Endings, Beginnings, & Everything In Between

The quote in the feature image really resonated with me when I first heard it several weeks back. Probably because I’m going through a period where I’m facing several endings on both personal and professional levels. Won’t lie, there are one or two I’m struggling to come to terms with. As the rest of the quote points out however…

 

…it’s not negative. It’s just life.

 

And we face endings every day. Large and small. Yes, some cut deeper than others. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the pain and disillusionment. Sometimes we search for a reason we’ll never find, other times we don’t even notice them. When all is said and done, without endings how can we have beginnings? (or dessert, for that matter?) Every evening is an ending, every morning a beginning, full of promise and new adventures. A chance to, in some tiny fashion, begin again, or at least to carry on the best we can manage.

Urghabhail an la!

 

(That’s your Irish language phrase for the day. 😉 )

 

Speaking of new beginnings, this little guy came to hang out this weekend. Don’t get excited, people, he’s not ours, but he is a working dog. This is Jet, service dog in training. As of right now he’s in what is described as the ‘puppy raising and public access stage’. At this point, he does not have a specific task assigned him as his person hasn’t been chosen. I hear there is hope he will become a diabetic alert dog. Jet’s visit was a win-win for the rest of us because… PUPPY SNUGGLES!!!!!!!!!! And that’s the best kind of therapy for whatever ails you.

This past weekend was pretty good for the soul from start to finish. Beautiful weather, a group of awesome folks with nice working dogs, and the camaraderie that comes along with days such as those. Hopefully everyone learned something and found some new tools for their box, whether they use them now, or down the road.

The only drawback to weekends like this is that my own dogs don’t get to work too much. Except, of course, for my right paw, Miss Jig, who thought the pumpkins we threw out for the sheep were a good breakfast before we sorted.



I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our supervisor, Rebel Kitten. Rebel usually avoids crowds, but obviously thought this one was da bomb! because he couldn’t seem to leave us alone. His favorite participant by far was Arrow, the BC. The adoration was reciprocal, though not much appreciated by us humans when he came out into the training field to say hi to his new pal and show his support. That cat can be a real pain in the ass, sometimes, but he’s also quite the character. And, after all his hard work, he helped himself to a much needed water break. Maybe that’s what he thought I meant when I said I needed a drink.

My personal high point from the weekend is depicted in the video below. No sound because I was chattering and it was windy. You’ll see Jig enter from the right side in the sun flare. For some reason Jig thought there was a gate at the far corner of the field and I had to redirect her to the actual gate, then she missed the return gate when something else caught her eye. I’m sharing because I was pretty proud of her in this moment. Also, because there’s been some chatter on a group list I lurk on, regarding what real working Aussies are or are not. It’s a bit of a burr under my saddle, have to say, because the long and the short of it is certain people discount the dogs belonging to those of us with small farms and limited numbers of stock. Apparently if you don’t have thousands of acres of open land and huge herds of cattle or sheep to manage, and your dog doesn’t have a job each and every day, it is not a true working dog.

I beg to differ.

I don’t have wide open fields. My largest open area is probably just a hair over 2 acres. I keep anywhere from as few as 20 to close to 50 or so sheep, occasionally a handful of steers, and a flock of chickens. There are days in a row I don’t need my dogs to do anything. Then there are days I couldn’t manage without them. And if I can stand by a pen gate and send my dog out of the arena with nothing but a flank command, through one gate and pasture, out into another, to bring in the whole damn flock with me never having to leave my post or put my coffee down, well, that’s my definition of a true working dog.

 

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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.

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I was doing some website updates, transferring domain names, switching servers, panicking when I thought I lost everything… again, etc. etc. and suddenly realized it’s been over a month since my last post here. Yikes, right? But, you know…

And then there’s been this stretch of heat and humidity which are two of my most unfavorite things.

Okay, enough with the gifs, that’s not what any of us are here for.

Let’s see, short recap; my last post was about how I was talked out of benching Jig and only running her in farm trials because I wasn’t having the success I thought I wanted. Since then, a second person whose opinion I value, concurred with the first. Actually, several folks concurred. So, I’m sticking with it and with Jig because I have a lot to learn yet.

