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.

Believing to be More

A friend sent me the above text in a conversation regarding how Dillon had done at our most recent trial. Up until then, as seems to happen frequently, I had a different post all set to go. It was basically just a run down of why I haven’t written much of late and how the dogs were doing. (The answers to which are: I’m working on revamping the site and thought I’d post at the ‘reveal’ but it’s not happening as soon as I planned, Jig is semi-retired, Dillon is exceeding expectations, and Finn…

In any case, my friend’s text struck a chord with me and prompted this post instead of the original.

Dillon has been a hard dog to figure out, and I still haven’t got him 100% pegged, but I’m getting closer. A lot of folks I know would have given up on him. Some even suggested I do so, but that’s not how I roll.

It’s not that Dillon didn’t want to work or didn’t turn on as a young dog. Quite the contrary. He’s always wanted to work. He’s just always done it… differently. We had a rocky beginning because of that difference and we spent too much time fighting. That’s on me. Dillon was telling me all along that trying to force him to learn how my other dogs did was a waste of time. I needed to adjust my methods and play to his strengths, something I don’t think I truly figured out until last year. Bless his soul for sticking with me.

Truthfully though, there were times I doubted Dillon and I would ever trial. Those times, however, were always crowded out by the glimpses of talent I saw: his ability to read his stock, the way he could–and still does–get even the lightest sheep to trust him, the things he would do when I shut my mouth and waited him out to see what he was up to. I always knew there was more in him than I was giving credit for.

This year Dillon has truly amazed me. In 6 ASCA Arena trials over two weekends he earned his OTDs and STDcd, with one leg in open ducks, several placements, a HIT cattle and a MPS. None of which means jack squat to him but makes me feel pretty damn good. And over the course of those two weekends, I learned quite a bit about the boy. For instance, he’s a fairly laid back traveling companion and he’s just as laid back trialing. He has (thus far) walked into every arena as though he’s been there before, an attitude which serves to make me far more relaxed than normal.

I’ve also learned he needs to get very comfortable with something before he begins to excel at it. Sheep are definitely his wheelhouse; he sees those day in and day out. Cattle and ducks… not so much. The more he sees them, however, the more he learns about them, the better he gets. And it doesn’t seem to take long. In our first attempts to work ducks earlier this year he would watch me more than them. By the end of our first trial weekend, he was no longer watching me but watching and working his ducks. The same thing is happening on cattle. More slowly, but in a way even more dramatic. He’s gone from bouncing out of their pressure just a few weeks ago, to showing he will go to head and hit a heel. That second is something I honestly never thought he’d do. This past weekend was the first time I ever saw him even think about it. Not only think, but try. Three or four times. His first attempt was high and got him kicked, but the failure didn’t shut him down. Yes, he was a bit more thoughtful after that, and our next run wasn’t at all good, not entirely his fault. By the third run, however, he went for another heel when the cattle needed a more compelling reason than just an open gate to leave the take pen.

I have always felt our mental attitude and the energy we put out affects our dogs, just as theirs affects us. Our moods can often dictate our success, or lack thereof. Even though I had doubts… and maybe it wasn’t Dillon I doubted, as much as my ability to work through some of our issues… I always believed Dillon had something. My friend is right in that regard. I haven’t always believed I could do him justice, but I’m beginning to.

Thanks to Tracey Mc for the images from That’ll Do ASC’s July 4th trial.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling with this post for a few weeks.

First it was going to be about training; where I’m at with the dogs, what I’m working on now that the clinic & trialing year is done, plans for next year, the usual.

Then I thought I should really give Rebel Kitten his own post because… well…

Truth of the matter is though, I’m finding it difficult to write anything other than a post more fully answering the question some of my friends have been asking. How am I doing since losing Cian?

I have that post written. When I finished, I couldn’t decide whether I would hit delete or publish. I did neither. The writing of it was, in itself, truly cathartic. There are reasons psychiatrists suggest people keep journals. Just getting your thoughts and feelings out can really aid in healing. Or at least in dealing with them.

Though I still have that post, I decided not to share it. It’s… pretty emotional and I’m generally more private when it comes to deep emotions. I’m not a ‘wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve’ type of gal. Although I share some things here and on Facebook, only a very few, very close friends ever get the dubious honor of seeing me completely melt down. And even that is rare. Not saying it’s the healthy way of handling things, but I’m pretty accomplished at the art of internalizing, dealing, and moving on. Usually.

