Jig’s Journey ~ The Coyote Classic

Last weekend we went to MN to attend the Coyote Classic put on by the Upper Midwest Australian Shepherd Club at Conroy Farm. As always, it was a great time. I got a great surprise when I arrived at Deb’s and found Gail in the kitchen. That was the awesomesauce on the entire weekend, as I didn’t expect her to be there. But she’d come to support me in the quest for Quinn’s last cattle leg. That gets its own post so I’ll move on to Jig.

On the plus side, we ended the weekend with a Started Cattle leg, and came within two points of a qualifying score our first time running in Open Sheep. There were some blue ribbon moments sprinkled about, which was a good thing. Most of those came on Friday and Saturday. By Sunday…

I don’t know about anyone else, but by the third day of a trial I’m running on the low side of the meter. My dogs usually come out of the gate on Friday raring for action, and by Sunday they are starting to mellow. Quite the opposite happened with Jig. She started out Friday a bit fast and furious but listening — for the most part. By Sunday she had figured out this wasn’t like training and she could get away with a whole lot. So she did. Or tried to. Confidence shot through the roof, and my control was left gasping in the dust.

Jig would make a terrible poker player. When she gets the intense, wired, I’ve-been-into-the-crack look in her eyes, I know I’m pretty much screwed. She’s way quicker than I could be even if I were a ninja, and when she flips a paw and blows me off, she doesn’t hold back. This happened most on cattle. Jig loves her some cows. She particularly loves the heads. Even after getting a very thorough thrashing (which could have been far worse than it was) her enthusiasm didn’t dampen. Oh, she was way more thoughtful, and we made the course, but the next day she was over-cranked and ready for more action. With cattle that’s never a good thing. She and one steer had a set-to that got the bovine chasing her and me chasing it to keep her from getting trampled. Though how I thought to accomplish that I have no idea. In the end, Jig was faster than us both. She evaded her pursuer and I was able to get a stop on her before she went back for more.

I’ve no qualms about calling my run when things get out of control. I’ll try to work through it for a bit, but if I’m not getting into my dog’s head in short order I thank the judge for his time and exit the arena. It doesn’t pay to let her think she can one-up me, and it’s not doing the other competitors any favors.

Given that Jig hasn’t been trialed in a year, this was our pre- pre-nationals test. Um…yeah… I’ve been working her every day since Tuesday, and will continue until we leave on the 29th, being sure to remind her that control isn’t always a bad thing.

One of the other highlights of the weekend was getting to visit with Tracey. She had Jig’s mom Ivy along, and we were able to get some photos of the two of them. Tracey also took some shots of our runs, some of which I’m sharing here.

"She may be my mom, but I really don't want to get close to her. Mind if I lean on you?"

“She may be my mom, but I really don’t want to get close to her. Mind if I lean on you?”

"Fine, I'll put my ears up and try to look cute, but I'm still not getting close to her."

“Fine, I’ll put my ears up and try to look cute, but I’m still not getting any closer to her.”

One of the better moments in our sheep run.

One of the better moments in our sheep run.

And one of the better moments in our qualifying cattle run.

And one of the better moments in our qualifying cattle run.

The not-so-good moment. In the bovine's defense, Jig had it coming. She was all up in that cow's face. Still, chasing down my dog means I'm chasing you down. Or trying to.

The not-so-good moment. In the bovine’s defense, Jig had it coming. She was all up in that cow’s face. Still, chasing down my dog means I’m chasing you down. Or trying to.


Wordless Wednesday

Jig’s Journey ~ The Real Payoff

Most of these posts have been about training, and getting Jig ready for Nationals, but around here I need a dog for more than just trialing. There are jobs that need doing at various times. Sheep need to be moved from one pasture to another, sorted, loaded onto trailers…all kinds of practical jobs that dogs just love. I haven’t used Jig for a lot of that because when I’m doing chores I often don’t care how the dog chooses to do them, I just need the job done. I don’t want to micro-manage the dog. We’re a team. I have my part of the job, they have theirs. In her stage of training, though, I can’t afford to let things slide.

This morning, however, I needed to move each of the rams with their harems so that I could rotate pens. Grady and Quinn aren’t the best at moving the rams. There’s some kind of bromance going on there. Plus, I didn’t have a lot of time to get the job done, so I took Jig. Dave came to watch and told me afterwards, “Wow, she was really wired!” Yeah, he only saw her from the back. He should’ve gotten a look at her face: ears high, eyes so intense they were practically on fire. For Jig, working is like crack, and I haven’t worked her since Wednesday so, yeah, she was pretty eager. (Even though between Wednesday and today she let herself in through the gate at least three times to move sheep on her own.)

The first part of our job was simple, put the working sheep in the small arena. Done as soon as they saw Jig coming. Second part of the job, bring Jr and his girls from the long alleyway to the short one to pen them up. I stood by the gate and sent her. The ewes were about 125′ or so down the alley. I fully expected them to hightail it to the far end with Jig in hot pursuit, but she went to the fence to go around and bring them down nice as you please–where nice means politely, but at a high rate of speed. At least she checked up as soon as I told her to.

