want to go to Soldier Hollow  and Meeker as a spectator....wishful thinking! But we can dream!

Labor Day in reality was a fun dog-work day. With two other handlers we set up our own "mini version" of a double lift and Coal got to try his first turn back in that situation. It was really fun. He took the turn back after a few whistles and verbal coaxing. Not too shabby for a first attempt! We all had fun. Nice to do something different. I thought it might be a good litmus test of where we are, and I'm happy with the result.

Spot had one fast cheviot ewe in his training group today, that I don't think we have used before. She was too fast for him and in the heat we did not try to attempt keeping her under control, for very long. We will try again next time.

The issues in the dog-pack seem to have been settled, at least for now. I am so much more aware of what is happening here though. I thought I was pretty dog-savvy, but not enough. I am very grateful for friends who are much more well versed in canine behavior than I. I'm so grateful that the dogs are back together, under supervision, and we have had no more incidents. You don't know what you've got til it's (almost) gone is the old saying and when you suddenly face that it is a very stressful time. Spot's "puppy card" now has all twelve holes punched in it though. He may be getting a free deli sandwich but not much else! Just lots more work. Keeps me out of trouble, I say.

Giving thanks on this Labor Day for many things! Enjoy...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Birthday, A Holiday, and More

Coal gives me the border collie eye from the vantage point of his swim tank
Coal's birthday was last week on August 29th. I didn't get a post on the blog for him due to other things that happened that day. Still I wanted to post something about Coal's birthday even if it's belated. He is now seven. It is hard to believe he's that old. Time flies when you are having fun. Coal has always been a bundle of fun. He is a jolly fellow who enjoys life. I try to take a lesson from him daily in that regard!

One thing our trainer said about Coal last weekend has stuck with me. As any know who watch us run in a trial, Coal has a lot more eye than most folks want in their sheepdogs. I have stuck with it because he is my dog and he has lots of other talents; he's not going anywhere. But what our trainer noted was that "there is nothing wrong with that kind of eye." "You just have to have obedience from the dog to go with it" (or something to that effect). In other words if the dog is obedient you can use the good parts of that amount of eye yet still get around a trial course in good fashion. That's my goal. When things are flowing it is a lovely sight, Coal and the sheep on the course. I'm not drilling him as such, but every day when we work I am running through some exercises to promote obedience, making sure he listens.

Coal is getting tuned back up. I am hopeful that we can put in a respectable showing at the nearby November USBCHA-style trials. I have more things to work on, and need to also put time into his fitness. But it's all coming along. Some of our sheep went on walkabout the other night; I found two of them enjoying irrigated lawn. I was glad I had Coal with me to put them back into the (dry as a bone) pasture. Oh my.

It's Labor Day weekend, so we have some holiday time off. Some down time is much welcomed and appreciated by me this year. A lot of the sheepdog folks are out of town at the various trials: the Scottish Games in Pleasanton, of course Soldier Hollow in Utah, and there is a small fun trial on Monday at the Gibson Ranch Park near Sacramento. I'm staying home. The holiday weekend traffic, the Bay Bridge closure and more factors were enough to make that choice. We have work to do at home, I have training and practicing to accomplish with the dogs and just some rest and chore time to put in here.  I am watching the Soldier Hollow scores online though, and it looks tough especially at certain times of the day.

Spot is doing well too. We're working on our assignments from last weekend's lesson. I would like to have a little bit cooler weather so that we could work a few minutes longer each session. Right now it's been pretty hot though so the sessions are really short. Some would say that short duration is a good constraint right now. Perhaps! :-)

We had a problem at home on Coal's birthday which is the main reason why I didn't blog that day. I'm still processing it and working out a plan to deal with it. Ryme has suddenly (at least to me) revealed animosity for Spot. If the signs were there before, with a fermenting issue, I did not see them. Spot has a great temperament and just wants to get along with everyone - which is one of the main reasons he is here. But we had a bad altercation early Thursday morning. Ryme would not give it up even though Spot was completely submissive. So they are separated for now at home, although walking them together out in the open still seems to be a possibility. To be determined. I continue to learn.

Happy Labor Day weekend, all!

