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.

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.

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.

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.