Jig has some stuff to learn as well. Stuff I should have taught her right from the start. Stuff Steve Shope helped me recognize when he was up to give his yearly clinic at the end of June. He watched me work Jig as though we were trialing, which proved to be extremely helpful. Granted, I didn’t handle her exactly like a I would at a trial, and the stock knows us both, but Steve was still able to point out several of our weaknesses. One of the biggest (outside of my handling), is that Jig doesn’t pause on her There, or pretty much any time I ask for it. I’ve likely created the monster by letting her run the lift right into the fetch. That results in me attempting to make her stop, generally at the wrong time by telling her to down, which she fights because it causes her to lose her stock, which in turn requires her to have to re-establish control, and it’s just ugly.

Under Steve’s guidance there were a few times I was able to get Jig to simply check her pace. The sheep would settle almost immediately, and didn’t even consider bolting toward the draw because Jig had them right at the edge of the bubble. It was a thing of beauty.

So, it’s back to working on some sloppy foundations for Jig. As for my handling, I need to be proactive instead of reactive, and that’s going to take time and miles.

Dillon and I had a breakthrough as well. All it took was a bottle full of rocks. All my dogs are familiar with the ‘boogy bottle’. I find the noise it makes to be a very useful training aid with some of them. I hadn’t been using it with Dillon because I didn’t think he needed it. Turns out, he kind of does, but only to remind him to get the hell out of my bubble. Seriously. He’s so bonded to me, and so much my dog, that he has a problem working at any kind of distance – until I grabbed the bottle. Now a simple shake will convince him that he needs to do what I asked instead of bouncing around and staring at me. And it’s proven to me that not only does he know the commands I thought he did, but he also knows some I didn’t think he did, like inside flanks. Yeah. Way to prove me wrong, dog.

Dill is also getting to be quite handy in tight spots. He and Jig are about as far apart as you can get in their approach to putting sheep somewhere they don’t want to go. Jig is this ball of energy with a ton of push and an attitude to back it up, and she doesn’t quite get the whole hold-the-pressure-and-let-them-move-off thing. Her approach is more like, “I said get the hell in there NOW and I meant it.”

Dillon, on the other hand, is far quieter, worlds more patient, not so pushy, and he’s willing to allow the stock the opportunity to make the right choice as he holds his pressure. Sometimes I need a bit of Jig in him, and sometimes I need a bit of him in her.

And Cian? What’s up with that boy?

Adolescence.

He’s been leaving the arena during training sessions. Sometimes to socialize if someone’s watching, and sometimes for no reason I can figure out. He comes right back and keeps working, though, so that’s a good thing. I might have attributed the behavior to the meds he’s on, if not for the fact that his litter brother (who has been visiting for a couple months) has been doing the same thing.

Like everything else, we’ll work through it.

On the seizure front, Cian’s had two breakthroughs since our last ER visit in March. One where I employed our cluster-buster protocol and spent a night with very little sleep. Not because he had more seizures, which he didn’t, but because apparently diazepam does not make him drowsy and sedate but jacks him up to the point where all he wanted to do was play. All. Night. And, yes, I had to go to work the next day. About a month later he had a second seizure. This time his post-ictal phase was nearly non-existent. In fact, within moments after the seizure he was completely normal. Although I did administer some extra meds, I didn’t feel the need to employ our CBP. Currently, he’s sporting a Fitbark on his collar as part of a 6-month study being done by UW Madison vet school, which you can read about by following this link.

So, there’s my update. No training lately because of the weather. Next trial with Jig is in August. I’ll try to post some more in between times. I also have some random photos and video clips to share. In the meantime, remember…

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If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you will know Dillon has been a challenge. There have been times when I questioned if we would ever overcome our many issues. Many times frustration overcame good sense and I took it out on him by being blatantly unfair. All I can say is it’s a good thing Dillon loves me as much as he does. He’s willing to forgive and forget just about all my transgressions. And it’s a good thing I pulled my head out of my backside and started training to his strengths instead of pounding on him for his weaknesses.

