Sometimes You Have to Make Your Own Opportunities

I was supposed to be at an ASCA stock trial this past weekend. Like so many other events this year, it had to be cancelled. Instead of kicking the ground and going into woe-is-me mode, I created my own opportunity by taking the trip anyhow, meeting up with some friends, and turning it into a training weekend. Dreams and goals take work. It’s work you need to make yourself responsible for. Blaming your failures or lack of success on others is giving them an awful lot of power over your life. True, not everyone has the same resources, but if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. Apologies for the tirade, but it needed to get said.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances.

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want,

and if they can’t find them, make them.”

~George Bernard Shaw

Anyhow, some of you who follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook may have met Carl a few days ago. He’s the character headed toward me and the camera.

Sorry I disappointed those who thought Carl was a new addition to the farm. Yeah, he oozes personality and character. Enough that he would have given Linus a run for his money. My fences (and my patience), however, wouldn’t survive living with goats. They are fun to work from time-to-time though, because they are just different enough from sheep to add all sorts of new challenges. The trio Dillon and Finn got to work over the weekend required a bit of push. Particularly Carl. Carl doesn’t see the need to goat. Hence my giving him the title of The Linus of the Goat World.

Until the past weekend the only stock Finn had met were sheep. And chickens, but those are off limits and the rule around the farm is No Chasey Chicky. So getting him on goats who work nothing like even my heaviest sheep was great fun. Carl did his best to convince Finn it was okay to leave him behind and only work his cohorts. I call that taking unfair advantage of a rookie. Much to Carl’s dismay, it didn’t take much for me to convince Finn Carl really was a goat and needed to work with his buddies. Overall, I think my young man did rather well. Finn doesn’t actually have a lot of training on him, so what you’re seeing here at 11 months old is mostly instinct.

Finn was also introduced to cattle. Next time I’ll try to get some pictures or video. We were working a group of 8 nice sized Herefords who would have preferred to continue grazing over being told to move. Since I really didn’t know what to expect, I put Finn in more experienced hands for his first exposure and watched from the sidelines. I certainly didn’t want Little Bastard making an appearance. Which, thankfully, he didn’t. Finn was interested but cautious. I will admit, I had hoped for just a bit more spark. The next day I was strong-armed into taking him convinced I should take him in myself and I got my spark. Nothing crazy or out of control. Although I couldn’t see what he was doing on the backside as we fetched the cattle around the arena, Finn kept them grouped and moving at a nice, steady gait, so he must have been doing okay. The cattle, like the goats, needed a bit of push. All things considered, I’d have to say I left feeling very pleased with what Finn showed me.

And what’s a weekend of firsts without ducks, am I right? Honestly, I hadn’t even considered putting Finn on ducks at all because, well, that whole Little Bastard part of his personality was sure to clash with fast and frail fowl. Nothing like a little peer pressure. (Work Finn on the ducks, she said. It’ll be fun, she said. ) Fine. Truth is, she was right. I don’t keep ducks and here was a chance to see how the youngster would do. Have to say, the boy amazed me. In fact, the first time in he was taking them out of the corner like a seasoned pro. The second time in, just like his second time on the goats and the cattle, he started getting a bit pushier in direct correlation to his confidence.

Dillon and I didn’t have as much success over the weekend as Finn did. I’ll attribute that to the fact I’ve raised the bar for him. Dillon and I have done okay in our first year trialing because he’s a very steady dog who treats all livestock the same whether we’re someplace he knows or someplace brand new. He’s very kind to his stock and not one to take cheap shots or get overly wound up.

He’s also happiest when I let him do things his way – within certain bounds, of course. The problem is, his way isn’t going to allow us to attain the goals I’ve set for us. Now, I’ve had dogs in the past that were pretty easy about switching things up – rules, training methods, etc. Quinn, in particular, would just roll his eyes and give me the “Okay, now what are we doing this time?” look. Not saying that’s a good thing to do, it’s just the case.

Dillon is not that dog. Even with our success, I’m starting to believe I’ve done him a great disservice. We’ve had such a struggle these past four years, trying to figure out how to work together, I feel I’ve let us swing too far to one side: His. Now that I’m asking for more precision, more of an out, more control, we’ve hit a bit of a wall. Dillon is questioning and unsure what I want now. Why I’ve changed the rules. How the heck it is I’ve become completely untrained over night.

It’s actually a good thing we don’t have any trials left this year because I’ve broken my dog and now I need to fix him. I’m not worried. We’ve hit walls before, Dill and I. We’ve always found our way over, through, under, or around them, and this one will be no different.

