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. 😉

Dillon’s Day

Yes, for once, a post about a dog other than Jig. Hard to believe, right? Well, up until now, Dillon hasn’t done much training besides dry foundation work, a few twirls in the round pen, and one time in the small arena. Other than that, he’s just been hanging out, going lots of places, socializing, and learning how to be a good puppy.

He did get to go along  to my friend Diana’s farm last week, where he met cattle for the very first time–on line, of course. Once Jig explained the proper procedures to the heifers, such as, ‘if you put your head down and come toward me, you’re going to get bit’ and ‘when I say move, I mean get to hoofing’, I introduced Dillon to them. He wasn’t the least bit intimidated by their size, and even brought out his big dog growl and held his ground when one forgot Jig’s rule and dropped its head to take a look at him. I have no doubt, if I had let him off that line, he would have been trying to make them move. That day will come, but for now, it’s enough that he gets some up-close-and-personal exposure.

This morning, I found myself needing to move the sheep out of their pasture and into the alleyway. I happened to have Dillon with me, and was feeling adventurous, so… why the heck not? I even videoed it for your… er… entertainment. He circled a few too many times when I was in the wrong place to kick him back, had some episodes of Puppy ADD, but overall, not too shabby for a not-quite-eight-month old with limited training. (The camera work isn’t the best. Hard to operate that, gates, and puppy, all at the same time.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ruNs0qv6TI]

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One Thing Leads to Another

It’s one of those grey, blustery days that can’t make up it’s mind whether it wants to rain, snow, sleet, or just continue to be cold and windy. No problem, I’ve got a very long indoor To Do list that needs some attention. Before I can start on that, however, I really need to get the sheep onto some grass. So, I tug on my chore boots, grab my trusty dog, and head out to swing some gates.

Once the sheep are where they need to be, I decide Jig and I will take a walk out to see how the pasture is coming in. It got off to a really slow start this year with all the cold weather we’ve been having.

Out in the pasture, I’m pleased to see it’s doing well. I also see there are some thistles doing a bit too well. No problem, I have just the thing. Since it doesn’t really feel too bad now that I’ve been out a while, maybe I’ll go mix up some spray and take care of them.

On the way back to the barn, however, I notice the alleyway is getting a bit shaggy. No reason not to move the rams out there for the day and let them mow it. After all, I have my number one chore dog with me. Should make the task easy-peasy-uncle-cheesy. And it is.

Then I notice their water trough is a bit low. And a bit skanky. Time for a good cleaning. And the one in the barn, too. I mean, I’m on a roll, right?

That job done, I realize I never solved my holding pen issue and, since I’m having a refresher clinic tomorrow, something needs to be done. That takes a bit of pondering, a solution is decided upon, materials and tools gathered, and work commences.

At some point, I look down and see this…pantsNo. Not my legs. What they’re encased in. That being my comfy, loungy, yoga pants which were never meant to be work pants, hence the comfy, loungy description. I hadn’t bothered to change into my jeans on because all I meant to do was open a few gates before returning inside to tackle the aforementioned To Do list. *sigh*

Well, now that they’re sufficiently grubby, nothing for it, but to finish the job I started.

By the time I was done, this happened…

jigsnow

No, I didn’t shower Jig with confetti for a job well done, and that’s not dandruff. That’s a nice sprinkling of icy white stuff courtesy of Mother Nature who has, I’m afraid, not checked her calendar recently.

Time to head in, change, and see if I can actually get anything on my To Do list done, or if this bout of ADD is going to stick around for the rest of the day.

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Out Like a Lamb…

I go into lambing each year with a mix of anticipation and dread. Lambs, like puppies, are adorable. I can watch their antics for hours. Once they start to discover their legs and each other, they begin hopping about like popcorn and organizing lamb races while the adults eat. Such displays can pull a smile and laugh out of me even on my most frustrating day.

It’s tempered by the complications and unknowns that can arise. Some years are worse than others in that department, but a big part of the reason I chose Katahdins was their ability to pasture lamb with little to no interference from me, and without the need for lambing jugs. Yes, I’ve had to step in from time-to-time and, yes, the occasional ewe will find herself confined for a bit if I think she needs help or her lambs don’t appear as thrifty as I like. Overall, however, they need to be able to handle things because I can’t be there 24/7.

We’re lambing later than usual this year. Normally, I’m about done by now. Yesterday we had our first lambs. A set of nice twins, one ram, one ewe. This is the ewe lamb…

ewelamb

…all legs and a healthy set of lungs anytime mom strays too far.

I’m fairly certain when I get home today there will be others. Several of my ewes are looking quite wide. This is the first group of lambs from Captain Jack, and I’m anxious to see what he produces.

Yesterday, I also decided it was time to let Grady and Dillon have a bit more play time. Dillon’s been a holy terror to poor Rowan. He really needs to expend some energy with someone who can take his brand of rough-housing. He’s finally big enough that I feel safer allowing him and Grady to engage in a more lively manner, and Grady, for all his size, really is a gentle soul.

Grady also thinks the boy might be a bit odd. After all, who fights with a weed?

He does, however, think the boy might be a bit odd. After all, who fights with a weed?

 

stalk

It took Dillon a while to find his courage, and he spent some time stalking Grady before launching the attack.

 

And Grady 'falls down' so Dillon can have a bit of fun pouncing on him.

Grady crumpled under the vicious assault, and Dillon took advantage of it by pouncing on his fierce foe.

