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!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

3 Day Weekend

Yay, we love three-day weekends!

The contrast of the mowed and grazed field on the left, and  the same thing, ungrazed on the right was pretty amazing! It was almost over my head.

Love this photo of Coal :-) It makes me smile!
There is a little time to breathe this weekend, inbetween Memorial Day memories, and house cleaning and yard work; taking care of sheep and of course...working dogs!

Coal held sheep for a friend's younger dog to start to learn to take sheep off of a stock handler. We set it up three times and the dog did well. It will take a few more sessions for him to be proficient at it but there weren't any real problems. Coal and I were absolutely still for these first few sessions. As the dog gets more comfortable with it, we can start to act like the "bad"  (or just distracted or weary) stock-handler. :)

Spot drove a group of sheep all around the larger field where we get to work, almost all on whistles and all without incident. There were several flanks on the fly and the pace was mostly beautiful. I am so cautiously optimistic I am smiling from ear to ear. The past few weeks with Spot have been an amazing increase in his skill and reliability level. We have worked together every day now for over two weeks. I have to consult my list to see what we need to work on next! There are many skills that need re-visiting. And there are several more skills that he does not have that we need to either start or continue working on. This will require some creative thinking on my part to put together what we need to do, with the facilities and sheep that we have available to us. It is great to have this challenge. :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

TGIF (or) Our Training Plan from the Past Week

If there is anyone who doubts that I have a list of training topics to address with Spot, then here is proof. I got distracted from making my flash cards but still intend to do that. We have a lot of mountain lions in our area and for the sheep's safety, we have to put the sheep up for the night, every night. This week, I have been on duty every night to put the sheep away. As a result I've been working dogs daily. 

This makes for very happy dogs. :)

It also gives me a chance to work on one or two things every night with Spot and just spend time on those things and not worry about other topics. I alternate between using Ryme and Coal to get the sheep sorted, and then use the other one to put the sheep away. This way they all get a little bit of work and no one feels left out. Ryme and Coal still need lots of exercise to stay fit and plenty of sheep work to stay happy.

Monday I had an acupuncture appointment for myself after work, and I normally do not like to go out and work dogs after that. I prefer to come home and rest, and let my treatment soak in. But there is no choice as the mountain lions will take the opportunity, and it was my turn, so I went to put the sheep in. I did work Spot a little bit, just on the whole group of Scotties which is now down to twelve head.  I took it easy so as not to push myself and was happy to get out and about in the lovely evenings that we have been having.

Tuesday I was back enjoying the cool weather. After work, I went to the vet to pick up Chiefie's ashes. This is always a rough time but the vet techs at the office made it easier. Bittersweet. Once we got out to the sheep, I used Ryme to sort off just four ewes for Spot. We have to make our practice harder, and four is much harder for Spot than twelve. I ended up working Spot a long time. It was cool and I just kept mixing it up. He just wants more and more work poured to hm. I had Spot at one point, bring the sheep up to a fenceline where I was on the other side. This is a very pressurized situation but he has to learn to deal with these. There is a handy corner nearby to where we were so I worked on him pushing the four ewes into that corner, then taking them out, driving them off, in several different variations, and putting them back in - all with me on the other side. I was cool and relaxed as there was no way I was going to get jostled in this routine. We also tried a shed of two from two out in the open; a single ewe took off and he chased her a little - uh oh. tomorrow night we will work a single. Coal brought everyone in.

Wednesday - I used Coal to sort off just three ewes this time and pushed the rest into the field with the really tall grass for them to munch on while I worked dogs. Spot working three sheep is much faster than Spot working twelve sheep (or even four sheep)! Oh my. But, he was good. We shed off one ewe and worked her quite a ways; he did not chase her. Bonus! We did a "blind" outrun to gather the three ewes. We penned. We were driving with some flanks on the fly, which is new for Spot. I was super pleased. At the end, Ryme brought the sheep in. I was tired, but happy.

