Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Little Bit Smoother

It's a stretch, sometimes!

Another installment in the ongoing saga that is becoming Spot's Progress, and another sheepdog lesson for Spot and his handler (moi). We worked on driving, with me staying a lot closer and in contact with Spot.  There are so many layers and so many moving parts: not too fast, not too slow (slow is not Spot's problem however); we need left, right, stop, and don't run to the heads...oh my.  And oh yes those lefts and rights must be at the proper trajectory not just the correct requested direction... the stops need to happen right away and not three miles later... connection with the sheep, taking direction and feeling in flow...oh we are so not there yet... but we are getting a little bit closer and a little bit smoother.

Also we worked on some medium gathers, not too long so that Spot would feel out of touch with me, but not so short as to where there was too small of a space to work on a fetch. We're working on getting a nice fetch at good pace and lifting at balance and oh so many more moving parts. The heart of a dog is in its gather. I am still thinking through, that shiny little gold nugget of a phrase that I had never heard before.

It was a little bit more smooth, this trip, than the last lesson. Spot only blew up (I think) twice, and they were tiny blowups, as opposed to the half a dozen or more (I stopped counting) last time. I am more critical of our work so it was probably better than I am making it sound. :) I think I even heard some Good Boy, Spot in the background because I am too slow to praise the poor dog when he is right on.

I should also be counting my own faux pas in handling. Yelling at the dog to "lie down" when he has already blown through the sheep is probably not going to be too productive, and is quite possibly counter-productive. These are things I know and have known for many years but sometimes they fly out of my mouth with indiscretion. So, I only did that once this trip. Yay, me. :)  We are only human and it is an indication of frustration and probably a good time to go take a break.

On the positive side, I love being able to try things on the fly as they occur... we were going to send Spot for the sheep who had wandered around back to the top of a little hill on our left. Spot was, however, looking for the sheep in their last seen location at the bottom of that little hill, on our right. Look Spot, look!  I am not one to miss an opportunity to give him an unexpected experience in scanning for sheep. It took a couple of tries but we got him out there and he got to practice another nice little fetch.

Things are a little bit smoother, but we still have a lot to do. No big surprises there! :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Betwixt and Between

Lately, things are, in so many ways, betwixt and between.

We're waiting for the Solstice; we're waiting for Christmas. We're waiting for our  much-anticipated Christmas guests to arrive! :-) I do not like to wish away time.  But we're waiting. I have things to do to prepare but can't do many of those things until a few more days have passed. Waiting!

Coal, Dec 2015
Spot and I have taken some steps back. I've only had a few short opportunities to work with him on the sheep since our last lesson when he was kind of a mess. He was so good when we went on our weekend getaway a few weeks ago, handling fresh sheep in new surroundings, and then bam! things just sort of fell apart. I am walking with him on the drives again, and trying to build confidence as he walks into the sheep. In a larger sense I have stepped back trying to re-think what is the best path to take for him so that we can make some more progress in his training. We probably both could use a confidence builder or two. We are betwixt and between!

It is hard on all the dogs right now. The days are short, and the nights are long. It's hard to get out on the sheep or even to let the dogs out to run, with any regularity. It's hard on me, as that time is my mental and physical therapy, as well. Someone  who is a healer mentioned to me today, that since we didn't have a real winter last year, that folks are going on two annual cycles of never slowing down. People need a real winter in order to rest and rejuvenate. She advised me to try to rest while winter is here. It's hard to do when you live with several energetic border collies! :-)




Winter Sheep

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Winter Days

Chiefie had a birthday in early October, and although I tried, I never got a good picture of him to celebrate that milestone (14 years young). But recently a friend took a really good photo of Chiefie so I wanted to be sure to share it. I love this photo and how happy he appears. :)

Chiefie at age 14 years :)
Another wonderful photo by Marnie.

Fast forwarding to the current month, Ryme had his birthday on December 6th. He turned 7 years old. Ryme's birthday photos are below, taken by me and not by a good photographer, but at least we have pictures. He didn't want to look at me, because he wanted me to open the gate to get him in with the sheep. Open, Open!!  Ryme has been really happy lately, too, although I am sure he would like to get out and work more.


Ryme recently on his birthday, waiting to work sheep (7 years old)
The winter days are so short. The shadows seem to lengthen so early. By 3:30 PM it starts to look like it is going to get dark, within a few minutes. This is always a hard time of year for me. I know it will start to turn around soon. We at my house are all looking forward to the Solstice! :)

Coal doesn't have a new picture, but he is doing well and he is fit. For that I am very grateful.

Spot and I had another lesson recently with our trainer. Spot got off to a bad start in his lesson and never really got himself back together. I tried not to be too frustrated but it was discouraging. We can't work much, and then when we do get to work, things are not going so well it seems. But I'm trying not to make too much out of one session and keep moving on with what has worked for us in the past. That is, when I can find the daylight to get out and put in the work.

Right now it is a great day when I get home from work in time with a few minutes of daylight to police up the yard and pick up the dog poo, which is fairly pathetic!!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spot's Progress, 12/6/15

Spot is now 3 years and 3 months (plus a few days) old. In the past few weeks, the weather has turned more to winter, we've been getting a little bit of rain (yay!) and it is nice and cool out, for working dogs (and sheep). The hard ground is starting to soften up; places that were cracked are crumbling together in softer dirt. There is a little bit of green stuff creeping in, almost everywhere we go. Unfortunately, the daylight hours are very short, and for those of us with full time jobs, the available time to work dogs is very short as well. In spite of the short days, we have put in a few good training sessions lately.  We've had a couple of lessons with our trainer, and in addition, we went on a weekend trip that blessed us with a great training opportunity in a new and different area.

As for our lessons, I can't think of any other way to characterize them except as "meat and potatoes" work. We are crossing the Ts and dotting the Is on Spot's initial work. There is nothing glamorous about working out the stops anywhere on the flanks, and the increasing distances, for example. We just have to work through it.  It is difficult for me to really try, but I am holding myself to as high a standard of work as I can. We're doing a lot of driving. There shouldn't be any rush and it should take as long as it takes. But the main reason that I am getting lessons is to make sure we stay on track and that I do not miss things that should be prioritized. I do feel the urgency of time ticking in many ways but the coaching is something I am really grateful for.

We went on a wonderful, restful weekend getaway and it involved a chance for the dogs to work a group of unbroke older lambs. Spot was at first somewhat perplexed because the lambs just looked at him. But with some encouragement he got them going and we were able to work with them in a smaller corral. Later I sent him for them on an outrun in a large field and he handled all of that very well and we worked them down the field without any issues. This was a huge opportunity for Spot to get out in a new field, and on fresh sheep. I was really thrilled with how well he handled it. We have many miles to go before he is really ready but I think we are getting there, bit by bit.