It was a short play session, but it certainly helped get some of the piss and vinegar out of the pup. Now, if only I could convince Jig he’s not for eating…

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Photo Friday ~ A Day Late

Yesterday was a great morning to be out with the camera. The sun was blindingly bright, the sky deep blue and clear, sweatshirt temperature, and treacherously beautiful.trees

The world sparkled. Encased in crystal. As the sun warmed, the air became filled with a sound like crinkling cellophane, or the crackling of fire. The light, silvery tinkle of the ice relinquishing its hold on branches and clattering to the ground.

trees2

Even the fences were encased, the ice forming a glass-like echo as it pulled away.

fence

This poor robin was wondering what happened to spring.robin

And the Bluebird of Happiness wasn’t so happy trying to cling to the click sumacs.

bluebird

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Dusting Off the Lens

It’s been a while since I hauled my camera out. The actual one. Not the cell phone one. A couple days ago, I discovered our hawks are nesting in a tree on the lot line

This tree, as a matter of fact.This tree, as a matter of fact

They’ve never nested here before. I suspected they were in the woods to the north of our property, but never knew for sure. Perhaps this is a new pair.

HawkNestA closer view of the nest, minus mom & dad.

In any case, I love birds of prey. Always have. I’m thrilled to have the hawks and the Great Horned Owls on our place. Seeing the nest so close, inspired me to dust off my camera and see if I could get any decent shots of the parents. I decided I’d make a little walk-about out of it, and introduce Dillon to some of his new world.

hawkUnfortunately, this is the only shot I was able to get of the very vigilant parents.

Not wanting to pester them into leaving, I turned my lens elsewhere.

nestA much tinier nest, re-purposing sheep’s hair.

DillonChew“I’m teething, so, yes, I put everything in my mouth. Why do you ask?”

sparrowSparrows don’t seem to be as shy as our hawks.

DillonAdventureDillon, investigating the trail through the Thorn Forest.

Dillonrecall“Hey! You weren’t going to leave me here, were you?!!?”

DillonSheepWhen you’re older, Dillon.

And, an unsolicited shout-out to the ABI folks. If you are in need of a small manure spreader, I suggest you invest in one of these beauties. SpreaderNewIt had its inaugural run this morning, and performed far better than we expected. Those of you who’ve had to deal with compacted sheep manure know how much like a concrete slab it can get. I never expected a spreader of this size to be able to pulverize it like it did. The barn is cleaned out, my pasture is fertilized. Easy-peasy.

SpreaderLoad

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Jig’s Journey ~ A Good String of Days

All things considered, this week has been pretty good. The weathermen have consistently gotten it wrong (again), so, instead of three days of rain, we got three pretty decent days with mostly sun. That is, in no way, a complaint, because it meant three consistent days of working Jig. She hasn’t gotten to do anything beyond chores for the last… too long. Even when the weather started to get decent, the ground was boot-sucking soup. It felt good to be able to do something with her other than feed, when the entirety of her job is just to keep the sheep off me and the wheelbarrow.

I expected to see more of ‘Crack Dog’ once we started training again. Although CD thought about making an appearance yesterday, for the most part I still have the thoughtful, respectful dog I had after working with Deb the last time. Even Tuesday, when we moved the rams to the hill between working sessions, Jig was pretty much right on.

You need to understand what a crapshoot having her help with that job used to be. See, Jig loves her some rams, because Jig loves a good fight, and the rams are at least willing to consider giving it to her. Well, they used to be willing. Even our new ram, Captain Jack, figured it might be best just to ignore the girls on the other side of the fence and move along. Especially since I could finally keep Jig behind them, instead of having her consistently looking for their noses. It was a momentous occasion. For me, at least. Not sure Jig saw it the same way.

Yesterday was the highlight of the week in several ways. Not only was it the third nice day in a row, but it started off with the news that we are getting a four-footed addition to the family. A lot of you already saw the announcement on Facebook, but for those who didn’t…

Dillon ~ Rex's Strike of Lightning

Meet Dillon ~ Rex’s Strike of Lightning (pending)

Thank you, Carey and Leslie Rechtzigel. I can’t wait to pick him up this weekend and welcome him to the family. Not sure what Jig will think of him, but I know Grady will adore him, and Row will probably be quite indifferent.

After work, I had Grady sort for me. He’s starting to enjoy the job, and it gives him something to do. He barks. A lot. Those of you who know me, know how annoying I find that. However, in Grady’s case, I make an exception. He’s a big dog, but never had much power, or confidence in the power he did have. When challenged, he’s more likely to turn tail than stand his ground. Barking is how he feels he can get the job done. So, in Grady’s case, I try my best to ignore the noise, albeit, with teeth gritted and the fervent hope that, some day, he won’t feel the need to be so vocal.

In any case, as Jig and I headed out to work, a sedge of cranes flew over. Yes, according to the www, a group of cranes is called a sedge. Bob, if you’re reading this, feel free to correct me if the internet has led me astray. I’m going to guess they were Sandhills??? I’m used to one or two cranes calling out as they circle overhead, but there were at least eleven in tight, occasionally wobbly, formation. I watched them for a while, finding it amazing that, 1) they didn’t collide with one another, and 2) they could fly so achingly slow and still remain airborne.

Anyhow, as icing on the cake of my day, Jig and I ended our training session with this:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WMeBGq_otg]

That’s a roughly 300′ outrun. For Jig, that’s pretty damn impressive. The sheep were keen on getting to the gate on the far right, but she handled it wonderfully.

More pics and updates on the pup once he arrives.

As always…

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