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Good Stuff

Adult Dog gave us the opportunity to review some more dog food. This time they sent us the really good stuff!  When they emailed and asked if we could review the new Orijen freeze dried food I said yes! 

This food would be great for traveling with raw-fed dogs. The food is in the shape of little patties very similar to the size of a store-bought chocolate chip cookie. You soak the patties in warm water for a little bit and then serve. It's different from the other dehydrated dog foods I have used that are more of a powder or a meal that you mix with water and/or other ingredients.

All of the dogs gave this food a big thumbs up. It's pricey, but it seems like a very good food.

We had a visiting dog staying with us for a few days and I thought he might be the ultimate taste-tester for the Orijen freeze-dried. Angus was not eating too well being away from home and missing his dad. But when offered this food, he ate it right up and some of his other food as well. 

The adult food is based on chicken, turkey, and fish. They also have a red-meat flavor that is other proteins including beef, boar, lamb, herring and bison.

Orijen is a really good dog food company and if their dry food were not so expensive, I would use it. But this freeze dried seems like a good option to add in here and there. Chewy gives great service so again I highly recommend them if you want to online order your dog food. Thanks Chewy for asking us to guest-blog again!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

School Day

We were fortunate enough to get in for sheepdog lessons so even though it was a Saturday, it was a School Day for Coal and Spot. Coal and I are doing much better together than we were three weeks ago, so that is very encouraging. His work is more free and flowing and he's taking command well...which makes it all the more fun to do. Now I need to resume practice on our shedding, which I have neglected in favor of more basic stuff; and also to find a way to get Coal more fit. I think I will be looking for a really cheap used, simple bicycle and give that a go. I think Coal is sensible enough to run with me slowly on a bicycle although we will find out if I can find one that is affordable.

Spot and I had our third session of coaching while working on the sheep. Spot changes all the time so I will have to be really observant and roll with those changes. He is making good progress though and it's time to move on with some of his work. I was making one mistake with my own positioning, which I hadn't realized and I will fix that immediately our next time out. This is why it's so crucial to get expert help. I would have kept doing that one thing which was making our work harder and less effective.  My challenge will be to bring Spot on for the next two months without that expert help as our trainer will be gone to all the big trials.

It's hard to believe it is almost time for Soldier Hollow and Meeker. Summer is truly over!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Learning Curve

Right now Spot and I are in that magic phase where almost every work session reveals something better, some improvement, some change where he is offering something I want; we are on that lovely learning curve of the beginner dog. I know from past experience that this won't last; we will have setbacks and training issues to solve and work through. But for now I am grateful that each outing seems to reveal a little bit more of what is layered inside him.

Our latest session was out in a smaller pasture. I am still using the long line on him. His stop is just not that reliable and I don't want to get into a chase-argument-disaster if I can't stop him when I need him to stop. Especially when I am working out there by myself with him. It's just a safety issue at this point. He is so eager... oh my goodness. He will stop if everything's almost perfect (sheep slowing down or halted, me on balance, etc.) But if it's not perfect that stop might happen or it might not. It's been hot here lately, and even just a few minutes of work session gets the dogs very warm. His tongue can be hanging down to his knees and he still wants to go on. I have to enforce rest breaks with water and shade for all of the dogs.

Out in the pasture I can do more fetching. Spot really likes the fetch part and I am hopeful that it will turn out to be very good. I have worked and worked on fetches with Coal and I know now how important that phase is!

A couple of times, when things blew up, I was able to put things back together and make lemonade out of lemons, as our trainer told me to do. If Spot busts through the sheep or singles one off (which he did twice in this session), then I need to move such that we turn it into a big cast/gather...and let him succeed in his mini-outrun and fetch from there. It opened up a long fetch for us that was really fun to work with. He will get it.

Ryme did the sorting, as usual. I brought everyone into the barnyard but one of the silly lambs hung back. I stood there and waited. Sometimes it is interesting just to let things roll and wait to see what happens. The lamb looked at Ryme. Ryme looked at the lamb. I just waited. Pretty soon Ryme trotted quietly out through the gate and around the lamb and brought her back into the group and laid down opposite of me. What's next? you could almost see the cartoon bubble over Ryme's head.