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do.

It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.”

~Rikki Rogers

And what about the Sad, you ask?

First off, I want to thank everyone for the comments and thoughts after my last post. Putting my heart on my sleeve like that doesn’t come easy for me. I’ve written and deleted more posts than I can count. Every now and again, however, I need to put it out there (though, those posts are highly edited) and the support has always been fantastic. So, again, thank you.

Being last weekend was a solo road trip and we all know how I spend too much time in my own head during those, the Sad came along for the ride. Sometimes the universe intervenes, however, and just about the time the Sad was planning on unleashing a helluva party, a friend called. Since I was driving, we kept the call short, but it was fantastic to hear from him and I’m sure he’s unaware of how perfect his timing was. And on the drive home I had so many other things to occupy my brain that, although I could feel the Sad lurking, it never did make an appearance.

**And a quick note for those who are interested and either aren’t on Facebook, or would rather hear about posts as soon as a new one is up. If you look below in the footer you’ll see the option to follow the blog via email. NO SPAM. You’ll merely receive email notification any time a new post goes up. That’s it.**

Time for the Self

Writing is my therapy…

I took some time off over Labor Day weekend to spend on me and it proved to be a wise choice.

Fall is a conundrum for me. It is, hands down, my favorite season. I love the crispness of the air, the colors, the cooler temps, and the strange sense of urgency that comes with the dwindling of the year. Typically I am more invigorated in Fall than any other time of year.

A part of me also dreads it. I have experienced too many losses in the Fall; both human and four-legged. Normally, as those memories begin to surface, I can pay them tribute and move on with only a touch of melancholy in a season seemingly created for the mood.

This year… The Sad has made an appearance, rearing up when I least expected it, the edges surprisingly jagged. And, because it’s me, I’ve been fighting it, which only serves to make it worse. So I spent some of my time off addressing it. Well, to be honest, it was more like arguing with it and telling it to bugger off. You know, the whole stages of grief thing — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — on a loop like something out of Groundhog Day and me stuck at the second stage.

So that went about as well as you might expect.

If you’ve ever had to deal with the Sad, you know what that’s like. I don’t like it. It annoys me. I have no patience for it. In myself, I see it as a sign of weakness and I deplore that. I refuse to give into it and allow it to rule my life.

I also can’t pretend it’s not there.

Well, I can. And I do. Or at least I attempt to. In the end, however, acceptance will win out. Getting there means making and taking the time to do the things that light a fire in my soul. Creating. Reading. Yes, there is whisky involved. There is also sitting on my deck and giving myself permission to just be.

Dogs are my heart…

I also spent some of my time off working dogs. If there’s anything to help chase away the Sad, it’s doing something that sooths the soul. My dogs are my heart and the best way to heal it.

In any case, Dillon’s trial season is now over. The last two trials we were entered in both had to be cancelled due to lack of entries. That’s a bummer, but, on the flip side, it gives us more time to train and to address the issues he’s been having. After mulling it over, I think I know why he’s been getting steadily worse about allowing stock to leave pens/chutes/corners and the like when he’d been doing so well for a while.

Trials.

A lot happens at a trial that, because of its very nature, you handle differently than you would at home or in training. The stock has a tendency to want to bolt out of take pens and make a break for the draw any chance they get. Not always, but it happens enough, and we’ve been trialing quite a bit. I’m thinking Dillon has reverted to worrying about losing his stock.

So we’re taking a step back and working on some exercises to get Dillon comfortable with stock leaving while both of us are on the same side. I use heavy stock I know won’t head for the hills, and Dillon is starting to relax again. It’s going to be an issue I will need to pay more careful attention to as I know it’s something he’s always concerned about.

I also got to work Finn and… drum roll, please… got a couple pics and some video. Whoot!

Is it my turn, yet?

Finn’s in a bit of a wonky, adolescent stage. He’s gotten a wee bit sensitive when I correct him for being unruly with the sheep, and it takes him some time to think his way past it. He doesn’t quit or shut down, just gets more thoughtful. Which isn’t a bad thing. I’m not concerned. He’s a youngster, and a boy, and we’ll work through it. To help do that I’ve moved us back into the round pen. It’s easier to catch him and prevent issues when he decides to act like a rambunctious asshat.

Updates All Around

Isn’t it the way of things? You prepare to your utmost, follow all the steps or guidelines to a tee to ensure a smooth go, and then the tiniest of things causes what should have been a walk in the park to become more like this…

…while wearing shorts… in the middle of a steamy afternoon… beneath the blazing hot sun.

