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.

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. 😉

Photo Friday

I haven’t done one of these in a while. It was gorgeous today and we’re due for a winter storm tonight and tomorrow because Winter has finally chosen to make an appearance, so, I decided to do one of those feed-the-soul things and take my camera on a little walk-about.

This little guy was one of the few birds I saw out and about.
When you have hair sheep, you have spindles of wool on fences.
Linus… need I say more?
When you’re a ram that hangs with cattle, and you can’t control yourself, sometimes you need to be reminded, “When a girl says no, she means no.”
And then there’s this guy…
…and the moment when he discovered the chickens were out.

Stay safe this weekend. There’s a lot of nasty weather brewing.

Photo Friday

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done one of these. Sometimes you just have to spend the day doing something that makes your soul happy. So, I dusted off the camera and headed outside to see what I would find.

The first thing I found was Her Royal Highness who always looks stunning in black & white.

Shortly thereafter, some the girls decided they wanted in on the action.

Chickens always look so fierce.

Even when they decide to perform synchronized wall dancing.

It’s good to have friends.