Making Headway

He lay still, relaxed, calmly happy. Then his mind seemed to turn over suddenly and take hold–and there it was, starting to make plans, thinking.
After a minute, a slight sense of irritation came over him. “You think too  much!” he said to himself.
Why did not his mind, like other people’s minds, allow him to rest and be happy without any planning ahead into the future, whether of the next twenty-four hours or the next twenty-four years? Why could he not lie quiet for as long as sixty seconds? No, something took over with a rush and a whir, and even though his body lay still, his mind turned over and started, and there it was running on, like an idling engine.
EARTH ABIDES   ~George R. Stewart


As I was sitting out on the deck this morning, enjoying the cool morning air and the birds twittering in the trees, relishing that little bit of quiet time while eating inhaling my breakfast, I had a moment of clarity (about the same time as I speared the remaining bit of sausage, combined it with the last of the scrambled egg and a bit of hash brown and shoved all of it in my maw): I hadn’t been enjoying the air or the birds at all and my time was definitely not quiet. My brain, you see, was fully awake and already off and running, going through the list of everything I wanted to accomplish on this lovely Sunday. In fact, I sadly had not even tasted that last mouthful of breakfast and was half-way back to the kitchen before realizing I’d even finished it. All of which made me think of the very appropriate quote above, which I had come across last night while reading Earth Abides.

Not being able to shut my brain down is, admittedly, a problem, though I do occasionally make the attempt. I did that a few weeks ago when I tagged along with some friends to a trial as nothing more than a spectator. Something I haven’t done in a very long time. So long I can’t recall when the last time was. I also decided to ‘unplug’ by not taking my laptop or my hotspot, and staying off my phone. That last was pretty easy because I didn’t get a signal unless I walked half-way down the driveway and stood near the hog pen.

In any case, being a spectator and not running a dog, allowed me to make some observations. None of them are earth shattering. Most of them, however, I never think about at a trial when I’m running a dog because I’m trapped in my own little bubble, and though I also want to support my friends and fellow competitors, we all tend to be a bit short-sighted in those situations. Sometimes we just need a reminder. I know I do. So here’s the list for anyone else needing it:

  • No matter how good a handler is, no matter how long they’ve been in the game, everyone… eh-ver-ree-one… occasionally has a bad run. Or several bad runs. Or even an entirely bad day.
  • Even the tiniest ego can get bruised when things don’t go right.
  • Things usually don’t look as bad from outside the arena as they feel when we’re in the thick of it.
  • As good or bad as your run is, unless something really unusual happens, no one except you is going to remember it once it’s done.
  • With some exceptions, and regardless of how it feels at the time, our dogs aren’t out there purposely trying to make us look bad.
  • Even the calmest, most together handler, can completely lose their shit under the combined forces exerted in the trial arena.
  • You can be competitive and still have fun.
  • The combination of livestock, a human, and a dog keeps things interesting, sometimes frustrating, and forever challenging.
  • This sport is hard, and it’s one of, if not the only, animal sport in which you don’t get to warm up prior to your run, meaning you and your dog are generally going in cold. Or rather, you’re going in cold and your dog is going in with an excess of pent up energy.
  • If not for these dogs and this sport, I would not have some truly wonderful people in my life. Something I wouldn’t trade for anything.


And, speaking of these dogs, what’s new on that front? Glad you asked because since my last post I’ve made some nice progress with both dogs. At least, it feels as though I have. And one of my training partners even said as much last time we got together.

Dillon cleaning a corner at the 3 Sheeps to the Wind ASC Flock to the Farm trials — one of the few times that weekend we worked together.


Dillon and I, you may recall, were struggling and I had gone to not putting a whole lot of pressure on him. We worked together to move the lambs around and get them used to being sensible sheep. We had a job to do and I helped Dillon to do it. We all know I’m incapable of cooling my heels for too long, however, and soon I was mixing in some actual training. Or perhaps it was more a case of deciding I’d had enough and it was time to take off the kid gloves. If I asked Dillon to do something, provided it was something I was confident he actually knew, and he didn’t do it, I corrected him. That sounds stupid when I read it back because it’s so blatantly obvious. Except, it’s not. Not when you’re struggling as a team and you’re uncertain as to what’s going on and where the breakdown is.

I also stopped repeating myself. It’s a bad habit of mine. Ask for an away and if the dog is going away shut your pie hole and quit nagging. I mean, seriously. How would you like it if your boss told you to copy something and while you were doing it, kept telling you to copy it?

Both of these adjustments seem to be paying dividends. Not only do I have a drive back, I can now get Dillon to move into the stock once it’s stopped. He’s more reliable in corners, is listening better, and a couple days ago he put an unruly group of lambs into the free-standing pen. Correction, we did it, working as a team for the first time in a very long time. Booyah!

Success with Finn on our pen work gets a double Booyah! I was getting concerned because I was having major issues getting Finn to do a take pen (Hmmm… why does that sound familiar?) and we’ve got a trial coming up. Basically, he didn’t want to let the stock out. I remembered an exercise Steve had me doing the last time he was up, and set about trying to duplicate it. I’m not sure I got it right, but whatever I was doing, it seems to have worked.

For those who aren’t familiar with my layout, I have three 16×16 pens connected by 12′ gates (yes, stupid design, but it is what it is), and they lead into a 16x50ish pen.

A glimpse of my pens looking down the line from the 16×50, during one of FInn’s runs at the 3 Sheeps farm trials.

Using those series of pens, I had Finn move the stock from one to the other, changing my position, pushing on one flank, pulling on another, stopping him at the back, alternately allowing him to follow the sheep and figure 8 them right back into the previous pen, or having him walk them through several pens before lying him down. I’d only done that two or three sessions before I saw results. I went in to start a training session, opened the take pen gate, and in Finn went, nice and smooth, to bring the sheep out. My jaw dropped and I was tempted to tell him That’ll Do! and quit while I was ahead. Instead, we worked on flanks and gathers and ended with another take pen just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. Glad to say, it wasn’t. He even repeated the task twice the next time I took him out to work. Now I just need to make sure I don’t check that off my list quite yet. A couple successes does not mean we are solid.

One of my favorite images from the Flock to the Farm weekend.


And one more from the farm trial, just because this post needed some more images.


Not that I want to end this post on a somber note, but I feel the need to touch on the Sad. I haven’t written about it in a long time, which doesn’t mean it’s disappeared, just that the edges are duller and the craziness of life at the moment has kept it at bay. We’re coming up on my favorite time of year, however, which also has the misfortune to be the time of year when the Sad likes to make a reappearance. It’s been lurking in the background, a dark cloud on the fringes of my consciousness. Facebook’s memory feature gave it some impetus over the past couple weeks with a deluge of Cian images and videos. For the most part they make me smile now and I can admit they’re funny and cute without feeling like I’m somehow betraying that memory.

The Sad surprised me with a sucker punch at a photo shoot on Saturday when I stepped out to greet the next dog on the schedule and was met with the spitting image of Shaine. It’s been 8 years since losing her so maybe it’s because we’re creeping up on October, or maybe it’s those Facebook images picking at my carefully constructed walls, in either case, I needed to take a moment to compose myself as tears unexpectedly threatened. The look-alike, Cody, in true dog fashion, overcame his nerves for a moment to crawl into my lap, offer me a kiss, and allow me to bury my face in his ruff as I sent the Sad packing.

Dogs. They never cease to amaze me.

1 Comment
  • Teri

    09/16/2021at1:09 pm Reply

    Enjoyed the read. Keep capturing moments of peace. They add up.

Leave a Reply