Beautiful sheep in a lovely setting! I did not take this photo; I think Marnie did.
I need to let Spot "graduate" into the next level in some parts of his work, which also means I need to both trust him more and trust the many hours and hours of training that I have already put into him. Today, for example, I started flanking Spot on "the fly", i.e. without a hard stop inbetween the flank commands. Spot seemed somewhat surprised but he did pretty well with it. When he works well, he is so smooth. There is progress. :)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fall Open Trials 2015

I'm feeling fortunate that Coal and I could run in a couple of trials this Fall of 2015. Coal is nine years old but running well and seems to be feeling very perky. I am doing a few things differently to hope to keep him running well. My vet told me that it was OK to give him some Metacam the night before a trial and the night of, so I have done that. I am also giving him a small dose of the Energy Edge (glycogen) before we run as well as a full dose afterwards. So far, so good. His chiropractor gave me some exercises to do on his legs, and that seems to have also helped. So we will continue with whatever trials seem to be a reasonable distance for him, at least for a while!  :-)

Point Pleasant was Halloween weekend and it's a field Coal has run on many times. It is so nice to have a fairly local trial to run in. Both courses had dog-leg fetches and the outrun out through the gate as they usually have at this trial. The driving was, as always, tricky but doable. The run out the gate has become old hat for Coal. We were able to shed both days, but then ran out of time going to the pen each run. I would like to finish a course. Big sigh. 

Coal has gotten some ideas into his head this past year about cross driving. Once I recognized this I started working on it both to try to figure it out and to try to fix it. But, I guess it is good information to know that dogs do change, even older ones who were pretty well trained. His driving has always been a strong point. This year he is very touchy about taking a little inside flank whistle and whooshing it into an outside flank, instead. I worried about his hearing; but apparently he can hear pretty well. He took my instructions by whistle at the top of the field at Spencer's, to complete the dog-leg fetch...so there is something else going on. Meanwhile, I set it up in practice and work on it. And I have to watch him very carefully!! Most of all I need to set up that drive line way back. There is so much about advanced handling that I just do not know.  We had a really good run going at Spencers' on the second run, but it got ruined by him crossing the course due to the cross driving issue. :-(


Our shedding, on the other hand, seems to be OK. I'm proud of myself for remembering a couple of things that I have been taught by our trainer, once we get into the shed ring. One, is to take a deep breath once we get there, no matter how short I may think the time is. And two, remember that we have the skills to roll the sheep into the position that I need, to take the required shed, whatever it may be. Even if there are three sheep sticking together and one loner, I can roll it and make it two and two, if that is what is needed.

My focus is something I need to work harder on. In our next trial a couple of weeks later, UC Hopland, I simply forced myself to focus by repeating the focus word to myself as we went around the courses. We had two decent, respectable runs at Hopland, which is a true achievement for Coal and me. I have always loved that trial but we have never done very well there. It has the most beautiful trial field, healthy sheep, and a great staff. Coal and I had two nice runs which was wonderful...although we still timed out on our pen each time. Again, I am wishing to finish a course!

The first run had a possible 100 points, with a shed and pen following the outwork and drive. Coal actually got ninth place with 79 points in this run out of about 46 dogs, I think. If we could have penned he would have been well up in the placements. Oh well and oh my. The second run had a possible 90 points; the shed was dropped due to time requirements and the possibility of fog delay (as usual at Hopland). We absolutely had to finish the trial by dark on Sunday afternoon --and dark comes so early these days -- so unfortunately the shed went by the wayside. I was a bit bummed as I thought the shed was fun and I have been having trouble penning! :-) Our second run earned only 66 points; we had some trouble on the cross drive but not our usual/new problem (above), thankfully. I was trying to keep Coal well back on all the drives, so he did not get up into the eye of the sheep and cause everything to lock down. On the second run the sheep started to run on the cross drive and since I had him so far back I did have to flank him to the outside to stop them from going back up to setout. Unfortunately I let him go just a little too high and they did get stuck at the second panel. Finally I got them unstuck and we proceeded to the pen where we ran out of time.

So, there were some good accomplishments, trying to focus and keeping things together. All in all Hopland was a great trial for Coal and me. His outruns were fairly good and that is his weakest element; I did whistle him out because I want him out there and I accept taking the hit on the points. That is fine because I'd rather have him out there paying attention. I'm trying to take charge and manage our runs, rather than just stand there at the post thinking that "gee, I hope he does well."

Something amazing happened at Hopland which had nothing to do with Coal. We had volunteered to be back up exhaust person in case someone's dog got too hot or overexerted. The handlers were supposed to stay and help the next person to exhaust their sheep, but it is nice to have a backup just in case. I took Ryme for this job since he was not entered in the trial and that is just the kind of close to medium sheep work that he enjoys. In the past he has always been worried about people he does not know, and certainly any dogs that he does not know. I had him out with me on leash all day Saturday and Sunday at the trial, and Ryme was actually a social butterfly! There were several dozen spectators, especially on Saturday when it was sunny, and Ryme was making friends with all of them. I was shocked! He was begging for bites of people's picnic lunches, letting strangers pet him, and seemed nonplussed by everyone and everything. This was so nice to see that he is finally (after seven years, almost) getting more comfortable within his own skin. People who know us had to check to see that it was actually Ryme out there with me instead of Coal, since Coal is so friendly and Ryme has always been apprehensive about the world. What a bonus!

Poor Spot got left out of both of these trials since there was no Pro-Novice. But it is he who I will be focused on, over the winter in our training. Chiefie rode along to UC Hopland both days, and seemed to both enjoy himself and handled it all OK. So now we are almost into the holiday season. We have lessons scheduled for Spot and we wait for the Winter Solstice to turn the daylight around.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pressure

Since the four days of Derek S. clinic earlier this month, I have been pondering the placement of pressure on the dogs' sheep work and trying to use that skill and everything else that I learned to better all of the dogs that I work. Spot was the working student in the clinics but what I gained from listening and watching for four straight days, is helping all of the dogs.

One of the main concepts was to apply pressure ahead of the dog in order to influence him or her. We were not applying pressure on or at the dog. Putting pressure directly on the dog would likely only make him run faster (been there -- done that!).  We were putting pressure on a piece of ground ahead of the dog's path, in order to get a better-shaped flank. Or we were putting pressure on the ground ahead of where we wanted to stop our dog; and if necessary (in my case with Spot) we would meet the dog at that stopping point, or near it, if he wasn't stopping crisply for us. It takes a lot of concentration and focus in order to do a good job at this application of pressure, and it would be easy to fall back into just working our dogs the same old way and getting the same medium results. I've been trying these techniques on all of the dogs, and they are all improving under this system. It is clear, with few grey areas.  Clear for them; clear for me...everyone is relaxed, staying cool and working within the system.

Another main concept was that the dogs should be (mostly) walking. On the outrun, for sure, they can and should be running but the rest of the time they should be mostly walking. We worked and worked among those of us participating in the clinics, to get our dogs to walk. Most of the people were able to do it but they really had to focus.  It is pretty darn clear to see when the dog is walking and the sheep are walking or just lightly trotting. Many of the folks in the clinic were rewarded with a real change in their dogs, by making them walk. Everything got calmer. The sheep were happy and the dogs were happy. The people were smiling big broad smiles. It was really cool to see. :-) We felt a little bit better when Derek recalled that it took four years for him to get his fabulous Laddie dog to walk.

In connection with this I am using this information to get my too-flanky dog (Ryme) to walk more straight into his sheep so that he gets up into a slow walk from a down, and not jumping sideways into a flank because that is easier for him. I have nothing to lose in making Ryme a better work dog and I learn more and more from him. The sheep will respect him more if he walks straighter into them with authority and we will get chores done more quickly and efficiently.

Spot also sometimes want to slip to the side on a drive; I can do several things to keep this from happening but most of all he needs to be walking...he needs to stay straight...and he needs to listen. Spot also needs confidence building, I have realized; so we are working on that as well. Walking straight into the sheep yet keeping a cool head, seems to require confidence in a dog and the more they do it, the better they will get.


