Saturday, December 17, 2016


On a whim, I pulled a notebook off the shelf this morning, in which I had taken notes on a sheepdog training clinic and subsequent lessons, from ten years ago. It is so interesting to read back through my notes on the clinic and the dogs. The advice from the Welsh  clinician resonates so true today.  Even though  as a beginner, I didn't know  much about some of the things he was talking about (like shedding), I wrote them down anyway...and I am glad.  :)  It is also neat to re-live the memories of working a dog who is now gone (Bid) and remembering how Bid and I learned to increase our confidence and skills together early on.

"Your shed and pen start on the crossdrive"

"You learn more from a bad run than from a good run."

"Don't force and fall out"

Build the outrun so the lift is in the far end of the field, and you walk. This way the dog is going to the 'same store' every time - and knows where everything is 'on the shelf'

When training new skills, just because the dog does something on today's course does not mean he can do it the same on next week's course in a different situation. The first time the dog may respond and do the new skill on just one command; the next time it may take (for example) a stop and redirect in order to get it.

These were really good clinics and lessons, with the information delivered in a practical manner, and giving the dogs a real job to do. Good times! :)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Favorite Pictures of 2016

I chose a few pictures from each month in 2016 and put them together into a (very low-tech) little "movie". Enjoy. :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Shedding Sequence

Here is a little YouTube video of a recent shedding sequence with Spot.

This was part of the work we did at a Derek S. clinic. I'm really pleased with how our shedding is coming together. We have a lot of the finer points to work on over this winter, as I have time to train with Spot. But it feels as though we have a shiny new toolbox of tools to use. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I don't think it is any secret that I love the UC Hopland trial. The weather was beautiful, except for the fog that delayed the trial on Sunday and Monday mornings. It was great to see everyone since I have pretty much sat out of trialling for a year. I had a good time volunteering and did not mind donating my weekend days to be there for the Open on Saturday and Sunday. It is my privilege to help out with such a class event. Ryme and I served as backup exhaust like we did last year, but this year we were barely needed. Things ran so smoothly that we mostly just sat on the sidelines and visited, like regular spectators. :)

Ryme and I were busy helping! LOL (photo by Marnie N.)
The trickiest part of the trial seemed to be the lift, and the first part of the fetch. This section required very careful handling and very correct approach by the dog. We watched one team after another fall apart and RT but there were also some very good runs where the teams handled it very well. Good dog work and stockmanship were both very well rewarded by the healthy UC ewe flock.

On Monday, Spot and I ran in the PN. The start of our trial was delayed from the original time of 8 AM to almost noon, by the heavy fog that hung over the field and made it impossible for judge or handler to see the course. Finally the fog lifted after we had just sat around drinking coffee and people visited with one another all morning.  Spot was the third dog up in PN.  I have debated with myself about posting these videos but I have finally decided to go ahead. There are some good parts and some not so good parts of our run but overall I was very pleased. Spot ended up with 60 points which was more than any of the other teams received. First place. I was astounded. He earned it, though. That lift and top part of the fetch were beautiful. There are places where I should have handled more and places where I handled incorrectly. But I am thrilled with the way he listened and performed in his first trial in a year. The videos are in two parts. The first part is up to turning the post and the second video is after turning the post.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


I come from the Illinois prairie. Flat green land created by the ancient glaciers, as far as you can see. But like many, I am drawn to the hills. Part of my fascination with the sheepdogs has to do with the connection with the land that comes with them. Without sheep, no sheepdogs. Without land, no sheep. Some types of sheep are just made for hills. It's what they are about. Some sheepdogs are made for hills and it's what they are about too. I am told that Spot is one of those hill dogs.

Hill dog Spot on the top of the field of dreams

Once upon a time I was told that Chiefie was the ideal hill dog; it is too bad that I was too green in my sheepdog career to fully give him the chance to develop. Regardless, I thrive on my occasional experiences out on the land when working dogs or going to or from working dogs. I'm also told over and over, that "hills make a dog" and I truly believe that phrase as I've seen it happen with all of my dogs, not just Spot, as they grew into their work.

If you look closely there is a person and two dogs on these hills. One of my very favorite places. :)

I have started PT this week for my leg issues. I was given a questionnaire to fill out before my interview with the therapist which was to evaluate just how affected you are with your physical issues. One of the questions was about whether you could walk a mile or not. I answered yes. I can walk a mile. At least I can walk a mile on these fields in the photos. :) I probably wouldn't like to walk a mile on pavement but I could if I had to. Would I hurt afterwards? Probably. At least when I am walking on these hills it is for a good purpose and something I am working hard for. It makes me want to keep up with my PT assignments so that I can better enjoy these hills and the dogs.