The third part of the job was to bring MC and his girls in off the hill. Again, she surprised me by doing a pretty decent gather. One of the flightier ewes decided she wanted to be dinner and took off, but Jig covered her rather nicely and brought her right back.

The fourth part of this job I knew was going to be the trickiest for Jig because of her desire to keep stock from getting away. I needed her to go into the short alley (16’x40′ or so), scoop up Jr and his girls, and deposit them on the hill. Even a month or so ago, that would not have been an easy thing. Today she went in and when Jr started to come out first (my rams have no desire to tangle with Jig) she did what I expected and immediately popped to his head to stop him. Here comes the blue ribbon moment–as soon as I gave a warning and stepped forward she moved off, went back around the ewes, and allowed everyone to proceed out of the alley in a controlled fashion, even lying down in the back of the alley when I told her to.

Of course, these jobs weren’t nearly enough to satisfy her. As I was closing and latching gates, she was going back through them to do more. We discussed the error of her ways, and she accompanied Dave and I back to the house. Well, she ran back and forth to the house several times while we followed.

I was thrilled to see the benefits of our training sessions coming through where I need them most: chores and practical work.


Whoo’s That?

I love birds of prey. Always have. Always will. I’m delighted that we have a pair of red tails that claim the high tension towers as their perches during the day. Even when they decide to make the occasional meal out of one of my ducks (when I have ducks). Every spring we’re regaled with the raucous cries of the young hawks who think mom and dad should still be hunting for them even though they can soar through the skies with the best of them. It gets a bit annoying after a time, and I’m sure their parents feel the same way.

A mile or so down the road from us is a pond that the DNR placed an Osprey perch in. It’s claimed every year by a nesting pair. Every so often they fly over. That brings the hawks out in what I’m guessing is a territorial dispute. There are high aerial displays, and much screeching of what sounds like thinly veiled threats. This goes on until the Ospreys decide to head elsewhere.

We also have a pair of Great Horned Owls. They’re my favorites, though I hear them more than see them. They make some truly interesting and downright terrifying sounds. I’ve had a couple close encounters with them. Last year one was in the lower limbs of the tree right beside the garage. He gave me an owl tongue-lashing when I inadvertently disturbed him, then launched out of the tree and directly over my head. Yes, I ducked.

A couple years ago we rescued a juvenile Great Horned with a broken wing. That was an adventure. Trust me, the beak and talons even on a young Great Horned are something to observe. And he was not a happy camper at all. Wish I would have gotten pictures of him, but I was too busy trying to get him safely into a dog crate and off to the rehab lady. Last word I had on him was that he was doing fine, but never healed well enough to be released.

I had begun to wonder if my owls were gone because I hadn’t heard them as much as usual. The last several nights they have assured me they are still around. This morning I heard them loud and clear, and found they are the nocturnal guardians of the tower to the east.

Early sunrise. You can just make out the owls on the top of the tower.

Early sunrise. You can just make out the owls on the top of the tower.

These pictures are horrible because I was too far away, and didn’t have my tripod handy. I wound up balancing the camera on the fence post, so you get my owls in silhouette.



I hung around while they called back and forth to one another, enjoying the slow climb of the morning sun over the swells of ground fog. Eventually they dropped silently from their perch, gliding off to the woods. I’m so glad they’re back from wherever they’d been keeping themselves.

Jig’s Journey ~ Blue Ribbon Moments

Blue ribbons don’t always come from trials. They come from moments. ~ Deb Conroy

Deb is always good for an awesome quote or two, and that was my favorite quote from the clinic last weekend. I think just about everyone in attendance had some of those moments. It was a great clinic, with a super group of dogs and handlers, and some pretty decent weather (once we got through a rainy Friday).

When I’m hosting a clinic and I give my opening schpeel on the first morning, I like to tell folks not to go into a training clinic with the mindset that they’re going to solve their problems in just a few days. Instead, I like to think of attending clinics as way to gather tools for my training toolbox. I have certain ways I approach things, and I’m fairly consistent (I think) with my training. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to changing methods if my current one isn’t working. That’s exactly what I did a handful of years ago, just ask Quinn. Which is why I like to have as many ideas and techniques as I can. Even though keeping things simple and consistent is the key to many things in life, every dog, every day, every group of sheep, can present new issues, and it’s nice to have a bucket-load of things to try when one way isn’t bringing the desired results. Also, because I train alone a lot, it’s very easy for me to fall into bad habits, or to be unable to see the problem because there is so much to watch. Having someone like Deb point out the error of my ways, and tweak my training/handling, is invaluable to me.

And, boy! Did I need the tweaking!

If you recall, a few posts ago I mentioned how I’d been forced to take my stick away from myself. I wasn’t exhibiting responsible stick handling. Well, Deb took my arms and hands away as well. There may have been a bit too much gesticulating taking place.