Here is the hard concept for a dog like Coal: the dogs should be listening for the words, and not what the sheep are doing or what your body positioning is saying or any other cues. So Coal and I have been working diligently to get him back to listening and being (more) flexible in his work.  Coal's flanks can get messy and since he is so nice to his sheep, he partially gets away with it...but it is just sloppy and can also get us into trouble. So I am using the pressure on the ground technique to try to clean up Coal's flanks a bit; he knew those clean flanks at one time but he will slide if I let him. Even an old dog can get caught back up on his old/new tricks.

Today there was the opportunity on a beautiful Sunday to just go and work the dogs and take as long as I liked to do it. The weather was not too hot, for once, and the sheep and dogs did not get too hot. I worked each dog twice in turn, and was able to address a lot of these concepts and more that I have been wanting to work on. We got to work yesterday too, for which I'm really grateful. The daylight in the evenings is getting so short now, that dog training after work during the week, will soon be done for the winter.  Coal is being reminded of running out through a gate on his outrun, for next week's trial. Spot has just been introduced to running out through the gate, and we are still working on his patience of putting sheep through a gate and then not chasing them after they get through it! Spot and I are also working on him patiently penning the sheep as part of his combination confidence building/ and patience gaining exercises.

Remembering: we are supposed to be the brains of this outfit. :-) I can't just go to the post, or go out to train, with the idea of  "oh I hope he does well".  I have to take control of the situation and make it work. I have to focus; I can't be a "monkey brain, jumping from tree to tree!  As Derek S. told us, we have to be the trainer; we have to be an actor or actress, if necessary on that day, to convey what we need to communicate with and to our dogs.

Photo by Maureen L.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sheepdog Fantasy Camp

In the past several weeks, I have been away at what I am lovingly calling Sheepdog Fantasy Camp. It has been very hard to come back to Earth, this week, and work a full five-day week at my Real Job. Oh my.

First we went to the USBCHA National Finals. We had an absolute blast.

Friends ran their dogs at the Finals for the first time and we cheered them on!

My boys had fun!

We sponsored a great dog!

Coal and I worked as hazers on the double lift final day!

My ancient point-and-shoot Fuji camera caught these cool water drops as our sponsored dog exited the field on the Semifinal day..

More friends ran their dogs who happen to be almost family!
More friends ran their dogs! It was a great time! 
Oh, the Finals. We were there for one day of prelims, the semi-finals day, and the final double-lift day. We saw the polar bear hide at the Niles. Oh my. We got caught up in the excitement of the Calcutta (but managed to keep our hands under the table so that we did not get called on for a bid) and cheered Elgar on, receiving his well-deserved silver buckle for being the Supreme Sheep Spotter, ever for all time at least in the West. We saw some great dog and handler team work. The sheep were really nice, but touchy, and they tested the dogs. I ran into an old friend who I totally did not expect to see in that setting and it was great to greet her and her husband. Amazing things happened. My friends did very well with their nursery dogs; I was so proud of them. Oh and the geographic setting was outrageously beautiful.

I guess you could say that I had a great time at the Finals.

Back to work for four short days and then we were immersed with both feet into four days of Derek Scrimgeour clinic. I had Spot entered all four days in a working slot. The piggy bank will need to be replenished but it was worth it.  I am going to have to write more about the clinics; they were fantastic.


"Give him two more years... "

Then back to work for four more hard days and I drove to Chico in the evening, after work, for the Patrick Ranch sheepdog trial in Durham. I have not done something like that in many years, or at least when I was much younger. But I made it OK. Oh my. Sheepdog fantasy camp leads a person into stretching what were formerly known as boundaries!

Patrick Ranch was our first dog trial since Dry Lake in May and I knew I would feel rusty. I also remembered what happened last year with those tough little sheep and I tried to prepare mentally for them so I wouldn't act so rusty even if I felt that way. Suffice to say I was happy with our performance, much happier than last year's when I was feeling really badly physically.  Coal was too slow and nice to the sheep on the first day but did much better on the second day, putting in a nice gather and drive, only to have us run out of time in the shedding ring. We will do better next time. Coal is nine years old now and I am guessing that this is our final swing through the local-ish trials and I am just enjoying my time with him on the field, as much as I can. He is peppy and enthusiastic and fit. All things to be thankful for. :-)

Spot......was entered in his first ever Pro-Novice run on those tough sheep. I did not have high hopes and was resolute to use it as training time and work him just as we did in the Derek clinics. In his first run he surpassed all expectations and put in a clear round for 5th place and we even penned. Woo hoo!  So very pleased with the young boy and hopeful for his future. The second day's run was disappointing; Spot apparently got spooked by one of those aggressive sheep. It was not to be our day. I did not see that he did anything really wrong to cause one of the sheep to come after him but it is my understanding that is what happened. We have confidence building to work on and many other things, over this winter. I was so proud that all of his criteria from his training held up though, on the trial field and on non dog-broke sheep. Derek told me to give him two more years...I believe it will be worth it.

Spot penning at Patrick Ranch in his first-ever PN run!
I'm super grateful for friends who took care of Chiefie so that I could travel to the Finals and to the Patrick Ranch trial. Chiefie just does not travel that well any more. On October 5th, he had a birthday and turned 14 years old...I must get a new picture of the whole gang soon.

The other surprise was how well Ryme handled all the travel and contact with other dogs and people. It was amazing to see Ryme seek attention from people he does not know. He also worked exhaust at Patrick Ranch and was nonplussed by the naughty sheep but more importantly by being out and about with all the working dogs and their handlers. I was really thrilled by this development in my troubled boy toward being so much more comfortable in the world. Wow!

There is a lot more to write but at least I got started. Whew. Sheepdog fantasy camp... you were fantastic!! :-)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Weekend

It's been a very enjoyable but low-key Labor Day weekend: watching the scores come in from Soldier Hollow, working dogs, and doing cleanup chores at home. I'm super grateful for an extra day off of work for all those reasons.

Saturday I bought hay and was happy to see that the price has come down a dollar per bale from our last purchase. I am going to get another load so that we are stocked up for the next month or so. Things are going to get busy here, really soon!


I love this photo of Spot because it is so him. It's like he needs the miniature angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other. :) Well maybe not a true devil, but perhaps a teenager.  He tries so hard to be good and then sometimes, he just can't stand it, and he blows it. At the larger pasture where we work, there is a new pen for practicing penning with the sheep. These sheep, while pretty darn broke for working dogs, are not broke at all to going into a pen. Several of us tried and failed to pen them with various dogs over this past weekend. Spot is a very inexperienced penner; we have only worked on that task a little bit. On his first try on Sunday morning, however, he almost had the sheep penned; they were marching in, and I was starting to inch in to close the gate, and what the heck - Spot dove right into the sheep. Arghghgh. Back to the drawing board. As Derek S. would say, the dog is wondering, "why doesn't she kill it?" when we pen the sheep. Spot did not wonder why but thought about taking matters into his own paws.

Other than the awful penning episode, however, Spot was pretty good this weekend. I am using him for any chores that I can.  At the larger pasture, we've been going out to walk the llama in with the sheep before we can really start working, which is something new for Spot. He doesn't want to stay with me, behind the llama, but he wants to run ahead and work the sheep. No, buddy, this is the job - you walk with me and we bring in the llama, first. But also you need to pay attention to that llama and stay out of his way.