Flying Mule posted this video about Hefting in Scotland which is a short piece about land management and sheep. I found it extremely interesting and it is what gave me the thread to tie this blog post together (which I have been thinking about for a while but couldn't come up with a theme).
Watch it. It's good. :)

Hefting in Scotland

If you watch the video then look at my photo above with the tiny person in it with the two dogs, it will look very similar to what is in the video. The main exception being, of course, that the land is green in the video and it is brown in the photo. But, the sheep trails are the same, whether in Zamora or in Scotland.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

That Confidence Topic, Again

Spot update: we have had a few more weekend lessons with our trainer, and we've had our ups and downs with that. The bigger gathers were going well until they weren't and so I have gone back a little bit to try to re-build the confidence again. In the past few weeks, I've learned that I need to maintain a great deal of confidence in myself that carries over to Spot. He feeds off of me directly even when hundreds of yards away from me, behind the sheep.

We sent Spot up a big, big hill for a larger bunch of sheep that were not held by a stock handler. The sheep took off, climbing up the hill and Spot was out on the bye side, gaining ground on them, but would he be able to cover them before they went over the hill top and got away from him? I found it necessary to block out the talk from those sitting behind me and just focus on what I wanted to see, which was Spot bringing those sheep back over the hill to me. It was like in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated movie, when the Bumble and Yukon Cornelius disappear over the ice cliff into the abyss. What would happen? We could not see. We just had to wait. Well, as in the movie, Bumbles Bounce! I focused and visualized the sheep coming back over the hill and down the ATV track that runs down the hillside. It took a while. But soon, I saw sheep's ears appearing at the top of the hill, then sheep and then a black and white dog behind them, coming down that track. Whew! Good Boy, Spot. I was a believer.

It has not all gone that well. A couple of lessons later, Spot had trouble lifting these same sheep off of a spotter. They are dorpers and dorper crosses, big and fat, very dog broke and wise, and they know to cling to the stock handler. Spot was just not sure. I had to walk partway up the same big hill and urge him onto them. It has been a mixed bag. Since then I have been working on building his confidence again, as best I can. I've been having him push sheep off of feed. And sending him for sheep that are breaking away towards a draw. And calling him in on the heads after I have let a few go to create a draw.

In our latest lesson I just did what I call meat and potatoes. Spot did a few shorter outruns and I just let him bring them. I now know he can run out there at the big distances with the big boys on the hills, so shortening the outrun to keep him confident is not a bad thing to do. We did some driving. He was good. His flat walk is a thing of beauty. :) And then, we shed. The trainer's sheep are almost impossible to shed. But in our last lesson we got not one, not two, but three sheds. I will take that as a sign of our combined improving confidence.

Shedding at Zamora. Photo by Marnie N.

It's a long walk out to the field where we have been working. I'm not sure of the distance, but maybe a mile. I'm pretty proud of myself that I have been able to walk out there and most of the way back. Maybe not all the way back but at least half way back. I've been riding my new stationary bike too. All of this is certainly a confidence builder, for me. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Back To School

Back to School, or, "Confidence comes with Experience"

All the kids were going back to school early last month. Spot and I also went back to school, too, in early to mid-August. We've not been attending daily like the kids do, but we have put in some regular weekend lesson sessions over the past few weeks. It is really helping Spot a lot in his confidence and experience level. My main goal is to get him more experiences so that we both feel ready to trial, when the time comes. I am not sure, other than Hopland, when that will be as there are so few PN trials to go to.

All the cool kids are playing with this iPhone app, called Prisma. It has some stunning effects! :)
I had thought that Spot was pretty good about taking sheep away from a stock handler ("spotter") but when you add in a lot more distance and hills, the ATV, some in-your-pocket sheep and a couple of extra dogs at a place that is not "home", it got a bit more tricky. We have been working on building Spot's confidence to lift sheep off of the stock handler. I've been enlisting any friends I can get to help me when practice on the home fields, but at "home" Spot does not seem to have any trouble with it. He is getting better and better about lifting the sheep at the lessons so I am sure we will work it out. But that is one of the things that we have been working on, over the past few weeks. His fitness level also wasn't up to par when we first started back to work in early August, after the pneumonia, but it is much better now. Next time we will be experimenting with chicken broth to try to entice Spot to drink some of the Energy Edge after his lesson. So far he has not wanted it just mixed with water the way Coal was eager to take it.

