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. :)