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.

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. 😉

This appeared in my Facebook memories this week..

It’s hard to believe that was only a year ago. It feels like it took forever to reach that milestone. So much frustration and self-doubt. So many times I thought about throwing in the towel. I won’t stop singing the praises of those closest to me for their support, encouragement, shoulders, ears, and swift kicks in the arse whenever I said stupid things like, “I’m done.” I need to remind myself I was on a very steep learning curve. And by ‘was’ I mean ‘still am’. Jig isn’t through teaching me things yet.

Unfortunately I’m not as smart as Jig and I sometimes don’t retain lessons very well. Fully evidenced by the sound thrashing I received from Deb last weekend. Deb is allowed to pound on me. She’s one of the people mentioned in the paragraph above. Anyhow, Deb had been watching me trial and saving up all sorts of questions as to why I was doing what I was doing. The answer to which has a tendency to be something like…

She started off by asking me what I thought my problems with Jig were, to which I replied, “Mushy Theres and not taking her flanks.”

Deb smiled and replied, “No. Now let me tell you what your problems are.”

In reality, there weren’t a lot. However, being as I train alone most of the time, I have a tendency to get sloppy and probably a bit lazy. I do things without realizing it. I say things without realizing it.

Me to Jig: blah blah blah.

Deb to me: Why did you say that?

Me: …

Among other things, I accept grey in place of black and white. I’m grey — and we ain’t talking my hair, here. Jig doesn’t have mushy Theres, I have mushy directions and corrections. Or rather, mushy directions and ineffective corrections.

Perfect example: I gave Jig a Go Bye. She thought about it for a time. I repeated the command. Jig finally took it but she was rather flat and looking back at me. I took several steps forward and waggled my stick at her then looked at my sheep. Jig frowned, moved a bit more on the flank, looked back. I took several steps forward and waggled my stick at her then looked at my sheep. Jig cut in front of me to go Away instead. I gurgled something unintelligible and threw up my hands in frustration.

Image result for the definition of insanity

After which there was some discussion between Deb and I, a few pointers, some suggestions. I implemented them and after a bit of time in which Jig questioned my seriousness, I started to see the results. Jig stopped being mopey about taking my directions and wasn’t confused on what I was looking for. It’s not that I was doing anything new and earth shattering. Jig and I know this stuff. I had just let it slide.

Unfortunately, the same mistakes I was making with Jig, I was also making with Dillon and Cian. Jig has a lot of experience and a pretty big collection of tools to chose from when I’m being ambiguous. We have more history. All of which only means that she handles it better than the boys. And by ‘handle it’ I mean she guesses. A lot. The boys have a very limited toolbox and less history. Cian is more like Jig (I think he’s actually a red clone) and is easier and more forgiving when I muck things up. Dillon… not so much. He doesn’t do grey very well. When I remember to be very clear, and very black and white with him, he doesn’t watch me or come back to me. Oh, that. Yeah. Um… no more allowing that for him or Jig. That’s on me because I’ve been all sorts of confusing to my dogs of late. And, apparently, when I don’t know how to handle a situation, or can’t think of a command, I have been resorting to calling my dogs in to me.

Bad idea, that.

So, as usual, much to work on!! My brain had turned into a smoldering puddle of goo by the end of the weekend. I think I need to make myself some flashcards, or maybe some signs to hang around the arena reminding me of what I’m supposed to be doing. The biggest needs to read:

One, One, and Done.

Meaning one command, one correction, then move your feet and fix it.