I’ve gotten in some steady work on all the dogs the last week or so. None have shown more improvement than Dill. He gets to do the bringing in and sorting, then I’ll give him a break and take him out after Jig and Cian for an actual training session. Suddenly, I have a dog who does that thing he never wanted to do… gather. It’s far from perfect, and he’s only good for about 75′ or so, usually with a redirect when he starts to pull up short and look back at me. He also has a tendency to slice. And he does it all at warp speed. At this point, I don’t care. He’s doing it. I can finesse it once it becomes more fluid. Right now, I’m working more on getting him to SLOW THE HELL DOWN once he gets behind the sheep. He still doesn’t realize the point of the gather is to bring the sheep to me, not just round them up and take them blasting past.

You get two clips today. In this first one I send Dillon on a short gather then attempt to get him to lie down part way in and walk up nice and steady because, as those who know me are aware, I like mashing things together working on two things at once. Please note, it’s an Away, the direction we’ve had problems with in the past. Dillon wasn’t taking my downs, and we’ve got lots to work on, but it’s all about baby steps (something Dave reminded me of when I told him how things went).

We’re also working on the take pen. Dillon is more than happy to help in the pens, he has no qualms about being in tight spots, but no way, no how, does he want to bring sheep out of a pen when he might lose them. When having him take stock out, I generally have to open the gate only wide enough for him to squeeze in, then quickly swing it open when he gets around. Opening the gate all the way and doing what I do in this next clip has never provided these results. Yeah, he’s pushy. Yeah, he’s fast. And I don’t particularly like the way he wears behind me as we do a bit of walking about, but we’ll get it sorted out in time. The ultimate goal is to have him enter the pen without me, of course, and control the stock calmly and slowly right from the get-go. It’s something I’m working on with Cian and Jig as well.

It feels like Dillon and I have had a long overdue breakthrough. Or maybe we’re just starting to understand one another a bit better. Whatever the case, I promised him a kiss on the lips after our last session, guess I better pay up.

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I have a tendency to mention the problems I’m facing during training, but the video clips accompanying those posts are usually ones in which things are going fairly well. Today I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and really put me and my dog out there with a few clips that illustrate our problem areas. Apologies in advance for the quality of the video. I had my cell phone strapped to the fence post. Also, if you’re thinking this group of sheep was a bit light, you’d be right. They’re light on purpose.

And one more side note, I feel the need to point out that I’m not picking on Dillon. He just happens to be the ‘problem child’ at the moment. That’s not to say we’re not making progress. A session or so after this video was shot, he took a Go Bye from about 60′ off the sheep. Not a big deal for some, but it was for us. Not only did he go, he got to head. Cause for celebration. Last night’s session also went well. We had our moments and I have to push A. Lot. If that’s what it takes right now, that’s what it takes.

Anyhow, Dill and I have two major issues. First off, the take pen. Jig had huge take pen issues at one point as well. She does them much better so I know Dillon and I will get through this. Actually, as you’ll see in the first clip, he handles it fairly well. The problem is I can only open the gate wide enough for him to squeak in or he won’t go. It’s not a method I recommend, but for right now, it works and we’ll build on it.

For those whose first thought is going to be “lack of confidence”, Dillon really has no qualms about being in a pen, even a packed one–so long as the gate remains closed. I can go into the pen with him and he’ll work in there as calm and quiet as can be. As a matter of fact, if he’s helping me sort and I go into the pen without him he’ll slither under the gate to come help whether I ask him to or not.

So, what happens when I swing the gate open? Will he follow them in and out? Ah… no. In this clip I try sending him from my side, then move to the post to see if I can push him into a ‘Go Bye’. Nothing doing. I go in with him. Nothing doing. Then I do that magical thing and close the gate. Voila! takes his flank with ease. Several twirls later I lay him down in back, swing the gate, allow Dill to cover.

On to our second issue: Dillon’s lack of a gather, lack of cover, and his unwillingness to take a flank from a distance. Before you ask, yes, he knows his flanks.