The driving is getting better and better as the experience level increases. Spot's outruns on the hills are still not quite as confident as I would like but they are coming along. I am hopeful that we will both feel prepared when our turn comes to finally go to the post after a year off of trialling. We're also working on his shedding and I think I got ahead of myself a little bit in the lessons with that but he IS shedding. I want to go back and work on some more beginner shedding, just calling him through a larger group, before we try to whittle it down too much to 4-5 head in a more trial situation scenario. The days are getting shorter for practicing at home, so I am really grateful that Spot's training has come together so well when soon we will have much less time to work sheep while winter is here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

August Birthdays

I seem to have very good luck with boy dogs who have August Birthdays. Augie was born on August 20th. Coal on August 29th. Spot on August 22nd.

Coal just turned 10 years old on August 29, 2016. It is so hard to believe that he is ten. I am not celebrating...I wish he were turning five twice for a second time, but not ten. He is happily engaging his retirement from trials. From time to time I call him The Poodle...because he yaps. He is merry and bouncing around, apparently feeling wonderful, but he barks with joy whenever he feels the need. Yikes! :) I work him lightly to keep his brain and body in shape. He likes holding sheep for other people because he knows that job and I don't have to tell him what to do...he's on auto pilot...his favorite situation.

Coal and I were doing chores on a recent evening...I love this light!
Spot turned four years of age, on August 22, 2016. Spot is looking very mature, and bulked out like a young man coming of age. He is really working well for me and is such a character. I really love his stable, happy, solid temperament. And the way he lifts sheep...oh my. :) It has taken a Village to bring him to this point and I am most grateful...there are many folks I would include in that village. We are getting ready to run in our first few PN trials, I hope. And I also hope we will be able to move up to Open before too long.

Spot enjoying some nice cool green grass (not at our house!)

Dear Augie; I miss him so. What a grand, grand dog! :)

Humboldt County Weekend, 2

Coal and Chi were the super-swimmers

Look at that water! :)

Ryme in the Eel

Spot has no experience with swimming so he was cautious about doing more than cooling his feet.

Working with the lambs at Boggy, Spot and I were able to achieve some more success in his experience and training. The lambs have been worked by dogs but not very much. They are curious and slow. They wanted to stay together! At the end of our Saturday work session, I did a mini-International style shed and kept letting a few lambs go, creating a strong draw. I would let a few lambs go and call Spot up to hold the rest. We did this a few times and the pressure got stronger. Spot held it! Yes! We got down to just two lambs...I wondered if Spot would hold them without blowing. He did! The two lambs wanted very badly to return to their mates...but Spot kept the "gate" closed until I said he could open it. This made my whole trip worthwhile.

On Sunday, we volunteered to help with the RESDA trial at the Humboldt County Fair, in Ferndale. Our friend with the lambs was supplying the sheep for the trial. There were only 10 dogs in the trial so it was very small and it was held in a very small, dark covered arena. I was glad that I did not have a dog entered in the trial although there was a huge crowd of interested spectators, probably 150 people or more at any given time. It was very well received. Ryme helped me to do the exhaust and he did a fine job. He had trouble hearing my voice though because after every run the announcer would talk on the microphone. Finally I switched to my whistle and that worked much better. It would be awesome if this trial could move outdoors to one of the green areas on the fairgrounds in Ferndale, and that would be much better, I believe. During one of the runs, a lamb escaped, ran down the midway, out behind the race horse barns, down the race track and into the racing grandstand, before he was captured. He was given a ride back to the arena on a policeman's golf cart. Oh my. This escape could have been fraught with so much disaster. Thank goodness nothing bad happened. Anyway, when the prizes were awarded, the winning run was obviously the winning run that earned the blue ribbon and the check. We got the lambs quickly loaded, they were taken back home and then all of us who helped with the sheep and the trial, went out for a much needed adult beverage!

On Monday, after way too much excitement, we kicked back and worked dogs at Eel Rock in the morning, took the dogs to the river, and I drove home through the Avenue of the Giants (the tall Redwoods), needing to be back to work and reality on Tuesday. 

