Monday, May 26, 2014

Training Wheels Are Off

Spot, approximately 21 months

Spot and I have been working the big girls' and boys' sheep for the past couple of weeks. The more docile training sheep (Dorper/Dorset wethers) that we have been using primarly, have moved to another location, for another pup to get started. So Spot and I are using the Scotties and our work became more difficult. I keep reminding myself that we are working the advanced sheep and the reason we have Scotties is because they are that way.

Thanks to my brother for the phrase about the training wheels because that is exactly how it feels. You want to step up and move forward but after you take those wheels off, you feel a lot more wobbly and less certain, on that bicycle. Things can move a lot faster and go in different directions than perhaps what you had planned!

A month or two ago, I put the long line back on Spot when I worked him. I just needed some more leverage on my side of the equation. Mostly the line is just there.  A couple of times, I have caught him with it and it made an impression. Today I worked him without the line but I carried it with me in case I wanted to put it back on. I didn't need it. Too bad it was so hot out today that we had to cut our session pretty short. I think we could have made some more progress.  He's getting better and better, about many things. We can do a short outrun, lift, and fetch. I am having him drive, just a few steps here and there, whenever I can set up the situation. And we are working on stops off balance (that's coming along slowly but surely) and on flanks just with the verbal and less body positioning and language from me (that will take a while).  Spot really wants to please and that's my ace in the hole!

Today is Memorial Day, which means an extra day off of work, some time to rest, and time to remember those who have gone before. In our family it was not just about decorating the graves of fallen soldiers but also decorating graves of our family members who had passed away. It is a day of remembrance and thankfulness.  Going to and from working the dogs, I saw lots of flags displayed. I particularly like seeing flags hung on rural fences, mailboxes, and gates. I know it is extra work for folks to put up flags that are not just at their doorstep, like mine, but I appreciate seeing them!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mother's Day Tradition

It's become a tradition to go to the sheepdog trial at Point Pleasant Ranch, for Mothers' Day. The Spencers always put on a nice relaxed trial day, and there is a potluck and the traditional Mothers' Day cake. This year was no exception and even with a full day with a lot of entries in all the classes, the day was fun and relaxed. They offered Nursery, Pro-Novice, Open, and Novice-Novice, which is a lot for one day but they pulled it off!  We stayed until the very end so as to support those in PN and NN (and also to miss the traffic backups that inevitably occur on Sunday afternoon/evening).

The Open course was outrun-lift-fetch, left hand drive, then Maltese cross with a turn in the center, then shed any two. Coal and I ran in this class and we had a nice run with just one pilot-error mistake by me, which cost us in the placings. We just barely skimmed the second drive panel, when I thought we were right on, which was too bad. Coal was taking every command perfectly. We ended up with a score of 85 which was good enough for sixth place. The winning run was a very smooth one by Judy L and Cam, with a 91. I was very happy with our work and how good it felt, despite my boo-boo!

Ryme ran much later in the day in the Pro-Novice, and we ended up retiring. It is just not his thing to wait all day for his turn at a trial. I knew he was not confident, the way he was hesitant on his outrun and then would not take my redirect. When he started to meltdown at the top, I said thank you to the judge and was on my way up the field as fast as I could get. A couple of good lie downs later, we brought the sheep halfway down the field, then turned them over to the exhaust dog. Poor guy, sometimes his wheels just do not stay on. He's still the best ranch dog, ever... less than a week later Ryme helped us to catch a two month old Scottie lamb who needed vaccinating, and he is worth his weight in gold for the calm way that he can do practical work like that.

I wasn't sure where Coal's and my run at Mother's Day would shake out with regard to the USBCHA points. But a couple of weeks later, when the webpage was updated, I was able to see that yes indeed, Coal did get one USBCHA point for that run. It is not a big deal to get one point, but for me that is a long-term goal attained. Now on to some other stake in the ground which I have not planted yet! :) It has been a long-term goal for us, competing only with ourselves, to get USBCHA point(s) at a trial other than Dunnigan. We have earned points at Dunnigan a couple of times, but nowhere else. Now we have a point at Point Pleasant. It's a new personal achievement, which doesn't mean much, but when you are breaking down your goals into small steps, this is a step taken. I have no intentions of ever taking Coal to the Finals, as he is just not that type of dog who can transfer easily to new fields and situations. But it is a marker that people understand that means more than just saying we are improving in our work.

The days are getting hotter, and a guy just needs to cool off!
There were a couple of friends running in the Pro-Novice who have either just moved up from NN or they have moved up in the past year. So we stayed to watch them, and their runs were very good! I was so proud of them. One of these gals, as we were walking over to check the score board, told me that she routinely used to sit and drink coffee on a Sunday morning and watch the BBC's One Man and His Dog, and never dreamed that she herself would be doing that very same thing, one day. It is so cool to hear stories like this!

So, thanks once again to all who helped to make yet another year's Mothers' Day tradition.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dogs Eating Local and the Last of the SoJos

Recently I had a chance to buy some mutton/lamb from a local friend processed from cull ewes and a wether who decided that dog training was just not for him. That wether may have made a bad choice! But it was a good one for my dogs. Processed by a local butcher, it was a chance to get nice clean food for the dogs. We got one-third ground meat, one-third chunked up meat, and one-third bones. I mixed the last of the grain-free SoJos samples with the first package of the ground meat that I thawed. This made a lot of food for the dogs so I am parceling it out over a few days. Needless to say, they love it. It's nice to be able to mix in some fresh food with their kibble even if that doesn't happen all the time. I am still a believer in fresh food for the dogs and if the day comes when I can source enough of it at the right price again, I will go back to it. Meanwhile I feel the dogs are doing okay on their kibble, plus all the other variety that gets thrown in from time to time. I'm still mixing Fromm Gold with NutriSource grain free. All the dogs look good and seem healthy, crossing fingers and paws! :)

My friend made an interesting point about her cull ewes. If she sells them on, then someone else will no doubt try to breed them, even though they shouldn't be bred for various reasons. Either they had trouble lambing, or they were poor mothers, or they couldn't raise a lamb due to a damaged udder, or something. It is not good stockmanship to put that ewe into that situation just because we don't own her any more. By having them made into dog food, she takes the ultimate responsibility for their outcome. It was a viewpoint that made for a lot of thought on my part. That said we bought cull ewes from her years ago, for dog training, and they were some of the best dog training sheep we ever had! :) But then I think she knew that we were not in the lamb-raising business and did not intend to be.

Coal says thanks for the great meals; Yum!
The days are getting longer as we slide into the second half of May. This makes for more dog training time in the evenings, although we are also sliding into that dreaded time of Foxtail Danger. As always, it's a mixed bag!