Coal and I are working on his getting back into shape, mentally and physically, for the fall trials. He seemed to bounce back pretty quickly today even though it was pretty hot out by the time we went out to work and we did a fair amount of work. Fingers crossed that we get into some of the trials. And that it cools off!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Boys of August

Coal and Spot have birthdays in August. Coal turned nine years old on August 29th. Spot turned three years old on August 22nd. Time was running out for me to get an August birthday picture so I just grabbed these with my cell phone camera, on the night of August 31st. :)

Coal is in pretty good shape, except for those darn stiff feet!

The birthday boys of August

Spot's infamous tongue makes another goofy appearance

I am ready for ACTION! 

(rolls eyes)... let's get this photo shoot over with and back to sheep


Chiefie is not a birthday boy (his birthday is in October), but I did get this sort of nice picture of him recently, as well. Chiefie has been sort of uncomfortable with a lot of scratching (and there are no fleas) so I started him on an all-fish  (no other proteins) diet, which seems to have helped at least somewhat.


Chiefie

Spot has been working (for the most part) really well.  He will have a minor meltdown here and there, but mostly we are on the road to improvement. I still don't understand the occasional starbursts, but at this point they seem related to slow or heavy sheep. I am going to work on getting him more comfortable in close with sheep and pushing them when they are slow. I think I can set up that situation a few different ways. It is frustrating though. What few chores we have, I am trying to do them all with Spot so that he has to listen to me and still work through a situation that is not just training for trials. I hope it will help.

Coal and I are trying to get tuned back up for the fall trials. I hope we can do it. I'd love to have one more season in open with him. The first set of entries went into the mail on September 1.

Ryme is always a good helper. He is happy to do any sorting, moving sheep, helping to catch, whatever. I don't think his bad leg will hold up very well on this hard ground, though, so I am not trying to just train on him much at all. Just chores for him, for now.

This summer still feels hot. Of course it is dry and hot as well. I hope we have some winter, this year, and if so it will be quite welcome.

The Rest of July

I spent a very long, but good day judging the RESDA trial at the Johnson Ranch in Boonville, in July. I had great help; two friends volunteered to clerk, and then I had another volunteer on the spot at the trial. It is much easier to judge when you have great helpers. I really appreciated that they volunteered to drive all the way up to Boonville just to help out at the trial, and neither are running dogs, nor active in RESDA. Such a nice crew! The field was nice; the sheep worked well, lunch was delicious, and we were blessed that it was not too awfully hot, with a nice breeze. There are lovely shade trees to sit under at this trial, for which we were very grateful. I'm glad that my assignment is over with though. It is a bit stressful, to judge, knowing that people are working towards year-end points gleaned at each of the trials. I can only judge what's in front of me, and I try hard to stay focused on good dog work and proper sheep handling. It's all one can do.

The next weekend, we went to the Sonoma County Fair, to watch the sheep shearing contest, take in a little bit of the Fair, and watch a little bit of the RESDA trial. The sheep shearing contest was fun, and we got to cheer on our own shearer!

Shearing contest at the Sonoma County Fair

The Ladies (juniors, actually) class...with mentors



 After fortification with an ice cream/root beer float, we went on over to the RESDA sheepdog trial which had just started in the big Chris Beck outdoor arena.

Tom and Angus pen!

Tom and Angus exhausting their set of sheep

We got there in time to see Tom and Angus put in a pretty nice run.  I watched about five runs and then headed for home, to pick up a dog and go out to put our sheep in for the night. Still worrying about mountain lions and coyotes...and trying to keep the sheep safe.

It seems like it has been a hot, hot summer, or else maybe I am just getting less tolerant of the heat. The ground is hard as a rock when I go out to work dogs. It hurts my feet and I know it is hard on the dogs, especially Coal and Ryme who are older. Coal already has bad feet and I don't want to make them worse.

I'm still working on Spot and his driving, especially. Inside flanks, outside flanks... driving away and cross driving. Any old driving that we can do. At the bigger place where we can work, I am trying to drive in a big rectangle, all the way around the field, with varying success.  Spot is trying; I am trying. We're trying.

I know people say, that there is no try, you just do. Well then OK, I am doing! :)


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Was There Any Doubt?


Thank you to Marnie N. for creating this enhanced photo-thingie (above) that brightened my day, one day last week when I was feeling a bit blue.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

Every year, I try to find somewhere to go, to get out of Dodge during the Fourth of July Holiday. Where we live, the illegal and the legal fireworks go on for days and the noise is very scary for the dogs. The smoke fills the streets like a war zone. I don't mind a good municipal fireworks display with a band and the whole Americana deal; you can plan for the timing on that. But the local neighborhood's 24/7 pyromaniac schedule has us all on edge at my house. Some years we have gone to Carmel, but that can be an expensive outing.  This year I was so fortunate to have a friend invite us the opposite direction, to the high desert of western Nevada, where we not only escaped fireworks but enjoyed great sheepdog training opportunities and visits with friends. The weather smiled on us (it actually rained!) and we had a wonderful time. I was so happy to be somewhere "away" and at a location that was so beautiful. It really felt like R&R even though the visit was just a long (short) weekend.

Our friend has Scottish Blackface (like we do) so it was interesting to see the difference in my dogs' work on the same breed, but different sheep. There were several different fields to work in; I felt so blessed. :) Spot was good. There were no "starbursts"...that is my new mantra: NO STARBURSTS! :) Ryme and Coal got out for shorter work sessions as well. Chiefie got lots of walks and attention. They all got to roam about freely in empty horse pastures, periodically. It was heaven.

Morning and evening, we were treated to beautiful, open, Nevada high desert skies, at almost 5,000 feet elevation. Without all the city lights, the skies, the moon and stars, and surrounding hills were painted with subtle colors depending on the lighting.  Thunder clouds rolled in across the mountains and sometimes they brought drops of rain...and sometimes more...real rain! What a joy. Just the smell of it was wonderful.

Visiting with friends was superb. Often times at trials there are just short sound bytes of conversations and there is no chance to really talk through a topic. Over the Fourth weekend, we had some good talks about sheepdog and other things in depth, that I really relished. Oh and I was sort of forced to watch the first episode of Outlander, a popular series which I had heard of but never seen. It's a little rough for my tastes, but I enjoyed it and will probably watch some more episodes via Netflix. It was nice to find out what many of my friends have been talking about, and I can see what they like about it. :) And there was a trip to a nice little Mexican restaurant with great food... that part was easy to take.

As for our dog work, I found out that I need to make my shedding practice harder. Apparently our home sheep, even though they are Scotties, are way too easy to shed. I couldn't shed any of my hostess' yearling Scottie replacement ewes to save myself. Not with any of the dogs, including Coal. Oh my. Talk about a false sense of security that fell away like a thin cardboard floor... sigh.

All too soon it was midday on Sunday and I had to get home for work on Monday. Despite a long drive home it was totally worth it and I had a great time. Nevada, I will be back, I hope! :)



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Martin Clunes - A Man and His Dogs

With Difficulty

I've been wanting to write a blog post for a few days, but I am torn about which event to describe. With difficulty I'm starting a blog post and even now I'm not sure which topic I will take.

Do I write about the wonderful happy dog-working and friend-visiting trip that I made to Nevada over the Fourth of July Holiday?

Or do I write about the sad events of last weekend when one of our sheep got killed by a mountain lion?

