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.

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.

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.

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. 😉

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.

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!

A Slight Reboot

Life has been busy of late. That’s my explanation for the lapse in posting… again. I tend to set myself these crazy-busy schedules until I’m reminded there just aren’t enough hours in the day and something has to give before that something is me. Unfortunately, it’s generally the blog that suffers first which recently led me to question the why of it.

I started this blog because 1) I’m a writer at heart and that particular muse demands an outlet, 2) I hoped sharing my training journey might just resonate with others on a similar journey, and 3) those folks in #2 (and perhaps others as well) might just find themselves enlightened, inspired, and, if nothing else, entertained.

Because it kept falling off my plate, I toyed with the idea of ending the blog, but my muse staged a revolt. And, since I have dubbed this The Year of Training, and because of reasons #2 & 3 above, I’ve decided to put a bit more effort into it and use the blog as my training journal. I actually do keep one of those, albeit irregularly, and highly recommend it. I go through mine frequently to remind myself just how far I’ve come as well as to refresh my memory on how to approach a certain problem. How, you may ask, is that different than what I have been irregularly posting? In essence, it’s not. I am, however, going to aim for weekly entries that go into a bit more depth than in the past.

To kick this off, I’ll start with an introduction to my dogs and where each one is at in their training in the event you’re new here or just can’t keep them straight. I’m currently working three dogs. Crazy much? Yeah. That’s been established.

First up: Jig, 6 1/2 years old, one cattle leg shy of her ASCA WTCH. We’re fine-tuning everything in the hopes of making a bid for Finals in 2020. Jig and I–okay, mostly just me–tend to have frequent disconnects wherein I completely lose my shit. This generally happens at trials, though I learned just a few days ago that it can also happen on the home turf while training. The trigger seems to be when we find ourselves in a tricky situation. I start to get a bit buggy, Jig starts to push and, as you all know, the more frantic we get, the more our dogs react. So along with making every effort to remain calm and in control,

Image result for animal zen

Oooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm

I’m also working on getting Jig to be more fluid in her response to my commands. We need to tighten up her ‘There’ and improve her driving all while I attempt to stop pinching her and allow her to work even if it isn’t perfect. Also, when I see things starting to fall apart I need to FIX THEM instead of waiting to see if she will. I seem to keep expecting her to know things she doesn’t.

Dillon is next in line. 2 1/2 years old and currently my main challenge.

Dillon doesn’t seem to understand the gather and is extremely resistant when asked to take the Away flank. By comparison, his Go Bye is smooth and relaxed with no hesitation. Most every dog favors one direction over the other, but I’ve never seen one this insistent on avoiding it. That makes me wonder if something happened to him on an Away side that I never saw. To cover all my bases, I’m going to rule out any health-related causes. I’ve scheduled a chiro appointment for him next week, and he’s got an eye appointment in August. We’re back to working in the round pen until I can get him going both directions smoothly, and because it’s a nice area to free him up as well as help him better understand the fetch.

 

I’ll tell you this, the dog wants to work and has no quit in him. And, as several people have observed, Dillon truly wants to please me. There’s so much to like in what he does, I just need to be patient and work through this.

Cian is the baby of the group. He’ll be a year old on July 2.

 

He doesn’t get as much work as the other two, and the main focus right now is helping him learn self-control. We’ve done quite a bit of foundation work so he has a great down, and understands moving off my pressure. He is also super biddable and very keen.

As you can see, he also has a very long tongue. I hope he never trips over it.

There you have it. Three different challenges, at three different ages. They definitely keep me on my toes.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Expectations and Perspective

As babies who could barely manage to sit up, we must have looked at the kid already crawling and thought she was the most awesomely talented baby around. We wanted to be able to crawl just like her. So we worked at it until the day we finally made it to our hands and knees. Suddenly we were booking all over the place. Then we saw the toddler walking!

Whoa! Are you kidding me?!!? Walking?

Here was something new to aspire to, and so our perspective changed. Crawling was no longer good enough. We wanted more. We pulled ourselves up on the couch, grasped adult fingers, stumbled, fell, landed on our diaper-padded asses, finally took those first few steps and then…

There’s a kid running, hopping, skipping, jumping, dancing…

Now, when we were that baby, first figuring out how to crawl, we could have stayed right there, content to have mastered life on our hands and knees. Of course, our parents had expectations for us, being too young to have our own I suppose. They expected us to walk. They worked with us, guided us, helped us along until we could manage it on our own (and have, I suspect, regretted every moment since).

Wait just a cotton-picking minute! What’s all this baby talk have to do with working dogs, you ask.

Image result for aspirations and expectations

Well, just like that baby, we all start this journey crawling. We struggle to stand on our own two feet with, hopefully, the help of someone we admire and respect. We start to walk. We have success. We achieve some of our goals. We watch others and think, “That’s what I’m aspiring toward.”

New goals are set. New expectations laid on ourselves. We work harder. We stop settling for ‘almost’ and push for more.

Image result for quotes on changing perspective

A strange thing happens when we no longer accept ‘good enough’. Our perspective changes. What we once saw as a pinnacle of achievement, we suddenly see as a stepping stone to something even better.

Not everyone reaches that realization. Or perhaps they find settling for the comfort that comes with mastery at a certain level to be far safer. That’s okay. I’m not here to start a fight with anyone about it. Aspirations and expectations often lead to disappointment and failure and that’s no fun. It’s damn scary and equally frustrating. There are times striving for more can wear a person down. Some folks who try and miss don’t have it in them to try again. Perhaps it could be said of those of us who do, that it’s a fine line between persistence and insanity.

I’ve dealt with a lot of that frustration over the past year or so. Yes, there were times I thought about throwing in the towel on this whole training and trialing thing, but it’s just not in me to do that. I can still remember where I was; where I could have settled in and been comfortable. That propels me forward. My expectations are higher than they were. My perspective no longer what it was. So I face my failures and my shortcomings and find new ways to get around them, or at least deal with them. What once was ‘good enough’ isn’t where I want to be.

Image result for expectations quotes