Coal and I worked on shedding, on the whole group. And driving the whole group to the corner which is a great exercise that Alun Jones started us all on, years ago. Coal is looking a little bit crisper in his work which is what I have been striving for! It's all about meaning what I ask for and getting it when I do.

In other news we sold our ram. The transfer went so smoothly that I have no antics to write about! We had prepared so well that it was a piece of cake. We were so glad we had halter-broke this ram lamb and trained him with a grain bucket to lead with us, a few times, last year when he was just a little guy. He hadn't had the halter on in many months but when we cornered him and gently looped the rope around his neck, he froze and let us halter him. It was not a scene out of a 4-H lamb show or anything but at least we could move him quietly and somewhat under control out to the buyer's truck. Very cool. I'm glad he's going to someone who will use him, at least for this season. I'm glad he's not going straight to the killers at least this time around. He's a nice guy and while we don't need him it's nice someone else will use him. If we ever get another ram lamb, which we probably won't, but if we do we will definitely spend a few minutes here and there acclimating him to a halter and lead. It made things so much easier. Again, a learning curve.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Offering behavior...oh that is so nice when it happens in dogs! you can just see the little light bulb go on, and the little cartoon bubble over their heads.

Today's offered behavior, for the first time ever...Spot laid down outside the round pen before we went in. I have been asking him to lie down outside the gate so that I can manage opening the gate. It is just to establish some structure and I am not super picky about it...just do something resembling a wait at the gate for me and I will be happy.

We went to the round pen today to work and the little guy laid down right outside the gate without me asking him for it. So cute! I even had a witness and we both laughed and said "good boy!" at the same time.

Spot is ready to "graduate" out of that round pen at that training field, though. So that's the next step. Quiet sheep, but in a larger area. Everything is coming along OK with him. I am happy.

The other dogs were good. Ryme did all the sorting and then held a set of sheep for a couple of outruns for another dog-handler team. He is getting more comfortable with this job although I would like to have lots more mileage of him doing it.

Coal got to have two outruns with sheep held for him. He was good both times and I was very happy with him. But I could tell he is out of shape, physically. So we will have to work on that some more.

The weekends are definitely way too short!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Put Me In, Coach

Spot says, "Put me in, coach! I'm ready to play!"
The John Fogerty song is perfect for Spot right now. 

Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.

He certainly can be centerfield and that's where we want him, right? On balance, behind his sheep? I know next to nothing about baseball but it sounds good to me.

We worked in the big round pen at our other training place, one night this week. Ryme and I sorted off some of the mature adult ewes to work and they were as if charmed...marching around perfectly for a puppy. We're getting somewhere with downs, call offs, and even flanks based on body language. Fun! Above is Spot's photo, sticking his head through the fencing into the round pen wanting to go back in again after his first turn.

We're making progress. One topic that my trainer and I have discussed over the years, is how we continue to expect more of young dogs. Just when they start to give us something ,we want it more, and better and crisper and sooner and more often. The poor dogs never get a chance to just do it at one level and we are asking them for more. It doesn't seem fair, but of course on the other hand a lot of times they just start to give and offer us* more as we open up new opportunities to them as they master one thing and then the next. Spot is definitely offering it.

*Put me in, coach..........

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where Were We

Where were we?
Spot's next work session after our lesson was pretty Western at first. He had to wait several hours in the truck while we vaccinated and wormed our sheep. It was nice to get that chore done, although the dogs thought it was pretty mean to bring them to the sheep place and then not get to work until much later when all of the humans were too tired to last very long.

Still, I did work Spot out in the pasture, and used the white ewe (I realized later) that he couldn't handle, before, mixed in with the white wethers that have been the standard fare for Spot all along. So there is a lot of progress happening even though while it is happening sometimes it seems I am just trying to stay on my feet. The newest thing was that while he would stop for me, he got up from that stop at 90 miles an hour coming forward onto the sheep. Oh my. Things did settle down but by the time we got to work after the sheep treatments, it was hot out, and Spot got too warm very fast. Lots of things are going to get settled out later all I can say. Meanwhile the enthusiasm is the big plus sign.