As prepared as I was my web migration should have taken, at most, an afternoon. Instead, it became a hair-pulling nightmare that took the bulk of my spare time (and some not so spare time) over the course of a week and a half but finally the new website is up and running.

Browse around, give it a look, let me know if you find any missing/broken links or things just aren’t loading correctly (because that always makes my day). Things are close to the same as they were with a bit of a face lift; I added a new page for Digital Doubles (some of you may have seen those on Facebook), and the footer section has been expanded to show the latest Shadowdance news flashes, current posts, and Instagram feed. Individual dog pages are a work in progress.

And, speaking of dogs…

“Trust him. He’s shown you over and over if he has an inkling of what you want he’ll try to do it but it has to be his way, which we may find unusual, but it works.”

That was told to me by a good friend after I expressed my concerns about entering Dillon on ducks in the 3 Sheeps Farm Trial last weekend. She’s been along for the ride with Dillon and has seen him from the beginning. Funny thing is, several days later, after watching one of our trial runs, another good friend told me, “I’m proud of you. You kept trying to get Dillon to do it your way and he kept fighting you until you finally just backed off and let him do it his way. And he did it.”

That, and a comment from a third person on how my problems at the farm trial were a workable issue but that Dillon “isn’t really wrong”, prompted my reply that Dillon truly is a lesson in not being able to fit a square peg in a round hole.

We’ve come a long way, Dillon and I. Little more than a year ago I had doubts we would have much success in the trialing game. This year, his first full season in the ASCA trial arena, he’s managed to finish 7 titles including last weekend’s AFTDs, OFTDm, with one leg toward his OFTDd. All of this despite my sometimes inadequate handling and several battles of will. Once I pick a fight with Dillon, I may as well just put his leash on and walk away because neither of us is going to win. At most, it will be a draw.

At the recent Farm Trials we got the job done and there were aspects of it that were damn purty (those were mainly on sheep and mainly our sort and pen work). From my point of view, however, there was too much that wasn’t so purty.

What I saw as our biggest problem, and the thing that caused me to lose my shit more than once, was Dillon’s insistence on not letting the stock go once it was trapped somewhere. You know, like in a pen, or a chute, or a corner. At one point I had to trick him into thinking I wanted a flank, just so he would allow the sheep through a chute. Otherwise, he gets them in there and no amount of flailing, pleading, or swearing will get him to allow them to leave and suddenly it becomes all about me and Dillon and no longer about the stock and that’s never a good thing.

That’s also totally my issue. Not his.

Ducks were more of a problem than sheep, as expected. Though, to be fair, Dillon worked them. I mean truly worked them. Still, I fear they will forever be the bane of my existence.

Dillon at the Outback ASC trial in August, showing that he can work ducks, despite me. He finished his OTDd and bumped to advanced.
Photo courtesy Bill Mikkelson

For the most part, our gather and the hold were okay. Once I allowed him to do things his way. Take them out of a pen, however? Not happening.

Let them come out of the crate? Are you a complete nut case, silly human? We just put them in there!

Out of the chute? Hells to the no. What’s wrong with you?

And if I tried to position Dillon somewhere and made him lie down or stay? As soon as the stock twitched, so did he, which is all it takes with ducks.

As was pointed out, he’s not entirely wrong. No one wants the stock to escape. We do, however, on occasion, need to give them the opportunity to… oh, i dunno… exit an area maybe?

I’m guessing part of the issue is Dillon either doesn’t trust he can control them, or he doesn’t trust me and thinks I’m setting him up to lose his stock. Maybe a combo of both. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, we have two more trial weekends before our season wraps up. I’m hoping to finish with all our open titles but Dillon needs more experience on cattle and I’m not sure we’ll have that opportunity this year.

On the subject of cattle, did I mention Miss Jig finished her OFTDc at the Outback ASC cattle Farm Trial in August? As usual, she hated having to travel and was certain the camper was going to eat her. Nothing like a herd of bovine to make her perk up, though. After which she got spoiled for the remainder of the weekend.

Apparently, being within the bowels of the beast is fine. No stressing about the camper when you’re snoozing under the table…
…or when you’re curled up in the bed, stealing a corner of the pillow for your very own.

And Finn… I haven’t had a lot of time to work the youngster lately. We’ll be kicking his training up a notch this fall, I’m sure. Until then, he gets to hang out, learn some off stock stuff, and occasionally play with his girlfriend Ziva.