This time, however, the ‘moving on’ seems maddeningly difficult. Something I realized when I found myself still answering those inquiries as to how I’m doing with, “It’s been tough.” accompanied by a boatload of tears when what I want to say is something upbeat because it’s been a month now and I need to move on.

So why share even this much? Well, as I’ve said before, writing is my therapy. And the purpose of this blog, after all, is to share my journey. A journey not unlike many others, I’m sure. And so you’re getting a bit of everything this time around.

First, training. Jig and I ended the trialing season with a couple Final’s Points in sheep and ducks (LMAO on that one) and I think 1 point on cattle. Over winter I need to decide if I’m going to keep trialing Jig or retire her. With things already scheduled for next year I don’t have a lot of vacation to play with. Finding trials early enough in the year to get the remaining points would mean travelling south and I just don’t have the extra travel time. So the question becomes, do I keep working with Jig, take all we’ve learned and look toward 2021 Finals instead? Decisions, decisions.

And then there’s Dillon. He and I continue to have moments of brilliance and moments of …

Lately we’ve been working on getting him to understand and use his power. It’s not that he’s overly soft. He’ll stand in the sheep’s pressure all day if I let him, just begging one to pop so he can put it back, but when he needs to push from the rear and get a stubborn sheep to move, he’s just not certain how to handle that. Toward that end, we’ve been doing some chute work with me helping him, letting him know it’s okay if he has to nip one. He’s been punching with his nose, then popping back and looking at me. I don’t give him too much eye contact, keep my focus on the stock and verbally praise and encourage. I can’t overdo the praise or he gets all sorts of goofy and wiggly. The boy can be a bit immature at times but he certainly makes me smile and utterly adores me. Can’t knock either of those qualities.

Next up… Rebel Kitten. This cat. I can’t even. He’s such a character. He really deserves some screen time. It is a rarity for me to be able to work the dogs without Rebel coming along and helping out.

Lastly, Cian… it’s been tough. I’m stuck somewhere between the anger and the sadness. There are, as I would say with Cian’s epilepsy, more good days than bad, but there’s also not a day I don’t think of him and fight back tears with varying degrees of success. Being me, I lose patience with myself in short order for being a weenie. Also, being me, I’ll work my way through it and come out the other side.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss… you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
                                                                                                                               

~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

The past couple of weeks have been tough. No doubt about it. Cian isn’t the first dog we’ve lost and he won’t be the last but, in many regards, he was the hardest. I want to take a moment to publicly thank all of you for the kind words, the private messages, the cards, the hugs, the support and the understanding. I’ve been riding the roller coaster of grief as best I can, trying not to think too much, bouncing erratically from tears to anger, most times settling somewhere in-between as I remind myself to live in the moment.

In any case, healing is coming, though it’s taking its own sweet time. I read somewhere that if you can tell your story without crying, you’re well on your way. Guess I’m not too close to that point yet, but I’ve been attempting to help it along by doing those things that always prove good for my soul.

The weekend after losing Cian we took one of our yearly family camping trips that had been planned for quite some time. Nothing like campfires, hiking, drinks, food, laughing, hours of table games, and the company of some of the most important people in my life to help reclaim my happy.

There wasn’t as much of this as usual. High winds, rain, sleet…
…and even some snow, gave us only a few short windows to enjoy sitting around a roaring camp fire.
There was, however, quite a bit of this, regardless of what Mother Nature tried to throw at us. Nothing like losing yourself in nature to soothe the soul.
And of course, there were shenanigans.
This is what happens when you don’t behave on a hike.

This past weekend, more soul food as Jig and I road-tripped to Michigan for the SEMASA trial. As usual, we got to see people we don’t see nearly often enough. There were hugs, more tears, more healing. I will admit, however, I almost lost it altogether after Jig’s first cattle run. In a very un-Jig-like fashion, Miss I-Love-Me-Some-Cows barely looked at the steers. As I headed to the re-pen after accomplishing next to nothing, I had to fight back a wave of frustration that found energy in some grief to give it even more impetus.

Here’s where being surrounded by the sort of camaraderie present at the trials I attend is a wonderful thing. The certainty that if I had to have a meltdown, the folks there would be the ones to have it in front of because they understood and would be my strength if my own faltered, made it possible for me to smother the surge of emotion. I took their strength, added in some constructive input from a good friend and what she thought was happening during our failed run, tossed in more than a few deep breaths, and created a new game plan for our next go. I’m pleased to say it was a vast improvement.

