When Your Dog Saves Your Bacon

There’s no question, at our farm, Jig is the power. When there’s a task that needs doing, and I suspect the stock might not cooperate, Jig is the one who gets the call. It’s a very handy on thing to have, especially on cattle.

It can sometimes be a bit much on sheep. Though, over the years, I’ve been able to convince Jig to tone it down a bit. Most times. Still, loading the chute is one of her favorite jobs because she might just have to use some of that push.

“Just say the word, boss.”

Last Saturday morning I suspected I would need a little of Jig’s touch. We were loading three sheep into the back of a pick-up, up a steeper ramp than they’re used to. Our plan consisted of running the sheep into the small side of the barn to a temporary chute and up into the truck. The small side of the barn makes a roughly 8′ x 16′ pen. The set-up worked pretty good, the only drawback being there’s no gate on the barn and the connecting alleyway is about 60′ long so it makes a good escape route if the sheep decide they’d rather not play the game. Unless, of course, you’ve got your right hand… er… paw guarding the exit.

Under normal circumstances my sheep don’t mind going into the barn but when they saw the ramp, a strange truck, and several people who were obviously up to no good, they opted to go elsewhere. Jig happily directed them back into the barn where I held a position at the bottom of the ramp, ready to assist any volunteers. It usually only takes one to convince the rest it’s the way to go. Getting a volunteer to even look at the ramp took a bit of coercing, however, because by that point Jig had her crack ears on. Nothing like having to use push to make a pushy dog happy. Unfortunately, the sheep know Jig very well and are quite familiar with the meaning behind her crack ears, hence they were more than a little concerned regarding her intentions and had no desire to take their eyes off her.

Can’t say I really blamed them. Jig knows the job, you see, and was clearly thinking, “You want the sheep up that ramp? Clear the way, I’ll put them up that ramp whether they want to go or not!”

I, on the other hand, was trying to maintain order and some semblance of calm. Though it’s usually fruitless, I reminded Jig, “Sometimes less is more. Give it a minute.”

Eventually I convinced her to hold her ground — which only means I kept repeating “Stay!” and “Don’t you do it!” through clenched teeth when other threats failed to get her to back the eff off. **oooohhhhmmmmm deep breath** I really can’t fault Jig. When she sees me tussling with a sheep she really just wants to help. She just doesn’t understand how to help a little vs full bore.

Finally one of the younger wethers decided the only way out was up the ramp. Just as I reached down a guiding hand to ensure he didn’t change his mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw the biggest wether spin around and make a desperate bid for the relative freedom of the alleyway. I had a split second to think, “Well, shit.” before a black blur launched into action and explained to the wether what a bad decision he’d just made. I didn’t get a good view, being I was intent on keeping the youngster headed up the ramp, but from the little I saw and some eye-witness accounts there were some aerial acrobatics combined with a few cutting horse maneuvers. Needless to say, said sheep did not make it even a foot out of the barn. In fact, the next thing I knew that big wether was begging to be allowed up the ramp and apologizing for the error of his ways.

Of course, the three of them got to the top of the ramp and balled up because… SCARY DARK HOLE THING WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS ANYWAY! I followed them up to give a push with Jig trying to get through my legs the whole time. She was a bit too cranked up by then to let her assist. After all, we wanted the sheep in the back of the truck, not the back seat.

In the end, we got them loaded in far less time and with far less labor involved than if we had tried without a dog. I love the fact working Aussies are thinking dogs. Oftentimes that gets taken out of them for the trial arena. Gotta say, I’m really thankful I never managed to do that to Jig and still have a dog who knows the job and how to get it done without waiting to be told what to do. Even if sometimes her enthusiasm gets the better of her.

And for those who don’t follow me on Social Media, here’s a clip of Jig gathering from the far field. Nothing but a Go Bye to send her. It never grows old.

 

https://youtu.be/7JXP9KLGQLk

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.

Finn & the Big Sea

Okay, it was actually the big lake they call kitchi-gami, but likely as close to the sea as Finn will get and his biggest adventure thus far.

Last weekend Finn experienced what amounts to a rite of passage at our place: he got to be the Camp Dog. Not only that, he was flying solo.

Gotta say, the demonic little asshat amazed me.

He took to most of the Camp Dog duties like a seasoned pro. He was a little lax on chipmunk patrol. They could scurry right past him and he didn’t even flick an ear. And he had to be out of sight when we played Yardzee and Kubb. Being both games involve flying chunks of wood, and seeing as Finn is obsessed with wood, watching got him a bit overstimulated.

As far as generally not making a fuss, taking hikes, and hanging out with the group around the fire, he rocked it. He even had his own camp chair.

Fine, it was supposed to be my chair. He stole it.
Yes, that’s his happy ear.
He decided my brother is the absolute coolest playmate on the planet…
… and the camper is pretty nice, especially when Dave gets up so he can steal the couch.
Getting in and out of the camper, however, was a bit of an issue at first, what with the scary metal stairs, and all.