Chi works sheep

Chi has no lack of enthusiasm for her 10 years!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Humboldt County Weekend, 1

Dogs having so much fun in the Eel River on a hot day

We spent a three-day weekend up in Humboldt County, last month. The dogs got some nice sheepdog work in, they got to swim or wade (by individual preference) in the Eel River and the humans had a blast along with some combination scary, fun, and exciting times.

Coal having a moment in the Eel River. He loves to swim!

Our friend Z's doggie, Chi, also enjoying the Eel River's cool water.

Spot got some nice work in at Boggy, on some lovely sheep, older wool lambs of various breeds: cheviot, perendale, romney, and crosses of same. I love Ferndale because it is almost always sweatshirt weather there. :)

Spot working lambs at Boggy, photo by Marnie N.
Where we stayed, is a little slice of heaven. More to come, in another post. :)

Looking towards the Eel River

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


The dogs and I have been getting out and working sheep, nearly every day. Today is a rest day for us which they are agreeing to unwillingly, but they have no choice. :) Spot has bounced back from his month off of work and has not missed a beat in where he left off. In fact after a few on-the-muscle moments the first couple of sessions, he has settled in to working at least as well if not better than before he got sick.

I have to thank Marnie for the above quote. I don't know where it came from, otherwise I would credit that source. Spot and I are now working on the finer points. His basic work is mostly all good. He lacks experiences so I am working on that. We've had a couple of really good lessons. We are stretching Spot out a bit and giving him experiences that I hope will increase his confidence level. I'm asking friends to help me to hold sheep for us to simulate a trial situation. I'm working on getting us there!  Spot is starting to get it with shedding a larger group of sheep so he is ready for me to work on four or five head now, once in a while. I am not going to push it as he clearly knows what I mean when I set up a shed. Again, we are working on building experience and slowly layering on the finer points. I have started working on a look back, too.  Spot is ready to just soak up all of these experiences and I am certainly enjoying it.

It has been really fun lately to follow along with the UK National trials and to see the high standard of work that they are showcasing. Here we are again in the high season for sheepdog trials...the four UK National trials, then Soldier Hollow, the International, Meeker, our Finals. So much great work to observe, and learn from, thanks to the internet. :)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Inspiration and Losing That Loser's Limp

Spot, "waiting for the word..."

Ryme, pleased with himself and happy after his work session
I am inspired and uplifted and humbled by friends. I had allowed myself to develop a "loser's limp". A loser's limp is an ongoing excuse where you give yourself permission to fail, or at least to not perform up to your capabilities. This definition of the loser's limp is loosely gathered from the book " That Winning Feeling!" by Jane Savoie, where I first heard of the concept, years ago.  I haven't pulled this book off the shelf in a while but I am going to read through it again. I realized recently that I had a loser's limp.  I am so grateful for my friends who have been patiently inspiring me in ongoing fashion, and finally I took some action to flush that excuse and get rid of it...mentally erasing it off of the chalk board where I had been underlining and highlighting that limp. Page 66 from that book states, this quote:  " It's not what you don't have that matters. It's what you do with what you have."  

 I am also inspired by these good dogs who continue to amaze me.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Spot is Back to Work...

Spot is back to work. I am super grateful.

We had our much-anticipated veterinary re-check this past week, and Spot got an exam and chest xrays. He was pronounced, "spotless", and the veterinarian was quoted as saying, "turn him loose." Yes maam!

There is no guarantee that whatever it was, won't come back. But in talking with other folks whose dogs actually had foxtails in their lungs, those dogs were much more ill than Spot was. I am very hopeful.

His first couple works have been a little bit ragged and his flanks are a bit tight. But overall he is working great for me again and I can't wait to get him in a little bit better shape so that we can move forward again towards our goals of being ready to trial in the Fall and after that.

Mr. Coal also had a re-check at the vet. She felt an enlarged spleen on Coal upon palpation, three weeks ago when Coal had his annual exam which happened to coincide with Spot being sick. We decided to re-check Coal when Spot had an appointment this past week to come back into the vet. She said that the spleen felt smaller than it did three weeks ago. Whew. But she wanted to xray his abdomen just to be sure. The xray showed no masses on the spleen and the margins of it were nicely defined. There is no reason, at this time, to move forward with other diagnostics such as an ultrasound. My vet will check him again in December when Coal is due for a vaccine.

