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

Believing to be More

A friend sent me the above text in a conversation regarding how Dillon had done at our most recent trial. Up until then, as seems to happen frequently, I had a different post all set to go. It was basically just a run down of why I haven’t written much of late and how the dogs were doing. (The answers to which are: I’m working on revamping the site and thought I’d post at the ‘reveal’ but it’s not happening as soon as I planned, Jig is semi-retired, Dillon is exceeding expectations, and Finn…

In any case, my friend’s text struck a chord with me and prompted this post instead of the original.

Dillon has been a hard dog to figure out, and I still haven’t got him 100% pegged, but I’m getting closer. A lot of folks I know would have given up on him. Some even suggested I do so, but that’s not how I roll.

It’s not that Dillon didn’t want to work or didn’t turn on as a young dog. Quite the contrary. He’s always wanted to work. He’s just always done it… differently. We had a rocky beginning because of that difference and we spent too much time fighting. That’s on me. Dillon was telling me all along that trying to force him to learn how my other dogs did was a waste of time. I needed to adjust my methods and play to his strengths, something I don’t think I truly figured out until last year. Bless his soul for sticking with me.

Truthfully though, there were times I doubted Dillon and I would ever trial. Those times, however, were always crowded out by the glimpses of talent I saw: his ability to read his stock, the way he could–and still does–get even the lightest sheep to trust him, the things he would do when I shut my mouth and waited him out to see what he was up to. I always knew there was more in him than I was giving credit for.

This year Dillon has truly amazed me. In 6 ASCA Arena trials over two weekends he earned his OTDs and STDcd, with one leg in open ducks, several placements, a HIT cattle and a MPS. None of which means jack squat to him but makes me feel pretty damn good. And over the course of those two weekends, I learned quite a bit about the boy. For instance, he’s a fairly laid back traveling companion and he’s just as laid back trialing. He has (thus far) walked into every arena as though he’s been there before, an attitude which serves to make me far more relaxed than normal.

I’ve also learned he needs to get very comfortable with something before he begins to excel at it. Sheep are definitely his wheelhouse; he sees those day in and day out. Cattle and ducks… not so much. The more he sees them, however, the more he learns about them, the better he gets. And it doesn’t seem to take long. In our first attempts to work ducks earlier this year he would watch me more than them. By the end of our first trial weekend, he was no longer watching me but watching and working his ducks. The same thing is happening on cattle. More slowly, but in a way even more dramatic. He’s gone from bouncing out of their pressure just a few weeks ago, to showing he will go to head and hit a heel. That second is something I honestly never thought he’d do. This past weekend was the first time I ever saw him even think about it. Not only think, but try. Three or four times. His first attempt was high and got him kicked, but the failure didn’t shut him down. Yes, he was a bit more thoughtful after that, and our next run wasn’t at all good, not entirely his fault. By the third run, however, he went for another heel when the cattle needed a more compelling reason than just an open gate to leave the take pen.

I have always felt our mental attitude and the energy we put out affects our dogs, just as theirs affects us. Our moods can often dictate our success, or lack thereof. Even though I had doubts… and maybe it wasn’t Dillon I doubted, as much as my ability to work through some of our issues… I always believed Dillon had something. My friend is right in that regard. I haven’t always believed I could do him justice, but I’m beginning to.

Thanks to Tracey Mc for the images from That’ll Do ASC’s July 4th trial.

Lambs & More

The current Covid situation means I’m home full-time for lambing for the first time ever. That’s one of a couple silver linings. There are also many depressing aspects to the stay-at-home quarantine. I try to keep from thinking too much about those. Dwelling on what we can’t control isn’t very good for the soul. Most days I can keep from succumbing. Cloudy, wet, cool days when I can be too much in my head… maybe not so much. We’ve already determined ‘in my head’ is not a good place for me to hang out.

Which is why it’s a good thing I have the dogs and livestock to occupy me even in those moments when I don’t feel up to being occupied.

This little guy was one of a pair born to a first time mom. She’s being really good with his brother but, as sometimes happens with first timers, she didn’t realize they were both hers to raise. I’m calling him Pita, even though he’s really not. He took to the bottle straight away and is doing really well with a minimal amount of fuss.
And even though I don’t often name lambs, though other people have been known to name them for me, this duo were the first to arrive and demanded to be called Salt & Pepper. If any lamb is going to cause problems, it is one of them. They’ve already caused me to put up additional fencing to keep them in the maternity ward.
This is the second year I’ve used Cello, a Barbados ram, and I love not only the personality of the lambs, but the coloring — getting both brown and white Barb marked lambs.

