Finding Warmth on Winter Days

For everyone who expressed concern for Jig over the last couple weeks, I’m pleased to say she’s back to 100% piss and vinegar. She had her recheck on Tuesday and passed with flying colors. She was even gracious enough to leave one suture in-tact. The vet decided Jig did that to make her feel like she had something to do. She doesn’t know Jig very well.

 

I’m glad Jig’s back to normal for all the obvious reasons, but also because she’s not a very good patient. As soon as she started feeling even remotely better, she wanted to be wherever the boys were, tried to eat her brand new, spiffy, cone off her head, didn’t care for her onsey, and did I mention wanted to be wherever the boys were? Gotta admit, that surprised me a little. Then again, what’s a queen without her subjects, am I right?

 

And she’s finally allowing this loyal subject to romp with her. That makes me all sorts of happy!

Speaking of the boys, we were able to reap the benefits of mild January weather and get some structured sheep time last weekend. I didn’t get any film of Finn working because, even though I could swing the gates, the snow was deep enough to lessen my mobility considerably–picture large bear lumbering uphill. I had all I could do to keep up with the boy. I really do need to come up with a workable (read: inexpensive) solution to filming my training sessions. Finn was thrilled to get back to work. He’s been taking turns with Dillon to help with chores. There’s not much to the job beyond keeping the sheep off the feed bunker and occasionally rounding up a renegade that sneaks back into the barn when the help leaves the gate open. Needless to say, until we got some snow packed down, our training session involved a lot of huffing and puffing on my part, along with the occasionally colorful outburst when I couldn’t get where I needed to be. Not that Finn was out of hand, he was just fast and a tad pushy while me and the sheep were much, much slower. Kudos to him for not taking unholy advantage of the situation and becoming Little Bastard.

 

I did get this lovely clip of him celebrating a job well done. The boy absolutely loves snow.

 


I was able to get some video of Dillon being as he’s more advanced. My intent was to work on his gather; he’s tight and tends to bring the stock in full steam ahead as opposed to slow and thoughtful. We’ve got lots to work on, yet, especially on the Away side which has always been our bad direction. At one point, when he wasn’t taking the away, it actually turned into a very tight inside flank which I realized after the fact. For those who don’t know, by tight I mean I wasn’t more than ten or fifteen feet away from Dillon and I asked him to come into that pressure to cross between me and the sheep.  Not fair to ask him to do that, and it contributed to his hesitancy on the Away. We also need to do work on getting him to bring the stock TO ME instead of somewhere in the general vicinity when, like these yearlings, they aren’t volunteering to do. That little habit is on me. I’ve allowed him to do that for too long while I focused on other things. That’s why I ask him to walk up into that pressure when he stops to hold them several feet away from me. He gets pretty antsy about it and pops the sheep, but at least he puts it back together again.


 

And or those of you who don’t follow me on social media, or may have missed it, this is happening…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What’s it about? Glad you asked…

 



 

Driev Talbert desires only one thing ~ never to return to his old life. Raised among the privileged of Mossrae, he is now content to eke out a living as a jack-of-all-trades in the city’s underbelly. When an attempt to save a friend from the gallows leaves him saddled with a street urchin instead, Driev is reminded that the gods aren’t as benevolent as some would believe.
Seeing the boy safe is a tough promise for Driev to keep when he’d far rather lose himself in his cups. Then there’s the matter of facing off against the powers of Mossrae, who want the boy for their own agendas. Worse, helping the boy lands Driev in the hands of the Coinblades, the elite of Mossrae’s Shadow Guilds. For Driev, death would be preferable. Even a slow, torturous one.
With the boy’s life hanging in the balance, Driev is forced into the middle of political games with deadly consequences. He must outwit mages and guild uprights, and choose between facing his own demons, or sacrificing an innocent boy. A decision that’s not as easy as it might seem.

 


There will be more info on Bound in Shadow as release day draws closer, as well as a chance to purchase a signed paperback and awesomely cool t-shirt. So stay tuned.

 

Also, keep an eye out for the relaunch of my Stockdogs Rule line of shirts and hats. They will be available in February along with several new designs and products I’m working on. And if youbneed anything screen printed or embroidered, let me know. It’s what I’ll be doing starting in March. Dog clubs get a special discount.