Dancing in the Rain

You would think this forced quarantine would give me more time to write and more to write about. Turns out, when I have a lot of free time I also have a lot to fill it with. There’s a long list of chores on the side of the fridge waiting for decent weather and time, things like fixing fences, rehanging gates, cleaning the barn, spreading manure… And when the weather isn’t conducive to those chores, there’s plenty on my rainy day list. Also, I have to admit, it took me a while to wrap my head around the current situation. I’m not incredibly social, but I do have a tribe and I miss getting together with them, sharing some drinks, food and laughter, and working our dogs, or talking about working our dogs, or venting about life in general. So while it’s great to be getting a taste of what I can (hopefully) look forward to some day when I get to ‘retire’, it’s also a bit depressing to be doing it with only virtual camaraderie.

I guess I can take solace in the fact we’re all in the same boat.

One of the events cancelled for me when all this hit was a trip to Cow Camp with Dillon. I was really looking forward to it. Not only because it was a road trip and week of working cattle alongside one of my closest friends, but because I was really anxious to see how Dillon did. I still suspect I’m reading him wrong and there’s more going on than I give him credit for.

That’s become more clear thanks to the virtual trialing group I’ve joined, the brainchild of Jaqueline Tinker at The Instinctive Australian Shepherd. Jaquleine posts a new course to the MeWe group each week. We set them up as best we can and video our runs, posting our best attempts. We’re coming up on the third week. Jig and Dillon did respectably the first week given my sheep were off the wall frisky and we were a but rusty. Last week… not so much.

However, going back and watching my videoed attempts really serves to highlight areas that need work, which gives me more focus when training. In Jig’s case, I need to figure out what happened to her away flank which seems to have disappeared entirely. For Dillon it’s rate, rate, rate. He’s got a bit of what I call the Energizer Bunny Syndrome: he keeps going and going and going…

You won’t see that in the following clip, mostly because I resorted to lying him down. What you will see is some of what I mentioned earlier–the things he does that I don’t give him credit for. From the beginning of the split to when he got them back together I wasn’t giving him any commands. He made the mess, it was up to him to fix it. The cool thing, from my original viewpoint, was watching his eyes. He only glanced my way to see where I was, otherwise he was watching the sheep and trying to figure out how to get them grouped again. I really need to pay more attention to moments like this and stop attempting to mold him against his strengths.

And what about Finn? A week or so ago the boy accompanied Dillon during chores. The sheep were, as always, eager to get their food and mobbing the wheelbarrow so I had Dillon push them out of the barn. I didn’t pay much attention to Finn because up to that point he’d shown far more interest in the chickens than the sheep. No sooner were the sheep out, however, than Finn darted past me, went around them all and brought them right back in. I managed to avoid getting trampled by becoming one with the gate post and as soon as the sheep were past, stepped in front of Finn to check him up. As fate would have it, I had recently washed my chore jacket which meant emptying my pockets and they’d yet to be refilled meaning I didn’t have a lead handy. Fortunately, I can still carry Finn so I scooped him up and lugged him into the barn. The whole time his eyes were on the sheep and his ears were doing a fine impersonation of Jig’s crack ears. I knew then the fire had been lit.

This clip is from the end of his first formal session on sheep. It started out a tad rockier than I expected. You may notice I had to resort to the boogy bottle. Not something I’d normally do with a not quite 6 month old, but Finn’s a bit of a hard pup and he’s more mentally mature at his age than most males I’ve had. We’ve been doing a little off-stock work, giving to my pressure, down, that’ll do… nothing too excessive or demanding.

Yeah.

Well, he’s told me he’s ready for more. Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping in mind how young he is.

Stay safe, everyone! I’m hoping we come out of this coronavirus stronger than we went in, and looking forward to the day we can all get together and do the things we enjoy.

A Dog’s Eye View

When I ran agility (which, for those wondering, was eons ago), one of the things we did while walking the course was to squat down to our dog’s eye level and survey our intended path. It no doubt appeared strange to onlookers. Heck, it felt strange the first time I did it. It also made it instantly clear that what I was thinking and what my dog was going to be seeing were two vastly different things. That, in turn, usually altered how I originally planned to handle that particular sequence.

Honestly, I haven’t given this much thought since those long-ago agility days. What brought it to mind now were some images I shot last weekend when Jig and I had some work to do.