I think I will start with the bad stuff and get that out of the way. A month ago (now five weeks ago, actually) a lamb disappeared without a trace. We suspected that a mountain lion took him, but we had no proof because there was no evidence whatsoever of any predator taking the lamb. He just disappeared. I talked with the county trappers but there wasn't much they could do with no body, no blood, no nothing.

Last weekend, I went to check our sheep and work my dogs, and I found one of the older ewes missing. Actually as soon as I walked to the pasture gate I could sense something was wrong. I just knew. Before I even counted them I knew one was gone. One gets that sense after a few years with taking care of livestock. There should have been fourteen ewes, and there were only thirteen. I counted again and again and finally started looking through their faces, as I know them all. The matriarch was missing. Ryme and I went for a walk and I found the old girl, dead. She was dragged up against the fence in the classic scenario for a mountain lion kill. Her legs were pulled through the fencing and partially chewed. I left everything as it was, in hopes that the trapper could view the scene and take information from it to narrow down our predator.

By Sunday morning the ewe had been moved. Her body had been pulled through a hole now made in the fence. I had to look for her but finally spotted a horn sticking up through the  leaves and other debris that the lion had pulled over her to bury her partially. Now we knew it was a mountain lion because that is what they do with their prey.  About six or seven years ago, a mountain lion took a yearling ewe of ours out of the night pen, and buried her nearby in a similar fashion.

The trapper told me that there are a lot of mountain lions around our area. He also told me that this county is literally inundated with coyotes. I guess we have been lucky, the past few years because we have not had any predator issues in some time. So now this particular lion is gone but he could have relatives in the area. I was told that mountain lions are not necessarily loners, when they are young. We're putting our sheep in at night until further notice. It is and was sort of creepy to feel like a lion is watching you.  I respect them, but would much prefer that they dine on wildlife instead of our sheep. The trapper was able to show me where the attack happened, and then the drag marks from there quite a ways to where I found the ewe. He could differentiate the paw prints of the lion vs. the elderly guardian dog, who had been pacing back and forth over the dragged area, no doubt anxious in the aftermath. I have learned a lot about mountain lions in the past week.

I felt really sad about the ewe who was killed. She was one of the trio of our three oldest ewes, and a real character; not always easy to deal with but definitely the leader of the pack. When we worked our dogs with her in the group, she always made it a challenge. I am sure this is probably what got her in trouble when the lion came their way. She was a good old girl and will not be forgotten.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Beautiful Planets

 A grainy cell phone photo of Jupiter and Venus, nearly aligned in the Western sky (taken June 30th)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sonoma Marin Fair 2015

Coal's pretty purple 7th place ribbon from the Sonoma Marin Fair RESDA Trial
Sonoma-Marin is the only fair I have entered, so far, this season. I like it because it's close by, the entry fees are low, and mainly, because this fair is still based in agriculture as its charter. The scores were very high this year, with the winners Nancy and Ace getting 48.5 points (out of 50 in the RESDA scoring system) and taking the blue after a runoff for first place with Rhonda and Holly, who also scored 48.5.

Coal got 45.5 points, so when you get seventh place with that score, you know the work was pretty much top level and even. We haven't gotten a ribbon for anything in a long time, so it was fun to get something to take home.

Ryme was the also-ran this time. He was naughty on the gather, then worked pretty well although we did not get the chute. Ryme just does not like peeling sheep off the rail, and never has done well at it in a trial (although we work at it in practice continually).  I suppose I should have tried harder to get the chute but it seemed like it just was not happening. His score was really not bad considering: 37.5 points.

RESDA trials, even small ones, are a lot of work. It's the only venue that I can think of, where you set up the venue, run the trial, and then tear it down and clean up, all in one day (or one afternoon). Everyone needs to help. There isn't any host crew, committee, or paid help. So if I enter a RESDA trial, I plan to be there from beginning to end and help out as much as possible. But this one, like the other fairs, is a slice of home-town Americana that the dogs and I enjoy in small doses.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bone Dry

For all those in areas where it has been raining too much (Michigan, Illinois, the Carolinas, Texas, etc.)... here is what "bone dry" looks like:



Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ryme Has His Dogleg Day

Ryme got to run in the PN at the Point Pleasant Father's Day trial. I have not trialled him in anything but RESDA (and very sparingly there) for several years. I am not sure exactly when I put him in a PN class, last, maybe two years ago, maybe three... but Ryme has been working so well that I decided to enter him on Father's Day. He is my best ranch dog; he sorts, he has a turnback, he sheds, he does it all and is my right hand when we go out to practice with multiple dogs. I thought I'd just see how it goes for him in a trial. 

The PN course was a challenge. The outrun was moved back to sort of the normal position from the prior nursery class, but the fetch was a dogleg with two sets of panels to be completed before getting to the post. Then you drove around the post, right-hand-drive, and went to the drive panels as normal. After completing the second drive panel, you drove back through the second fetch gates  and then turned the sheep again and drove them to the (three-sided) pen. The handler stayed at the post for the whole run. It was a lot of driving.

Happy Ryme, in a picture from last year (you can tell from the green grass which we don't have this year).

With Ryme I am more worried about the outrun and lift than anything else. The rest, I thought we could do. Ryme lacks confidence, the further he gets away from me, and long outruns sometimes elicit some poor behavior on his part as a result. He is pretty good at driving although he does overflank at times. He's a good stopper (or so I thought before the trial-LOL!).  At this trial, his outrun was not bad although I had to blow a stop whistle (he slowed down for that ) and redirect him with an away whistle, which he took. He got to the top, started the lift, and then ringed the sheep which he has not done in a long time. Bummer. :( But we continued down the fetch and went on around the course...he was not stopping very well for me and it felt like cold molasses to get him to change his directions, when normally he is so pliable. As is often the case you often have only 50% of the dog you have at home, when you go to a trial. So true in this case. Ryme hung in there though, as did I. I felt like I was too loud of a handler though. But, we got the sheep penned with me at the post, on our first try.

I praised Ryme to the skies as he was a (relatively) good boy. He's had so many issues with his fears of the entire world that it was amazing to put him around a tricky PN course and come out with a score. In years past he might have run through the sheep and blown up, on any segment of the fetch or drive that overwhelmed him...but this time he stayed cool once past the lift section.Yay, Ryme! Is what one of my friends yelled after our run was over. Nice to hear that vote of confidence. Finishing a run was a confidence builder for me, as I have been RT-ing so much with Spot and timing out (and/or RTing) with Coal.

The trial was very nice and low-key. It seemed to be a great experience for most everyone who was there. In deference to the expected hot temperatures, they had moved the start time to 6 A.M. for the nursery handler's meeting and the PN followed after that. There was to be a BBQ at first, but that was postponed until another time. They did have the same awesome ice cream (and cake) that they had for Mother's Day. That ice cream (berry and vanilla) is wonderful and tastes like home made. I didn't have the cake because I am trying to stick with my gluten-free diet. But the ice cream was well worth getting up at 3 A.M. in the morning to get there. I really appreciate that the Spencers put on these trials so that we can get out there and practice in a trial setting with the less experienced dogs. The sheep worked very well and were as always very fit. The weather cooperated beautifully and it was not too hot, with a nice breeze.

The only bad part for me, was that the normally two hour drive, took almost three hours to get home (again). It was only a slightly shorter drive time than getting home on Mother's Day. Just too many cars and too much traffic on I-80. But I was glad I went, anyway.