By far, Finn’s biggest adventure of the weekend was our trip to Lake Superior. He loves water but he’s never been in anything deep enough to actually swim. All we had to do was convince him retrieving drift wood was way more fun than chasing waves along the shore (and practically tearing my arm out of its socket — which is what happens when you aren’t paying attention and your dog suddenly hauls ass in the opposite direction). And just like that, he perfected his dog paddle.

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.

Another Farewell

As usual, this isn’t the post I wanted to write. I started it earlier today when I was still merely contemplating making the call for Grady, our gentle giant, Tank Boy.

When I was merely contemplating I was (mostly) okay with the decision, after all, it’s not like it comes as a surprise. Grady turned 15 in April and, honestly, I was amazed he made it this long. He’s had a few issues in his old age, but the good days have always outnumbered the bad.

Over the past week, however, the scales tipped. Grady’s appetite waned. He was still eating, but without his usual gusto. He slowly stopped galumphing across the yard in an attempt to keep up with Jig. And though he tried his best, he fell down frequently and needed more help getting back up. The walk in from the yard became a slow, stumbling event, and there were times he had such a list to the right he would have walked circles if not for my leg to lean against.

Grady’s age, as it will do, has caught up to him.

And I was (mostly) okay until I actually made the call and sent the texts to those who know Grady well.

That circle is small. Grady didn’t trial. His trips off the farm were mostly to the vet, visiting, or going camping, something that won’t be the same without having to go collect him when he wandered off, making apologies for the old dog.

Around the farm he was the gentle greeter, the big, goofy guy with the perpetually sunny outlook, and the tamer of wild puppies.

I’m still (mostly) okay, though tomorrow will be hard. It sucks. This habit some of us have of giving a piece of our hearts to creatures we know we stand a good chance of outliving many times over. Yet we do it again and again, even though the letting go never gets any easier.

What an empty existence it would be without them, though. The laughs, the unconditional love, the frustration, the heartaches, the friendships they lead us into and the adventures they take us on.

We will miss our Tank Boy. Safe journey, old man. Tell your Bruncle I said hi.

Lambs & More

The current Covid situation means I’m home full-time for lambing for the first time ever. That’s one of a couple silver linings. There are also many depressing aspects to the stay-at-home quarantine. I try to keep from thinking too much about those. Dwelling on what we can’t control isn’t very good for the soul. Most days I can keep from succumbing. Cloudy, wet, cool days when I can be too much in my head… maybe not so much. We’ve already determined ‘in my head’ is not a good place for me to hang out.

Which is why it’s a good thing I have the dogs and livestock to occupy me even in those moments when I don’t feel up to being occupied.

This little guy was one of a pair born to a first time mom. She’s being really good with his brother but, as sometimes happens with first timers, she didn’t realize they were both hers to raise. I’m calling him Pita, even though he’s really not. He took to the bottle straight away and is doing really well with a minimal amount of fuss.
And even though I don’t often name lambs, though other people have been known to name them for me, this duo were the first to arrive and demanded to be called Salt & Pepper. If any lamb is going to cause problems, it is one of them. They’ve already caused me to put up additional fencing to keep them in the maternity ward.
This is the second year I’ve used Cello, a Barbados ram, and I love not only the personality of the lambs, but the coloring — getting both brown and white Barb marked lambs.

Then we have a bunch of red babies, with or without white, and two solid browns courtesy of our solid brown ewe.

We’re down to just two more ewes left to lamb. Despite the issues that can crop up, lambing is one of my favorite times of the year. Mainly because there is no greater stress reliever than watching a bunch of lambs playing. The next nice day we get, I’m going to plant myself in a chair to just sit and watch their antics. I plan on taking Finn with me so he can learn how to relax a bit around livestock.

Finn gives ‘intensity’ a whole new definition. Let’s see, there are the sheep, of course, the chickens, Rebel Kitten, and, apparently, trimming trees. Something we discovered the day we took the clipper along on our daily walk-about to trim some of the branches hanging in the trail.

Finn was quite obsessed with the whole routine and would happily gather up all the branches, no matter their size.

He also attempted to bite off some of the tiny saplings we were thinning out. I’m not sure he believed Dave was doing it correctly.

I have to say, Finn is a pretty cool dog and I can’t thank Becky enough for giving me this opportunity. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of pushing a young dog as driven and as mentally strong as Finn is. Thankfully I have a friend and mentor whose opinion I value greatly to remind me how young Finn is and how unwise that would be. Finn has shown me what he has to offer, it’s up to me to take the time to develop that potential. Taking time means putting in the time on the groundwork. You can’t build a very good house on a shaky foundation. A lesson you think I would have learned by now.

As far as Jig and Dillon, we haven’t gotten in too much training over the past week, mainly due to a strong, cold wind off the lake. Makes being out in the field just this side of miserable even when the sun is shining. Hopefully Spring settles in soon. If I have to be home 24/7 I’d like to be able to work my dogs, even if I can’t be doing it in the company of the folks I most enjoy.

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. 😉