Thursday - Ryme helped me to sort off four ewes - different ones from last night. I didn't work Spot as long as on Wednesday but it was mostly about pushing the envelope on the driving. Still using a lot of verbal and very little whistle. The whistle needs to get added back in! We did some pickups off the fence, with sheep on the other side, like we did at the last clinic. We also did some shedding. Spot is working really well and I am super pleased. Coal got to put things back together and put the ewes back in for the night with Cosmo. 

Friday - It was tempting to not work the dogs after the long work week, and just give them a run. Then, I remembered that I need to get those whistles back into the program. OK, we will work the whole group on whistles then. But when I arrived, six ewes had already put themselves in with Cosmo. So we just took out the other six to work. I used almost exclusively whistles and did a bunch of driving, flanks, and flanks on the fly, and as few stops as possible but stops where needed. We even worked on Bill's turns from last weekend, all on whistles. It went really well. Super pleased again. Buttery. :)  It was much warmer tonight, and the sheep were slow (for Scotties), which I have to keep in mind that we are working at the homey, familiar place on familiar sheep. The boys got a good run after wards. I hope they are getting enough exercise to keep their chiropractor happy.  Tomorrow, Ryme and Coal will be helping to hold sheep and help teach a younger dog how to pick up stock off of a handler.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Training Clinic Weekend at Tango Farms

The boys and I went to a great sheepdog training clinic at Tango Farms, with Bill Berhow as the instructor. I loved the cool weather that we enjoyed all weekend, and the fields and hospitality where the clinic was held, were all fabulous.

It was a weekend of productive training and learning, sharing all the amenities: good friends, delicious food, great field to work in, lovely sheep, and lots of fun.

There were ten dogs participating in the clinic with their owner/handlers. Spot was one of the ten. We each had three full-length lessons over the course of two days; Bill is just not a ten or twelve minute guy. :) We got more than enough work and there was discussion with Bill about the dog's work both before and after each run. It was truly a group participatory clinic and not just a series of private lessons with an audience, as some clinics are.

Ryme got to hold sheep for an outrun and he greatly enjoyed being useful.

The Rymon
I call this picture the Field of Dreams for obvious reasons. :)

Field of Dreams
This is a field where dreams were being made, and where things that were once thought impossible, were coming to life.

A Marnie Moment! :)

Photo by Marnie of Ryme watching the clinic with Bill and his Coal on the other side of the fence.
As for Spot, he showed some really nice work over the course of the weekend, with only one small blow up in his first session, when he had some trouble taking the working set of sheep off of the setout pen. His flanks were good all weekend, and his stops were mostly good. I was really pleased that all of his behaviors held up so well, away from home and in a large field with "real" sheep... they were lovely white commercial type ewes.... something we rarely ever get to work on.  We had good opportunities for Spot's exposure to a more trial-like setting without the pressures of a trial. The exhaust sheep in a field next door, when we have to focus on our sheep - that was a huge opportunity that I was hoping would be available, and it was. :) Also I got to practice having Spot do a couple of outruns with a stock handler and her dog holding the sheep for him, and Spot had to pass up the pipe corral full of waiting sheep and focus in on lifting his sheep, just like in a trial. I was really happy to be able to work through this scenario as well.

The overall theme was one of letting Spot work more on his own, not all the time but with corrections for being too speedy instead of always lying down (although I feel that I need the capabilities of both). We are still working on getting the driving where it needs to be and we are not there yet; I keep reminding myself that I have gifted myself with this summer to get that going! We were also working on turns, such as you would do to turn a panel on the drive. We need better stops to be able to make that turn in approximately three sections, for now. This took me back to working Bid with Bill, years ago, as we did the same thing when both Bid and I were learning to drive a course together.  Another person in the clinic was given a similar exercise to do, that Bill had advised me to work on with Chiefie, over ten years ago. Yes, I do get a little sentimental as I started to think about all the training sessions but they are all good memories.

And talk about a trip down Memory Lane! When I arrived at the farm and saw these three sheep there I laughed out loud. We sold these sheep to Tango Farm when it was first being set up. I was happy to see them still there and serving as the puppy/beginner dog training sheep (and doing a fine job of it too!).

The Super Bowl Ewe, Easter, and Corky
Thank you Tango Farms, Bill Berhow, everyone who helped, and the Northern California Working Sheepdog Association who made this clinic possible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Movin' On...

