Influence, Control, and How My Dog is Like a Kite

For those of you who don’t know, when I’m not at the dayjob, spending time with family & friends, or doing something dog-related, I write. (If you’re interested in knowing more about that, please visit my author site and, if you’re extra crazy, sign up for my Guaranteed No Spam newsletter.) Because I write, I read quite a few author blogs. One of those I frequent is terribleminds, the home of Chuck Wendig who, according to his intro:

“…is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And pop culture. And his kid. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.”

In any case, Chuck recently wrote a post entitled Control What You Can Control: Good Writing (And Life) Advice that struck a chord with me (as his posts frequently do).

Like me, Chuck is somewhat of a self-proclaimed control freak, which is actually a difficult thing to be due to the fact there is just so much we control freaks cannot control, even if we like to claim otherwise. What helped Chuck was a bit of advice he was kind enough to share:

Know the difference between influence and control.
Then, influence what you can influence.
And control what you can control.
The end. Game over. That’s it.

It was one of those duh moments for me because even though I like to think I control my dogs whether they’re doing chores, trialing, or just being good dogs around the house, the truth is… I don’t. That doesn’t mean they’re ill-mannered brutes, but let’s face it, at any given moment they can choose to do something completely random. They have. Repeatedly. Occasionally at the most inopportune moment. Quite frankly, I can’t control that. If you take a look back at some of my posts, you’ll see what happens when I make the attempt. My handling and trialing suffer. My relationship with Jig suffers. We don’t have fun.

Know the difference between influence and control.

109759-sparky-dog-easy-flyer-kiteChuck likens it to a kite:

I go to the kite metaphor, because when you’re flying a kite, you don’t control a fucking thing, and yet, the illusion is that you remain in control, right? You’re the KITEMASTER with the spool and the string and you feel like that gives you an element of control, but it doesn’t.

Ultimately, we have to accept that our dogs, sentient beings that they are (and most often too smart for their own good) control themselves. What we do during training is merely influence their behavior in such a way that, hopefully, it will have a positive impact on just how they control themselves.

Influence what you can influence.
And control what you can control.

Which brings me to trialing and my journey to stop handling like an incompetent, sometimes erratic, foaming at the mouth, idiot.

Walking through that gate into the trial arena I can control one thing, and one thing only.

I can’t control my dog.

I can’t control the stock.

All I can really, truly control, is me: my thoughts, my attitude, my posture, and my mouth (although that last one is debatable at times).

Of course, I want to argue that fact. I want to pound my fist and assert that I MOST CERTAINLY DO CONTROL MY DOG. To accept anything else is equal parts humbling and terrifying.

It is also oddly liberating.

I can control myself. Sometimes more successfully than others, but the possibility exists.

I can only influence my dog and she, in turn, can influence the stock.

If I’ve done things right, my influence will pay off. If not, we go back and work on firming it up.

The Coyote Classic is just around the corner. I’m going to work on controlling that which I can and try to remember that even the Kitemaster can’t control the wind.


Jig’s Journey ~ Altered States Part 2

I love when a trial photographer is on site. It’s usually the only time I get shots of my dogs working. It also helps me realize that perhaps my runs weren’t as bad as they felt from the inside. It’s always extra special when Dick Bruner is that photographer. Not only is he a great guy, he has a talent for catching those moments when it appears things are actually going good.

Here is some of that calm, flat-footed duck work I mentioned in my last post.
Here is some of that calm, flat-footed duck work I mentioned in my last post.

The drive up to the panels in one of our better sheep runs. For as reactive as these sheep were for Jig, she remained fairly relaxed. I, on the other hand, was a bit twitchy. No way could I give commands quick enough to keep things under control. Thankfully, this girl knows how to read her stock.


And, finally, one of our best cattle moments happened slightly after this shot. Not only did Jig stop the cattle without turning it into a rodeo, but she held pressure on the heads until the cattle turned away. Nice to see those glimmers.




Jig’s Journey ~ Altered States

Anyone following this blog may have noticed I’ve been a bit down in regards to my trialing. It’s gotten even worse since what I feel was my horrendous job handling in July, and I’ve been really struggling mentally: beating myself up, comparing myself and Jig to other teams, and waging war with self-doubt and frustration. There were a few times I honestly questioned why I keep doing this. I have a good dog with quite a bit of talent and I feel as though I’m failing her; that I’m not holding up my end of the team, and I keep having doubts as to whether or not I’m capable of bringing that talent out, or showcasing it in a competent manner. Yes, I have even, on more than one occasion, thought about throwing in the towel.

