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.