When Your Dog Saves Your Bacon

There’s no question, at our farm, Jig is the power. When there’s a task that needs doing, and I suspect the stock might not cooperate, Jig is the one who gets the call. It’s a very handy on thing to have, especially on cattle.

It can sometimes be a bit much on sheep. Though, over the years, I’ve been able to convince Jig to tone it down a bit. Most times. Still, loading the chute is one of her favorite jobs because she might just have to use some of that push.

“Just say the word, boss.”

Last Saturday morning I suspected I would need a little of Jig’s touch. We were loading three sheep into the back of a pick-up, up a steeper ramp than they’re used to. Our plan consisted of running the sheep into the small side of the barn to a temporary chute and up into the truck. The small side of the barn makes a roughly 8′ x 16′ pen. The set-up worked pretty good, the only drawback being there’s no gate on the barn and the connecting alleyway is about 60′ long so it makes a good escape route if the sheep decide they’d rather not play the game. Unless, of course, you’ve got your right hand… er… paw guarding the exit.

Under normal circumstances my sheep don’t mind going into the barn but when they saw the ramp, a strange truck, and several people who were obviously up to no good, they opted to go elsewhere. Jig happily directed them back into the barn where I held a position at the bottom of the ramp, ready to assist any volunteers. It usually only takes one to convince the rest it’s the way to go. Getting a volunteer to even look at the ramp took a bit of coercing, however, because by that point Jig had her crack ears on. Nothing like having to use push to make a pushy dog happy. Unfortunately, the sheep know Jig very well and are quite familiar with the meaning behind her crack ears, hence they were more than a little concerned regarding her intentions and had no desire to take their eyes off her.

Can’t say I really blamed them. Jig knows the job, you see, and was clearly thinking, “You want the sheep up that ramp? Clear the way, I’ll put them up that ramp whether they want to go or not!”

I, on the other hand, was trying to maintain order and some semblance of calm. Though it’s usually fruitless, I reminded Jig, “Sometimes less is more. Give it a minute.”

Eventually I convinced her to hold her ground — which only means I kept repeating “Stay!” and “Don’t you do it!” through clenched teeth when other threats failed to get her to back the eff off. **oooohhhhmmmmm deep breath** I really can’t fault Jig. When she sees me tussling with a sheep she really just wants to help. She just doesn’t understand how to help a little vs full bore.

Finally one of the younger wethers decided the only way out was up the ramp. Just as I reached down a guiding hand to ensure he didn’t change his mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw the biggest wether spin around and make a desperate bid for the relative freedom of the alleyway. I had a split second to think, “Well, shit.” before a black blur launched into action and explained to the wether what a bad decision he’d just made. I didn’t get a good view, being I was intent on keeping the youngster headed up the ramp, but from the little I saw and some eye-witness accounts there were some aerial acrobatics combined with a few cutting horse maneuvers. Needless to say, said sheep did not make it even a foot out of the barn. In fact, the next thing I knew that big wether was begging to be allowed up the ramp and apologizing for the error of his ways.

Of course, the three of them got to the top of the ramp and balled up because… SCARY DARK HOLE THING WE DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS ANYWAY! I followed them up to give a push with Jig trying to get through my legs the whole time. She was a bit too cranked up by then to let her assist. After all, we wanted the sheep in the back of the truck, not the back seat.

In the end, we got them loaded in far less time and with far less labor involved than if we had tried without a dog. I love the fact working Aussies are thinking dogs. Oftentimes that gets taken out of them for the trial arena. Gotta say, I’m really thankful I never managed to do that to Jig and still have a dog who knows the job and how to get it done without waiting to be told what to do. Even if sometimes her enthusiasm gets the better of her.

And for those who don’t follow me on Social Media, here’s a clip of Jig gathering from the far field. Nothing but a Go Bye to send her. It never grows old.