Since his spleen was good, I asked Dr. Joy to check Coal's front feet which have been very lame. He has had swollen and off-again-on-again sore front feet for some time. Since he already had one xray on the invoice, it didn't cost much more to add another view and she got an xray of his front feet that told us a lot. The feet are not particularly arthritic so she feels that his swelling and lameness is inflamed soft tissue. That is something we can work with. I started him on some Metacam and he is walking more soundly already. I don't want to keep him on Metacam but it is a dramatic enough improvement that I can totally see that working on keeping his inflammation down is going to help a lot. Whew! There are also some other things we can do including supplements and therapies.

I'm glad that there is a little bit of July still left. :-)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Mid Summer Night

Here are the boys on a July evening when I go to do chores.

Cosmo, The Magnificent

Ryme. I liked the colors in this photo.

Coal, aka water monkey, or Mr. Monk, enjoying some cool off time.

Spotto, of the big tongue.
I'm sorting off the oldest two ewes to supplement them with some alfalfa pellets (actually they sort themselves off now, after a couple days of this routine). These two are eight years old and starting to show their age. We are not feeding hay to the others, yet. There is still some dry pasture and they have some protein supplement to lick. They are all still in very good shape. They are not bred or anything so we can wait. We're assessing it week to week but will probably have to start feeding hay soon, or certainly if the sheep start to get worked more.

One more day of antibiotics for Spot.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sheep and Down Time

I got to visit these 5 fab guys recently.
When I visited our five white wethers recently, it was nice to see them so fat and happy. You can't see it in this photo but they came up to lie down and chew their cud just a few feet away from where we were sitting and enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the day on the porch. :) It's so nice to have social sheep.

They are such a nice set to use for working young dogs, which leads me to my next topic. As a postscript to my recent "Quandary" post, we recently saw a really nice young adult BC female who has had a little training but is certainly just very nice "right out of the box", i.e. with few to no commands. She balances, has nice open flanks, the beginnings of a stop and a call-off, just lovely. This little female's owner bought her as a baby puppy. It really is the luck of the draw when you pick a puppy out of a litter at a young age but this little bitch is perfect for a novice/beginner handler.  I'll look forward to seeing them working at the local events.

Until Spot is declared fit to work again, I have had a lot of down time. I am alternating between cleaning and yard work, and just taking some R&R time to kick back. Once necessitates the other, I guess. :) This morning's chore: the garage (and still much to be done there).  Spot seems to be feeling fine; he is eating, and wants to play and run. This is the latest version of  "Spot's progress." I'm trying to keep his activity from expanding into over-exertion, which is why I am not supposed to work him on the sheep. I almost think that some quiet controlled sheep work would be better than some of the stuff he does in the back yard. He is still on twice a day antibiotics until mid to end of next week. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Happiness Is...

Happiness is... empty dog food bowls. Meaning: everyone ate their meal and no one is sick, or has a fever. Yes!

Gratitude for what is positive. Today is the first day with only one antibiotic instead of two.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Waiting Game

We're playing the waiting game, around here. In one day, Spot will be finished with the first of the two bottles of antibiotics that were prescribed a week ago. In one more week, he will be finished with the other bottle of antibiotics. We are waiting to see if his illness (pneumonia brought on by an unknown cause - an aspirated foxtail? an aspirated something else? an infection? what? ) will recur if he is off the antibiotics. If nothing else happens, we have a vet appointment scheduled for two weeks from now, to repeat the chest x-rays. It is a waiting game. He looks fine and appears to feel fine. He is eating and wants to play, and clearly really wants to to work; it's "Spot's progress" of a different kind. I am not supposed to work him for fear of over-exerting him and making that thing move in his lungs, that is if there is a thing at all, although the veterinarians saw something on the xrays (but it sure did not scream at me, "hey! I am a foxtail!" but I am not the one with a DVM).  I miss working him, very much. I am letting him walk the sheep in, at night. That means, a dog appears in the field and the sheep go to the gate. I open the gate, the sheep go in. The chore is complete. Poor Spot. We count our blessings; things could be much, much worse. Everyone has been so kind about this, reaching out and continuing to ask about Spot. We are very grateful. 

In this photo from a few weeks ago, Spot and I were working on driving a large group of sheep. This is not what we are doing now. I'm hoping that we will be back to this in a few weeks.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Sometimes it's all about working the dogs and making progress in their confidence level.

Sometimes it's about enjoying their company in the shade of a large tree on a weekend morning, when all is well.

Most of the time, it is both.

