Sunday, January 31, 2016


This was some cool fog a couple of weeks ago, that I caught with the iPhone camera. It's not as beautiful a photo as many of my friends post on FB but it will have to do. We've had a lot of rain, and days that looked like the above.

The calendar has a lot of days marked on it right now, for when entries are opening up for the local spring circuit of sheepdog trials. I'm also watching the sunset times, for when I can get a few extra minutes after work, to get out with the dogs in the daylight. This is sounding like a broken record, I know; but we are getting there finally! :) Hoping that Mercury is out of retrograde, finally as well. That's not normally something that I follow but this month of January has at times, been a very rough one!

Last weekend we had the chance to practice with the dogs in a larger area, again. Spot was good on his first session, driving and a few short gathers. Very nice. On his second turn, however (after a good break) he felt much more tense and ended up busting into the sheep when they accelerated a little bit going downhill. Very frustrating for me. And probably for him as well, otherwise he would not have busted in! I do not think he likes doing that. I set it up again and finally got him to follow the sheep downhill without a problem, at which point I quit. Later, after another break, he pushed sheep through a race, several times up close and personal. He was OK so I stopped there. I'm thinking that Spot and I are nowhere near ready to trial this spring.  If he can't follow behind sheep down a hill driving properly then we would be in big trouble at most of the nearby trials. That makes it easy to decide what to do. :(

Today we got to practice again, and with so much rain there was a lot of standing water. Spot is a bit flummoxed by the sheep who don't want to move off very well due to the water. That is something we will be working on. Since I'm not concerned about trying to get him ready for a trial for now, I am just letting things roll and will try to fill in all of the experiences that he needs to be successful and let the calendar do its thing without us.

Speaking of the calendar, Spot has been here for three years now, as of February 1st.

Ryme was a very good boy today helping me to sort sheep, and feed, and was the all-around chore dog.  I hope the dogs are all very worn out!

Ryme looking cute a couple of weeks ago. Awww. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Best Dog Ever

Last week, we lost our good guardian dog, Neve...the Best Dog Ever.

Neve was a Maremma. We got him as a retiree, in November 2010 for our small sheep flock, when he was about eight years old. He turned around our thinking about guardian dogs as we got to know him and fell in love with him. He won our hearts and made us laugh and also made us feel secure knowing our sheep were so well protected. He had silly things that he did, like he had to have his own pile of alfalfa when you fed the sheep. He would munch a few bites of hay every night at feeding time, having his "salad" which we all joked about.

In his former job, Neve was a great lambing dog. The people who worked with him remarked that he had different barks for different scenarios, when he was younger. When we had a few lambs in our own small flock, you could tell which ewe would lamb next, as Neve would stick to that ewe like glue. He stayed near her, helped her clean her lamb(s) but never harmed them or tried to steal them, as some LGDs will do.

As a guardian, he was wonderful. No predator dared to pass near when he was on the job. Even the flying kind did not dare mess with him. It was so interesting to watch Neve as he ran off the birds of prey, the ravens, hawks, and vultures; yet he let the ducks, turkeys and geese walk around him as if they weren't even there. He differentiated between the different types of birds, having instincts as deep or deeper than our border collies, but just of a different type.

Neve was the type of LGD who always, loyally, stayed with his flock. No matter where the sheep were, that is where you would find Neve, even as he got older and more elderly, and lost his hearing. He strived at all times, to stay with his sheep. We will miss him greatly and there is no replacing him, although we are looking for another LGD to open a new chapter. There are too many large predators around the area, to try to have sheep without a guardian dog. It seems strange, for now, to drive in to where the sheep live, and not hear his deep bark and to see a big white dog come bounding up to the fence to greet me. The best dog ever, won't ever be forgotten.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Playing the Shedding Game

This is a happy dog (Ryme) who is helping me to do chores. The best days are like this. :)
Yesterday and today I did the shedding game (seen in the video from yesterday's post) with both Coal and Spot. It was fun to do with them.

First I tried it with Coal. Our sheep are pretty easy to shed and all I wanted to do was to create two somewhat equal groups. It was good for him to have to listen and keep the groups apart and take commands without getting too eyed up. Flexibility is not Coal's forte' but we worked on it. He seemed to have fun. He needs work and conditioning as well as to stay in tune, so this is a perfect exercise for him. Today I tweaked it even more and whittled the group of sheep that we were holding on to, down to just two ewes. That made it more interesting for him but Coal was up to the challenge.

Spot is a beginner shedder, so I have to help him to make the two groups. He and I were able to do it though, both days, so I am hopeful I will be getting him to shed this spring. Spot really liked doing it, although he seemed more wound up today than yesterday. I did not change this size of his groups, as he is not ready for that. Just casting him around a group and keeping them away from the others on command, is enough for Spot right now.