 

https://youtu.be/7JXP9KLGQLk

Sometimes You Have to Make Your Own Opportunities

I was supposed to be at an ASCA stock trial this past weekend. Like so many other events this year, it had to be cancelled. Instead of kicking the ground and going into woe-is-me mode, I created my own opportunity by taking the trip anyhow, meeting up with some friends, and turning it into a training weekend. Dreams and goals take work. It’s work you need to make yourself responsible for. Blaming your failures or lack of success on others is giving them an awful lot of power over your life. True, not everyone has the same resources, but if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. Apologies for the tirade, but it needed to get said.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances.

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want,

and if they can’t find them, make them.”

~George Bernard Shaw

Anyhow, some of you who follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook may have met Carl a few days ago. He’s the character headed toward me and the camera.

Sorry I disappointed those who thought Carl was a new addition to the farm. Yeah, he oozes personality and character. Enough that he would have given Linus a run for his money. My fences (and my patience), however, wouldn’t survive living with goats. They are fun to work from time-to-time though, because they are just different enough from sheep to add all sorts of new challenges. The trio Dillon and Finn got to work over the weekend required a bit of push. Particularly Carl. Carl doesn’t see the need to goat. Hence my giving him the title of The Linus of the Goat World.

Until the past weekend the only stock Finn had met were sheep. And chickens, but those are off limits and the rule around the farm is No Chasey Chicky. So getting him on goats who work nothing like even my heaviest sheep was great fun. Carl did his best to convince Finn it was okay to leave him behind and only work his cohorts. I call that taking unfair advantage of a rookie. Much to Carl’s dismay, it didn’t take much for me to convince Finn Carl really was a goat and needed to work with his buddies. Overall, I think my young man did rather well. Finn doesn’t actually have a lot of training on him, so what you’re seeing here at 11 months old is mostly instinct.

Finn was also introduced to cattle. Next time I’ll try to get some pictures or video. We were working a group of 8 nice sized Herefords who would have preferred to continue grazing over being told to move. Since I really didn’t know what to expect, I put Finn in more experienced hands for his first exposure and watched from the sidelines. I certainly didn’t want Little Bastard making an appearance. Which, thankfully, he didn’t. Finn was interested but cautious. I will admit, I had hoped for just a bit more spark. The next day I was strong-armed into taking him convinced I should take him in myself and I got my spark. Nothing crazy or out of control. Although I couldn’t see what he was doing on the backside as we fetched the cattle around the arena, Finn kept them grouped and moving at a nice, steady gait, so he must have been doing okay. The cattle, like the goats, needed a bit of push. All things considered, I’d have to say I left feeling very pleased with what Finn showed me.

And what’s a weekend of firsts without ducks, am I right? Honestly, I hadn’t even considered putting Finn on ducks at all because, well, that whole Little Bastard part of his personality was sure to clash with fast and frail fowl. Nothing like a little peer pressure. (Work Finn on the ducks, she said. It’ll be fun, she said. ) Fine. Truth is, she was right. I don’t keep ducks and here was a chance to see how the youngster would do. Have to say, the boy amazed me. In fact, the first time in he was taking them out of the corner like a seasoned pro. The second time in, just like his second time on the goats and the cattle, he started getting a bit pushier in direct correlation to his confidence.

Dillon and I didn’t have as much success over the weekend as Finn did. I’ll attribute that to the fact I’ve raised the bar for him. Dillon and I have done okay in our first year trialing because he’s a very steady dog who treats all livestock the same whether we’re someplace he knows or someplace brand new. He’s very kind to his stock and not one to take cheap shots or get overly wound up.

He’s also happiest when I let him do things his way – within certain bounds, of course. The problem is, his way isn’t going to allow us to attain the goals I’ve set for us. Now, I’ve had dogs in the past that were pretty easy about switching things up – rules, training methods, etc. Quinn, in particular, would just roll his eyes and give me the “Okay, now what are we doing this time?” look. Not saying that’s a good thing to do, it’s just the case.