 

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Possibilities Abound

November has been pretty mild so far which means I’ve been able to work the dogs with relative frequency. Given the shortness of the days, this usually takes place on the weekends, which also means I can generally talk a training partner into joining me. It’s helpful when it’s someone unafraid of telling me when my bad habits are showing. Not that I always agree, or want to hear it at that particular moment, which can lead to some spirited arguments discussions. There are, after all, multiple ways to skin the proverbial cat (sorry, feline friends) and perhaps there’s a reason (in my mind) for what I’m doing. More often than not, however, I’m not even aware of doing whatever it is because it’s just one of those things I fell into while training solo. And that happens far too often. Just ask my dogs.

After my last post where I shared the video of Jig doing a long gather through several gates, a friend asked what I would do if something happened to her and she got laid up. That got me thinking. As far as I’m concerned, Jig is irreplaceable around here — especially when I need power. Maybe not so much when I need finesse and a softer hand. Still, she is the only one of my current crew who knows, and is capable of, the jobs that need doing. It’s something I tend to take for granted and we all know what a bad idea that is.

 

With that thought in mind, I decided to see how Dillon would handle being sent on a gather through an open gate. It didn’t go as bad as I thought it might, but he definitely wasn’t sure of the job I wanted him to do. And that’s okay. I’ve never asked him to do this before. And, not only were there sheep out in the field, there were sheep in both corners of the arena and in the alleyway as well. He didn’t completely suck at the job and we’ll keep working at it until he gets it. He’ll undoubtedly put his own spin on the task, just as Jig has, and that’s okay, too, as long as it gets done.

 

Speaking of Miss Jig, she provided the highlight of my weekend by… drumroll, please… playing with Finn. Yes, playing, for the first time ever. We approached things cautiously as Jig hasn’t been very accepting of the young man. Finn, however, was very respectful and turned on the charm big-time to win Jig over and next thing we knew…

 

It’s not all play, even for a young dog. Finn is really starting to come along and I’m able to ask more of him each time we work. He really is a lot of fun now that we’ve come to an understanding regarding proper behavior around livestock. He still has his moments, but he’s young. Just like every other dog, Finn has something to teach me as well. In his case, it’s how to work a dog with a lot of eye which is something new for me. He doesn’t quite get being sent from my side. He’d prefer to stalk straight into the sheep and hold them. So, we’re working on it.

“I have them right where I want them.”

“Wait… you want me to do what now? Go around them??”

All right, youngster, I’ll help you figure it out.

There we go. Now fetch ’em over.

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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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Working Through Issues

The last several weeks have been a bit tough, not gonna lie. I’ve started, deleted, and re-started multiple posts multiple times in another case of I need to get the words out because that’s how I deal. I’m not generally the wear my heart on my sleeve type who shares everything, however, and when you throw in a touch of get over it already... well… I figure people have their own problems, they don’t want to read about mine. That was before (what I felt to be) a surprising number of people reached out to tell me how sharing just the little bits on this blog that I have has helped them in one way or another. That was both unexpected and very humbling. It certainly helped me to hear it, though. I guess that makes the blog a win-win. Now, if you’re in the camp of those who would rather not read that portion, just skip over the next paragraph. I get it. No harm, no foul.

 

As I mentioned in previous posts, Fall is a tough time for me. This year has been exceptionally hard with October 6th marking one year since losing Cian to epilepsy. The days leading up to the 6th found me at the edge of tears more times than not. (It doesn’t help that I see the back of WVRC twice a day from the parking lot at work. WVRC being where Cian spent his last days.) The waves would surge up with little warning and crash down on me. Turns out that wound is still as raw and jagged now as it was then. Which, yes, frustrates and annoys me. Social Media hasn’t been a great help either, with its steady stream of Cian memories. Another recent solo road trip gave me time to analyze the lingering Sad and I came to the conclusion I’m still pissed. Pissed at epilepsy for being the insidious monster it is, and pissed at myself for not being able to protect Cian. Even though I know we did all we could, our best wasn’t enough and I’m having a hard time accepting that. And, because I lean toward the belief most things happen for a reason, I’m still left wondering what that reason was while all the time realizing it is one of those questions I’ll never find the answer to. And, you guessed it, that pisses me off as well. 