I have not tried it yet with Ryme although I am sure he would do it; this is the type of at-hand work that he excels at. Ryme got to work though and I took a little time to school him on his stops and flanks. He needs that schooling time now and then just like the others. Ryme is the best chore dog, I know I have said it before, but I'll say it again. I'm also so glad I gave him a haircut yesterday; the mud is so bad that it is so much easier to spray him down with the warm water hose and clean him up, with his long hair coat trimmed back.

A notebook for 2016 has been purchased; I'm good to go. :)

We have just about two more weeks to wait before I can start working dogs a little bit in the evenings again. Happy Winter.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wet Week, Wet Weekend

The rain has been coming day after day...with a cloudy/sunny break day here and there inbetween. I am thankful that there have been no huge storms with deluges that create mudslides, rock slides, and flooding. The news keeps saying that we are not up to par yet with our water amounts, but there is snow in the mountains and more on the way. We need the rain, but I also dislike when it cuts into weekend time spent outside with the dogs. I'm glad we are not lambing, though. I am no fair-weather sheepdogger...I will suit up and work the dogs a little bit this weekend, but it is awfully muddy out there. And, I have chores to do and some barn clean-up would not hurt!

There is a pro-novice and nursery trial this weekend held somewhat locally, that I could have entered, but I am glad that I had my brain engaged enough a few weeks ago, to not enter it. With no chance to work Spot Monday through Friday for the past two weeks, it would have been really stressful for me to be appearing with him at the post at a trial today. I would have been a wreck, which no doubt would have transferred over to Spot.  The dogs are getting anxious but we are surviving. I checked the sunset charts again, and I am targeting the first or second week of February to return to at least a little bit of week-night dog work. It helps to have a target date. :)

I'm still working my way through the new Vergil Holland book, a piece at a time. What an absolute gem this book is!

And, for those who have not seen this training shedding video, posted on To Novice and Beyond on FB by Carol C., take a look and enjoy.

Shedding Game

Monday, January 11, 2016

Drive Drive Drive

Spot driving the sheep away from me...he's doing better on this part which seemed to create tension in the past...fingers crossed the tension has eased...


Spot driving...ooops maybe he is going to the heads... a stop most likely soon follows this frame..but it's a pretty photo with all the lovely clouds that were visiting us on Sunday afternoon! And he's so handsome!

A rugged individualist leading the sheep packet as Ryme...drives...and covers the draw

Ryme drives and keeps a slow-ish group going
We're driving. Drive, drive, drive. My suggested assignment for the latest round of sheepdog work was to cross drive Spot and the sheep across the pasture, and back again, and back across again, and back again. This was not too simple given the water, water, everywhere...but we gave it a good attempt. Spot was mostly good. I was super pleased.  I interspersed a couple of short-ish fetches and then back to it again, drive, Drive, DRIVE. It's what we need when we don't have the space to do much in the way of gathers. I didn't get pictures of Coal but that's what he did too; drive, drive, drive.

I finished reading Diana Nyad's book last night. Wow, wow, wow, just yowzer. Just FIND A WAY. She was 60 years old when she renewed her quest to swim from Cuba to Florida. She did not give up. She tried FOUR TIMES before she made it. What an inspiration! What drive she has! What great things could we all accomplish if we just would FIND A WAY? :)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Two Books

I'm going back and forth reading two different books that very thoughtful folks gave me for Christmas. They are both really good and highly recommended! Especially for those of us who are a bit older, it is very motivational to read about Diana's decision to return to her dream swim when she was 60 years old. I love her mantras.... Onward! and, Find A Way! The friend who gave me this book was fortunate enough to hear one of Diana's presentations on her book tour; my friend said she left this event feeling like she could go out and win the International. :)

The Vergil Holland book is a gem from start to finish; I am so grateful that Outrun Press did not let this wealth of information get left behind. Some of the information may be a bit overwhelming for a true novice. People will need to read the book again and again, as they gain experience, and more things will seem clearer. But in that book is all the stuff that nobody tells you or that you gain only in small bits by taking lessons with a great mentor. It's not a training book. It's a book about being more successful in trialling and handling; he will tell you what you need to train to get there. It's up to you to find a way. :)

I still need to buy my (paper) notebook for my 2016 journal...I am a bit behind. I am picky about what notebook I buy so I really need to get to an office supplies store and make my annual purchase. Meanwhile perhaps no paper will lead to more blog posts. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Working Dogs in the Rain

We worked dogs in the rain today. It was just light showers, off and on, and not enough to discourage us, at any one time. The vernal pools at this field have a lot of water in them, so a person has to work their way around those pools when driving or fetching the sheep. It does make for an interesting dog workout! If the dogs get hot they just splash through the pools, but if they don't want to go through the pools then a person gets to work on their bend-out or pull in commands or whistles, on the fly. :)

Ryme today
My dogs were just on the verge of a mutiny early this morning, since they have stayed home all week. It is rough for them and rough for me, this first full five-day work week back at the regular routine. Today however they all got out and the three black-and-whites (Coal, Ryme, and Spot) all got to work. Chiefie got to wander around a little but although probably not enough to his liking; I did not want him to get soaked as he takes so long to dry out. I also worked Sam and he was on the muscle at first; we haven't had sheep held by a spotter in a long time and that seemed to throw him off. He got better on his second turn though but it's a good reminder that Sam needs practice with a stock handler.