Dillon is not that dog. Even with our success, I’m starting to believe I’ve done him a great disservice. We’ve had such a struggle these past four years, trying to figure out how to work together, I feel I’ve let us swing too far to one side: His. Now that I’m asking for more precision, more of an out, more control, we’ve hit a bit of a wall. Dillon is questioning and unsure what I want now. Why I’ve changed the rules. How the heck it is I’ve become completely untrained over night.

It’s actually a good thing we don’t have any trials left this year because I’ve broken my dog and now I need to fix him. I’m not worried. We’ve hit walls before, Dill and I. We’ve always found our way over, through, under, or around them, and this one will be no different.

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do.

It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.”

~Rikki Rogers

And what about the Sad, you ask?

First off, I want to thank everyone for the comments and thoughts after my last post. Putting my heart on my sleeve like that doesn’t come easy for me. I’ve written and deleted more posts than I can count. Every now and again, however, I need to put it out there (though, those posts are highly edited) and the support has always been fantastic. So, again, thank you.

Being last weekend was a solo road trip and we all know how I spend too much time in my own head during those, the Sad came along for the ride. Sometimes the universe intervenes, however, and just about the time the Sad was planning on unleashing a helluva party, a friend called. Since I was driving, we kept the call short, but it was fantastic to hear from him and I’m sure he’s unaware of how perfect his timing was. And on the drive home I had so many other things to occupy my brain that, although I could feel the Sad lurking, it never did make an appearance.

**And a quick note for those who are interested and either aren’t on Facebook, or would rather hear about posts as soon as a new one is up. If you look below in the footer you’ll see the option to follow the blog via email. NO SPAM. You’ll merely receive email notification any time a new post goes up. That’s it.**

Updates All Around

Isn’t it the way of things? You prepare to your utmost, follow all the steps or guidelines to a tee to ensure a smooth go, and then the tiniest of things causes what should have been a walk in the park to become more like this…

…while wearing shorts… in the middle of a steamy afternoon… beneath the blazing hot sun.

As prepared as I was my web migration should have taken, at most, an afternoon. Instead, it became a hair-pulling nightmare that took the bulk of my spare time (and some not so spare time) over the course of a week and a half but finally the new website is up and running.

Browse around, give it a look, let me know if you find any missing/broken links or things just aren’t loading correctly (because that always makes my day). Things are close to the same as they were with a bit of a face lift; I added a new page for Digital Doubles (some of you may have seen those on Facebook), and the footer section has been expanded to show the latest Shadowdance news flashes, current posts, and Instagram feed. Individual dog pages are a work in progress.

And, speaking of dogs…

“Trust him. He’s shown you over and over if he has an inkling of what you want he’ll try to do it but it has to be his way, which we may find unusual, but it works.”

That was told to me by a good friend after I expressed my concerns about entering Dillon on ducks in the 3 Sheeps Farm Trial last weekend. She’s been along for the ride with Dillon and has seen him from the beginning. Funny thing is, several days later, after watching one of our trial runs, another good friend told me, “I’m proud of you. You kept trying to get Dillon to do it your way and he kept fighting you until you finally just backed off and let him do it his way. And he did it.”

That, and a comment from a third person on how my problems at the farm trial were a workable issue but that Dillon “isn’t really wrong”, prompted my reply that Dillon truly is a lesson in not being able to fit a square peg in a round hole.

We’ve come a long way, Dillon and I. Little more than a year ago I had doubts we would have much success in the trialing game. This year, his first full season in the ASCA trial arena, he’s managed to finish 7 titles including last weekend’s AFTDs, OFTDm, with one leg toward his OFTDd. All of this despite my sometimes inadequate handling and several battles of will. Once I pick a fight with Dillon, I may as well just put his leash on and walk away because neither of us is going to win. At most, it will be a draw.

At the recent Farm Trials we got the job done and there were aspects of it that were damn purty (those were mainly on sheep and mainly our sort and pen work). From my point of view, however, there was too much that wasn’t so purty.