Jig and I had quite a few ups and downs over the weekend. It’s funny how things always seem worse from the driver’s seat. I felt as though Jig was being fast and pushy, not listening, and I was handling like crap. To those watching, it didn’t appear as bad. In fact, I received several nice compliments on Jig and one offer to take her off my hands if I didn’t like her. As sorely tempting as that might be at times… nah, it would never happen. And, even though I didn’t think we’d accomplish anything, we somehow managed to collect a couple finals points (one in ducks, of all things!) and take High Combined WTCH for the weekend.

When all was said and done, I felt pretty good about the weekend. Yeah, there’s a lot we still need to improve on, but we’re making progress and that’s always a good thing. One of the suggestions that made the biggest impact was for me not to come down on Jig so hard in the trial arena. I have a tendency to go straight to the Level 10 Felony correction. If, however, I remained calm but firm and kept things at, say, more of a Level 3 Misdemeanor, it made a great deal of difference in how Jig responded. It also made a great deal of difference in how I handled by keeping my stress level down.

Image result for meerkat meditating

So life, as it always will, goes on. Someday I’ll be able to tell Cian’s story without tears. Until then I need only remember…

Only in the darkness can you see the stars. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

First Trial of the Season ~ Part Deux

If you read my last post you know how the end of the weekend went, but how did the rest of it go? Of course I’m going to say it didn’t go as well as I wanted, but it seems I always want more than I’m realistically prepared to achieve. I had to remind myself (and be reminded) that last year Jig and I went to two weekends of trials the entire year. One in the spring, one in the fall. That’s it. This year we were able to train maybe 3 or 4 times prior to the trial. So expecting to lay down some awesome runs was me being unrealistic.

Image result for expectations vs reality
Story of my life.

Not to say I wasn’t happy with a lot of what Jig did. She showed me the training we’ve been doing is paying off. No crack ears, quiet, calm, responsive (for the most part). We would have had the best duck run of Jig’s career if not for me opening my mouth at the wrong time. Yeah, imagine that.

Even so, we had a superb center pen and the best center to re-pen ever. A couple of things I should point out. I absolutely hate ducks. Jig feels ducks are so far beneath her it’s hard to get her to look at them when they’re upright and fast. And these were Call Ducks. If you’re not familiar with Call Ducks, picture a wild mallard about the size of a large kaiser roll. Honestly, I tried to stay well away from them for fear we’d have to scrape one off the bottom of my boot when the run was over.

In any case, these are my take-aways from the weekend:

  • I need to learn to shut my mouth when things are going good, and not yell when they’re not.
  • Jig and I need to go back to training in a smaller space. We’re used to working in more open areas. When we get to a trial with minimum sized arenas we get too close to one another and neither of us knows how to handle that pressure.
  • (This one is a theme, I think.) I need to solidify what ‘There’ means. At the moment it’s rather soft and mushy, and subject to where Jig thinks I meant her to turn in as opposed to where I really wanted her to do it.
  • I need to be a better handler. Which, by the end of the weekend, I actually did accomplish once or twice.
  • I need to firm up our flanks. (No, not the physical ones. Though mine could use it, Jig’s are very nice.) The issues here will be partly helped through getting a firmer ‘There’.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, but overall Jig and I have come a long way since our rather rough and rowdy beginnings. There may be hope for us yet.

First Trial of the Season ~ Part 1 of 2

First, a heartfelt Thank You to those folks on-hand for mine and Jig’s debut in the Post Advanced field at Purina Farms over the past weekend. I want you to know the outburst of applause and cheers at the conclusion of our short run was heard. It was also totally unexpected and very much appreciated. It certainly helped ease the sting of disappointment at our less than stellar performance.

For those of you who have never been to Purina Farms this is the Post Advanced field.

Given that Jig and I have never worked in a field this large, I suppose my expectations were a bit unrealistic. I told myself I only entered to see how Jig would handle herself. After all, the entire weekend was meant to gauge where we’re at and if a run for the 2020 Finals is even feasible. Secretly, I wanted us to succeed and, if not qualify, at least lay down a respectable run.

