Friday, March 31, 2017

That's Not my Puppy...Whew! Day One McCormack

The McCormack Ranch is a gorgeous site for a sheepdog trial. Green grassy fields extend out endlessly in all directions, to the Sacramento River and beyond. The sheep are fit and beautifully conditioned and sensible. The trial is so well-run and well-staffed with many volunteers and local involvement. It is a handler's dream location.  The only drawback today was the wind, which was blowing at 22-24 mph.  Arghghghgh.

When I first walked out to the course, I thought how well laid-out this course is. My gut reaction was to send Spot right. Instead I wavered by the time we were up, and I thought he had spotted the sheep (which were little specks due to the very long outrun but he hadn't, or he didn't realize how far out they were), but for better or worse, I sent him left. He started out well but I could tell he was not sure, because his head was up as he ran. I gave him a comebye whistle as a reminder and he went on, and then pulled up, confused. Oh no. Then he ran behind a hill and I lost sight of him. I blew recall, walk in and comebye...and recall, walk in again, and soon he reappeared in the spectators, sort of behind the post. We both tried hard to get him out to the sheep but it was not happening, he was lost, he had misplaced his sense of where the sheep were and I nodded to the judge's truck and retired. I am not upset. He tried hard, I tried hard, and we couldn't make it work today. We will try again tomorrow.

Then, we were at exhaust. The next handler had a nice outrun, lift, and most of the fetch, when suddenly a puppy appeared dragging a leash and it was very keen! The puppy ran into the sheep near the post and started chasing them. The working handler and I stood frozen, not knowing what to do! Soon though it was apparent the run was over and would be followed by a re-run for this handler. Meanwhile the puppy was chasing the sheep over the endless hills and almost out of sight! The puppy's owner came running and she and I started in pursuit, and I unclipped Spot's leash and said, Away. I sent him out blind over the hills to find the four sheep and the puppy. There was nothing else I could do but keep walking forward and wait. Pretty soon, here came the four sheep over the top of the hill, with Spot smartly trotting behind them, and the puppy leaping and jumping all over Spot. Spot says, I work alone! (LOL) but he put up with the pestering. The course director soon appeared on a quad, and between he and the owner, they caught the puppy and took her back on the quad to be sequestered  no doubt for the remainder of the trial. Spot and I took the four ewes to exhaust. I was very proud of his work being sent on the fly, out of sight, blind, to pick up sheep who were being chased by a puppy. Anything could have happened and only the right thing did. It made my day.

We will try again tomorrow. I have a good dog who is well trained, and needs experience.  There were some really nice runs. It is so nice to have plenty of time to work through the course and to do the whole course (shed-pen-single) without a huge rush. What a super treat for the handlers. Like I said, this is a dream trial so far, despite our own RT.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oh, Zamora...

PN and Nursery (first) scores from Zamora

In red ink, nursery placements from first nursery class
Oh, Zamora. The Zamora trial is always a lesson in accepting what is and not trying to impose what we think something should be, over the top. The Zamora PN run was not a very good one for Spot and me. He ran out well, but pulled up a little shorter than I would like. I waited too long to whistle him over; I don't know what I was thinking but I know I let him hang out there a few milliseconds too long. Anyway his outrun was not bad at all. His lift was fine; he brought the sheep down without hesitation which was nice to see. The top of his fetch was straight but fast; I tried to stop him and he wouldn't. This was my warning flag; uh-oh. Somewhere on the first half of the fetch he did stop for me and was coming forward nicely with the four ewes when all of a sudden he flanked himself Away without me asking for it and the sheep went sideways (towards exhaust), and we were done. Those range ewes are just unforgiving of any small mistake; this was only Spot's second experience on the range sheep. It's been a while since I have run any dog on them, too.  We tried to put them back on the fetch but things went all sideways from there and we ran out of time, just barely completing our fetch. It was the fastest seven minutes of our lives. I felt like I didn't even know what hit me. Yikes. I felt disconnected from him on the run. It was disappointing to not even be able to try the drive. This is going to be my next challenge: to stay connected with my dog at trials. The last two trials I have not felt connected; it was so unlike the PN run at Hopland last November where the feeling was right. We need more experience with learning to trial with one another.

The weather was beautiful; it was a clear, cool, sunny day with none of that famed Zamora wind. The PN/Nursery folks really lucked out, for once. There were some really nice runs, better overall than many of us were expecting to see. I am glad for everyone who had a good run. I am still puzzling over what I need to do to get better focused and in connection with my dog for next time. This dog is certainly teaching me a lot.

I can remember my first time running in Open with Coal at Zamora; I was so thrilled that Coal actually ran out there on that huge hill and brought me the sheep, I almost forgot to whistle or do anything else. :-)  There was another year when Coal and I ran at Zamora, the year Alf Kyme judged, when we actually got our shed and I had my hand on the pen rope before time was called. That was a real high point for me. It is not just another trial, at Zamora. It's not just another field with sheep on it. I would like to be able to disassociate from the surroundings, and just be more in the moment when I run my dog, but it is hard to set those thoughts aside when you are standing at the post, especially at that place. I have been very, very fortunate to have run my dogs at Zamora several different times. I know there are many handlers out there who would love to give it a try.

