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, 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.

Three Hours

Normally, it takes me just two hours and maybe a few minutes plus or minus, to drive to Pt. Pleasant Ranch on a nice weekend morning, early.

On Mother's Day, however, it takes at least three hours to drive home. Oh my. But it's what we do. I am learning that I have to just hunker down and drive if I want to do this stuff. Don't think about it, just drive (safely).

The Mother's Day Point Pleasant trial was a nice opportunity for me to run both Spot and Coal, as both Nursery and Open were offered.

Spot...did not spot his sheep. So once again we walked off from the post. I was not upset. I thought he saw them; the judge thought he saw them. He ran part way out but did not see them. I tried re-directing, but no go. Retire. We need to work on him seeing and finding his sheep. I moved that higher up the to-do list.

Coal had a pretty nice run in open, and it was fun except for when he started sniffing the ground after turning the post. He's never done that before! Once he resumed working, things were not too bad. Dogs!!! :-) Our course ended with a shed of two sheep from two; then pen the two. We almost got it done. If I'd been two seconds faster to open the pen gate, we would have gotten it done. I was not the only one in this predicament. Still, it was fun, and nice to have a creative challenge to work on.

For Mother's Day, they always have a nice potluck lunch, with cake, ice cream and tri-tip. I had never heard of tri-tip before I moved to California. And I've even taken the Animal Sciences classes where they have the beef diagram with all the cuts. I am not sure what tri-tip is in the midwest but in California it is the traditional BBQ fare. I have come to appreciate a good tri-tip, whatever it may be called in the midwest!  No cake for me but there was some fantastic berry ice cream. Something to savor and remember on the three-hour drive home!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Washoe Valley Sheepdog Trial

If you are going to put on a first sheepdog trial, you might as well do it up right. That's what the folks did, who pulled together the Washoe Valley Sheepdog trial recently. Held just outside of Carson City, NV, it was a great venue. The trial field was a cow pasture with some green vegetation and not a sticker to be found, anywhere. It's true there were some clumps in the field but as long as you watched out for those, you were fine. It was so nice not to worry about foxtails, filaree or any of their nasty cousins. 

The sheep were Nevada range ewes, very fit, healthy, well fed, and super challenging. Every detail was looked after by the super trial hostesses and hosts. Water for the dogs was refreshed every so often, as was water for the sheep. A super handler's dinner was offered --with  music and cowboy poetry --, I am told, although I missed it in favor of visiting with long time Reno friends for dinner instead. It was great to see my old friends and the almost ten years that had somehow slipped away between our visits just melted as we walked down memory lane and enjoyed wonderful BBQ lamb.

There seemed to be so many volunteers at the trial, and no job was left undone.  I was super impressed by the support received by this trial.The trial field was just minutes away from Carson City so everything you needed was right there: food, gas, motel, shopping.

Coal and I had a decent run on Saturday and I had a lot of fun with it. He did an OK outrun and lift, and the fetch was a bit too fast but we made the fetch gates and got the sheep down the field. Our drive was all over the place, and not good...but we managed to get the sheep into the shedding ring before the timer went off. Whew! It was fun. Range ewes and Coal have never been a good combo...but we tried. Sunday's run was a different story;  I just could not get ahold of him, and after a crossover and missing the fetch gates, I RTed. Oh well, another day we will do better. It was still  a really fun trial and I am glad I went outside my comfort zone a little bit to get there. I've never seen Lake Tahoe and I drove by it on my way there. Lots of firsts for many, including moi. :) I am really hoping that this group can pull it together to have another trial in the future. I know that trials are SO much work...but it was all very much appreciated!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Clearly, blogging has taken a back seat to putting mileage on the dogs and my car recently.

There comes a time when you have to start hauling a young dog out (Spot) in order to widen his experiences...and what you find out is where (some of) the "holes" are in your training...and you try to fill them inbetween trips!

Additionally, there have been some opportunities to get Coal and Ryme out for trials and experience on different sheep, so we were lucky to take advantage of those too.

Photo of Spot by M. Lyons

We went to the RESDA Spring Trial in Boonville, back in mid-April. Ryme was the star of my team for that day, ending up in seventh place on the day with 27.5 points. Ryme gave me some very good at-hand work, including a lovely pen where he convinced three wily commercial ewes to agree to going in so I could shut the gate.  Coal and Spot were the also-rans...again nothing to write home about there except for more experience on the white-faced commercial ewes from the Johnson Ranch. Spot did a nice gather for his first-ever run at the Boonville arena, but then got too rattled at the turn around the pen so I retired.

A couple of weeks later, we attended the Barn Dance Trial near Auburn CA. Spot was entered in Nursery. What a nice venue this was for getting the young dogs out! And it was also a great opportunity for the newer handlers to gain some trialling experience. They offered Nursery, Pro-Novice, and Novice-Novice. The sheep were perfect, borrowed white hair sheep from the very consistent Spencer flock. The field was gently rolling to provide a little terrain to negotiate. Spot did a very nice outrun lift and fetch. I was so pleased to find that he would stop for me on a whistle at the top of the fetch.  But, like at the RESDA trial, when we started to turn toward the drive, Spot did not want to work with me and take the flanks that he needed to another RT. Since then we have been working on lots of "turning the post" type of manuevers of all kinds, as much as I can dream up. That is just one of the "holes" in Spot's training that needs to get filled up. He needs to be able to do all those things away from home, just as smoothly as he does at the "home" fields. More mileage needed.

And then my car got its oil changed, tires rotated, and so forth, so we would be ready for the next adventure which would not be too far out on the calendar...but that is another blog post.