It’s tough getting pics of my dogs working when I’m by myself. My phone is getting old and the camera in it isn’t what it used to be. So I brought out the big guns and did a lot of one handed, focus and rapid fire, holding the camera against my leg so I didn’t need to try and keep an eye on things while tracking a dog in the viewfinder.

Going through the images gave me a whole new appreciation for what our dogs do for us. Things like going into a packed pen to bring stock out.

Even from my vantage point there’s not a whole lot of room to be working in that doorway.

Usually it’s Jig who gets this type of job because she’s a tough-ass and it doesn’t bother her when everyone’s facing her off. In fact, she rather enjoys the confrontation. Sometimes too much.

Dillon isn’t as confident. To be honest, when I sent him in the other day, I wasn’t sure he would do it. It’s something we struggled with last year. To my surprise, and delight, he took my ‘go bye’, went to the fence, made his hole, slid into the barn, and brought everyone out, even with several of them giving him the stare down.

Needless to say, he got a ‘Good boy!’ before we continued on. I can’t give him much more praise than that or he gets all wiggly and excited and comes off his stock. We save the parties for when we’re done.

After looking at my dog’s eye view pictures, I went back out and set up one for the above scenario just to see what it looked like.

Guess I can see why Dillon was a bit hesitant about tackling that. Nothing but legs and noses and deep, dark shadows.

I took a few more shots, just because I had my camera handy and it’s fun to take a look at things from a different angle every now and again. Like the times the sheep need a bit more push in the chute where things can get tight…

…and occasionally a bit crazy.

It’s a blessing to have working dogs that can get in there when I need them to and help get things done. They’re a lot more successful at moving stubborn stock than I am. Not to mention being far quicker and exceedingly more nimble, athletic, gumby-like… all those things I sometimes think I am, until I try something to prove me wrong. 😉

Teamwork & Communication

More teamwork.

Due to circumstances we were forced to keep the cattle longer than we wanted (BTW, we still have beef quarters or halves available for any of you local folks who might be interested – message me for info). Anyhow, keeping the cattle over winter meant dividing the barn so they could be fed inside. Not something that thrilled me since four large beef cattle make a mess in a hurry. Thankfully, they prefer to spend the majority of their time outside, even in inclement weather, and only come in to eat. They’re a pretty mellow group but still… large and pushy.

The silver lining? Moving them off the feed bunker has become one of Jig’s regular jobs now. It’s one she thoroughly enjoys and I’m seeing vast improvement on how she handles them. No rodeoing, very matter of fact. She’ll walk in on noses, hit if necessary, release pressure as soon as they turn off. If they ball up with their backs to her, she hits the heel. I love seeing that.

The other silver lining? Dillon gets the benefit of job shadowing. Jig’s a good teacher and Dillon is getting a little bolder each time. Instead of hanging back as he did in the clip above, he’s been moving in, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jig, more watching than doing but hopefully it will make an impression.

The dogs are generally around when I’m doing chores. At one point over the weekend, Jig was off doing something (probably making a snack of chicken feed) and Dill was with me while I was filling water troughs. Being that they’re insatiably curious, one of the cattle wandered in and presented Dillon its nose. I encouraged him to walk up, intending to help him move the steer if needed so he could be successful. I gave him my ‘get-em-up” whistle to encourage him and that’s when the stealth bomber appeared. Jig brushed past Dillon, hit the nose, steer left, Jig left (presumably to go back to her snacking), and Dillon looked up at me as though to ask what had just happened. I shrugged and told him, “That’s how it’s done.”

**Editor’s note: the Farm Hand relayed to me yesterday that Dillon moved the cattle off the feeder for him during morning chores because Jig was “nowhere around”. I grilled him on how Dillon did it and if he really did it or if the cattle just left because… dog. Sounds like Dill really did it. Proof the job shadowing is working.**

Clear Communication

An ongoing issue with Dillon is getting him to slow down at the topside when I send him on a gather, a flank, into a pen, or pretty much any other time he brings stock in my direction. This results in the sheep running past me. In the arena or the field this also results in the sheep leaving. You can imagine how pleased I am when that happens. Granted, Dillon will collect them up again, but, not slowing down… aaaaaannnnnndddd they’re gone.

I’ve tried the usual methods to indicate my displeasure. I have stepped through my stock and put pressure on Dillon to slow him down. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I used a flag. I used a shaker bottle. I used a pocket rocket. He would respond by popping out of my pressure, trying to flank around and beat me, all while staring at me as though I’d sprouted horns. As soon as I released the pressure he’d get to pushing again.

