Sunday, October 25, 2015


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!! :-)