Coal frustrated me when we were sorting Spot's sheep out though. Grumble! The next night I focused only on Coal, and did not work Spot (Ryme got to do the sort). In that scenario, Coal was good. I will keep at it with Coal! I think it helps to have a focus-dog for the session and not try to do it all with all of them on the same day. I am learning my limits.

Ryme is doing small chores, sorting, holding for others; last week at his monthly chiropractic appointment we were told that he was very stiff. His chiropractor looked at me with a very ashen face, saying "I do not want to scare you but he feels like an old man who has aged overnight". Yikes. We are making some changes in his diet for fall that will address things in a "warming" fashion (as in Chinese medicine). And he will just get easier tasks for a while. He is not lame. But on Saturday I could tell he was just not "right". And so the saga continues for Ryme. :-( He has been lame the past two winters. We are trying to avoid that for this winter.

At least Coal got a fairly good report from the chiropractor; even his feet were good. And given how hard the ground is right now that is super-positive news!

Pretty soon it will be time for Spot's and then Coal's birthdays. I do not anticipate party hats will happen but maybe there will be some homemade doggie treats.

Completely off topic, I just love this sapphire blue heart from San Francisco, in a photo taken recently by a friend:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Spot Lies Down

See Spot. See Sheep. Run Spot Run. Listen. Listen Spot Listen. Down. Down Spot Down. Good Spot.

A good friend sent me the above text in an email Friday night. I asked her if she had considered writing a children's book? Oh wait...where have we heard that before? :-) 

Spot and I had another sheepdog lesson with our trainer. Our assignment from last week was for Spot to lie down when I ask, when we are working with the sheep. I worked with him three times in between last weekend's lesson and this weekend's lesson. I wasn't too sure how effective my efforts had been, in asking Spot to stop. At our home fields, he was stopping fairly well especially if I asked him in the right place; but, one never knows how their kid will actually perform at the recital. 

But when we started our lesson, Spot stopped! Spot does lie down when asked at the right moment, on balance. He knows it. Now just to fine tune from there. The lie down gives us a lot more freedom to create other situations where Spot can blossom as a sheepdog.

In our first little session, Spot was so good that I wondered where this other dog had come from who had replaced my puppy! Then later he got a bit more excited and I realized it was still my puppy. Whew - no alien invasion! 

We were opening up opportunities for him to cast around the sheep. He did a very baby mini tiny outrun-lift-fetch! Or so I was told. It was very mini and it happened very fast so it's quite possible that I missed it, in my efforts to remain upright. Working a puppy continues to be a very physical experience! Overall I am very pleased in Spot's progress. There is plenty there to work with and as someone else commented, "he's very willing". We'll have another training lesson in two weeks, I hope.

Meanwhile Ryme and I got to help hold sheep for someone else having a lesson. I am beginning to teach Ryme how to set out, and hold sheep for others. We have done it a few times at the home pasture. This was our first attempt at branching out. The first outrun, Ryme blew it and did not stay. But he was not heinous and called off rather quickly. The working/lesson dog seemed not to care one bit about Ryme's indiscretion; whew! The next couple of times, Ryme was fine. Now just to get lots more of these experiences. Then Ryme will really have a job to do, whenever he is needed. 

Ryme waiting to hold another set. Tar weed and stickers - oh my! should have used Show Sheen.
It's pretty relaxing being the sheep holding person for a lesson. There is a lot of time in which the trainer talks to the student, and in which the working dog needs a cool-down or break inbetween exercises. It gave me time to just breathe and appreciate where I was and be grateful after another long and hectic week.

This is my happy place. Blue sky, not too hot; endless fields (or so they seem from this vantage point). With luck Spot and I will be training out here come winter time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August Chewy Review!

During August, Chewy offered another treat product to us for review. This time, it was the Natures Variety Instinct Raw Boost Minis. Chewy sent us the chicken flavor. These treats would be great for training because they are very tiny, and you could give a lot of rewards without feeding the dog too much food. The "minis" name is very appropriate!

Nature's Variety Instinct Raw Boost Minis Chicken Formula Freeze-Dried Dog Treats

All of the dogs love these treats. Even the picky guy, Ryme, who showed no hesitation in gobbling up his treat(s). Let's just say I am VERY popular when I pull out this treat package. The boys will be quite unhappy when these treats are all gone.