Movin' on and picking up the pieces...

I've been working Spot every night in hopes of getting him back to that "buttery" (for lack of a better word) state in which we make progress and move forward (and he works beautifully). When we have to take two or three or four or five days in a row off of sheep work, then it is almost like starting over. When I can work him three days in a row (minimum) by that third day, he is buttery and flowing. Ahhh. In this mode, most of the time he does not blow up; once in a while he will blow a little but then all dogs do at some point. Tonight it was what should have been a simple pickup off the barn/fence that threw him off. I just called him back and started over on opening up the flanks, as I was told to do by Derek. I am figuring out what triggers the problem at times (the guardian dog on the opposite side of the fence where Spot needs to pick up the sheep off the rail for example).

We haven't skipped any days recently...
The evenings are long as we head into High Summer, which allows me to work dogs on the sheep after I get home from my job. The sheep have to be put in every night, because of the mountain lion threat, so we will get out there even for a few minutes almost every evening.  Ryme and Coal can alternate sorting sheep and putting them away. Coal, by the way, has been attentive to command and almost picture-perfect on the home fields, since our RT at the Pt Pleasant trial. The little monkey. :)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bits 'N' Pieces, and Early May

Spot works the Scotties (mostly)
I'll post the cute picture of Spot first so that if anyone doesn't want to read the boring and rambling text that follows, they may choose to do so. :)

Early May has sometimes not been kind to me, I realized. I've now lost three dogs in a row in the week or two surrounding Mothers' Day. It's not that I'm dwelling on losing Chiefie but it is a big part of day-to-day, still. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

We went to the Mothers' Day trial at Spencer's yesterday. It was a very nice trial, a beautiful sunny and not too hot day in early May, and so good to see everyone. Since I haven't been to any of the spring trials in the area, it was great to catch up with all the trialling friends and spend some time visiting.  I had fun and the meal was great. There was BBQ tri-tip and many salads and lovely ice cream. :) Many folks offered their condolences about Chiefie, which is great. The dog people really "get it". But this also brought my mind back around to Chiefie for a good part of the day. Everyone is so kind, though. It was a good day.

But, it was also a sort of sad day wrapped around another (now) aging dog. Coal is 9, coming 10 in August. I entered him in the Open trial at Spencer's just for fun, to see what we could do. Lately he has not been wanting to take much direction from me at a distance, although he is still keen to work. At the trial there was a dog-leg fetch and he would not take direction from me to make that fetch. Had the fetch been the traditional straight-to-the-handler style, we would have been fine. :) After the post turn he seemed a bit fizzled, would not take his flanks and we bobbled the first panel. I decided it was time to walk off with dignity, so I turned around and thanked the judge and we RTed. I am not upset. I knew it was 50-50, based on what Coal has been doing at home, that this would be the outcome. I am a little sad but not upset. He has been a great trialling partner and taught me so much. Coal is still healthy, relatively sound, and still keen to work (although sort of on his own terms). He will do any job you ask, and is fairly obedient close at hand. We will hold sheep for others to practice their outruns, and still work and do chores, but not trial. It's OK as I had not planned to travel to any of the summer trialling opportunities in Oregon and Washington, anyway.  The painful part is that I now have two dogs who can't trial, and one who is not quite ready. That's the way it goes when you don't have a whole kennel full of dogs.  This is another thing that many of the dog people just "get".

Watching the trial, I have noticed that I see things more that I did not see before. I watched people setting up their sheds: those who made it look pretty and those for whom it did not go so well. I saw tight flanks, good flanks, and running sheep and quietly walking sheep. I'm just taking it all in. I think my eye has been developed a whole bunch this year, in this direction. I may not have a kennel full of trial dogs but I am getting better at recognizing good work when I see it. That's a good thing. :)

We're heading into the second half of May, now, which means foxtail season is here. Lots of work to do both on the ground and with getting Spot prepared to be a trial dog, eventually. Spot and I have a couple of clinics on our calendar, so that he can get some more exposure to new places. This kind of crazy disjointed and unpredictable year - 2016 - just rolls on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Best Medicine

The best medicine for healing your heart over a lost dog, is going out to the fields and working your other dogs. When I lost Bid at a too-young age, my trainer told me, "all you can do is focus all of your efforts on your other dogs." Even with the other dogs to take up the slack, the lost dog leaves a hole that never gets filled.