Here are two short clips to illustrate my frustration. The turning back, bouncing, staring at me… some days that’s harder to deal with than others. To be honest, this is where I tend to lose it. Normally I would have had him lie down and set it up again, but I wanted a good demo clip of the worst case. As I walked in I was calmly repeating my request for him to… oh, I dunno… maybe get the freaking sheep and bring them back? When I finally gave up the fight and sent him on a ‘Go Bye’ we were relatively close to the stock.

Next up, a split. What you may notice is that Dillon’s far more concerned with the sheep we already have as opposed to going to bring the others. Finally it’s the sheep that make the decision to return. Toward the end of the clip, you’ll see me do a little stomp and turn away. This was me correcting myself for being an idiot and correcting Dill at the wrong spot which actually made him come off the flank. Handler error. I should have pushed, not corrected.

So there you go, a glimpse behind all the glitter. 😉

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The Year of Training – Another Piece of the Puzzle

Between the 4th of July falling in the middle of the week, and another blast of heat and humidity, I didn’t get a whole lot of training in since my last post. I got in one very short session with Jig and Dillon on Tuesday evening, but the weather got the better of us. The weather and the damn bugs. They’re the only ones who seem to enjoy these hot, muggy days. I have a tendency to get a bit cranky after too long a stretch, and that’s not very conducive to training, or much of anything else.

One of the things I was watching for when I worked Dill, was whether or not his chiro adjustment affected his Away. It didn’t. Not yet, anyhow. I’m thinking that if he has been physically uncomfortable going in that direction, it has become a habit of necessity to move a certain way. That’s not going to correct itself overnight. I’ve got another series of appointments scheduled for him with Dr. Robin, and I’ve gone back to encouraging him to flex to the left when he comes in for pets and lovin’.

Friday Gail stopped in on her way across the state and we of course went out to work dogs. Heck if I was going to pass up the opportunity to have another set of eyes on me, and I’m so glad I didn’t. I began Dillon’s session on a flank from my side. Gave him a verbal Away to Me and marveled at how quickly and smoothly he went, how wide he was, how he’d actually gone on a Go Bye.

O_o

Oops, my bad! Did it again and this time made sure he headed Away. Somewhere along the line, Gail suggested I have Dillon lie down when he started to fall in on that flank, which he does, a lot, then redirect him making sure he gave me a nice roll out first. She pointed out that, particularly on the Away, he was never really getting to head. It was one of those moments where you feel equal parts idiot and encouraged. Here was another little piece that had been missing. I’ve been so focused on the fact Dillon was fighting me on his Aways that I never looked past that and so created another bump in the road.

On Sunday I had quite a few sets of eyes on me as a group of us had our first Working Day. Dillon did really well. He took his verbal flanks (the correct ones), seemed a bit more fluid, and even got to head on more than one occasion without me having to give an extra push.

Now, if you read my last installment, you may remember I talked about getting shoved out of my comfort zone with Jig. Thanks to not having her handy, and having to move a new group of sheep to the round pen, Dillon got the nod. We tried him on lead first, as I wasn’t ready to trust any of our training by having him fetch the sheep to the pen. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. I  was forced to take him off his leash and, I dunno, maybe trust him a bit? Subsequently, I managed to make quite a mess of things. I felt so far out of my comfort zone with him that I turned into a babbling, flailing idiot. Fortunately for Dillon, we had two coaches who managed to calm me down until my brain re-engaged and I remembered that I had words I could use. Not just any words. Words that were directions that Dillon understands. And viola! we got the job done.

Methinks it will benefit us both to start throwing some little tasks into his training as well.

And, because I don’t have any training pictures to share this week, here’s one of Cian, mom Tam, and brother Taps. Tam looks about as thrilled as Jig whenever I turn the camera on her, and Taps isn’t much better.

I doubt I’ll have an update next week. I have a busy schedule and will be out of town over the weekend.

 

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The Year of Training ~ Update Numero Uno

I bet you all are sitting there, tapping your fingers on the table, looking at the calendar (because you have nothing better to do with your valuable time), and thinking I’ve gone and missed my first week’s update right out of the gate.