What I saw as our biggest problem, and the thing that caused me to lose my shit more than once, was Dillon’s insistence on not letting the stock go once it was trapped somewhere. You know, like in a pen, or a chute, or a corner. At one point I had to trick him into thinking I wanted a flank, just so he would allow the sheep through a chute. Otherwise, he gets them in there and no amount of flailing, pleading, or swearing will get him to allow them to leave and suddenly it becomes all about me and Dillon and no longer about the stock and that’s never a good thing.

That’s also totally my issue. Not his.

Ducks were more of a problem than sheep, as expected. Though, to be fair, Dillon worked them. I mean truly worked them. Still, I fear they will forever be the bane of my existence.

Dillon at the Outback ASC trial in August, showing that he can work ducks, despite me. He finished his OTDd and bumped to advanced.
Photo courtesy Bill Mikkelson

For the most part, our gather and the hold were okay. Once I allowed him to do things his way. Take them out of a pen, however? Not happening.

Let them come out of the crate? Are you a complete nut case, silly human? We just put them in there!

Out of the chute? Hells to the no. What’s wrong with you?

And if I tried to position Dillon somewhere and made him lie down or stay? As soon as the stock twitched, so did he, which is all it takes with ducks.

As was pointed out, he’s not entirely wrong. No one wants the stock to escape. We do, however, on occasion, need to give them the opportunity to… oh, i dunno… exit an area maybe?

I’m guessing part of the issue is Dillon either doesn’t trust he can control them, or he doesn’t trust me and thinks I’m setting him up to lose his stock. Maybe a combo of both. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, we have two more trial weekends before our season wraps up. I’m hoping to finish with all our open titles but Dillon needs more experience on cattle and I’m not sure we’ll have that opportunity this year.

On the subject of cattle, did I mention Miss Jig finished her OFTDc at the Outback ASC cattle Farm Trial in August? As usual, she hated having to travel and was certain the camper was going to eat her. Nothing like a herd of bovine to make her perk up, though. After which she got spoiled for the remainder of the weekend.

Apparently, being within the bowels of the beast is fine. No stressing about the camper when you’re snoozing under the table…
…or when you’re curled up in the bed, stealing a corner of the pillow for your very own.

And Finn… I haven’t had a lot of time to work the youngster lately. We’ll be kicking his training up a notch this fall, I’m sure. Until then, he gets to hang out, learn some off stock stuff, and occasionally play with his girlfriend Ziva.

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.

It’s been a long time since I left a trial feeling anything other than disheartened, slightly beaten down, and wondering why I keep throwing uncooked spaghetti at the wall. That’s not whining or a plea for sympathy, just the facts. My attitude was based solely on my mindset which, admittedly, was far from good. I was so focused on all the wrong things, I could no longer see all the good things that were happening.

If you’re a regular reader, you might remember my mentioning a good arse kicking I received from several of my friends and mentors a couple months back. Obviously I carry my brain in my arse, because that tough love served to reset my attitude and that caused a chain reaction.

This past weekend was Outback ASC’s fall trial. Along with two days of arena trials, they held a cattle farm trial. No secret Jig and I love to work cattle so I jumped at the opportunity and entered. For the first time in a long time, I went into our run not worried about a score or getting a leg, just excited to have the rare opportunity to work a larger group of cattle on something other than an arena course. Have to say, I had a blast. I’m pretty sure Jig did as well even though she took a hard kick in the pens. Usually a kick trips her trigger and it’s hard to get her to stop the fight once it ensues. This kick was enough to momentarily shut her down, and she wasn’t too keen on going back into the pens after that unless I went with her. My tough girl had her confidence a little shaken. We persevered, however, and saw it through. The icing on the cake was not only qualifying, but placing second by just two points behind a talented pair.

Second place seemed to be our theme for the rest of the weekend in cattle. It’s no longer all about the scores and placements for me, but I have to say, it felt damn good to finally be having some success. To see the training begin to pay off. Jig’s confidence returned quickly and by Sunday we even managed one of those elusive 100+ scores I had been so focused on earlier in the year. More icing and once again missing first place by a mere two points behind another very talented pair.

