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.