Wrongo. I wanted to wait until after Dillon and Jig had their chiro adjustments to see if there was any news to share. I was also busy putting together some short video clips.

Let’s jump right in with Dillon. Dr. Robin came out on Friday morning for Dillon’s first ever chiro adjustment. He was not amused. It took quite a few treats and lots of patience on Dr. Robin’s part to allow her to work on anything other than his front end. The findings were that, yes, he had some restriction in his neck, a few spots on his spine, and in his pelvis, all on the left side. Would this impact his wanting to flex his body in that direction? Possibly. He honestly did look like he was moving a bit freer when we were done with him. Unfortunately the heat and humidity has moved back in, so no testing the theory for several days.

We did get in a few days of training during the week, however. I purchased this nifty, bendable tri-pod that holds my cell phone, making it much easier to video my training sessions. I can put that little sucker just about anywhere. Mostly the videos are for me, alone. I’ll share a few clips here and there, however. Today you get three. The first one illustrates Dillon’s problem area. There are captions. No comments on my handling. I ain’t perfect and sometimes I confuse myself and my dog. At one point I probably confused the sheep as well. Those parts I try to edit out. In any case…

Watching the entire session I noticed many things I don’t get to see while training. Number one was how much tighter and less relaxed Dillon is on the Away side. Number two was all those good things he does that I love and give me faith we’ll get through this.

Okay, on to Jig. When Steve was up a couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity for some one-on-one time with him due to his flight getting totally jacked up which led to him staying an extra day. (Hurray!) I’ve been getting a little frustrated with my training sessions with Jig because she does really well and it’s hard to fix problems when they don’t crop up at home. We’ve fallen into a routine. Steve saw the chance to shake up that routine and leapt on it like Rebel on a mouse. This resulted in me having a glorious meltdown and it was AWESOME. Why, you ask, would I consider a meltdown to be awesome? Because it suddenly felt just like a trial situation and now, finally, I could address some of the disconnect Jig and I experience elsewhere.

Here’s the scenario. I had been fetching sheep from the holding pen, across the barn yard, into the round pen. Steve suggested, since I’d proven I have controls on Jig, making her drive them across instead. Sure, says I, cause I’m always up for a challenge. I’m certain the sheep start to view the round pen as the coliseum meaning they aren’t all that keen on going there in the first place. In any case, driving them away from a very heavy draw and into said coliseum brought out the crazy in me. I may have even started twitching. It also showed how, in times of stress, Jig and I loose our functionality. I start nit-picking, my voice escalates, emotions run rampant — who thought I could get that kind of stress at home?!!? The point of it all was to start to find challenges for Jig and I instead of going out, sorting sheep, working on the same exercises in the same manner. Seems like such a common sense thing but… well… the Routine Trap had snared me good.

So here’s a short clip of when it actually worked just a bit too smoothly. This group of sheep made it look easy.

And, here is an even shorter clip I call Bad Kathi, wherein I should have just shut my mouth when Jig had them close to the gate and trusted her to finish the job. Instead, I got antsy, didn’t trust her, tried to micro-manage her with, of all things, a lie down, and we lost them. This was a tough group of sheep to begin with. The white one was a huge cheater that caused us many problems. I finally had to call it a day and finish off with a fetch.


I’m going to work really hard on NOT overdoing that fun little exercise, and continue to look for other opportunities to test us.

No clips of Cian. I think I only worked him once or twice during the week. Pretty soon I’ll start putting a few more demands on him because he’s doing well with the self-control aspect of the program.

I’m just hoping this heat wave doesn’t last too long. I don’t do well in heat and humidity. Makes me all sorts of cranky.

Happy training!

