Winter has finally decided to settle in, meaning there isn’t a whole lot of training I can do right now. The ground is frozen and the temperatures have plummeted into the single digits with the added benefit of a sub-zero wind chill. However, when the opportunity presents itself to utilize the benefits of an indoor arena and an exceptional trainer, even if it means a lengthy road trip, I snap it up. I was lucky enough to be able to get up to Deb’s in November, and again this past weekend.
I had a great time in November, and got some good work on Jig. Of course, I went with the plan to work on one particular problem and found out I had much bigger ones. Deb helped us work through them and gave me more tools to address what was going on. On that trip Jig was pretty relaxed, so working on one of our major problems didn’t happen.
This time, however, I was thrilled to discover Jig had packed her crack ears. Imagine this look, intensified by about 1000x.
It’s the one I get, mostly at trials, right before everything turns to shit. It’s the expression and attitude that foretell certain doom. The one that screams, “I can do as I please and you can’t stop me, silly human! Mwahahahahahaha!”
This is the look I prefer.
Calm, relaxed, soft body, ears down, focused on her stock.
It took a bit of doing, but with Deb’s help we got that look this weekend. The ultimate highlight came on Sunday in our last session, when the culmination of our exercises resulted in the most thoughtful, calm, controlled handling of a split that dog has ever done. Not once, but twice. We were working light lambs and Jig started out with her crack look complete with googly eyes. Deb had me address that in no uncertain terms, though it took more than one such reminder of who, exactly, was in charge before she really started to believe me.
I sent her on a gather and she brought the lambs at a nice pace. As lambs will do, two thought perhaps they would like to go elsewhere. This would normally have resulted in the ol’ split ‘n chase. Instead, Jig kept her head, stepped over to prevent them from leaving, and tucked them sedately back in with the others. It was one of those beautifully golden moments that would have brought tears to my eyes if not for the fear they would have frozen solid.
I didn’t think it could get any better, but then she repeated the performance a second time.
Overall, I felt I reached a new level of handling. I was quieter, calmer both inside and out, and far more relaxed than I’ve ever been. More importantly, Jig and I had a definite break-through in our working relationship.
I’m just hoping we both remember it. For now, the weather is being how winter in Wisconsin can be. I’ve got a lot I want to accomplish with Jig this year and hope to put quite a bit of time and miles into her.
If this past weekend is any indication, 2016 looks to be a year of making strides and reaching a new plateau.
It will hit you at the weirdest times, surrounded by friends and family, surrounded by laughter and good times, and you’ll catch yourself thinking, gods, what’s wrong with me, he was just a dog.
And he was.
He was just a dog.
And he taught you humility, and perseverance. He taught you to live in the moment. He taught you unconditional love. He taught you strength. He taught you how, sometimes, in the face of adversity, it’s not all about you. It’s about those who mean the most to you. It’s about what’s ahead, not what we leave behind.
He taught you how to be flexible. How to laugh. How not to take things so seriously. How to live life and then let it go because something… whatever your belief tells you… lies beyond. And if it doesn’t? What difference does it make?
The list of things he taught you is long. With it you could wax poetic. With it you could raise yourself up to something he was, yet never sought to be. Something that even in your wildest dreams you can never aspire to because… well… you’re just a human. And let’s face it, humans are a sad, sorry lot.
Yet, because of him, you can glimpse something else. You can see beyond the mundane. Beyond the daily grind. Beyond the pain endured with not even so much as a hint…
My god, there’s a squirrel in that tree!! There’s a rabbit running across the lawn. There’s the sun on the grass, rain on the leaves, snow we can roll in! We. Are. Fucking. Alive. There is life to be lived each and every day because…
He was just a dog. And that’s what they do.
And I wish I could be just a dog.
I made it home Friday afternoon and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of my usual routine. That’s always hard after an extended vacation. Triply hard this time. And with the rest of the month being just as busy, I don’t foresee a chance to catch my breath until November.
The trip to TN was great fun, all things considered. As usual, I got to visit with folks I only see once a year. I watched a lot of runs, laughed, ate, drank, cried… you know, the usual. One thing I didn’t do was accomplish my goals for this Nationals. That’s okay, though. Jig is a tough dog with a lot of drive and it’s going to take a while to get a handle on her.
She had, as usual, moments of brilliance. Moments where we stood balanced on that edge. More often than not we toppled off the far side, sometimes due to my handling, but for that brief space of time it was golden. She knows her stuff, now it’s just a matter of getting her to acknowledge I may just know a little something as well. That, and you don’t need to be pushing All. The. Freaking. Time.
I’m already looking forward to 2016, and have a list of things to work on. We won’t be going to Nationals, but we will be hitting a few more trials to get some more time and miles on the girl. I also need to get her off the farm for some training sessions. She’s a freaking rocket scientist at home. On the road, however, she doesn’t think she needs to be quite so good.