Thing is, I’m a wee bit stubborn. Yeah. That’s a well-kept secret, right?

Several weeks ago, with the RRV trial looming, I started going through runs in my head, cause that’s what I do. We were headed to Menards and I was listening to the radio, visualizing a cattle run and I suddenly realized, even in that fictional run, I was eyeballing Jig nearly the entire time.

Normally, doing chores and when I train, I watch my stock. I only put my eyes on Jig for the occasional quick check-in, or when she’s wrong. I know where she is and what she’s doing by how my stock are reacting. Yet, when I trial, I’ve got her pinned nearly the whole time. Apparently, it’s such a habit, I even do it when imagining runs.


It was an epiphany, and I made up my mind to make certain I broke that habit at the RRV trial.

First day, first run, sheep, course B, trial nerves a-jitter, I sent Jig on a go-bye. She started to cross over, and I got on her like stink on shit. She, understandably, reacted negatively, to which I reacted negatively, I pursued, and then… I caught myself. I turned away, put my eyes on my sheep and kept them there. A good thing, too, because these sheep did not want Jig anywhere within fifty feet of them. One step either direction sent them bolting, and it kept us both on our toes.

I managed to keep my eyes off Jig unless she was wrong, and then a strange thing happened. I became incredibly calm. Calmer than I think I’ve ever been during a trial. In fact, my trial nerves fizzled out and didn’t interfere the entire weekend. Well, not in the way they normally have. I believe they became conspicuous by their absence and caused Jig to question who I was and what I’d done with her normal handler.

My runs were still not as good as I hoped they would be, but, unlike previous trial weekends, I didn’t get discouraged. Quite the opposite. I felt oddly optimistic. I’ve been super focused at getting Jig to back off her stock, and I saw awesome results of that over the weekend. Nowhere as obvious as the duck arena where she remained calm, controlled, and often flat-footed. (Our duck runs have had a tendency to leave judges breathless by the end, and not necessarily in a good way.)

It became apparent, however, that in dealing with her pushiness, something else slipped and now is a hole in need of plugging. As someone put it to me over the weekend though, ‘training is a lot like that whack-a-mole game. You just get one down, and another pops up.’ And, also…


Along with my nerves becoming a non-issue, something else occurred… my frame of mind changed. I suddenly realized I’ve been so focused on the endgame, that I’ve lost sight of everything else. I haven’t been fair to Jig, or myself. My tendency to compare her and I to other teams, and my ultimate goals for her and I have been making me impatient, which has led to short-cuts in training, and frustration in trialing. Jig is young, and she’s talented. I’ve had enough unsolicited comments in that regard over the years to know I’m not just being ‘kennel-blind’ in thinking as much. I want to do right by her, by her bloodlines, and by her breeder, and so I’ve put us under too much pressure to enjoy the journey we’re on.

This past weekend, although not stellar, I finally remembered to do just that.

Overall, I had four goals going into the trial:

  1. Watch the stock, not my dog. Mission accomplished, with remarkable side-effects.
  2. Finish her Advanced Duck title. See #3
  3. Finish her Open Sheep title. Jig is (pending official paperwork) Heartsong of Shadowdance OTDcs ATDd
  4. Earn one advanced leg in either cattle or sheep. Failed here, but saw results of training, so not as down about that as I normally would be.

We’ve got some things to work on before the Coyote Classic in a mere… eek! three weeks, and I just hope I can keep my outlook the same.


Dillon’s Day

Yes, for once, a post about a dog other than Jig. Hard to believe, right? Well, up until now, Dillon hasn’t done much training besides dry foundation work, a few twirls in the round pen, and one time in the small arena. Other than that, he’s just been hanging out, going lots of places, socializing, and learning how to be a good puppy.