By the time I made the walk from the gate to the center pen, however, my brains had abandoned ship. My guess is they were sitting in the shade under the pavilion with everyone else. The sheep were set out and held near the back fence-line of the sheep arena. The judge and timer were in a gator not far from the set-out point. Not only were Jig and I in a new setting, working unfamiliar stock, for the first time ever there was another dog in the arena and I had no idea how Jig was going to respond to that.

I took a few deep breaths ~ trust your dog ~ and gave Jig a go-bye. She started off at a steady lope but instead of the pear-shaped outrun she usually gives, she went out wide like a BC. Slower of course, and with her head low. For a moment I thought she was exiting stage left. As I watched her, I realized she was sizing up the situation. She saw the sheep but she also saw the gator and the people. I knew exactly when she spotted the set-out dog because her head came up to the same degree as her ears lifted. I admit, I panicked a little and gave some sort of correction which she took, bypassing the dog lying in the grass. Then, quite honestly, I lost sight of her. Black dog in the distance against a dark background and other critters, so I gave another command because, you know, the whole no brain thing. The sheep turned and ran back into the area next to the trial arena and I figured our run would end there.

Here’s where I have to say, we may not have been ready for this, but the things Jig did, she did well. She re-gathered those sheep without a word from me and soon they were headed my way. Every now and again, Jig would lean out to look around them at me as though asking if it was all good, and I managed to keep my mouth shut and let her work.

The sheep veered up the hill in a counterclockwise direction and Jig covered and brought them to where I stood near the back of the center pen. Here’s where I could have maybe saved the run, or at least gotten a better shot at it. I should have had Jig hold the sheep to me and let everything settle for a bit. Perhaps my brain would have made a reappearance. Instead, I allowed them to merely slow down and skirt past me, while telling Jig to walk up.

via GIPHY

The sheep headed toward the first panels, which also happened to be the draw direction as beyond the panels were the gates they were brought through daily. They weren’t bolting. Just moving along at a nice, steady trot, with Jig keeping them grouped. As they neared the panels, I called out something. I have no idea what. It may have been a command. More likely it was jibberish. I really can’t fault Jig for ignoring it, and the whole group bypassed the panels without slowing.

Realizing we were out of our depth, I threw up a hand to call my run about the same time the judge gave us a Thank You. From all reports, Jig deposited the sheep at the gate, held them there, and looked back to me as though wondering why I wasn’t there to open it. All with calm, quiet, and confident control.

“…calm, quiet, and confident control.” I’m going to count that as a win even though it was not a successful outing. It was a test. One we weren’t prepared for, so we failed. I guarantee we’ll be taking steps to be more successful the next time.

Now, who around here has a ginormous field I can practice in?

The Year of Training Pays Off

At the end of last year I was so frustrated and upset with how the trialing season went, I decided to take a year off. Not so I could sit in a corner and lick my wounds, but because I was determined to fix as many of mine and Jig’s issues as I could. I’d had enough of our melt-downs and non-qualifying runs. She’s a better dog than that. I like to think we’re a better team than that, though I’m definitely the weaker partner.

I gave myself one trialing goal: finish Jig’s WTCH. We needed only one cattle leg to do so. Jig and I both love working cattle though our methods are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I want nice, quiet control, power when required, and no rodeos. Jig seems to like rodeos, and has been known to actively go looking for a fight.

After our failed attempt at getting that final leg in the spring, I worked even harder at preparing us for the next one. It was difficult because my plans to get us both off the farm didn’t transpire, and we didn’t get to do any training on cattle. Still, I sent in my entry for the Coyote Classic over Labor Day weekend. To be honest, going into the weekend I was thinking, “If we can’t get this one last leg, with these cattle, on this course, then I’m done.” And by done, I meant throwing in the towel and never trialing again.

Well, I’m pleased to say Jig is (pending official ASCA verification), WTCH Heartsong of Shadowdance OFTDs DNA-VP.

We finished her WTCH on our first run, which took a lot of the pressure off for the rest of the weekend. Our last run of the weekend, though not qualifying, was some of the best work we’ve done on cattle. We missed a Q because I took the opportunities to make things right, which meant some parts of the run weren’t as smooth as they could have been. It all started with the take pen when I refused to allow Jig to Go Bye because that would have put her immediately on the noses. Have I mentioned a time or two how much Jig likes to hit noses? Yeah. To prevent that, I insisted she take an Away. She fought me on it, but ultimately I won. By the time we finished our run, Jig was actually holding her position on the drive and not creeping up, taking her stays to hold pressure until the cattle moved off, even if that meant she was nose-to-nose, and there were a couple instances where she hit a nose and I was able to get her to stop right there and allow the heifer to move off. That last one was a huge victory for us.