Thanks to all who helped to put on the trial!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Found and Lost

Found. One outrun at Point Pleasant, for Spot.  We went to the Father's Day Nursery/Pro-Novice trial, which was Spot's third sheepdog trialling trip to Point Pleasant in 2015. In his other two attempts, earlier this year, he did not find his sheep in the nursery classes, so we RTed both times. This trial, I am pleased to say that Spot FOUND the sheep. In the nursery class I sent him come-bye which appears to be his favored outrun side at this point. Spot did a really nice outrun on that flat field. Found. Yippee!  We still RTed because while there was a decent fetch most of the way, listening to commands except for one faux pas, there was a difficulty getting Spot to start and continue the drive towards the first panel. After we flustered about with it for a bit, I walked. I am still learning about patience. :)

Spot had another run in PN later in the trial. I sent him to the Away side, this time, just for sporting's sake, as one of my old bosses used to say. The course was different from Nursery and the drive was tricky and long; I knew Spot would not be equipped to handle it. This PN course was built for all the really competitive PN dogs in our area...not for beginner nursery dogs like Spot. So I told myself, just do the gather. I sent him Away and he ran out...and stopped partway, just like our other trips to this field. But this time I was able to convince him to look and bend out and he did get out to the sheep on the away side, without crossing over, after much ado. But he got out there which is a huge victory. Again we RTed on the drive. He is just not ready for that part, away from the home fields. We have much work to do on the drive and just keeping Spot settled behind the sheep. His peers in the nursery class are far ahead of him in terms of smooth and polished execution of the trial courses. I am trying very hard not to make those comparisons.

I will write more in another post about the trial, which was very nice, and Ryme got to have a go.

Spot and I run nursery at Dry Lake back in May
Lost. One lamb disappeared. We were babysitting two ewes and their lambs, over the summer, for a friend. There was a single boy and a pair of twins. One Friday night, I checked the sheep and everybody was fine. On Saturday morning, when someone went to feed the guardian dog, the single boy lamb was gone. Just gone, with no trace. Several of us looked and looked all over for any sign of his disappearance, but he was just gone. There was no blood, no wool, no body, no nothing. We looked all over, and found nothing, nada, zip. We suspect mountain lion but it could have been that or any other predator who was quick enough to grab the largest and slowest lamb. It is really unfortunate since this is the lamb we worked really hard to pull when he was born, as he was too big. As a result, his front legs were messed up at first but they were coming around and he was walking sound. We moved the other ewe and her twins to more safety, at a friend's house who was very generous to offer to put them in with her ewes and lambs that live practically right under her nose. So on we go as such is keeping sheep. It is very strange. There have been no reports of mountain lion kills in the area when I talked with the county trapper. Our sheep were not jittery, at all, which is also strange; it must have happened really fast.

Overall, I'm very much enjoying the summer with long evenings of daylight when I can work dogs. It feels like I am burning the candle at both ends right now, with multiple candles. It's light so early and light so late. I love it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Through the Open Gate

Over the years - in addition to this blog -  I have kept a journal. I don't always write in it daily but almost. Mostly it is for recording my dog training activities but my personal stuff sneaks in there as well. I have kept a dog training journal for a long time. It is fun and sometimes very bittersweet, to go back and read through the entries about dogs who are now gone. I don't have a very good memory at times. It is amazing to go back and read journal notes written in my own handwriting about days out with the dogs that I don't quite remember very well. I'm glad I wrote them down. :) I also write down ideas that I have used later with others of my dogs, or with dogs belonging to other folks who ask my opinion of their dogs and how they might help them to work better. This year I went to some clinics and I just wrote all my clinic notes straight into my journal instead of using another notebook. It's all in there...

That said the nice thing about keeping a training journal is that it gives you a place to start with your next training session. If you write down at the end what you want to work on next, there is your to-do list for the next session,  in case life gets in the way and you forget. I really learned this back when we used to do tracking. Sometimes weeks would pass between training sessions and rather than rely on my bad memory I would nearly always write down what we needed to work on next time. It was very helpful. It's always good to go out with a plan.

With sheepdogs, and working with the third species that is sheep, it is also always good to be open to opportunities that come up that you didn't plan for. And sometimes things happen, no matter how good our plan, that take us in a different direction for that session than what we had in mind. We have to be flexible enough to leave that gate open for opportunity.

One day this week we had actual rain for part of the day. It was wonderful. In the afternoon/evening when I went out to train, the rain had stopped but the air had cooled down and it was just lovely out. It was one of those evenings when I really enjoyed myself despite the long work day that preceded it.  I felt mentally fried when I first got there but that feeling soon drifted away. We were working at one of the other places where I get to work my dogs. There were some new sheep, recently acquired, who were not into hanging with the resident group. Together they all made a much larger group. I love to work on a larger group. The bonus was having a smaller part of the large bunch who was happy to settle elsewhere. Two groups who do not yearn to cling together = opportunities knocking for the dogs.

It's a great time to work on shedding. Once you have the groups split apart, you can work with the dog on holding the pressure of them wanting to run back together. This pressure is something we don't always get with the broke sheep.  You can work on the dog being a gate such as in the International shed, but it's also just a darn good skill to have for a ranch dog.

For Spot, I took advantage of the two groups to begin his look backs. That is something I have not done with him at all but all of a sudden there was the opportunity to start it, so I grabbed onto it. He had no idea what I wanted but at least we have started. I walked him through it a few times, with me facing the other set of sheep and telling him to look. Eventually he got it and I didn't care which way he went or how he got there, if he just gave up the first set and went for the second set. Sam and Ryme both have pretty good look backs. So I worked with all three of them on shedding, the International style sort, and holding and walking into that pressure.

Before all this started, I sent Ryme and Sam out through the gate into the pasture on their outruns for the first time, when they each had their turns. This is another good skill for a ranch dog and it's also done at some of the trials. Coal already knows it as we have worked with him on it a lot. Spot will get some of that very soon as I want him to learn it as well.

I'm always trying to keep the gates of opportunity open so they can learn. We also had a ton of fun.

Coal was lame after Dry Lake/Little Horse Mountain. I am giving him some let-down time to heal and recuperate. I'm saving some small chores for him each time we work, and letting him run on his own to keep fitness, but not pushing him. This week Coal and Ryme and Spot also got to see their chiropractor. She found Coal's front leg to be pretty sore. We now have exercises to do. :) I was not off base in giving him a little let-down time. Right now I'm pushing harder with Ryme and Spot. I'm going to see what Ryme can do. He's trained.  So we'll see. Keeping the gate open when we can.

Gloria took some nice photos of Spot at Dry Lake. :)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sense of Accomplishment

The sheep were sheared yesterday afternoon. They went from looking like this:






To this:


We were pleased to find all of them in very good condition under all of their wool. Some of them are downright fat (OK, pleasantly plump) and they have been eating nothing but pasture for a while. They are in good shape going into the driest part of the year with declining forage.

Our shearer is great and does a very professional job; obviously he puts a lot of care into his work. It was he who remarked last evening, as we were finishing up, about the sense of accomplishment that one feels, turning the freshly sheared sheep back out into the pasture. You could hear the sheep calling to each other. I'm sure they are trying to find their friends who now look totally different. The ewes with lambs who were already sheared, called out to the dry ewes as well. Now everybody looks the same. :) It's nice to see that our older girls still look fit and are carrying good weight. But it will be a little bit harder to tell them all apart until we all get used to their new looks.