A Quandary

This post is about something that I and others have struggled with for a while. It is not about me or my current dogs but dogs that I see and am acquainted with. [Actually it could have been about me, with Spot when he was young but for now at least Spot and I are getting along. I have had to learn several special and important lessons with Spot but that learning process is the topic of the "Spot's Progress" labeled posts over the past couple of years! :) It could have easily been about Chiefie and me, way back when.]

The quandary is this: a person buys a young dog or a puppy, or even breeds one and retains a puppy from the litter. Then when that puppy is old enough to start on the sheep, or even just "try it out" as we often do at 5-6 months or so, it is very apparent that this puppy is way "too much dog" for what is often a beginner handler, to handle and train.

Those first few works, or even the first couple of months of training, and the approach that is taken, are SO important.

And besides training the dog, what about the handler? He/she has to learn a whole new set of rules for  working with the super-keen dog.

What does this person do? It is a huge quandary. They don't know enough to know what to do, or who to ask to help them. They only know that the cute little puppy has suddenly changed into something they had not reckoned with. It is a super-keen, fast-flying, sheep (possibly eating)-machine. They are scared that the sheep will knock them down, with puppy flying right behind the sheep. It is all bewildering and happens all wayyyy.......... toooo fast.

Or, the puppy has something physically wrong with it, and after that problem is corrected, it comes "back" to its work with so much vigor that the handler is taken aback by the intensity that has developed. This was the case with my Augie, years ago, who had intestinal surgery to repair a problem that had apparently been brewing (but I did not know about as he was so stoic). After his surgical recovery, he came on like gangbusters, and eventually without the proper resources to help us, I quit trying to work sheep with him. :(

Even the more experienced, (for lack of a better word, "intermediate") handler like myself will take a step back and say "whoa...this puppy is not at all like the other few that I have started".  There might even be two pups in a litter who are night and day. One is easy, one is hard. The handler says, "I need help for the hard (for lack of a better term) one." But where to find it? There are trainers. How to find the right one? How to get into the rotation with someone who is appropriate?  Clinics are great if with the right trainer. Clinics do not, however, always happen in the right time frame or geographic location to help us when the timing is right for our pup. And what happens when the clinic has ended?

For some reason, I am often asked to help people find dogs or pups. I am not exactly sure why I am asked but I guess it is perceived that I can network with the sheepdog folks. :) It's something that I approach, now, very warily because then if the dog or pup turns out to be gangbusters, then in my heart I feel responsible (even though intellectually I know I am not as no one can predict how a sheepdog puppy is going to turn out).

Meanwhile, I have no answer. I know the trainers that I prefer and the methodology that I see working for me and that methodology keeps the dogs in contact with the sheep despite the pup's over-enthusiasm. I know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had to work with some of the greats in the sheepdog world, for Spot's advancement.  But it seems like over and over again, in the past year or so, I have seen and talked with folks who are experiencing this quandary. I am understanding in great degree, now, why people buy started and trained dogs, or even pups who have been put on the sheep at least a few times, to assess what their basic approach may be.

Totally unrelated, below is a picture of Coal that I snapped with my phone on the summer solstice, a few days ago. Coal was easy to start but not necessarily easily categorized as easy or hard to train. He has a lot of eye which for a beginner made him both easy and hard. We went round and round and even "to the woodshed" (figuratively - not literally) a few times. I had a really great trainer helping me with him - one of the very best in the world. I was not ready to learn everything that Bill tried to help me with Coal but we did get there.

Coal on the Summer Solstice, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jack Knox Clinic at Tulelake

The guardian dog keeps watch over her flock.

We went to the recent Jack Knox sheepdog training clinic at Tulelake and had a wonderful time. Spot was entered in the clinic. My main goal was to get Spot out somewhere different, but also wanted the lessons with Jack. I enjoyed our lessons with him in February up at Hopland so I thought it was worth another go, as long as we are in training-not-trialling mode. :)

There were no major breakthroughs for Spot but that is fine. I wasn't really seeking a breakthrough of any sort. Overall the clinic was very good, with a varied group of people and experience levels which always makes it interesting.  We  (Spot and I ) ended up working on something unexpected. When sent to gather the sheep off the fence in the arena-sized field, Spot would slow up too much on his outrun.  I haven't really seen him do this at home because we don't have any smaller spaces to work in. Jack's response when he saw this hesitancy was to have me call Spot back and start over, and really encourage him on his outrun to RUN and not creep along. It is not wrong for the dog to slow up a little when approaching sheep on a fence but he shouldn't slow up that much. After these little gathers we would have Spot  bring the sheep on a fetch and I would practice our stops and flanks and do a little driving across the arena. Jack reminded me that I should be seeing the "ribs" of the sheep as we do a cross drive - not the heads or the tails. The heads should be coming towards me on the fetch and not on the cross drive.