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Dillon’s Day ~ Slow, But Steady

One of the pitfalls of training alone is that it’s sometimes hard to see improvement which, in turn, can lead to frustration and discouragement when we get to feeling like we’re spinning our wheels. Thankfully, I have friends who turn up from time-to-time and aren’t afraid to tell me what they’re seeing. Such was the case over the past weekend. My original plan was to have one of them work Dillon because it’s so much easier to see what’s going on when you aren’t in the thick of it. Yes, I could just video our session, which I have done in the past, but I really wanted to know if I’m the source of our problems. The only way to do that was have someone else handle him. Dillon, however, is apparently a bit of a momma’s boy. No way was he working for anyone else. So much for that great idea. Watching me work with him, however, they both agreed Dillon is doing far better than he was the last time they saw him. I definitely need to hear that because, you know, what I said up there.
I know I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m finding Dillon to be quite the challenge. Not only is his working style different than what I’m used to, he watches me — a lot — which I’m sure must be something I caused, I just don’t know how, plus he’s still a bit immature. I don’t give up easily though, especially not when I see potential. Bringing out that potential is my responsibility. I made a commitment to myself and Dillon, among others, and I intend to honor it, even if it does stretch me as a trainer.
After spending some of our weather-induced downtime musing on our problem areas and the things I’ve already tried, I decided what I needed was a pen that wasn’t large enough for Dillon to ever feel as though he was in fear of losing his stock, yet offered a strong draw, as well as room to do some gather/fetch work. Enter the holding pen/alleyway turned training area.

Roughly 55′ x 16′, with a smaller 12×12 pen at one end, which adds to an already strong draw in that direction, this area comes complete with chickens. They refused to leave when asked and did get their feathers ruffled once or twice. It took a while, but eventually they went on their way.
In any case, controlling stock while allowing them to move toward a draw is one of the things we’re having issues with. When the stock heads toward a draw Dillon prefers to position himself in their path and hold his ground to prevent them from continuing on, that makes it a tad difficult to repen stock, move them through a gate, or take them anywhere they truly want to be.


This clip is a little dark from shooting into the sun, and for a lot of folks it won’t look like much beyond the basic stuff any young dog should know. You could even pick it apart because Dillon’s slicing his approach. The thing is, for him to leave my side, even in this small of a pen, and actually go on a ‘gather’ is monumental. One of the biggest hurdles I’m trying to overcome right now is lack of a gather/fetch especially toward a draw, as it was in this case. He’ll take his flanks if I’m between him and the stock, and if they aren’t in a position to get away from him, but sending him from my side typically results in a straight-on walking approach and a drive away or hold to a fence. Honestly, that’s what I intended to capture. I wanted video of a ‘bad’ example. Instead, I got this which, small as it is, is a step in the right direction and tells me my work and patience are starting to pay off.

Rebel Kitten is normally chief of the Distraction Training team but found himself otherwise occupied with Butthead, Dave’s bottle ram. Kudos to him for finding not one, but two substitutes. They weren’t quite up to Rebel’s standards, though, and soon abandoned the job altogether.

 

I’ve done quite a bit of work with Dillon on cleaning out corners and working in the pens to help build his confidence in tight situations. Here he shows the benefits of those tasks by making himself a gap to push through between the sheep and the fence with any hesitation.

Dillon’s bad side is Away to Me. He’s far freer on the Go Bye side. Here he’s fast and tight, and would have likely fallen to the inside if I hadn’t given him an extra push. We’ll work on that, but I believe in facing one battle at a time.

You can see his Go Bye is a better. He’s still fast and tight, even considering the confines of the working space, but he’s relaxed and making the effort to get around.

Even though the pen is only a bit over 50′ long, I’m able to do some fetching from one end to the other. Turning back to the draw, Dillon will often want to charge ahead and stop our forward progression. The pen is small enough that I can easily block him and keep him behind, showing him a clear picture of what I want. These sheep were pretty heavy and content to stay with me. If they would have broke, I would have let Dillon go to head to fix it, then would have encouraged him to get back behind.
Baby steps.

Being as heavy as they were, this group of sheep provided an un-looked for learning experience for Dillon. One he handled very well. After working on a few take & repens, the dark-faced ewe decided she wanted only to be in that pen and tried several times to push past Dillon when we were moving the group to the other end. Dillon held the pressure when she faced him off and even had to make a few cutting horse maneuvers to keep her from bolting past. When one of the others joined her ill-conceived crusade, Dillon kept both of them at bay, moving in step-by-step. When they finally turned off, I had him lie down and then broke him off with lots of praise.
I quickly made note of which group of sheep I had, because that little exercise is going to do Miss Jig a world of good.


