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.

Shaking it off…

I realized it’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted anything. I’ve been meaning to, I just haven’t had the energy or the motivation. It’s a late-winter-not-quite-spring thing. This time of year, with the promise of nice weather right around the corner yet not quite within reach, I tend to get impatient with not being able to venture out and do the things I most enjoy, which leads to being more irritable than normal, uninspired, and generally frustrated and restless. Besides which, not a whole lot happens this time of year and I don’t have a lot to share.

Jig appears to have similar issues as she’s been moody lately. Actually, she’s been a downright bitch, just ask Finn. Poor guy can’t even look her way without her curling a lip. Seems Jig and I are both suffering from the winter blues. Thankfully, Saturday was gorgeous. A good thing, because I had some chores that needed doing regardless of whether or not Mother Nature wanted to cooperate (which she did). And Jig and I really needed to spend some quality time together.

First on the list was moving the ram. Have to admit, Jig has a bizarre relationship with Cello. She’d rather kiss him on the nose than tell him to move. When she does need to get stronger with him, she opts to grab his ruff and pull. Kind of counterproductive. For his part, Cello never seems to take offense and has never once thought about fighting with her.

He wasn’t thrilled to be relegated to the hill pasture. It puts him too far from the other sheep. No more touching noses through the fence with his girls. Still, he claimed his pasture like a king.

Next up was sorting out the bred ewes and tagging last years ewe lambs. Something I’m a bit behind on. I feel the need here to give a brief introduction to Linus because he always makes chores a bit more interesting than they sometimes should be.

Anyone who has been here has likely met Linus. He seems to have quite the fan club. He was a bottle lamb two years ago, a preemie twin who my niece’s daughters named.

He’s the white one. The red was his sister, Cry Baby. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive.
Somehow, Linus became Dave’s buddy and shadowed him around, which probably explains his attitude.

In all honesty, I didn’t expect Linus to make it through that first winter. He had a weird shape, like he was perpetually bloated, and a very distinctive baa, which he still has. It puts me in mind of Marge’s sister on the Simpsons.

In any case, Linus did survive and eventually even started to look like a real sheep. Something that still amazes me. Unfortunately, he doesn’t act like a real sheep. Downright refuses to. He’s got my dogs believing he doesn’t need to obey the same rules as all the rest. Even Jig will just ignore him unless I press the issue.

“Yep, just go about doing your job, Jig. Don’t mind me.”

Much to Jig’s and Linus’s dismay, I do insist he be treated like a normal sheep.

Linus, “You don’t really expect me to move, do you?”
Jig, “You know I’m going to have to bite your nose if you don’t.”

Once the chores were done, I had just enough daylight left to take take Finn for a walk.

Being nice out, I’d left the barn open. Something Finn discovered on the way back to the house. He also discovered the chickens were out and about. Finn likes the chickens. More and more every day. Maybe a bit too much. His feelings are one-sided as I’m fairly certain the girls aren’t all that fond of him.

A little bit of stalking…
…followed by an excited bounce. Fortunately, he never tries to make contact with them.
He seemed particularly interested in the black one.

Nicer weather and longer days… a great combination that hopefully go a long ways toward yanking me out of the doldrums.

The Healing of a Heart

It’s been a bit over three months since we let Cian go. The Sad still lingers. It likes to raise its head when I’m tired, stressed, feeling overwhelmed, or driving somewhere alone. Too much time in my own head. I keep his picture at the base of my monitor because I need that little bit of him with me, though it’s gotten to where most days I can think of him with smiles and not tears. On others, I’m not as successful.

It’s been a bit over a month since Finn claimed me. He snatched his piece of my heart with both paws and I’m afraid I love him too much already. I’m not sure I was truly ready for this because I’ve become extremely paranoid something will happen to him, which is very unlike me. It’s to the point where, the morning after Dave told me Finn took off in a game of puppy you-can’t-catch-me, I sent him this text from work…

It’s irrational and, being me, I find it unacceptable, but, there you have it.

Overall, Finn makes me smile, a lot. Okay, sometimes the smile is actually more of a grimace because he’s chomping on my arm or pulling my pants leg. He is the most gator-like puppy I’ve ever had, and nothing seems to convince him otherwise.

*Chomp, chomp, chomp.*
Me: Knock it off.
Finn: What? I’m not doing anything.

Because, you know, the poor puppy doesn’t have any toys to play with. Tell me again why it is my living room looks like a toddler’s playground? Hmmm….

Finn is a smart boy. With very little input, he has learned the best way to get treats, dinner, out of puppy jail, or most other things he wants is to offer a down.

He’s also insanely quick and agile. Which he proves by turning our sectional into his own Puppy Parkour course. Anyone seated there at the time becomes an obstacle. Yes, outrageous, bad puppy behavior. How can I allow such mayhem? Well, because he does it with so much joy and enthusiasm it makes me laugh, and laughing does my heart good.

He’s getting so big. He used to fit under that coffee table. Soon he’ll weigh too much to pick up and hug so I take advantage of puppy snuggles whenever I can get them.

Around the farm, Dillon is Finn’s best bud, at least for now. They wrestle and romp until Dillon has had enough of puppy exuberance and signals he’s done. Finn doesn’t always heed the signal, however, so there are times I have to intervene before Dillon loses his cool.