 

 

 

Okay, enough about what pisses me off and onto things that make me happy. I took another road trip to MI with the boys. This also tends to make Jig happy because she gets to be the only dog for a few days AND she doesn’t have to travel anywhere. If she knew Finn got the opportunity to work cattle again, however, she’d have something else to hold against him. And Jig would have loved this crew.

They were a challenge for a young dog as they didn’t want to move off the fence very easily and, left to their own devices, would rather have spent the day grazing. Finn got himself clocked in the shoulder first thing. Actually, I think he cut it too close around the back end and ran into a leg. In either case, after a chance to rest up and make sure he was okay, he went right back at it — though with much more caution. It was exposure, and right now that’s all it was. He also got a chance to work with his dad providing some assistance. That was kind of cool. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Finn’s a pushy boy but not in a mean way, just in the oh-my-god-I-love-this-so-much-get-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-do-it kind of way.

 

Dillon could use a little of that push. We’re still working through some issues. Most of which are my fault for not fixing them when he was younger. In my defense, we had other challenges to overcome and I was picking my battles. It’s all good. I’ve no doubt we’ll work it out. Dillon tends to take corrections to heart, especially if he doesn’t understand what the correction is for. Then he starts questioning everything and we need to back up, find the broken thing, and fix that before jumping ahead again. So, at the moment, we’re back to working on correct flanks as opposed to the slicing flank he thinks is how it’s done. Good thing there aren’t any trials for a while!

 

And in other news… the next several months appear as though they are going to bring some big changes that I’ve been hoping for, but didn’t really envision happening this soon. Oh yeah, there will be a major adjustment and perhaps some scrambling and, hence, the quote in the feature image. The winds of change, they are a-blowin’. There will be more updates to come.

 

 

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Time for the Self

Writing is my therapy…

 

I took some time off over Labor Day weekend to spend on me and it proved to be a wise choice.

Fall is a conundrum for me. It is, hands down, my favorite season. I love the crispness of the air, the colors, the cooler temps, and the strange sense of urgency that comes with the dwindling of the year. Typically I am more invigorated in Fall than any other time of year.

A part of me also dreads it. I have experienced too many losses in the Fall; both human and four-legged. Normally, as those memories begin to surface, I can pay them tribute and move on with only a touch of melancholy in a season seemingly created for the mood.

This year… The Sad has made an appearance, rearing up when I least expected it, the edges surprisingly jagged. And, because it’s me, I’ve been fighting it, which only serves to make it worse. So I spent some of my time off addressing it. Well, to be honest, it was more like arguing with it and telling it to bugger off. You know, the whole stages of grief thing — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — on a loop like something out of Groundhog Day and me stuck at the second stage.

So that went about as well as you might expect.

If you’ve ever had to deal with the Sad, you know what that’s like. I don’t like it. It annoys me. I have no patience for it. In myself, I see it as a sign of weakness and I deplore that. I refuse to give into it and allow it to rule my life.

I also can’t pretend it’s not there.

Well, I can. And I do. Or at least I attempt to. In the end, however, acceptance will win out. Getting there means making and taking the time to do the things that light a fire in my soul. Creating. Reading. Yes, there is whisky involved. There is also sitting on my deck and giving myself permission to just be.

Dogs are my heart…

 

I also spent some of my time off working dogs. If there’s anything to help chase away the Sad, it’s doing something that sooths the soul. My dogs are my heart and the best way to heal it.

In any case, Dillon’s trial season is now over. The last two trials we were entered in both had to be cancelled due to lack of entries. That’s a bummer, but, on the flip side, it gives us more time to train and to address the issues he’s been having. After mulling it over, I think I know why he’s been getting steadily worse about allowing stock to leave pens/chutes/corners and the like when he’d been doing so well for a while.

Trials.

A lot happens at a trial that, because of its very nature, you handle differently than you would at home or in training. The stock has a tendency to want to bolt out of take pens and make a break for the draw any chance they get. Not always, but it happens enough, and we’ve been trialing quite a bit. I’m thinking Dillon has reverted to worrying about losing his stock.