We are all very hopeful that we can go back out tomorrow and put in some more sheep work time. We have a very strange definition of fun, that only outdoorsy types would understand. While others surf the new offerings and specials at Best Buy, we get all suited up in your rain gear and go outside, stand in the rain and smile as you work your dog. It is a handicap having your hood up to keep the rain away, so that adds to the mix of training challenges because you can't see or hear as well as you can with it down. :) I'm happy with my rain gear for now, but of course we are all always on the quest for better, and drier. What will keep us dry -- without keeping us too hot or clammy in this climate? What will keep us just warm enough? Which boots work the best? I have not been able to wear rubber boots for a couple of winters. I am getting by with the Ariat waterproof terrain boots, plus gaiters, plus rain pants when needed. So far, so good. The rubber boots just do not offer enough support for my bad foot.

It's great to be getting the rain. We've had a few days of rain, and a couple days of clear, followed by a few days of showers. There has only been a day or two that was a deluge. I am hoping for no deluges, because those would bring damage, disaster, and other D words. Our drought (the other kind of D word) is far from over but its magnitude will fade more and more as we get these cells of rain coming through day after day and week after week. Let's hope it continues!

Spot was good today and we first did several fetches and then some driving and other things. He feels really solid on the outruns and fetches. The driving, is our week point. I need to spend some more time just working on the driving incrementally and troubleshooting where I need to be, how far away can I be? and so forth. Spot is definitely trying and that's a good thing. :)

Coal is at the point where he believes that compliance is optional. Not. We are going to have a talk about this.

Ryme's stop seems to be missing and I am wondering where and how I will find it?

January will be doable, if we can put in days like this on the weekends. Happy 2016 to all! :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jack Knox Clinic at Hopland

The UC Hopland REC is hosting a Jack Knox sheepdog training clinic again this year. The dates are February 13-14.

There is an information flyer and a clinic application form on the NCWSA website at the below link.


This clinic is always a good one and it's held at a top-notch facility on the UC Hopland farm. It's very economical to audit for those who want to see what it's all about.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Spot is not for sale again

Spot and I have had three good work sessions in a row in the past week. That is the first time I can say that, since October. We/I really needed a confidence-builder, which thankfully we got with a great practice, on New Year's Day. I was just about up to my eyeballs in being frustrated, at times. He would do some good stuff, and then he would blow up again. It sure doesn't do any good to be frustrated, which I know, but I couldn't help myself. I am grateful for the change I saw over this past long holiday weekend. For now, we seem to be getting back on track. We had a great practice three days at two different fields, and both were places where he could stretch out a bit (although I am still not pushing the distance too far).

 I have figured out (I think) what my plan is. For now, at this age, he seems to be a dog who needs to be worked five or six days a week (which is what I was doing all spring, summer and fall and he was progressing well). When this training program came to a halt with the time change in November, we hung on a little bit, but things gradually started to deteriorate with some ups and downs.

Now I think I have it figured out at least temporarily. I am just in a holding pattern, and not trying to do too much on the two times a week (plus or minus) that we can work. Everything will be dialed back until about mid-February when there will be enough daylight for me to start working him almost daily, again. We'll work when we can for about another six weeks, get lessons when we can, and practice whenever and wherever we can, on the weekends. If he's bad I am not going to stress because I know he can get good again. That should lower the frustration level considerably! :)

When he is good, he is oh so good, and so smooth. It takes your breath away. There is so much there that is good. He has a good outrun, and a good top; beautiful flanks and a good stop; the fetch is lovely and I can rate him on that fetch...we will not have our sheep galloping pell-mell down the fetch which is something I just hate to see. We just don't quite have the driving. He is doing well on the driving, for sure, but is not there yet where I need him to be, in terms of flexibility, pace, and distance.

It's good to have a plan. :)

Trees and More

We did up Christmas 2015 "right", with all the decorations, and all the fixin's.

I got a real evergreen wreath, put up outside lights, and bought a real Christmas tree and decorated it, for the first time in five or so years. It was fun getting out all the familiar decorations and seeing them again, like long time friends. Stockings were hung (and filled by mysterious elves!).

Speaking of friends, my dear friends came out from the Midwest and we had a grand old time. We shopped, we ate, we drank some nice wine and went hiking in the redwoods and out to the coast.

What a great way to end the year, with old friends, and family, telling stories on one another and laughing. We are all very blessed and very grateful. Being among those giant quiet redwoods, or standing at the place where the Russian River runs out to the Pacific Ocean, makes a person very mindful.