If a person had a dog who needed to be coaxed to eat, after surgery or illness for example, these treats would provide an excellent appetizer, I should imagine.

Overall we have always had good service from Chewy and if a person wants to order dog food or supplies I have had good luck with them.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What's In There? and From the First Whistle

What's in there? What's in the dog that is natural, organic, essential? What's there that bubbles up to the surface when we leave the dog alone a bit to see what he's got? 

We had chore duties tonight so I let Ryme go out to bring the sheep in for sorting. He cast out and was relaxed in going into a tight corner to bring the sheep out, without a word from me. The sheep were munching happily near the fence on some green branches that the neighbor had pruned from a tree and tossed over, for the sheep to clean up. The sheep did not want to leave those lovely green branches. They haven't had anything green in a while--just grass hay and dry pasture. But Ryme simply convinced them without a word or whistle from me, to come on towards the barn for sorting, even scraping Scotties with horns, and silly lambs, out of a corner that they do not want to leave. Ryme can do a lot on his own in a familiar location with a chore that he knows. That is what's in there. The lambs get sorted from the others, so they can be fed extra. Ryme is handling the silly lambs very well. He seems much happier than a few days ago but I still sense some tentativeness.  I'm staying really quiet and just letting him work.

What's in there? Does Spot know the words "lie down"? I think he does. Our training assignment is to get a lie down on the sheep. Tonight I decided I was too tired from a Monday to do the "pasture aerobics" that we did yesterday, that is, working Spot in the open. So we took a break and went back to the small pen to work on his stop and some other things that will eventually make Spot more grown up in his work. No leash to go in and out of the pen. No long line on. Working on the lie down. I'm saying the flank words as he goes around but not forcing or commanding him to go one way or the other - still his choice pretty much at this point. Stop and walk up, and flank, and start over again. The stop is in there, when the pen keeps everything quiet. Good to's in there. Even if it flies out the window when we go to the pasture! :-)

Coal's assignment (or mainly, mine) is to make sure he obeys commands correctly "from the first whistle". We're kind of in boot camp mode, right now. I'm working on getting Coal's stop back (I know it's in there!) and tuning his flanks back up, for starters. It's in there. Coal is already behaving better after our lesson Saturday, some tuneup on Sunday, and more tuneup this evening. I'll keep at it, just being really clear about what I am asking and what I will settle for (which is only the best). He can do it.

Coal fetching some sheep to me, earlier in July

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ryme Updates; and Sonoma County Fair

Sonoma County Fair sheepdog trial was last weekend. I had entered both dogs but it was not a good day for us. First of all as usual it was very difficult to get in the gate. The poor woman who was working at the security point at the gate we were supposed to come through, got really unhappy with me and some of the other folks in the club. There was plenty of space for us to park inside the arena area. I don't know why it is so difficult with this issue and this event. The other fairs make it so much easier for the sheepdog handlers. Sigh. I am not sure that I will enter this one again but we'll see when the time comes. It was not a real positive way for me to begin this annual event.

Coal ran in the third position but was too sticky-eyed (I have let him slide on his compliance with commands also) and we timed out at the second panel. I think that same thing has happened to us a couple of other times at Sonoma County Fair. The second panel is up top of the arena, near the letout, as with most RESDA arena trials. It is a tough spot for a dog to let go of the pressure enough to let the sheep pass in front of them (and between the handler and dog to complete that panel). It is really tough for a dog like Coal with such strong eye.  That said, I am not making excuses, he should have given up the pressure for two seconds anyway and we might have been able to complete the course. The sheep were harder than they were at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, where we did better. They were from the same sheep provider so I am not sure of what the difference was in their behavior.

Ryme ran late and by then there had been some nicer runs (the early runs were mostly tough goes). He did OK on his outrun, began the lift, and then one ewe broke back over him to the letout. That was enough for Ryme. He just doesn't handle it when things go wrong. He drove them to the fence and held them, looking over his shoulder for me as to what to do. When a few whistles didn't convince him to go around and fetch them, I retired and we fetched them to the exhaust. Not too fun for either of us.