Then we have a bunch of red babies, with or without white, and two solid browns courtesy of our solid brown ewe.

We’re down to just two more ewes left to lamb. Despite the issues that can crop up, lambing is one of my favorite times of the year. Mainly because there is no greater stress reliever than watching a bunch of lambs playing. The next nice day we get, I’m going to plant myself in a chair to just sit and watch their antics. I plan on taking Finn with me so he can learn how to relax a bit around livestock.

Finn gives ‘intensity’ a whole new definition. Let’s see, there are the sheep, of course, the chickens, Rebel Kitten, and, apparently, trimming trees. Something we discovered the day we took the clipper along on our daily walk-about to trim some of the branches hanging in the trail.

Finn was quite obsessed with the whole routine and would happily gather up all the branches, no matter their size.

He also attempted to bite off some of the tiny saplings we were thinning out. I’m not sure he believed Dave was doing it correctly.

I have to say, Finn is a pretty cool dog and I can’t thank Becky enough for giving me this opportunity. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of pushing a young dog as driven and as mentally strong as Finn is. Thankfully I have a friend and mentor whose opinion I value greatly to remind me how young Finn is and how unwise that would be. Finn has shown me what he has to offer, it’s up to me to take the time to develop that potential. Taking time means putting in the time on the groundwork. You can’t build a very good house on a shaky foundation. A lesson you think I would have learned by now.

As far as Jig and Dillon, we haven’t gotten in too much training over the past week, mainly due to a strong, cold wind off the lake. Makes being out in the field just this side of miserable even when the sun is shining. Hopefully Spring settles in soon. If I have to be home 24/7 I’d like to be able to work my dogs, even if I can’t be doing it in the company of the folks I most enjoy.

Dancing in the Rain

You would think this forced quarantine would give me more time to write and more to write about. Turns out, when I have a lot of free time I also have a lot to fill it with. There’s a long list of chores on the side of the fridge waiting for decent weather and time, things like fixing fences, rehanging gates, cleaning the barn, spreading manure… And when the weather isn’t conducive to those chores, there’s plenty on my rainy day list. Also, I have to admit, it took me a while to wrap my head around the current situation. I’m not incredibly social, but I do have a tribe and I miss getting together with them, sharing some drinks, food and laughter, and working our dogs, or talking about working our dogs, or venting about life in general. So while it’s great to be getting a taste of what I can (hopefully) look forward to some day when I get to ‘retire’, it’s also a bit depressing to be doing it with only virtual camaraderie.

I guess I can take solace in the fact we’re all in the same boat.

One of the events cancelled for me when all this hit was a trip to Cow Camp with Dillon. I was really looking forward to it. Not only because it was a road trip and week of working cattle alongside one of my closest friends, but because I was really anxious to see how Dillon did. I still suspect I’m reading him wrong and there’s more going on than I give him credit for.

That’s become more clear thanks to the virtual trialing group I’ve joined, the brainchild of Jaqueline Tinker at The Instinctive Australian Shepherd. Jaquleine posts a new course to the MeWe group each week. We set them up as best we can and video our runs, posting our best attempts. We’re coming up on the third week. Jig and Dillon did respectably the first week given my sheep were off the wall frisky and we were a but rusty. Last week… not so much.

However, going back and watching my videoed attempts really serves to highlight areas that need work, which gives me more focus when training. In Jig’s case, I need to figure out what happened to her away flank which seems to have disappeared entirely. For Dillon it’s rate, rate, rate. He’s got a bit of what I call the Energizer Bunny Syndrome: he keeps going and going and going…

You won’t see that in the following clip, mostly because I resorted to lying him down. What you will see is some of what I mentioned earlier–the things he does that I don’t give him credit for. From the beginning of the split to when he got them back together I wasn’t giving him any commands. He made the mess, it was up to him to fix it. The cool thing, from my original viewpoint, was watching his eyes. He only glanced my way to see where I was, otherwise he was watching the sheep and trying to figure out how to get them grouped again. I really need to pay more attention to moments like this and stop attempting to mold him against his strengths.

And what about Finn? A week or so ago the boy accompanied Dillon during chores. The sheep were, as always, eager to get their food and mobbing the wheelbarrow so I had Dillon push them out of the barn. I didn’t pay much attention to Finn because up to that point he’d shown far more interest in the chickens than the sheep. No sooner were the sheep out, however, than Finn darted past me, went around them all and brought them right back in. I managed to avoid getting trampled by becoming one with the gate post and as soon as the sheep were past, stepped in front of Finn to check him up. As fate would have it, I had recently washed my chore jacket which meant emptying my pockets and they’d yet to be refilled meaning I didn’t have a lead handy. Fortunately, I can still carry Finn so I scooped him up and lugged him into the barn. The whole time his eyes were on the sheep and his ears were doing a fine impersonation of Jig’s crack ears. I knew then the fire had been lit.