Oddly enough, our sheep runs weren’t so good. I’ll take most of the blame for that. I micro-managed the first run and Jig let me know in no uncertain terms exactly what I could do with that handling style. The next run we had a challenging group of sheep and I did slightly better. I think Jig was still feeling the effects of her kick, however, and wasn’t 100% in the game. By Sunday we’d both come around. I handled her like I train her, (what a concept, right?) and she worked like I knew she could on some lighter sheep who needed a bit of space.

In all honesty, I don’t even remember what the score was. I didn’t care. Crazy, but true. We were a team once again and it felt awesome. I felt awesome. Even in the areas where we failed, I saw changes I could make, training we still needed, ways to fix it instead of just kicking my toe in the dirt and going home with my head hanging.

Best of all… I had fun. And that’s what it’s all about.

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…

No, I’m not personally in a dark place right now. Not in general. A good friend of mine sent this to me after the trial this past weekend because of some conversations we’d been having around a decision I thought I had made. I say thought because that same friend gave me her much valued opinion on said decision. Which, in turn, caused me to give it some more consideration in a different light.

The decision concerned my continued forays into the trial arena with Jig this year in the quest for finals points. I was using the trial as my litmus test. If we did well and got some points, we would continue on. If not, I’d still run her in Farm Trials and maybe give Post Advanced another go, but no more arena trials.

To be fair, Jig and I didn’t do horrendous. We had some really good moments, particularly on cattle. We just couldn’t seem to string enough of those good moments together to get the job done at the level it needed doing. We don’t have the finesse or consistency necessary to be truly competitive. Consequently, after our cattle and sheep runs I was ready to pull the plug and I relayed that information to my friend.

The following morning she greeted me with, “I think not trialing Jig any more is a mistake. Let me tell you why.”

And so she did. And I listened because I have a great deal of respect for her and her opinion… even when she keeps repeating it over and over and over and follows that up with a few texts…

In a nutshell, my friend felt I would be losing more than I gained by ‘giving up’. I didn’t feel like I was actually giving up, more that I was being realistic.

The experience gained in a trialing situation can’t be replicated at home or in a clinic. Those words of wisdom came from one of the others brought into the discussion. In the grand scheme of things, Jig and I haven’t trialed all that much. For example, last year we went to two weekend trials. Two. My only goal was finishing her WTCH. Mission accomplished. Building a solid relationship and a comfort level in the arena, however, involves time and miles. Jig and I really haven’t put those in, so of course we’re not where I want us to be. One of the things my friend reminded me of, which I tend to forget, is how far we’ve come. Jig is the first straight working bred dog I’ve owned, and she has been an education to be sure. There have been many times over the past seven years when I doubted I would ever figure out how to handle her. We’re finally starting to click and now I want to throw in the towel because we haven’t magically catapulted to the lofty pinnacle I envisioned?

The truth is, 80% of the time I have a blast trialing Jig, even when our successes are only the personal, blue ribbon moments no one else realizes. I want to be competitive, though. Also, I want to do her justice. Jig is a talented dog and more often than not I fail to uphold my end of the partnership. Our shortcomings are entirely my fault. That leads to frustration and anger at myself. Hence, the dark place. The place where expectation and reality are worlds apart. The place where, maybe, just a little bit, I feel buried.

Thankfully, I have friends who help me out of those places. I’m still not 100% certain about this, but for now I think Jig and I will keep going. We can only continue to get better. Sitting on our hands won’t help either one of us.

It occurred to me that Dillon hasn’t gotten a lot of press this year. It’s been all Jig and Cian, Jig and Cian. In fact, it appears my last Dillon update was in October. Poor boy. Trust me though, he hasn’t been ignored.

Between my schedule and the weather, we really haven’t had a lot of opportunities to train this spring. Yeah, I’m calling this ‘Spring’ even though I’m not entirely certain it’s not still Winter, or possibly Fall. Could be Midwest Monsoon Season for all I know. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t something I can do anything about.