I pondered other methods and last week employed the silent version of a pocket rocket: a plastic bottle weighted with enough water to make it throwable. Silent, and hopefully effective.

I set Dillon up for a gather and as soon as he hit the topside and aimed the sheep at me without ever once breaking stride, I whipped the bottle his way. My aim is notoriously bad, however, this time it was spot on. The bottle bounced off the ground in front of him and Dillon sprang backwards. He eyeballed the bottle as though it might leap up and attack, looked at me, looked at the sheep and offered a down with no further input from me.

That was the one and only time I had to throw that bottle. Every gather after that, he’d hit the topside, slow to a walk, and as soon as the sheep were within 20′ of me, he’d down on his own. In one or two cases he chose a stand, usually when the sheep were looking like they might veer off.

Wow. Success.

Well, sort of.

As is sometimes the case, success with one problem brings up new ones. Now that I had Dillon understanding he needs to think a bit when bringing me the stock, I had to convince him to walk into the pressure of me and those sheep to bring them closer. I liked his thoughtful approach but there are going to be times I need the sheep… well… a bit closer.

And, yes, that is Linus watching from the other side of the fence.

As you can see, he’s starting to get it. We’ll keep working it until it’s smoother, he’s surer of what I’m asking, and then we’ll move to a bit bigger area.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Have a great Thanksgiving. Be safe if you’re traveling. Eat, drink, hug the ones you love. Take time for yourself.

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.
Go raibh mile maith agat.

Last Friday the weather was finally conducive to getting the ewes out with the ram so the afternoon became all about getting them sorted and moved. Knowing there would be a few challengers in the group I fully intended to give Jig the nod. Dillon needs more experience learning how to handle belligerent stock and though I’ve been working on it with him, we’re having a few problems. It’s well known; Dillon and I have communication issues.

Then, in the way it often happens, the wise words of a friend popped into my head. Why not work Jig and Dillon together? How better to learn than side-by-side with an experienced dog?

The team, ready to go to work. Jig’s ear set says she may looking forward to it a bit too much.
Right off the bat, someone has to cause an issue. Dillon isn’t in the picture, but he’s right behind Jig in this image and the next. Watching and, hopefully, learning.
Walking in nice and steady, giving the ewe the opportunity to make the right decision.
She invariably did, saving her a hit to the nose.
It took a lot of years to get Jig to this point and I sure do love watching her in action.
You can just barely see Jig in the back pushing everyone forward. Dillon voluntarily took up a position on the side, keeping anyone from making a break for it.
He’s definitely got his eye on the potential troublemaker
The one time Dillon joined Jig at the rear, making sure there were no stragglers.
For the most part Jig and Dillon kept to their self-appointed roles: Jig providing the muscle and the push, Dillon holding the flank and tucking heads. Every now and again Jig would come up to make sure Dill had it handled.
Dillon giving a final push to get them through the gate while Jig was back by me getting a straggler.
“That’ll do,” brings Dillon right back, while Miss Jig…
She apparently wanted to make sure the ewes were all the way through the gate.

I’m not sure how much Dillon will learn from this exercise, but it sure was fun.

Part of my plan going forward is to make a concerted effort to get the dogs off the farm more often and take advantage of other places to train. Although you can’t recreate trial situations due to all the factors involved, the more opportunities you can give your dog, and yourself, to train on different stock and at different facilities, the better you will be for it.

Toward that end and much to Jig’s dismay, I packed the dogs into the truck Saturday and headed north for a day and a half of working dogs, talking dogs, planning future arenas, and goofing with our dogs, topped off by some serious damage to a gallon of apple cider and a bottle of Fireball.

Jig and I got the opportunity to work in a couple Post Advanced sized fields.

One of the fields we worked in.
Although narrow, this field was over 600′ long,
giving us a chance to work in the type of area we rarely have access to.

She had still her high ears on, so things weren’t as pretty as I would have liked. At home I’ve backed up to some foundation work with her and when I started doing that, things went better. Not spectacular, but nothing overly horrendous either.

Dillon not only got to work in the large fields, (which he handled awesomely — outside of the fact it became blatantly obvious he has no clue it’s not desirable to run the sheep over the top of me) but we even worked ducks. *gasp!* Twice.

The first time was out in the yard, which was an epic fail except for the part where the ducks disappeared under a pair of trailers. I have to say, it was pretty impressive watching Dill work independently as he figured out how to get the ducks out from their hiding places and regrouped. Once that happened, however, it all fell to shit again.

