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. :)