Ryme is going to get some time off to just do simple chores, help me feed our sheep, run in the pastures, and so forth. I still have the goal of teaching him to set out, and hold sheep for other people. We've done that a few times and will try to find more chances to practice it with willing handlers. I just think that trialling with any type of consistency is likely beyond his scope.  He'll still have plenty of work to do if he wants it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Chiefie's New Bed; and More Spot Updates.

Chiefie got a new bed last weekend when I went shopping at Costco. Normally I don't do any impulse purchases at Costco because it just gets too expensive if I don't stick strictly to my list. But in this case, I made an exception. Chiefie deserves a nice cushy bed! He is 11 years old and has his aches and pains. And these beds were a pretty good deal (under $30). I think he likes it!

Of course the other dogs had to try it out too.

Even Spot has taken a turn in the new bed: Spot has only dragged the pillow to the bed, out into the yard once. He got a speech from me about that. Phooey!!! It has not happened again (yet).

Coal moved too quickly for me to get his picture.

As for Spot's sheepdog training progress, we had a second working session in the pasture this week. It went OK. It felt a lot more "Western" to me but I think we accomplished a bit more. Our great backup person and her dog(s) were helping us again. Maybe we are confident enough to try it on our own next time? Maybe.

And, Spot had his first lesson with our sheepdog trainer today. It went OK. He did no worse than in our "home" pasture, and possibly a bit better. It would be nice to think that Spot will just get better and better. In reality we know that won't happen"; there will be ups and downs. But it's nice to think that the overall curve will continue in a positive direction. I have to start getting a down on Spot so that we can make some more progress.

Coal also had a lesson today; it was much overdue. We are sadly out of synch and he needs a major tuneup. I just hope it's not too late. I am going to do my best to try to re-tune him and get us back where we need to be. It's one of those things where the curve didn't continue endlessly in a positive direction. Life got in the way. I am hopeful we can fix it. The goal will be doing better at the Hopland trial in November. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Changing Things Around; Moving to the Pasture

Sunday morning, I worked Spot again by myself in the small pen. This time I didn't use the long line. And, I added the silly Barbados ewe to Spot's working group. I was just thinking that I needed to make things more difficult even though I wouldn't be taking him out to the bigger pasture, by myself. 

Working him without the line on, in the small pen, was really no problem. I think we will need the line in the big pasture for a while. The little Barb ewe also works just fine in the pen. But you let her outside, and she just wants to RUN. Not good for a puppy. 

On our next outing during the week, we worked in the bigger pasture, with some help to make it happen. I didn't want to take Spot out into the pasture, by myself. Too many things could happen, such as a sheep could jump out of the pasture and I'd be stuck trying to get it back by myself...or could run out on the road and cause an accident. No, I wanted our first couple of pasture works to have a helper with a backup dog, on standby.

I don't have pictures of our pasture outing but we did finally get successful. Once we got the right arrangement of sheep figured out (no white ewe who is behind the Barb in the top photo) -- as she also wants to run off to her buds-- and the right places covered, Spot and I were finally able to do some walkabouts in the pasture. Yippee! It took some perseverence, and I am very grateful to my friend and her dog who helped us. What troopers they are! The key seemed to be for me to walk right through the sheep and then Spot would cover and go back to balance. It's so hard to pick up on what works and what doesn't, when you are working all by yourself. Having an observer is much faster and better! What's the old saying about two heads are better than one?

The sheep we're using for Spot that are working the best, are yearling white wethers that we bought last year, as lambs. They are a Dorset/Dorper cross that we have bought some of before, for dog training. They work out quite well for beginner/intermediate dogs. I'm glad we have them. I would not like it to have the horns on the Scottish Blackface powering towards me with a puppy behind them, right about now!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


The other night I got brave and took the iPhone out to the training area with Spot and me and snapped a few photos of him working. The last photo is Spot cooling off in the water bucket, after his sheepdog training session.

The next time I took him out to work, a couple of days later, I took the rope off and worked him without that bit of a went OK. I think when we go out to a bigger area I will put some kind of a long line back on him but for now I need to get more comfortable without having the line on him.

It's going OK...we are learning a lot together! And I tentatively have a lesson scheduled for us with our trainer coming up so that all the things I am missing can get pointed out to me, to work on. :-)