I always look forward to watching the other dogs being worked in these clinics. There were some amazing and phenomenal ah-ha moments, this time around, as well as lots of just plain good dog work. Old friends, new friends, good food, good times, and lots of laughs, were in abundance as well. There is always something fun about going to Tulelake ! :) Thank you to everyone who helped!

Friday, June 17, 2016

For Perspective

I've been reading through some of my old journals, motivated by what? I am not sure...there is probably a reason. Anyway it is neat to run across notes that I wrote down from my lessons that I had forgotten. Here is a gem. Our trainer was listing my assignments for my homework with Coal (then 2 1/2 years old) in the coming weeks, which included penning, shedding, taking sheep off of a stock handler, etc.

We were going to a trial the next weekend and I was told something I had forgotten. That next weekend at the trial I was supposed to watch the other runs and see how big the sheep look when they go through the panels (for perspective). It's one way to prepare that I had never heard of before.

Coal with first place at the Fall RESDA trial, 2009. 
Good times! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Back in the Saddle

Today the temperatures were lovely and relatively it was "back in the saddle" for dog work on the sheep.

I didn't get any pictures of Spot but he did some nice work today. Again I played around with sending him out the open gate, somewhat like I did last weekend, except that this time, the sheep were hidden in  a swale and in the shade of a tree. Spot did not know where they were. I sent him out through the left-hand gate, anyway. I was really pleased to see that he was willing to run out - even if somewhat hesitantly - when he did not really know where the sheep were. I kept whistling him out on the come bye whistle, gave some walk-ups and then more flanks...and finally he saw the sheep. Nice work!  That is what I need for Open, because sometimes the sheep won't be visible, if at all, due to terrain, ground fog, dust, lack of contrast in coloration of ground cover vs. sheep color, and so forth. I also worked again on Spot's cross driving with he and the sheep in one pasture and me on the other side of the fence. Spot is a little bit worried about that and he will look back at me, so I am just urging him on. I didn't carry on with this too long and soon went into the same field with him and closed the gate. I don't want him to get worried and do a blow-up and I certainly don't want to create tension in him. He is getting so relaxed in his work, and that is really nice!

I called him off, let him get a drink of water, and then we worked a bit more on driving with me a lot closer. Spot was not giving me very open flanks so we went through a reminder drill on both sides, about keeping those flanks open. Oh!!! :) "You mean I still have to do nice flanks? " says Spot... "yes you do," says I.....and we have the tools to make that happen, so I did.

Ryme got his own mini tune-up session today. He does not have much scope and I have been trying to open him up a little bit on his (little) gathers. Even for chore work, it will go better if his "tops"  are a bit more open and he gives me nice flanks. Plus, he likes to work and to be worked with.

On this little gather, I got some video.

Ryme's little gather

I had already done one little outrun prior, (not videoed) where I walked toward the sheep and put some pressure on the ground ahead of him to make sure that he bent out and went around the top of the sheep giving some room.

On this second attempt (videoed) he went out nice and wide, and deep enough. But then he seemed to get a little stalled out, lifting these sheep, which are lambs and do not move off of a dog as quickly as some of our really broke sheep do. All in all it was good work and Ryme finally did come on and lift when I urged him a bit. It's all good. He did some nice (close) work today. It's all about keeping him fit and happy, and also making sure his work is good when I need him to perform a chore.

Coal helped to put all the sheep back where they belong. Next time he will get a mini tune-up. :)

This weekend was just way too short!!!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Meat and Potatoes

This week has been meat and potatoes...not so much literally but figuratively with respect to the dogs getting out to work and what I have done with Spot.

It got hotter and hotter, this week, so that in the evenings when I went to put the sheep away for the night, my enthusiasm for working Spot (or the other dogs) was dwindling down to almost nothing. Uh-oh.  As a result I just went back to meat-and-potatoes for Spot: working on his flanks, stops, and nice pace, for very short periods before either he or the sheep got too hot. Poor Coal and Ryme got very little work but I did try to give them a run each night, of some sort to keep up their fitness. The foxtails (FTs) are popping up everywhere which is normal for this time of year; I am string-trimming them in their patches where and when I can.