Back to golden moments… when I went through the pile of mail waiting on my return, I found the pictures I had ordered from the RRV trial in September were there. I’m sharing those below because they depict some of the instances when Jig and I were not only in the same book, but on the same damn page. **All photos copyright Dick Bruner**
First, a huge thank you to everyone for the well-wishes, kind thoughts, and memories about Quinn. Today was better than yesterday, but going home is going to be the hard part, I think.
In any event, today was another day off for us. Our Open runs will all be tomorrow, and if we get done at a decent time, we’ll be loading up and hitting the road to get at least half the trip home under our belts. We spent the day split between watching the Advanced cattle runs and standing in line to give Jig a chance to try dock diving. Since the girl is so crazy about retrieving, even when it involves braving the cold and crashing waves of Lake Michigan, I thought I’d see what she thinks about diving off a dock to retrieve her dummy. And no, I’m not the dummy.
The dogs who haven’t jumped off a dock are started by going down a ramp into the pool. If they don’t show any hesitation and will actually jump into the water as opposed to wading in, they get to go off the dock. Jig passed both those tests, and once the gal instructed me on how to toss the dummy so Jig would leap up and out, we moved up onto the dock. Gail held Jig and I tossed.
Her first jump was with only about a five foot run. She never batted an eye, just launched herself out into space and splashed in. They had us back her up for the next jump but I threw the dummy way too far! She swam part way to it, saw a ball floating, and brought that back instead. No problem. Threw that for the last toss. I think she hit between 10-15 feet, which I think is pretty darn good for a pair of rookies.
This is a tough Nationals for me and I nearly didn’t make the trip. On the Tuesday before we were to leave, Quinn got sick. I honestly said my goodbyes to him right then and there. As I took him into the emergency vet I was pretty positive I wouldn’t be walking out with him. I did, but a trip to my vet later in the morning didn’t give me much good news. Still, over the next couple of days he seemed to be improving to a point where I felt I could safely leave him and he’d still be there when I got home. It’s a decision I won’t ever second-guess. I guess Quinn wanted me to remember him as I last saw him and not as his health declined. So he put on a good face and I felt a bit better about packing up and heading to TN. I spent Thursday morning with him, gave him a hug, told him how much I loved him. Sunday I got the call I dreaded. My golden boy, my soul dog, was gone.
I’m a very private person. Those who know me best understand that. I don’t openly share my grief. I prefer not to have public displays, and need to handle it on my own. I appreciate everyone’s caring and wishes, I do. But I deal with things like this better on my own. So if you’d like, if you knew Quinn, feel free to raise a glass in his memory. Personally, he enjoyed Guinness. If you knew him and have a favorite memory, feel free to share it in the comments. He was one of a kind, as they all are. The hole he has left will never be filled.
In any case, Monday’s pre-trial was not my best outing. Jig was wired, had her high ears crazy eyes going, and I was undoubtedly not handling her as well as I could have. Our sheep run was called, I called our duck run, the highlight was taking 3rd place in Open Cattle out of a field of fourteen or so, as I recall. It was rough and rowdy, and we were running just before dusk. I was exhausted and she was still having far too much fun at my expense. I did manage to get her to settle in a couple of times, and she still managed to get herself rolled a good one.
Tomorrow I’m going to see about trying dock diving with her. I also may get my camera out and shoot some pictures to share. We don’t run in the National’s trial until Thursday (I think) so hopefully by then I’ll be more on my game.
I began my previous post with this: I’ve come to the conclusion that trialing Jig is a lot like handling some highly explosive chemical. It’s certainly exciting, as long as you don’t jostle it too much…
I may have been a tad bit sour when I wrote that. After some time to reflect, I’ve come to realize not only is it true, but I wouldn’t have her any other way. I love the excitement that comes from walking that edge. The energy waiting just beneath the surface. Do I love when it explodes in my face? Not so much. But you’ll have that from time to time. All that quivering, eagerness surrounds an intensity and instinct that’s easier to appreciate from the outside because when you’re in the center of it, all you can do is hang on and hope for the best.
The past weekend we had Deb Conroy at the farm for three days of working dogs with a great group of handlers from advanced to beginning. Everyone seemed to learn a lot and went home with plenty to work on.
Some of my personal highlights included:
Now I’ve got less than a week to brush up on some things before we pack up and head to Tennessee for the ASCA Nationals. As usual, I’m equal parts excited and terrified. Jig’ll do that to me. She is definitely Longellow’s little girl, minus the curl…
There was a little girl,Who had a little curl,Right in the middle of her forehead.When she was good,She was very good indeed,But when she was bad she was horrid.