Back to Dill. The first several times I took him out this year one thing became very obvious: one of us had regressed terribly. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t Dillon. Toward the end of last year, after some observations by a friend, I realized I can’t use a lot of verbal commands with Dillon. For some reason, a verbal command causes him to look at me and, in some cases, come back to me. He responds far better with visual cues and pressure and release. I can’t quite figure out the ‘why’ of that, but I’m working on it. In any case, I totally forgot that and so we did a bit of arguing until I remembered. After which, things began to click again.

For both our sakes, I also took a step back. We’re in the small arena, working on solidifying flanks, his There, and rating. That last is a biggy. The boy has two speeds: down and let’s git’r done. Even when I step into him to get him to slow as he brings the stock barreling toward me, as soon as I release pressure he’s up and pushing again. Fixing that is high on our To Do list.

A couple weeks ago the ground actually firmed up enough for me to bring the cattle over to the round pen. Dill met steers two years ago, but since then hasn’t been on them. We need to work on his confidence, as he’s not keen on holding pressure on the noses to turn them. Next time in I’ll put him on a line to help him out a bit. This time, I wanted to see what he’d show me so I have a gauge on where we’re at. He did a nice job of driving them around the pen, kept them grouped, even kicked out several times to tuck in the one that wanted to break toward the gate. He did get himself into trouble at one point by being stupid less than smart, and discovered being rowdy can get you under hooves. I admit, I was worried he would shut down when it happened, but he rolled out of it, looked at me, then kept working, albeit, a tad more cautiously. Perhaps a lesson learned.

This past weekend we took a road trip and discovered Dillon’s favorite stock. Turns out, after an initial puzzled look and a few sniffs, he’s decided goats are da bomb. I’ve never seen him so enthusiastic. I talked Dave into doing a bit of filming. He’s pretty much a rookie at it, and just learning the ins and outs of his first Smart Phone, but he managed to get enough footage for me to piece together a few clips. I’ll leave you with those.

First Trial of the Season ~ Part Deux

If you read my last post you know how the end of the weekend went, but how did the rest of it go? Of course I’m going to say it didn’t go as well as I wanted, but it seems I always want more than I’m realistically prepared to achieve. I had to remind myself (and be reminded) that last year Jig and I went to two weekends of trials the entire year. One in the spring, one in the fall. That’s it. This year we were able to train maybe 3 or 4 times prior to the trial. So expecting to lay down some awesome runs was me being unrealistic.

Image result for expectations vs reality
Story of my life.

Not to say I wasn’t happy with a lot of what Jig did. She showed me the training we’ve been doing is paying off. No crack ears, quiet, calm, responsive (for the most part). We would have had the best duck run of Jig’s career if not for me opening my mouth at the wrong time. Yeah, imagine that.

Even so, we had a superb center pen and the best center to re-pen ever. A couple of things I should point out. I absolutely hate ducks. Jig feels ducks are so far beneath her it’s hard to get her to look at them when they’re upright and fast. And these were Call Ducks. If you’re not familiar with Call Ducks, picture a wild mallard about the size of a large kaiser roll. Honestly, I tried to stay well away from them for fear we’d have to scrape one off the bottom of my boot when the run was over.

In any case, these are my take-aways from the weekend:

  • I need to learn to shut my mouth when things are going good, and not yell when they’re not.
  • Jig and I need to go back to training in a smaller space. We’re used to working in more open areas. When we get to a trial with minimum sized arenas we get too close to one another and neither of us knows how to handle that pressure.
  • (This one is a theme, I think.) I need to solidify what ‘There’ means. At the moment it’s rather soft and mushy, and subject to where Jig thinks I meant her to turn in as opposed to where I really wanted her to do it.
  • I need to be a better handler. Which, by the end of the weekend, I actually did accomplish once or twice.
  • I need to firm up our flanks. (No, not the physical ones. Though mine could use it, Jig’s are very nice.) The issues here will be partly helped through getting a firmer ‘There’.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, but overall Jig and I have come a long way since our rather rough and rowdy beginnings. There may be hope for us yet.

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.