Bill Slaven and Alf Kyme, in 2012

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spot March 2017; Listening; Hearing

Below is part one of a little video that I didn't know was being shot...while Spot and I were "tuning-up" on our home sheep before some of the recent trials. It is from a unique viewpoint, that is someone was standing right with the sheep when he picked them up from near her and then worked them right up to and around her. Thank you Marnie N. for the video! I really like how he is listening. He is a listener! :-)

There is a part two of this video also. The work  in these videos is not all perfect but it's nice. Of course it's on broke sheep at the home field but it is nice to have a record of what Spot and I have worked so hard for.


Yesterday I volunteered all day at the ABCA-sponsored BAER (hearing) testing clinic at the Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trial. It was a full, long day, but a great one. More than 35 border collies had their BAER testing done and we got DNA cheek swab samples on all of them and a few more who did not need the BAER test at that time. The veterinarian who performed the testing was so patient and kind.  She worked tirelessly all day to perform the tests and collect the data. Those of us who were volunteers helped by collecting the cheek swab data on the dogs and organizing the paperwork. It took me back to my (non-licensed) vet tech days doing the cheek swabs and holding dogs. I have to say that most of the dogs were so well behaved and willing. It was amazing how they allowed us as total strangers to stick toothbrushy-type things in their mouths three times and swirl them around on their gums without hardly putting up any fuss. It really says a lot about the temperament of our trial dogs!

Spot was the first dog to get the BAER test; he was kind of the guinea pig  for those of us who were new to the process. I was a bit nervous that he might not pass or even that he might not hold still for the test. In fact he buddied up to the veterinarian as if she were his long-lost pal. I think she just had one of those countenances that speaks to animals as a friend. Spot was very well behaved for his test, and he PASSED!  Woo hoo! I was so relieved. Some of his ancestors appear in the pedigrees of dogs who do have early onset deafness. None of his immediate family shows it, but since we don't know yet how it is carried, I was concerned. Anyway at least for now he does not show it and he is 4 1/2 years old, so I am hopeful. Whew. Now we can move back to our trialling mode in earnest. :-) I really enjoyed working with the volunteer crew. What a great bunch of selfless and hard-working ladies who have only the health of the border collie in mind.  Tomorrow we go back to Zamora for the pro-novice trial.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spot at Sonoma Wine Country

This is a video of the first part of Spot's PN run at Sonoma Wine Country sheepdog trial, March 2017.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brothers, Bookends

We had a chance to get Nick and Spot out together a few weeks ago. Gloria took a few nice photos even though it was (surprise!!!) raining again. It was so special to see Nick and Spot walking up on the sheep side by side. Brothers and bookends. The first litter and the last litter but obviously cut out of the same piece of cloth. So much fun. :-)

Brothers and bookends; cut out of the same piece of cloth just a few years apart.

March Madness

March's madness continued the wet and wild and wooly weather around here. We are breaking records right and left for rainfall in Sonoma County. There will be lots of feed for the sheep and other grazing animals, I guess. Meanwhile my yard is a disaster area. What has been dry and brown for a few years is now springing up with tons of green weeds and stuff I have not seen in a while.

More importantly, the March Madness spring fling of local sheepdog trials has begun.

We kicked it off with the thrice-postponed Pt. Pleasant PN/Nursery trial. At least it was not flooding, raining, or otherwise imposed upon by Mother Nature. We had a lovely weather day, actually, not too hot and not raining. Amazing!! It was so nice to go to a trial on green grass and catch up with everyone. It felt like we were throwing off the winter cobwebs. Spot had two Pro-Novice runs, which was really fun; how often we have said, "I would like a do-over!" and this time we got one. :-) My plan was to stick to my training criteria and if anything went wrong, I would go into training mode. Spot had a decent run in the first go, with some help on the outrun to find the sheep on that flat field. In the second go, he won the class, which came as a huge surprise when the awards were announced. Totally fun.

Dog torture!
Our friend George and his good dog Taff make their PN debut.
Next up: Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog trial. Spot had one PN run and we had some trouble. After a beautiful outrun, lift, fetch, and turn around the post, the four young yearling finewools decided to make a run to the exhaust. They were pretty much fed up with the whole dog trialling thing on the fourth day. It was really hard to steer the lambs towards the first drive panel, but we did, and made the turn onto the cross drive, but then lost them to exhaust about one-third of the way into the cross drive. I RTed rather than have Spot get into a meltdown moment. There are more trials to come. His work was all good and he's listening. I am hopeful. :-) I haven't run a dog in a while, and I haven't run a dog on finewools in even longer. I have to get back up to speed and running a different dog who has a lot more gears and bells and whistles than Coal did, but a lot less experience. It will take us a little time.

Meanwhile March brought us some lovely puppies belonging to a friend, to visit and play with on a regular basis. It is just like grandkids, I guess (for those who had kids/grandkids). You go and spoil and play with the grandkids then walk away without responsibility and just have the enjoyment.  This litter was particularly photogenic and fun. They are going to their new homes this week and I will miss their joyousness! But, it's time for them to fly from the nest.

Two pups on a step after terror time takes a break!
 And, life goes on with the Scotties... I have not had much chance to work dogs with them due to rain, work, mud, and more. But now that we have changed the clocks and the rain may start to let up someday (please?) then we can get back out with them. Meanwhile they can eat all that green grass that is coming up with the rain.
Cosmo is on duty at evening time