We still have a lot of work to do. A. Lot. A WTCH may be the end of one journey, but it’s also the beginning of another. Not only are we going to make a run for the 2020 Finals, but I’d like to get Jig’s Post Advanced titles next year as well. That means I’ll be hitting a lot of trials in 2019. It’s all time and miles, but I finally feel as though we really can do this.

Jig’s Journey ~ A Bump in the Road

Okay, honestly, it feels like way more than a bump. It’s more like a wall that I’ve hit at full speed. Or, better yet, the mother of all potholes with spikes in the bottom. No, really hungry alligators who aren’t even going to spit me back out once they’re done chewing me up. Or this…

Yeah, there we go.

I could pretty much just copy my last post with only a few changes. I’d worked hard between SEMASA’s trial and the Coyote Classic, and felt I made some good progress with Jig. Then I stepped into the arena on Friday morning and it all went to hell in the proverbial hand basket. It never did get much better. I threw away any chance at finishing Jig’s WTCH or even getting close to a qualifying score by sprinting over the handler’s line on numerous occasions to remind Jig that I was, in fact, in the arena with her. And that I might, just might, prefer things done my way as opposed to the rodeo she thought we were attending.

Those who know how Jig can work and weren’t at SEMASA to see that catastrophe were a bit like…

Because, to be honest, it looked (and felt) like I was trialing an untrained dog with zero control as opposed to the advanced dog who knows how to read and handle her stock and can do some pretty nice things.

To say it caught me off-guard would be the understatement of the year, because we’ve been doing really good during training. Yes, I always expect some regression when going to a trial. This, however, was beyond my comprehension. Even after I got up in her grill numerous times, she still didn’t stop pushing. Okay, maybe by the 5th trial she started to tire out and realized I might not be pleased. Maybe. But she was still pushing.

One of the best things about the trials I go to, however, is the people. I had a great support crew on hand, and a couple folks whose opinions and knowledge I value. It kept me from exploding. Or melting down. Both were possibilities and could have easily occurred simultaneously. In fact, I’m pretty sure at one point they did.

Now that I’ve had a couple days to stew mull it over, and I’ve worked Jig again, some of which I videoed, I realize I have to take a fraction of the blame. Yes, only a fraction. As was pointed out to me by a friend who saw the video, my demeanor, tone of voice, and overall attitude are totally different when training vs in the trial arena, and she’s right.

I thought I was over the bulk of my trial nerves. Apparently, I’m not. I use commands I don’t use at home, or overuse commands I use only rarely. Lie Down being chief among them. How many times did I tell Jig to lie down during a trial run???? Every time I panicked. And the way she was pushing, that was quite a bit. I was also loud. Like we-can-hear-you-three-counties-over loud. Something else I have tried, over the years, to not be.

In any case, we have Nationals looming before us and, I admit, I’m slightly terrified. I’m anticipating the train wreck even as I train for success. Or at least a competent showing. At this point, I’d take a bit of calm, quiet control. I’m spending time training us both in that.

I think I need to take my recorded training sessions to Texas and watch them prior to my National’s runs to remind myself that I can be sane, rational, and quiet, and can use minimal commands and that, when I do so, Jig is quiet, calm, and working like I know she can.

If that fails, I’ll have a nice long winter of soul searching. Truthfully, at one point this weekend, I was ready to throw in the towel. Yes, I wallowed in a pit of self pity, doubt, and depression. I told myself I wasn’t a good enough trainer or handler to do a dog like Jig justice. Then I kicked myself in the arse because if I didn’t, I knew my friends would, and they kick harder.

“So you hit a bump in the road,” said one of those friends.

“Feels like more than a bump,” I replied.

“Fine. You fell down and landed on your face. You get back up and you fix it.”

I love my friends. And, all things considered, I still love my dog.

And, for those of you who saw her at her worst, here she is at something other than that.

**Editor’s note: at no point should this be read as or construed as a pity party. My only purpose is to vent, and to share my experiences with those who may have been, or might find themselves, in a similar situation.**