Our shearer has a new pup who was watching intently over the wall, while his "dad" would catch a sheep and then shear her. Soon this pup will make a nice new sheepdog, we hope. He had a nice calm demeanor but was gaining interest with each sheep that was sheared.



It is so nice to have the shearing chore completed. We have a great team that comes together when sheep chores need to be done. Now on to more dog work for these girls with their new dos!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Timing is Everything

Timing is everything, or so it seems to be when handling a sheepdog, but this post is not about trials.

Today some of our sheep got loose, including a few of the adults plus the two ewes with lambs that we are babysitting for a friend. There is a ewe with a single and another ewe with twins; all of the lambs are a little over a month old. So, the lambs are old enough to get into trouble but not old enough to be out on their own.

When I went out to check the sheep this evening, and work my dogs, there were not enough sheep in the pasture. I thought maybe the late afternoon sun was in my eyes and I just couldn't see them all, up against the tree line. Nope; several sheep were missing, including the ewes with lambs. Ryme and I went to look for them. We found a gate pushed open and it wasn't far after that to find them, munching on green things along side the driveway. Ryme and I started to trail them back, and here came the neighbor to alert us of sheep getting loose. Ryme had it under control.

The timing of our arrival vs. the escape was somewhat scary but serendipitous.

One of the ewes, the one with twins, has been particularly pesky to our dogs as we have tried to very diplomatically move she and her friend about and into a safe pen, so that we can work our dogs, over the past few weeks. I guess Ryme and I had about enough of her, tonight, trying to ease her back inside the home fence. She stopped underneath the apple tree and was gobbling up some fallen fruit and did not want to come back inside. I told Ryme to get her and he nailed her square on the head. I have been waiting for that to happen. She came back inside and her twins came with her. All's well.

Tomorrow is Friday!! :)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dry Lake 2015, Day Four and Final

Memorial Day, 2015. And, Dry Lake/Little Horse Mountain sheepdog trial, Day 4.

Today was Spot's day. They ran the nursery and pro-novice on two separate fields because there were so many entries. How the very tired crew accomplished splitting itself in half and running two fields simultaneously, is beyond me but it is a testimony to the rabid dedication that this SOJ bunch has for sheepdog trials! As a result I did not get to watch any of my friends run PN though. We stayed on the nursery side of things. Spot was down for two nursery runs.

For run number one, I sent Spot left again. I figured it worked on Friday and why mess with it? He needs confidence so repetition seemed like a good plan. His outrun was good again. The lift was more headstrong than on Friday. I will have to take a bigger role. We completed the gather again. Woo hoo! I was not trying for finesse as we missed the fetch gates but just skimmed them. Turned the post, trying to do as we were taught in our recent lesson, keep the sheep moving around the post, don't let them stop. Got the drive started, then started the cross drive. Spot did not want to take the requested flanks so it turned into a banana (a deep banana!) but I kept working until time ran out. The allotted time was 7 minutes. Super pleased with Spot. His first-ever run with a resulting score I think. :) Smiling! 

I waited four hours for run number two. Meanwhile everyone was leaving out as soon as they were done. I was questioning my sanity at waiting to drive home an extra few hours. But I kept telling myself that Spot needs the mileage on the field and as long as we're already there we should stay. So for run #2 I sent left again. Maybe I should have sent right, but who knows. Spot did another gorgeous outrun but overflanked too much at the top which sent the sheep squirting the wrong direction. He did not want to take my flank whistles to cover. Sigh. RT and start up the field. The sheep were heading into the rocks which foiled many of the open dogs as well. Geri and Li drove off to our rescue on the quad. Disappointing, yes, but a good thing to know about. Why and when does he overflank at the top...something I need to nail down. All good stuff.

Pedal to the metal, home...so much to think about. Thank goodness again for Sirius radio!  I was happy to go pick up Chiefie from his babysitters' and grateful that he had such a nice place to stay for the weekend.  Ryme was very, very glad to get home; he was a good little traveler.

Super proud of Coal for handling the huge course and challenging sheep. He acted like a puppy all weekend instead of an eight year old. I just need to step up and handle him. I can't let the idea of long distances and range ewes shut me down.

Spot wowed me with his big outrun. We have lots to work on. Shedding. Work in corrals to get him relaxed when close to the sheep. And more. I'm super stoked. So glad we were able to go to Dry Lake/Little Horse Mountain, 2015 version. :)

Dry Lake 2015, Day Three

On day three, the course was changed to a slight dog-leg fetch, still a right hand drive, but then a pen and a single. Pens had been hard to come by in the first two days but the sheep were getting a little bit easier to handle, so pens started to happen with more regularity on day three.

Coal was up number 23 and I sent him to the right. I wanted to try sending him the opposite way of the first run. The outrun was not as good, he ran tight, and I had to stop and redirect him several times. It was more of a keyhole outrun than a pear. Oh well. At least it was not a crossover, and more importantly, he took my direction. We were working together, unlike yesterday. At the lift I started asking for a lie down, which I kept trying to get, but did not get until after the fetch panels. But Coal was under control and listening. We had a much better post turn, got the drive started but I had to use verbal lie downs as he would not take my stop whistles. Yikes! I had to keep stopping him so he would not get up into the eye of the sheep, which is a huge no-no on range ewes, especially for a strong eyed dog like Coal. They do not like that, not at all! We completed the drive (yay!) and went to the pen. We tried to pen but ran out of time. I was happy with the team effort. Coal listened because I made it happen. Yay for us. I felt much better about this run. We had one good run out of the two although I wish we could have finished. Still, Coal brought me the sheep down the field on both runs. And none of our sheep went over the cliff! (a bonus)... I was happy.

For poor Ryme who had to ride along and spend most of the trip in the daytime in his crate in the car, this was not a great trip. I felt badly for him. He doesn't get along with anybody though, so it's not like I could have him out to socialize. Another handler was not feeling well, and she asked me to exhaust the sheep when it was her turn, so Ryme got to do that. He was a bit happier getting out of the car to work even if it was just to exhaust one set. I didn't have any dinner plans but Geri invited me to join the dinner with most of the crew at her house, which was very nice. There was BBQ tri-tip and lots of other good stuff. Everyone seemed worn out but they were still smiling. One day to go. :)

Dry Lake 2015, Day Two

Dry Lake, Day Two.
This was the hardest day, for me. I disappointed myself...I was not disappointed in my dog but in  myself, after we ran.

Coal was up dog #9. Same course and time as the Open on Friday, but the panels were slightly shifted. Judge number two on duty. It was three one-day trials, a format that I like.

I sent Coal left, as many folks did, although perhaps just as many sent to the right. You could justify sending either direction...which is great for Open. Coal did a really nice outrun. We all know that the outrun is Coal's weak spot so when he does a good one I think I go sort of into limbo. He slowed up a little too much at the top and then a fast and furious lift and fetch. I could not get ahold of him on the fetch, but more importantly I didn't try hard enough to get ahold of him. I think my mood was "flat" for lack of a better word. I didn't have myself mentally prepared and found myself getting frustrated. We had a terrible time turning the post as Coal got all eyed up and didn't want to release the sheep enough to let them move out into the drive. Oy. We finally got the drive started, and then cut the panel too short. If I'd been judging I would have said it was not an attempt at that panel.  I quit and RTed, not happy with myself for basically letting my dog down. I needed to have myself more pumped up and engaged, to be ready to rock and roll and be part of the team with Coal. If my mood is flat then it's up to me to get it together and make the best of that run. I do need to try harder to get ahold of him and stay in control. Can't expect the dog to do it all! And if I do, I can expect him to try to do it his way. Sigh.