I'm so thankful for the weekend and some time to step back, and regroup around my other dogs. I've done a little bit of reorganizing, which has shaken up the remaining dogs a little bit but not too much, I hope. There were four dog beds in the bedroom, and now there are three. I downsized the crates in my pickup from four to three, and reorganized what is in there to be more useful for the upcoming summer dog training. There is space.

We got out to work on the sheep both Saturday and Sunday. Spot was very good, both days! wow! I am working primarily on cross-driving, with him. That is where I am re-building his ability to drive proficiently, and be sure that he can flank properly behind the sheep when they are moving away from him. I want to get us both completely competent, and confident, on the cross driving before we move into doing a whole lot more of the drive away. We are also doing our other exercises that Derek suggested that we do. I was super pleased with Spot, since the dogs have not been worked all week. Normally it takes a few days to get in synch with Spot, but not this time.

Coal is not in the best of shape, which I am trying to remedy, but he's a gamer. He listens part of the time and part of the time, he's on his own plan. Coal makes me laugh. :) We are old partners who enjoy each other's company. Coal is now (hard to believe) the old dog around here; he is 9 and will be 10 in August.

Ryme is a good worker close at hand but once again we decided he's not a trial dog. I asked to have someone hold sheep for him to pick up, just as a test, and it blew his mind due to the distance. Ok, so I won't put Ryme into a trial. It's too bad because he does know how to do everything. Ryme is a tremendous help though.

The fields are lush and green and damp from weekend rains. The dogs did not get hot because the temperatures were nice and cool; it was perfect dog working weather which is a gift for me because it is the medicine that I needed most.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Life Goes On...

Life without Chiefie. We are still getting used to it but it will be weird for a while. The poor other three dogs have not been out to work sheep since last weekend. They are a bit crazy. I will wait to see, after they are worked some, if they are exhibiting behavior that indicates the loss of their friend. Ryme, in particular, was Chief's daytime pal; Ryme has been acting a bit weirder than normal, but then Ryme is already weird, so who knows? :)

When someone has been with you since December 2001, that is a long time. In December 2001 everyone was still in a state of shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When we went to pick up Chiefie from the airport, the security was high and the state of awareness (and fear) was noticeable. Christmas 2001, our parents were very viable and we had a fuzzy baby puppy in the house, who got dressed up in a big red bow and posed for Christmas pictures with everyone. Good times. :) But, it is a long time. Everyone has been so sweet and kind about Chiefie. I am overwhelmed.

This week has been very challenging. I had a huge work related challenge as well. That challenge now behind me (passing a professional certification test that I absolutely had to pass) I can try to re-focus again on getting my dogs worked, and Spot trained, and the others kept in shape.

We also need to get the wool off of our sheep. Our shearer has been sick but I think he is on the mend now, and our turn is bubbling up to the top of his queue. Now it is just the weather (which has had unsettled t-storms and patches of rain) that holds back the process. We, including our sheep, are all hoping it can get done soon.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On a Trip to Ireland

Last night I dreamed that I was on a trip in Ireland. I was somewhere near the ocean, but it was a sheep grazing/agricultural area. I was going to meet a friend on my trip, but I had not joined her yet; I still had a ways to go to get to the place where we had agreed to meet.

I came across a man, who was a working shepherd, and his shepherd's dog, a handsome black and white rough coated male border collie. It was Bid. Bid was with this man and was his work dog. I saw Bid and called him over to me. Bid was happy and greeted me, and I petted him and talked to him and he wagged his tail. The shepherd and I had a good conversation. Bid was in great shape and in the prime of his life. Then, soon it was time for the man to go and do his work with his sheep. Bid turned and left with the man as it was his job to do. I was happy to have seen Bid and interact with him. I continued on my journey in Ireland.

My mind has been traversing a lot of varied things lately, is all I can say.

Chiefie has left the building, and we will all miss him.