And we wonder where Jig learned this?

Is it any wonder Jig does this?

Yes, it seems I have graduated to putting verbal commands on my dog. Permission granted to talk! Okay, but I better not slip into the verbal diarrhea trap, or the duct tape will come out. So we came out of the clinic with lots to work on, some new things to try, and many things for me to remember. I’ll hopefully have more detailed posts for you as I start working on those many things.

In the meantime, some images of Jig working on learning patience.

"It's okay, I meant to do this!" You squirm through two gates while attached to the fence by your leash, and eventually you're going to run out of leash.

“Note to self, squirm through two gates while attached to the fence by your leash, and eventually you’re going to run out of leash.”

"Seriously? Why am I not working? That dog is doing it all wrong and I need to fix it."

“Seriously? Why am I not working? That dog is doing it all wrong and I need to fix it.”

"Fine. If you insist. But you better make it worth my while later."

“Fine. If you insist. But you better make it worth my while later.”

Jig’s Journey ~ A Few More Photos

Since I promised another post, I figure I’d share one more video, shot the same night as the pen videos from my last post, this time of a gather. Again, the quality isn’t the best given I was using my phone and the sun was setting.

And, because it’s rare for me to have someone around who I can stick behind the camera with a relatively good chance of getting some nice shots, I’ll share these photos that Bob was nice enough to shoot for me a couple weeks ago. Some of the pics I already posted on Facebook so I apologize if there are duplicates.

Hmm...what's everyone looking at?

Hmm…what’s everyone looking at?

Ah, looks like Jig, checking in with me as she walks up on the sheep.

Ah, looks like Jig, checking in with me as she walks up on the sheep.

This was the start of a crossdrive, and she did kick out to cover very nicely.

We had been attempting a crossdrive, but she went a bit deep. Right after this shot she did kick out to cover very nicely and get the sheep back where they belonged.

This was a short drive up the middle. I was very pleased with how well she handled it as we've really just started driving.

This was the start of a short drive off the fence. I was very pleased with how well she handled it as we’ve really just started driving.


Attempting a parallel drive. Notice I’m not using a stick. I was having issues with it — reverted to some old habits of flailing and flinging — so I’ve started to work Jig without it. Things are actually going better for us. I did have a shaker bottle, but last time I worked her I tossed that out of the arena as well.

This coming weekend is the Deb Conroy clinic here at the farm. That could mean next week there will be more photos, updates, and incredible insights.

Jig’s Journey ~ Seeing Things Differently

{Editor’s Note: I had meant to post this a week ago but…life. Which just means you may be getting another post this weekend as well. Lucky you!}

One of my favorite working quotes comes via Deb Conroy,

We’re not bringing the dog into our world when we work stock, we’re entering the dog’s world.

Often, when things aren’t going right in our training, we blame the dog. Or the stock. Or the weather. Or [insert any of a number of things to blame besides ourselves]. When I ran agility I remember frequently getting down to my dog’s eye level to see the course and the obstacles the way she did. It helped me help her because, trust me, the view is different from down there.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest problems I’ve been having with Jig is her take pen. Eventually patience and consistency paid off and I started getting a relatively good take from the pen that opens into the small arena. She’s a bit fast here but it’s not a horrendous job. Look quick, it’s not very long. (Excuse the quality of the following videos, they’re from my phone and I was trying to manage that, the gate, and the dog all at the same time. Plus, not the best lighting conditions with the sun setting.)

I want to point out a few things about this pen because it will be important on the quiz later. There is nothing covering the gate. It is very easy to see into the pen, very easy to see where the sheep are going when they exit the pen. Even though there is a trap, it is also visually open. If you look at the video again, you can see the gates on the left that open into the arena are covered, and the trap is blocked. This is also important to my point. Pay attention.

So, reveling in the success we’d been having in the small arena, I decided it was time to see if those results would carry over into the  arena pens. Or out of, as the case might be. The result went something like this:

Can you sense my frustration?

Now, go back up and read the beginning of this post. That’s okay, I’ll wait.

Back so soon? Guess what I did? I started analyzing the differences between the pens. I started thinking about how Jig sees things when she’s in them, or approaching them. Tija and I came up with the same thought (scary but true)–probably obvious when you’re on the outside looking in, but not so obvious when you’re in the middle of it.

Like me, Jig is a bit of a control freak. Our theory went along the lines of the fact that there’s a great portion of time when she can’t see where the sheep are going when they exit the arena pens. It’s blocked from her view. Bob had an additional thought which also made sense. Jig can’t see what’s waiting for her in the pen until I open the gate. Not unless she looks underneath. So I spent some time removing the covering from one of the arena pens. The result after a little initial futzing:

Vast improvement. She left one behind the first time which is why I let them go back in and had her try again.

Realizing that she will meet covered pens in her career, we do still work in those, and she is getting better. Which just goes to prove that sometimes you need to look at things from another perspective. In this case, the dog’s.




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