In a few days I’m heading off to a Deb Conroy clinic. It’s mostly about Jig right now, but Dillon and Cian will be making the trip as well. I want to run Dillon at least once. It’s always good to get them off the farm and on different stock. It will also be nice to have the opinion of someone as talented as Deb. Who knows, maybe she’ll give me some more tools to add to my box, and that’s always a good thing.

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Moving Backwards to Move Forward

What a glorious weekend we had for the Steve Shope clinic here at the farm last weekend! The weather cooperated wonderfully, and the group of handlers and dogs was one of the best yet. All eager to learn, all super-supportive of one another, and all at various levels with their dogs. We certainly gave Steve a work-out. He, in turn, pushed some of us outside our comfort zones in order to get the best from our dogs.

For some handlers ‘outside the comfort zone’ meant merely turning their back on their dog. For others, it meant moving outside the pen. Literally. Talk about exercising trust in your dog while losing the ability to micro-manage them. A trap I fall into far too often.

I was one of those who Steve had work their dog from the opposite side of the fence. Yes, I put Jig in the round pen with the stock, closed the gate behind her, and took up a position well away from the action.

There I am, on the wrong side of the fence, pulling Jig through on an inside flank to send her all the way around.

I’m not sure who this was harder on; me or Jig. We were working on freeing her up a bit, making her flanks more fluid. Removing me from the picture not only forced me to ramp up the level of trust I’ve shown her, but also prevented me from orchestrating her every move. Honestly, I really needed a drink when we were done! The results, however, were showing even after just a couple sessions.

This is an exercise I’ll continue, and was just one of several Steve left me with to help plug those huge, gaping holes in Jig’s training. It’s not going to happen over night. I will need to exercise patience. Yes, that little virtue I seem to have a problem with.

“You know the problem with instant gratification?

It’s not fast enough.”

And, even though I swore I wouldn’t push Dillon like I have other dogs, it appears I used the same process on him as I have on Jig.

  1. Spend a few sessions on the basics
  2. See results
  3. Jump immediately to advanced work
  4. Become frustrated because things aren’t going as planned
  5. Continue to try to force the issue
  6. Bang head against wall
  7. Repeat Step 5
  8. Repeat Step 4
  9. Repeat Step 6
  10. Drink

This is not a training regime I recommend to anyone.

As for Dillon, I admit, I was getting a bit worried about the boy. It’s not that he doesn’t want to work, or that he’s out of control, and he has some really nice, natural moves. I just felt he wasn’t as far along as he should have been at his age. Felt. Past tense.

Dillon, in a moment of maturity, showing keen interest and control.

I now see there are only two current problems plaguing the boy:  #1 – he is a young male and is currently a tad mentally immature. #2 – me, as explained in Steps 1-10 above.

Yeah.

No more of that. Our new training regime for both dogs is as follows:

  1. Spend as long on the basics as needed to get consistent results
  2. Move forward only when Jig or Dillon tell me they’re ready
  3. If something isn’t working, either back up a step, or go on to something else.
  4. Don’t force it.
  5. Don’t get frustrated.
  6. Enjoy the process.
  7. Take time.
  8. Repeat #1
  9. Have fun.

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Just For Grins

There was a time over winter when Dillon really didn’t know if he was too fond of snow. He actually refused to pick up the Chuckit ball if it had any snow on it whatsoever. Somewhere along the line, that changed.

Out for a play session over the weekend, Dillon sought out the snow banks still lingering around the small arena, ball in mouth. He spent a good ten minutes or more running their length, tossing the ball around, pouncing it into the snow, snorkeling down to get it so he could start all over again. I spent that time watching and laughing at his antics.

We need to do that every now and again. Forget the crush of the To Do list, leave the stress of the day behind, and just revel in the moment. We need to be like our dogs and just have fun for the sake of having fun.

I’ve said all along that Dillon has a way of making me laugh just about every day. Maybe this will bring a smile to your face as well.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8XggcDTCu4]

stockdogsrule

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