Quinn turned twelve on the 8th of November. He has no clue. Seriously. Outside of exhibiting some signs of going deaf, it’s hard to tell he’s a ‘senior’ now. He still tears across the yard with his brephew (brother-nephew), makes snow angels, barks at me in his big-dog bark, and hops around like an absolute fool when he thinks we’re going to do something fun. Or when he’s in a good mood. Which, with Quinn, is almost always. He is the most mellow, relaxed dog I’ve every lived with; at ease just about everywhere, with everyone. And yes, as a puppy we swore he was narcoleptic because any time you picked him up, he fell asleep. I remember him as a tiny guy, laying in the palm of my hand, legs draped over the sides, happily snoozing away.
Last month, I officially retired Quinn from the trial arena. I had hoped he would retire with his WTCH*. He didn’t. But he came damn close. We needed one Advanced Cattle leg to accomplish my goal, and we would have likely had it at the Coyote Classic in October had I not made a very conscious and deliberate choice to cross the handler’s line. I made that choice for reasons. I’ve thought about it many times since and, if given the opportunity, I would likely do the same thing. For the same reasons. None of which are really important to anyone but me.
And, at the end of the day, a WTCH doesn’t mean anything to Quinn. It’s a human thing. But don’t think for one second it was easy for me to give it up. It was something I’d been working hard at for quite a while. Something that took me on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, and tested my partnership with my dog. Something that, at one point, almost cost me that partnership. But it also, ultimately, taught me a lot. It wasn’t always the best journey, but it was one that, like Quinn himself, I wouldn’t trade for the world.
And so, to celebrate Quinn’s retirement, and our partnership, some pics over the years of him just being him.
Thank you, Mr. Quinn. Here’s to many more years of snow angels, and big dog barks.
Yeah, this is a bit late, but I’m still trying to catch up from being gone for ten days. First, from the Brazos County Expo website, a much better image of the grounds than any I could get. I would gladly go back. The grounds were great, the hosts wonderful, the stock some of the nicest I’ve found at a Nationals.
When we set out for Nationals I had a goal: finish both Jig’s remaining started titles. I’m pleased to say we accomplished that goal. Did we do as well as I had hoped? Nope. But did I still have a blast, and do I still love my dog? Absofreakinlutely.
Time and miles. Jig needs both.
Our sheep runs fell completely apart, which served to catch me totally off guard because on the home turf in training she does very well. We got in that looooonnnnngg arena, and suddenly I no longer existed in her world. Our National run was very short. After she blew me off, and then didn’t respond even when I did get in her face, I knew it wouldn’t get any better. I do love the way she watches her stock, but it would be nice to be acknowledged from time to time. Geez.
Cattle went better. I was able to keep her behind, and even get her back there after I had to send her to head to stop one, or tuck one in. I almost managed to blow our run, though. Our three minute warning came up at the second panel. Plenty of time to walk the stock down and re-pen, right? Sure. Unless you totally brain fart and lollygag around. Thankfully one of the voices in my head reminded me that three minutes had been called and I sprinted to get the gate closed with a full 56 seconds to spare. O_o
Ducks were fast and furious. There were a lot of complaints about the ducks (aren’t there always?) but really, they were ducks. Young mallards. Quick, light, more than willing to flee the predators. Jig had way too much push. I don’t know if we Q’d in our National run because we left before score sheets were handed out. It would be close if we did. There were some very good moments and some wildly insane “watch her!” moments. But since we had already finished her title at the pre-trial, some of the pressure was off.
Overall, I have to say I was very pleased with how Jig handled the entire venue. She can be a bit…concerned…about things. Traveling with her sister was even more of a test, as the two girls have been known to not play well together.
But they actually did have a few moments of silliness. I stress moments.
So, what’s next?
Lots of training. LOTS. And more time and miles. Because for Jig and I, the journey is just beginning.
We arrived at the Expo center in Bryan, Texas at noon on Friday. The trip down had been fairly smooth and uneventful. Just the way every trip should be. Jig handled it well. For her. There were only two minor incidences. One involving getting her neck and front leg so entangled in a canvas bag Gail had in the back seat that we were forced to cut the strap to get it off her. And one involving her chewing nearly all the way through her harness. The part on her chest, I may add. Quite a feat if you ask me. Thankfully I had a bicycle harness along to replace it with. Mostly, she spent a lot of the trip doing this:
We did finally hit on something we think may be her issue while traveling: speed. She’s pretty calm and relaxed until around 70 mph. Then she starts to get a bit panicky. Funny that a dog who has no problems with speed on her own four feet, doesn’t seem to care for it in a moving vehicle. She does eventually settle, and even her panicking isn’t as bad as it has been in the past. Hopefully with time and a few thousand miles more, she’ll become a more relaxed traveler.
Friday was a day of getting settled in and acclimated before the pre-trial on Saturday. The arenas are huge, covered, environments unlike anything Jig has trialed in, or even seen.
I have to say, all things considered, for a young dog without a lot of trialing experience, Jig handled this venue well. A bit too well in the sheep arena. Our open run was not pretty. The stock were marvelous. Jig was full of herself. My handling was off. We made the first panel, missed the second, played ring around the rosy at the center as I tried to get her to listen and stop running amuck. I ended up calling our run. Actually, I thought the judge called it, but the HCT on my score sheet told me otherwise. In either case, it needed to be called.
After sheep I received a few words of wisdom which I applied to our duck run. And although Jig was a bit fast on that as well, I handled much better. I put myself in a better position to keep pressure on her when she needed it, and finally got into her head a bit. Unfortunately, that run was doomed. First we had a duck lie down and play possum. (Yes, they do that.) We took the pressure off, hoping it would get back up and join the others, when it didn’t I decided to work just the four. No sooner did we get rolling again, when a spectator and her dog crowded the fence on the cross-drive. I didn’t see her because I was concentrating on getting the ducks out of the corner. The judge stopped our run, got the woman to move, and offered me a re-run, which I gladly took. No possum duck that time, and we qualified with a respectable 78 to finish Jig’s Started Duck title.
We finished our day with cattle. Far and away Jig’s very favorite, though we have only worked them a handful of times. Cattle was course A, which means a take pen, one of our worst things at the moment. I’m not sure if Jig was intimidated by the size of the arena, if the three-day 1200 mile car trip had finally caught up to her, or if the fact that the pen was one she could easily get into by slipping under the fence had anything to do with it–perhaps a combination of all three-but she had the quietest, nicest pen she’s ever done. Went under, around to the back, pushed the cattle out, then laid down while I closed the gate. Though we didn’t qualify on our run (we made it to the first panel, lost them to the back fence, then re-penned) she did some very nice work. I take my blue ribbons where I can get them, and she gave me quite a few. The biggest was the fact that I could actually keep her off the heads and get her to stay behind. She took a flank to stop them coming off the side, then kicked back when I asked her to instead of heading in for a rodeo. We had one steer, however, that insisted on turning back and, of course, Jig insisted on stopping him. I tried to get things rolling again once we got everyone back together, but by then we were running tight on time, and I wanted to finish on a good note.
We have the next several days off, so we’ll be watching finals and cheering on Deb & Ruby, relaxing, visiting, and just hanging out until our Nationals runs later this week. I’ll try and snap some more pictures to share. Until then, remember…
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.
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.
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.
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.