So we’re taking a step back and working on some exercises to get Dillon comfortable with stock leaving while both of us are on the same side. I use heavy stock I know won’t head for the hills, and Dillon is starting to relax again. It’s going to be an issue I will need to pay more careful attention to as I know it’s something he’s always concerned about.

I also got to work Finn and… drum roll, please… got a couple pics and some video. Whoot!

Is it my turn, yet?

 

Finn’s in a bit of a wonky, adolescent stage. He’s gotten a wee bit sensitive when I correct him for being unruly with the sheep, and it takes him some time to think his way past it. He doesn’t quit or shut down, just gets more thoughtful. Which isn’t a bad thing. I’m not concerned. He’s a youngster, and a boy, and we’ll work through it. To help do that I’ve moved us back into the round pen. It’s easier to catch him and prevent issues when he decides to act like a rambunctious asshat.

https://youtu.be/Tw_tPEtt17c
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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.

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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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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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So much for weekly updates, right? What’s the excuse this time? Let’s see… heat, humidity, rain, more heat, out of town, put on 53 hours a week at the dayjob, changed web servers, did I mention the new horrendous work schedule? When your plate is already packed, and then it shrinks to the size of a saucer, shit falls off.

Anyhow, I did manage a few sessions since my last post so let’s start off with Miss Jig.

Up until now I’ve allowed Jig to merely cover the stock as they to bolt towards the draw. Well, no more. Time to start learning how to actually control the stock on the way back to the re-pen or wherever it is they may want to get to. In all fairness, her failure to do so is my failure as a handler and trainer. I accepted the way we had been doing it and settled for ‘good enough’. Jig has shown me we don’t need to settle. She pushes me, and I push her.

One of the ways I’ve been working on this is to take myself completely out of the picture so the sheep aren’t tempted to draw to me. That means stepping outside the arena. I have Jig drive them to the bottom, then turn them toward the top where they most want to be. This is the point at which we all start to get a bit twitchy. The sheep because they want to break. Jig because she knows they want to break. And me because I know what Jig’s likely to do when they do break.

Needless to say, our first few attempts were a bit messy. There was incoherent blabbering and flailing of arms on my part, and quite a few confused looks on Jig’s part. After that, we got some good input from a couple of friends, reminders that Jig has brakes and steering and I might want to utilize them. Seems I tend to forget in the heat of the moment. Like when a sheep takes off and she covers, maybe I should lie her down as soon as it heads back. You know, as opposed to letting her bring it back and turn them all around again. We’ll get there.

I’ve also stepped up Dillon’s game. There’s still a lot we have to fix, but I can actually see us making progress and that’s a good thing. It’s no secret I have a tendency to run before we can walk. I get frustrated when I think my dog isn’t doing something he should. That’s led to some pretty spectacular meltdowns wherein I totally lose my shit. I’m not proud of that and I try to stop before things reach that point. I knew I went over the top one day when, after we were done and I put Dillon in his kennel, he turned his back on me and went to lay under his table instead of hanging by the door with a happy smile. Never train when you’re in a pissy mood. It’s the ultimate betrayal of trust. Thankfully Dillon is pretty forgiving, and there was no permanent damage done.

To give Jig a break, I’ve started using Dillon to help me sort. Here, for your viewing pleasure, one of the very first times we teamed up to get the job done. He has a lot to learn yet, but I think he’s off to a good start.

No worries, I haven’t forgotten Cian. The baby boy is doing really well in learning self control. So well that I introduced him to the pen last week. I hadn’t actually planned to do that. It was a case of necessity. I needed sheep out and he was handy. I intended to keep him on lead and just walk him around being as he’s never done it before, but he entered so soft and moved right to the fence so I dropped the line and let him do it on his own. Then, toward the end of his session, instead of just re-penning, I swung the gate wide open and pretended the pen wasn’t there, allowing him to follow them in, fetch them out, put them back in. He never even blinked. It made me very happy given all the take-pen issues I’ve had with his aunt.

And, just because I had my camera handy, here’s a very short bonus clip of Cian.

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