The next morning we worked the ducks indoors under my friend’s watchful eyes. I’ve said it before, it really helps to have experienced onlookers not afraid to tell you what they’re seeing. It made all the difference in the world. Dillon doesn’t know much about ducks and I’d been doing too much handling out in the open. That caused him to spend far too much time watching me and not paying any attention to the ducks. Inside, once that was pointed out to me, I switched gears and went into doing some Big S Turns. Once I got my timing right, things went much better. Everyone relaxed and it felt like a really good session.

Not only that, but it was, overall, a really good weekend. Just the right amount of fun, relaxation, pushing boundaries, and learning. I need to make having more of these a priority.

This appeared in my Facebook memories this week..

It’s hard to believe that was only a year ago. It feels like it took forever to reach that milestone. So much frustration and self-doubt. So many times I thought about throwing in the towel. I won’t stop singing the praises of those closest to me for their support, encouragement, shoulders, ears, and swift kicks in the arse whenever I said stupid things like, “I’m done.” I need to remind myself I was on a very steep learning curve. And by ‘was’ I mean ‘still am’. Jig isn’t through teaching me things yet.

Unfortunately I’m not as smart as Jig and I sometimes don’t retain lessons very well. Fully evidenced by the sound thrashing I received from Deb last weekend. Deb is allowed to pound on me. She’s one of the people mentioned in the paragraph above. Anyhow, Deb had been watching me trial and saving up all sorts of questions as to why I was doing what I was doing. The answer to which has a tendency to be something like…

She started off by asking me what I thought my problems with Jig were, to which I replied, “Mushy Theres and not taking her flanks.”

Deb smiled and replied, “No. Now let me tell you what your problems are.”

In reality, there weren’t a lot. However, being as I train alone most of the time, I have a tendency to get sloppy and probably a bit lazy. I do things without realizing it. I say things without realizing it.

Me to Jig: blah blah blah.

Deb to me: Why did you say that?

Me: …

Among other things, I accept grey in place of black and white. I’m grey — and we ain’t talking my hair, here. Jig doesn’t have mushy Theres, I have mushy directions and corrections. Or rather, mushy directions and ineffective corrections.

Perfect example: I gave Jig a Go Bye. She thought about it for a time. I repeated the command. Jig finally took it but she was rather flat and looking back at me. I took several steps forward and waggled my stick at her then looked at my sheep. Jig frowned, moved a bit more on the flank, looked back. I took several steps forward and waggled my stick at her then looked at my sheep. Jig cut in front of me to go Away instead. I gurgled something unintelligible and threw up my hands in frustration.

Image result for the definition of insanity

After which there was some discussion between Deb and I, a few pointers, some suggestions. I implemented them and after a bit of time in which Jig questioned my seriousness, I started to see the results. Jig stopped being mopey about taking my directions and wasn’t confused on what I was looking for. It’s not that I was doing anything new and earth shattering. Jig and I know this stuff. I had just let it slide.

Unfortunately, the same mistakes I was making with Jig, I was also making with Dillon and Cian. Jig has a lot of experience and a pretty big collection of tools to chose from when I’m being ambiguous. We have more history. All of which only means that she handles it better than the boys. And by ‘handle it’ I mean she guesses. A lot. The boys have a very limited toolbox and less history. Cian is more like Jig (I think he’s actually a red clone) and is easier and more forgiving when I muck things up. Dillon… not so much. He doesn’t do grey very well. When I remember to be very clear, and very black and white with him, he doesn’t watch me or come back to me. Oh, that. Yeah. Um… no more allowing that for him or Jig. That’s on me because I’ve been all sorts of confusing to my dogs of late. And, apparently, when I don’t know how to handle a situation, or can’t think of a command, I have been resorting to calling my dogs in to me.

Bad idea, that.

So, as usual, much to work on!! My brain had turned into a smoldering puddle of goo by the end of the weekend. I think I need to make myself some flashcards, or maybe some signs to hang around the arena reminding me of what I’m supposed to be doing. The biggest needs to read:

One, One, and Done.

Meaning one command, one correction, then move your feet and fix it.

Spend any time on this blog and you’ll discover the overlying theme is all about the journey. Specifically as it pertains to living with, training, and trialing my dogs. Like all journeys, this one has had its shares of ups and downs. Sometimes the rough patches seemed like they would never end and made me question the sanity of it all.

I believe a lot of journeys are like that. We fight with them because our focus is on the end and we lose sight of the fact that it’s everything happening along the way we need to pay attention to. Even the little things. Especially the little things — the successes, the failures, the stories, the laughter, the tears — they’re what’s important. They’re what shape us and our journey.