Our wonderful doggie chiropractor was here and adjusted all three boys.  In addition, we had some great conversations about dogs and many other topics! :) Ryme has his ongoing issues and his bad rear leg but he is doing OK. Coal was pretty good except he has evidence of hard driving on his front legs and front feet; I need to make time to work on his front legs daily and keep the circulation going there. Spot did not seem to show any issues yet but I am still having him tuned up quarterly to stay on top of things. He got the fitness thumbs-up and rightly so.

Today being a day off work, we got to spend more time and work sheep and dogs at the larger field. Spot got to take some sets off of a stock handler, a practice scenario that we try to take advantage of whenever possible. Spot is doing OK with taking sheep off of a spotter. He can certainly use more practice with that scenario but is handling it all right for now. I sent him three times, and on the middle run I said nothing and just let him bring them. I know Bill wants us to do more work with Spot working more on his own, so I am trying to fit that in and see where we are, under the layers of the "onion" (so to speak).

This dog just wants to please :)
Tomorrow, perhaps; back to our (training) to-do list! :)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

There was a gentleman with the local VFW with a card table set up outside the Oliver's Market where I went in to buy a few things today. On my way out I put a $5 bill in his donation bucket and he offered me a red paper poppy, just like we used to get when we were little kids. He asked me, "did you serve?" which surprised me. I replied, "no, my Dad". He said, "thanks for remembering." Of course. I put my flag out yesterday; there are quite a few flags up in my neighborhood. A description that I read online said that Memorial Day is really for those lost in wars, while Veterans Day is for them as well but also those who survived serving in wars and made it back home. I am not sure what the difference is...but when I was a child it was called Decoration Day. We didn't just honor the military dead, but also we put containers of peonies cut from our yard, out at the grave sites of all the grandparents and great-grandparents and other local relatives. So yes, I do remember.

My training plan for Spot has benefitted from having some time off of work for the holiday weekend. Yesterday I was really low on energy after working in the yard and doing house chores all day. So I chose something from his training list that did not require a huge effort on my part. :) I picked the exercise of having him stay still while I move around the sheep (such as in a shedding setup scenario) and vice versa, he moves around  (on my command) while I stay still. And so on, repeated back and forth. He gets it pretty quickly. I practiced rolling the sheep into position as I have been taught. (Ryme had set up three ewes for us to practice with.) I tried to pretend I wanted a certain ewe and got her into position, meanwhile Spot had to lie down and stay. He was pretty good. I was so enthused by all this that I decided to try to get a single. We had a hard time getting that. I finally decided that he was not nailing his stop quite the way I wanted; I gave him one verbal correction about his stop and he got right back with the program. And then we singled almost immediately. It's amazing how that works. Then he worked that single quite a bit and did not chase her at all! That is huge progress for Spot. My low-energy training session got fairly pumped up after all but I was having such fun with him that it was easy to let it morph. :)

Today we had the opportunity to work at the larger place where we can train and I had planned in advance to take advantage of more acreage, and work Spot on the 'going out the gate'  exercise. There is one trial locally where the dogs have to run out thru a gate on their outrun. It is also a good skill to have no matter where you are. I used Coal to push the sheep out as far as possible into the field, opposite of the chosen gates. Spot was watching Coal do this, tied to the fence. I switched Coal and Spot and tied Coal up. Then I set Spot up for a left hand outrun. He did not hesitate and acted like the gate was not even there. Woo hoo! We did a little gather and I flanked Spot around and sent the sheep back up the field.

Spot runs out to the left, through the gate, for the sheep marked in the photo with a pink star. 

We did it again to the left and then I tried some cross-driving, with me on the near side of the fence in the photo, and Spot and the sheep about halfway up the field on the far side of the fence in the photo. This exercise needs more work so our to-do list got some additions to it today. He did OK but  not great with it and was clearly worried about where I was, which was not our norm for working at this location. It seems like every time I try something, the list gets longer although I am super pleased with all the great work that he is doing!

After getting him some water and breathing time, we tried the outrun to the right (out another gate).

Spot takes off on the away side.
Spot has just passed the gate opening in this photo, so he's kind of hard to see; but there he goes...the sheep are to the left and out of the frame of the photo, up the field.
Despite a little confusion once he got out there and realized I was back on the other side of the fence after lifting the sheep, I was super pleased with Spot's willingness to step out of the norm for this exercise. We will do more of this, and variations of it, as the summer progresses.

I hope everyone has had a great Memorial Day weekend!