From there things started to look up. I had a headlight out in my car which I had discovered on getting back to the motel on Friday night. After Coal was cooled out from his run we ventured into Tulelake to try to find help to get it fixed. I didn't want to not get it fixed with several days yet to go on our trip and being far from home. It was Saturday morning of a long holiday weekend and I knew if I was going to get it fixed, that now was the primo time. I ended up at the NAPA Auto Parts store in Tulelake. The guys behind the counter there, were so nice. They not only sold me the part but came out to the parking lot and put my light in the car for me. They wouldn't take a tip! What a shout-out to small town, country life. I have to say that this experience took away my bad feelings from my run with Coal and set me straight. Back to the drawing board with me and luckily we had another chance to run on Sunday. 

The handler's dinner was at Captain Jack's but I didn't mind eating there again. Real baked potatoes. Yum. Interesting conversation. Feeling better. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dry Lake 2015, Day One

Dry Lake was moved to Little Horse Mountain this year due to the tall mustard growing as tall as a border collie at the Dry Lake Ranch. As it was, the cover at the Little Horse Mountain field was already getting pretty tall. I drove up to Tulelake on Friday hoping to get there in time for Spot's nursery run. My drive up was uneventful, thank goodness, and thanks to Sirius Radio who were running a BB King Memorial Day music special. After the Grass Lake rest stop it started to rain pretty hard; I was enjoying the rain but when I got to the trial that meant I had to get all suited up in rain gear before I could go and see where the open trial was in terms of finishing up. I was lucky enough to see 10 or 15 runs left of the open. Their course was a huge ~500 yard outrun, right hand drive, shed, and pen, with 12 minutes to run it in.  The sheep were beautiful Rambouillets from a ranch around Alturas, I heard. The flock will be used for the National Finals. It should be good! They were good sheep to work.

After the Open class was completed for Friday, it was Nursery's turn. They shortened the course some but I was told it was still 300-350 yards. Oh my! Then I learned that Spot had to go first. Oh my again! I thought we were second in the order, which was bad enough, but the person listed first was also listed twice and they opted to take their second number instead of running first. Oh my! So I went to the car and got Spot and we gave it our best, at least that which is our best at this time at his stage of training. I think the lesson the week prior with spotting sheep at a distance, made all the difference.

I sent him come bye and he went off like a rocket in a lovely outrun. I had to go to verbals rather than whistle on the fetch but he took my commands. I can't even describe what it feels like to send your young dog that far and to have him listen and bring the sheep nicely. Woo hoo!

We started the post turn and drive away but Spot then got tense and did one of his bust through the sheep moves. I said thank you at the same time that the judge was saying the same.  I was not unhappy. It was a beautiful gather. I was totally stoked. Spot has never done a gather like that before, especially with non-broke sheep. He went well past any expectations I might've had for this nursery run. :)

Dinner was at Captain Jack's with friends, then off to my cozy room with the dogs. It was cold and rainy outside but nice inside our room. The handler's meeting the next day would be at 6:30 a.m.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Unfamiliar Territory

Spot needs to get out to new places, at least new-to-him places. He needs unfamiliar territory, unfamiliar sheep and lots and lots of it. More of that driving thing. Driving for him and driving for me.

We had two opportunities to get out to new places, or at least unfamiliar places for him, a couple of weeks ago. Luckily for me and my vehicle, they were close by geographically. I remembered two places that we can go, where Spot has not been, (or has not been there much), so we tried to take advantage.

The first was a RESDA style workday in a drop-in format. You didn't have to run the RESDA course, you could just work your dog, and that we did.  He got to work some commercial-type sheep, a type that we do not normally have access to. I didn't take any chances and stayed pretty close. The main goal was not to see how much distance we could get, but how well we could maintain our normal criteria in a new place without him blowing it. Everything remained quiet and calm. Whew! There were some new handlers in attendance who watched me working Spot. It is also a little unnerving to have people so attentively watching you work your young dog in a new place, but that's something else we have to get used to. They wanted to know how I had possibly taught him to stay so wide off of his stock with such good flanks. I tried to explain how I had been cautioned from the get-go with this dog not to push him out and not to try to open up his flanks until he was older. I talked about how a dog who is too wide is a detriment; to this comment I got some strange looks. I said, I know it sounds like Nirvana when you are first starting out, to have a dog who runs way wide. But a too-wide dog cannot help you in some cases because he is too far off contact. Anyway I felt good about this attempt of ours to get out and about and work in a different place.

The next day we went to another location where Spot has been before but it has been a long time. We first got to work some Dorset brood ewes who were quite heavy. They were heavy in the sense that they were hard for the dog to push off of me (they were very clingy to the handler). Spot has never had to do this before. Again I didn't focus on distance but on good solid work at hand. Spot rose to the occasion and did well.

Coal and I then held some sheep for a friend to practice pickups off of a stock handler. Coal told me that his turn was way too short and he did not appreciate playing second fiddle to Spot all the time these days. Poor Coal. I remember taking him out to do these same things years ago. The time just flies.

For Spot's second turn, we had a much lighter group. There were several older weaned lambs mixed in with a couple of adults. For these Spot had to really work to keep them slow and not running about. We tried penning, which he has never done before. I really appreciated that my friend put out a couple of different sets of sheep for Spot. It is such great experience for him.

We didn't get to practice any of our new sheep-finding-at-a-distance skills...but we got out to two new places in one weekend. Mission accomplished.  Dang this is a lot of work!!! But as the video says, it is "time well spent." :)

Out of Sight

As luck would have it, soon after Spot's downfall at Point Pleasant and not finding his sheep again, we were able to have a lesson with our trainer. I asked to work on this very thing: teaching Spot to spot sheep at a distance. I also asked for help on turning the post, which is quite literally probably another post. :) I have always been a dunce at turning the post, even going back to Bid days. Slowly I get better but it has always been a tough part of the run for me.

But back to Spot and spotting sheep, there are several scenarios involved with a dog finding sheep out of sight or just barely visible. There are sheep that are just a very long way away but visible. There are sheep that the dog can't see, either due to terrain, fog, or other conditions. There are other situations that need redirects. I'm sure there is more. Spot is a babe in the woods on all of these scenarios. He is used to places that he knows, and sheep that he can readily see. It is my job now to change all of that up within reason, if we are to become more successful.

We all worked hard on Spot finding his sheep during the lesson. The sheep were hidden from view in various places behind the little hills. Spot had never done this before. Some of his work (and mine) was not pretty and some of it was very pretty and some was just acceptable. It is all a work in progress.  I'm also still battling to get him to stop at a certain distance (no surprise there but it did catch me by surprise me at first). I'm not sure why I thought our good stop from "home" at a hundred yards or a hundred and fifty, would carry over to away from home and three or four times that distance. Duh. It sometimes does but it also sometimes doesn't. I want that stop though. It's important.

Overall, Spot did some big-boy stuff. It was a huge step forward in his work. I think he was starting to get it on finding his sheep. People keep telling me that he is not too far off the mark, for his age. But I keep feeling like it is taking a long time. I'm trying not to compare him to other dogs of his same age group. We will hang in there, and be grateful for lessons as they happen.

The Boyz at Carmel, our favorite place