Jig has no cool to lose. She wants to eat Finn. Literally. Chomp first, ask questions later. All is not lost, however, because she was that way with Dillon when he was a puppy and now they play all the time.

Grady prefers not to be bothered. He’s feeling his age and puppies are obnoxious.

The hole in my heart is still there; some days larger and more empty than others. It isn’t Finn’s job to replace Cian, or make me forget him. Neither of those things could ever happen. Finn has no job other than to be a puppy, make me smile and laugh, and take me on a new journey.

It may have been too soon to bring in a pup, but it’s also too late. Come what may, this little guy isn’t going anywhere.

Winter Interlude

There’s generally not a whole lot to write about this time of year but winter has been unusually and suspiciously mild around here so far. That, combined with some time off, has given me the opportunity to get in a bit of training. And, of course, there’s this…

Okay, on to working dogs. I was fortunate enough to talk Bob into coming out one day and bringing his camera which is one of the few times I get pictures of my dogs during training. I have a group of this year’s lambs that I hadn’t been working until recently. I’ve been using them more over the past several weeks. They’re good for helping teach so many things as they aren’t fetchy, they’re sensible, and there are at least two the dog needs to keep an eye on or they’ll leave.

I’ve been taking both dogs out on them for different reasons. With Jig it’s still fine-tuning her gather and cover with a little driving thrown in. With Dillon it’s working on a gather, getting to head, and rating better. He does a good job of that in the small arena, but out in the open it’s push-push-push.

Knowledgeable eyes on you while training is always a good thing and that opportunity also presented itself a few days ago. (Thanks, Janna!) She pointed out several things I was doing with Dillon that weren’t helping our cause any. Like, trying to fix the gather at the end instead of at the top where it needed fixing — which would probably take care of the rest by default. Also, I was moving my feet to try and make Dillon right, instead of moving my feet to make him more wrong which would cause him to correct himself. And, lastly, um… “He’s looking at me way too much.” Hmmm… how would I know that unless I was also looking at him? And where should I be looking? Yeah, not at my dog.

Me, not watching my dog. This is one of the times when I guarantee he wasn’t looking at me in return.
I was thinking of setting up a parallel drive here, but Dill was being Mr. Pushy and that needs fixing first.
Miss Jig got some camera time as well, doing a little driving.

And before I forget, I wanted to share an example of how our focus and what’s in our heads can influence our training and our dogs.

I was working Dillon and had very clear expectations for our session. I was focused and completely in the zone which, honestly, doesn’t happen that often. When I gave Dillon a flank he took it without hesitation. We were really working well together. I wasn’t watching him, he wasn’t watching me. I was not only cuing him verbally, but my intentions matched. I was, quite honestly, lost-in-the-moment.

I broke him off to set him up for another gather and that’s when I spotted two figures in camo walking our lot line. I stopped to watch them and see if I needed to ask what they were doing, but they headed off into the neighbor’s woods. I continued to ponder what they were doing, what hunting season it was, and who they were when I asked Dill for a go-bye. He started, paused, curved back. I redirected, but I was still looking in the direction of the figures and my mind was now completely on them. Dillon stopped his flank and stood there, watching me. Yes, I looked at him in return, then pushed him out into his flank. It wasn’t his best but, then again, at that moment neither was I.

Just something to keep in mind for the future. The right mindset can make all the difference. Especially with a dog that’s really tuned into you, which Dillon definitely is.

New Beginnings

Many of you already know our latest news.

Over the weekend we added this adorable guy to the family.

I wasn’t actively looking to add a pup yet. I knew one would be coming eventually, just not yet. It didn’t feel like the right time, for multiple reasons. Even though my plan was to wait until spring and a breeding I knew was in the works, I did look into this litter when I heard about it. I’ve always liked Killi ever since the first time I saw Becky working him as a young dog. There’s just something about him.

In any case, we all know what they say about plans, right?

A couple weeks ago I received an email that changed mine. There were two Killi boys available yet, did I want to come and see them? Yes! But no. But Yes!! But…

So I went. For some reason or another, the Sad came with me. I don’t mind road trips. Solo road trips give me far too much time in my own head though, and that’s generally not a good thing. I’m not always the best company for myself. And, honestly, as I sat on the kitchen floor trying to make up my mind between the brothers, even though I was pretty sure I liked the blue, I felt the Sad creeping up again. I doubted my readiness to give another piece of my heart. I almost said no to both.

Then the little blue boy picked up a toy, brought it over, and climbed in my lap. His brother came over to steal the toy. The blue boy went to get another, brought it over, and climbed into my lap. My decision was made.

The Sad beat me up on the way home. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Guess I just have to accept the fact I’m still a wee bit emotionally unstable. The as-of-that-moment unnamed blue boy rode pretty well. He’d break into song about every hour and we’d have a talk about what a pretty song it was. I tried out several names on him during the ride until he finally told me they were all wrong — (Not as wrong as Lucky Wilbur, however. Inside joke.) — and told me who he was.

And so I officially introduce Finn, Starstuff For My Heart’s Sake, who has settled in as though he’s always been here, the beginning of a new journey.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”
~author unknown

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.