He did get to go along  to my friend Diana’s farm last week, where he met cattle for the very first time–on line, of course. Once Jig explained the proper procedures to the heifers, such as, ‘if you put your head down and come toward me, you’re going to get bit’ and ‘when I say move, I mean get to hoofing’, I introduced Dillon to them. He wasn’t the least bit intimidated by their size, and even brought out his big dog growl and held his ground when one forgot Jig’s rule and dropped its head to take a look at him. I have no doubt, if I had let him off that line, he would have been trying to make them move. That day will come, but for now, it’s enough that he gets some up-close-and-personal exposure.

This morning, I found myself needing to move the sheep out of their pasture and into the alleyway. I happened to have Dillon with me, and was feeling adventurous, so… why the heck not? I even videoed it for your… er… entertainment. He circled a few too many times when I was in the wrong place to kick him back, had some episodes of Puppy ADD, but overall, not too shabby for a not-quite-eight-month old with limited training. (The camera work isn’t the best. Hard to operate that, gates, and puppy, all at the same time.)


Jig’s Journey ~ Unmet Expectations

They’re double-edged swords, personal expectations. They can lead to disappointment when they go unmet, which can, in turn, create frustration and the desire to just throw in the towel and give up. Self-doubt raises it’s ugly head and whispers, “You’re not good enough. Not talented enough. You don’t have what it takes.”

Long rides give me far too much time to reflect and, on occasion, wallow. I despise wallowing, yet, I fully admit, I succumbed and did a bit of it on the drive home from the That’ll Do ASC trial Monday. Although we had some ‘blue ribbon moments’ over the weekend, Jig and I did not perform even close to the level I wanted us to. In fact, I came out of more than one run feeling about as inept a handler as I ever have.

I’m not looking for sympathy here, or a pep talk, just laying it out there, because the other edge of that sword is this…expectations

It’s where I kick myself in the ass, put on my big girl panties, and quell the self-doubt. It’s where I remember a trial is nothing more than a test of where we currently are. Failing the test doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means we need to work harder so next time, we pass. Next time, we come closer to meeting those personal expectations. Failing the test shows me where my training has been lax, or rushed, or where I’ve accepted half-measures, where I have to put in more time, what isn’t working, what has finally started to show results.

It’s so very, very easy to dwell on what went wrong after a disappointing weekend, and forget what went right. There were a few things I need to remember:

  • We earned a leg on Advanced Ducks, my weakest class of stock. Ducks and I don’t get along, and it doesn’t help that Jig is fast and pushy. I become Madam Motor Mouth, whipping out commands like an auctioneer trying to get a higher bid, nit-picking and micro-managing, which only gets Jig more wired. Her ears head toward Crack Dog status, she speeds up even more and then… kerplooie! Breathe, idiot! Shut your mouth, and let your dog work.
  • We finished our Open Cattle title with a respectable score and a 2nd place in open, and came very close to finishing our Open Sheep title.
  • Sunday and Monday were Course A, meaning a take pen, something that has been an issue for us since the beginning. We’ve worked hard at fixing it, and did some fine tuning under Steve Shope’s guidance last weekend. The result? Our take pens were probably the best she’s ever done in a trial situation. Overall, they were quiet and controlled, with only a couple bobbles.
  • On cattle, she walked straight into some noses and actually held pressure until they turned off, without exploding into a crazed head-hunter.
  • She took her flanks and her backs, controlled her stock, and saved my bacon once or twice. Possibly more that I didn’t see.
  • And, as always, I got to hang out with folks I only see at trials. We shared a lot of laughs, support, and commiseration.

Dillon made the trip with us as he continues to learn about being a good travelling dog. He not only got to play with his pal Hemi, but found a new friend in Dan Sanderson’s Riddick. There’s nothing like watching young dogs play to put a smile on your face, and they had quite the wrestling matches. He’s got his own journey to take me on but, for now, he gets to watch and learn.

Jig and I have a lot to work on as we up our game and move forward. Most days, I believe we can succeed, that we can meet my personal expectations. Those times I flounder, I think of this quote from Peter Pan…fly
Never doubt.


Jig’s Journey ~ Sticking With It

One of Jig’s regular jobs around the farm is to move the sheep to their temporary grazing area.

This time of year, that happens on a near daily basis. It’s a challenging job because it’s very rare that the ‘gate’ remains in the same location more than two days in a row. The electrified netting gets repositioned into often very creative shapes around the open field, wherever the grass is in need of trimming. Not only does that change, but the route we take to get there varies. With the adults being grass-whores, and the lambs being… well, lambs, the job can frequently test Jig and I to the extremes of our patience. Me, more so than her.