Hard to believe, I know, but I can sometimes be a bit impatient.

I have, in the past, fought the process because I wanted to somehow bypass all the in-betweens and magically teleport to what I envisioned was the goal. When I had just one dog in training, that seemed easy for me to do. Not that it was very conducive to… well… just about anything, actually. Forget living in the moment, forget paying my dues in time and miles, I wanted that damned brass ring and I wanted it NOW!

Yeah.

Having three different dogs, with very different styles, strengths and weaknesses has finally forced me to slow down and focus on the here-and-now. Dillon, especially, does not deal well with rushing things. A hard lesson for me to learn, but I think I’m finally catching on. In any case, I’m beginning to learn to not only enjoy my journey, but to trust it as well, even when it seems to be all steep hills and rocky roads.

This is one of the two bracelets I wear when trialing to remind me.

This change in my attitude hasn’t come easy (stubborn control freak here) and it hasn’t come because I’m suddenly seeing oodles of success in the trial arena. I’m not. Yes, Jig and I are starting to click. Yes, she’s gotten some Final’s points over the last several trials. I’ve seen good things from her and from Dillon in his debut in the trialing world, and Cian continues to excel in his training. All of which are good things. All of which are those little steps along the way that I tend to want to race past.

Maybe it’s age and wisdom. Well, age, anyhow. Racing to the finish isn’t the be-all and end-all I used to think it was. I’ve started to take pleasure in trying to figure things out. I no longer leave the trial arena downtrodden and depressed even after a terrible run. Maybe it’s only that I’ve finally figured out how to drive the Ferrari (most days — some days the steering’s still a bit loose), maybe it’s the challenges Dillon has provided, could be Cian’s doing. I can’t say. All I know for certain is I’m glad I stuck it out because, overall, it’s been fun and it has taken me places I would never have gone, and brought people into my life I otherwise never would have met. And, honestly, I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

It’s been a long time since I left a trial feeling anything other than disheartened, slightly beaten down, and wondering why I keep throwing uncooked spaghetti at the wall. That’s not whining or a plea for sympathy, just the facts. My attitude was based solely on my mindset which, admittedly, was far from good. I was so focused on all the wrong things, I could no longer see all the good things that were happening.

If you’re a regular reader, you might remember my mentioning a good arse kicking I received from several of my friends and mentors a couple months back. Obviously I carry my brain in my arse, because that tough love served to reset my attitude and that caused a chain reaction.

This past weekend was Outback ASC’s fall trial. Along with two days of arena trials, they held a cattle farm trial. No secret Jig and I love to work cattle so I jumped at the opportunity and entered. For the first time in a long time, I went into our run not worried about a score or getting a leg, just excited to have the rare opportunity to work a larger group of cattle on something other than an arena course. Have to say, I had a blast. I’m pretty sure Jig did as well even though she took a hard kick in the pens. Usually a kick trips her trigger and it’s hard to get her to stop the fight once it ensues. This kick was enough to momentarily shut her down, and she wasn’t too keen on going back into the pens after that unless I went with her. My tough girl had her confidence a little shaken. We persevered, however, and saw it through. The icing on the cake was not only qualifying, but placing second by just two points behind a talented pair.

Second place seemed to be our theme for the rest of the weekend in cattle. It’s no longer all about the scores and placements for me, but I have to say, it felt damn good to finally be having some success. To see the training begin to pay off. Jig’s confidence returned quickly and by Sunday we even managed one of those elusive 100+ scores I had been so focused on earlier in the year. More icing and once again missing first place by a mere two points behind another very talented pair.

Oddly enough, our sheep runs weren’t so good. I’ll take most of the blame for that. I micro-managed the first run and Jig let me know in no uncertain terms exactly what I could do with that handling style. The next run we had a challenging group of sheep and I did slightly better. I think Jig was still feeling the effects of her kick, however, and wasn’t 100% in the game. By Sunday we’d both come around. I handled her like I train her, (what a concept, right?) and she worked like I knew she could on some lighter sheep who needed a bit of space.

In all honesty, I don’t even remember what the score was. I didn’t care. Crazy, but true. We were a team once again and it felt awesome. I felt awesome. Even in the areas where we failed, I saw changes I could make, training we still needed, ways to fix it instead of just kicking my toe in the dirt and going home with my head hanging.

Best of all… I had fun. And that’s what it’s all about.