Over the past month I’ve been getting very frustrated with some of Jig’s antics once we’re in the open. For instance: her reluctance to take the flank I want her to take, her refusal to lie down, her obsession with the ewes that want to fight her (because, who doesn’t like a good fight, right?), the complete disappearance of our ‘There’, her apparent inability to SLOW THE HELL DOWN, and the resurgence of her crack dog ears.

I will admit, when a job that should have taken only 5 minutes or so takes over twenty, the f-bomb gets dropped with increasing levels of volume.

I also freely admit, even though it sets me off, once I cool down, I assume 80% of the responsibility for her behavior. Maybe 81.5%. Something I’m doing, or have done, is perpetuating this. But, as I reminded myself in my training journal…

0514161100~2~2Yes, ‘thang’. You need to read it in a southern accent.


And so I set about brainstorming ways to fix the ‘thang’, even though I didn’t know exactly what was causing it. The first thing I intended to do was not lose my cool. I needed to remain calm, fair, and consistent. If I resorted to cussing her out, I needed to do so in a pleasant tone of voice with a smile on my face. No problem. What the second thing was, I couldn’t rightly say, but I hoped through careful, calm observation (see how I keep throwing that word in here?), I would be able to discern it.

A day or so later, when I was in a hurry to move the sheep, I forgot my stick. No biggie. I occasionally work without it, and Jig knows her verbals. Had I known the result would be a totally different dog, I would have left it behind a lot sooner. Not to say everything was miraculously 100% better, but there was a very visible difference. The crack ears all but disappeared, she was more responsive, and though a couple things were still a bit rough, overall, I was greatly pleased.

And greatly bemused.

Since then I have consistently worked Jig without a stick, during training and chores, though I have been carrying a shaker bottle in the event she needs a reminder. Which she has. Once or twice.

I was obviously misusing my stick, or overusing it, or flailing it about like a drunken conductor, but at least now I’m aware and can, hopefully, correct the issue and work past it, which makes both of us just a bit happier.


One Thing Leads to Another

It’s one of those grey, blustery days that can’t make up it’s mind whether it wants to rain, snow, sleet, or just continue to be cold and windy. No problem, I’ve got a very long indoor To Do list that needs some attention. Before I can start on that, however, I really need to get the sheep onto some grass. So, I tug on my chore boots, grab my trusty dog, and head out to swing some gates.

Once the sheep are where they need to be, I decide Jig and I will take a walk out to see how the pasture is coming in. It got off to a really slow start this year with all the cold weather we’ve been having.

Out in the pasture, I’m pleased to see it’s doing well. I also see there are some thistles doing a bit too well. No problem, I have just the thing. Since it doesn’t really feel too bad now that I’ve been out a while, maybe I’ll go mix up some spray and take care of them.

On the way back to the barn, however, I notice the alleyway is getting a bit shaggy. No reason not to move the rams out there for the day and let them mow it. After all, I have my number one chore dog with me. Should make the task easy-peasy-uncle-cheesy. And it is.

Then I notice their water trough is a bit low. And a bit skanky. Time for a good cleaning. And the one in the barn, too. I mean, I’m on a roll, right?

That job done, I realize I never solved my holding pen issue and, since I’m having a refresher clinic tomorrow, something needs to be done. That takes a bit of pondering, a solution is decided upon, materials and tools gathered, and work commences.

At some point, I look down and see this…pantsNo. Not my legs. What they’re encased in. That being my comfy, loungy, yoga pants which were never meant to be work pants, hence the comfy, loungy description. I hadn’t bothered to change into my jeans on because all I meant to do was open a few gates before returning inside to tackle the aforementioned To Do list. *sigh*

Well, now that they’re sufficiently grubby, nothing for it, but to finish the job I started.

By the time I was done, this happened…


No, I didn’t shower Jig with confetti for a job well done, and that’s not dandruff. That’s a nice sprinkling of icy white stuff courtesy of Mother Nature who has, I’m afraid, not checked her calendar recently.

Time to head in, change, and see if I can actually get anything on my To Do list done, or if this bout of ADD is going to stick around for the rest of the day.