This clip is from the end of his first formal session on sheep. It started out a tad rockier than I expected. You may notice I had to resort to the boogy bottle. Not something I’d normally do with a not quite 6 month old, but Finn’s a bit of a hard pup and he’s more mentally mature at his age than most males I’ve had. We’ve been doing a little off-stock work, giving to my pressure, down, that’ll do… nothing too excessive or demanding.

Yeah.

Well, he’s told me he’s ready for more. Don’t worry, I’ll be keeping in mind how young he is.

Stay safe, everyone! I’m hoping we come out of this coronavirus stronger than we went in, and looking forward to the day we can all get together and do the things we enjoy.

A Dog’s Eye View

When I ran agility (which, for those wondering, was eons ago), one of the things we did while walking the course was to squat down to our dog’s eye level and survey our intended path. It no doubt appeared strange to onlookers. Heck, it felt strange the first time I did it. It also made it instantly clear that what I was thinking and what my dog was going to be seeing were two vastly different things. That, in turn, usually altered how I originally planned to handle that particular sequence.

Honestly, I haven’t given this much thought since those long-ago agility days. What brought it to mind now were some images I shot last weekend when Jig and I had some work to do.

It’s tough getting pics of my dogs working when I’m by myself. My phone is getting old and the camera in it isn’t what it used to be. So I brought out the big guns and did a lot of one handed, focus and rapid fire, holding the camera against my leg so I didn’t need to try and keep an eye on things while tracking a dog in the viewfinder.

Going through the images gave me a whole new appreciation for what our dogs do for us. Things like going into a packed pen to bring stock out.

Even from my vantage point there’s not a whole lot of room to be working in that doorway.

Usually it’s Jig who gets this type of job because she’s a tough-ass and it doesn’t bother her when everyone’s facing her off. In fact, she rather enjoys the confrontation. Sometimes too much.

Dillon isn’t as confident. To be honest, when I sent him in the other day, I wasn’t sure he would do it. It’s something we struggled with last year. To my surprise, and delight, he took my ‘go bye’, went to the fence, made his hole, slid into the barn, and brought everyone out, even with several of them giving him the stare down.

Needless to say, he got a ‘Good boy!’ before we continued on. I can’t give him much more praise than that or he gets all wiggly and excited and comes off his stock. We save the parties for when we’re done.

After looking at my dog’s eye view pictures, I went back out and set up one for the above scenario just to see what it looked like.

Guess I can see why Dillon was a bit hesitant about tackling that. Nothing but legs and noses and deep, dark shadows.

I took a few more shots, just because I had my camera handy and it’s fun to take a look at things from a different angle every now and again. Like the times the sheep need a bit more push in the chute where things can get tight…

…and occasionally a bit crazy.

It’s a blessing to have working dogs that can get in there when I need them to and help get things done. They’re a lot more successful at moving stubborn stock than I am. Not to mention being far quicker and exceedingly more nimble, athletic, gumby-like… all those things I sometimes think I am, until I try something to prove me wrong. 😉

The Healing of a Heart

It’s been a bit over three months since we let Cian go. The Sad still lingers. It likes to raise its head when I’m tired, stressed, feeling overwhelmed, or driving somewhere alone. Too much time in my own head. I keep his picture at the base of my monitor because I need that little bit of him with me, though it’s gotten to where most days I can think of him with smiles and not tears. On others, I’m not as successful.

It’s been a bit over a month since Finn claimed me. He snatched his piece of my heart with both paws and I’m afraid I love him too much already. I’m not sure I was truly ready for this because I’ve become extremely paranoid something will happen to him, which is very unlike me. It’s to the point where, the morning after Dave told me Finn took off in a game of puppy you-can’t-catch-me, I sent him this text from work…

It’s irrational and, being me, I find it unacceptable, but, there you have it.

Overall, Finn makes me smile, a lot. Okay, sometimes the smile is actually more of a grimace because he’s chomping on my arm or pulling my pants leg. He is the most gator-like puppy I’ve ever had, and nothing seems to convince him otherwise.

*Chomp, chomp, chomp.*
Me: Knock it off.
Finn: What? I’m not doing anything.

Because, you know, the poor puppy doesn’t have any toys to play with. Tell me again why it is my living room looks like a toddler’s playground? Hmmm….

Finn is a smart boy. With very little input, he has learned the best way to get treats, dinner, out of puppy jail, or most other things he wants is to offer a down.

He’s also insanely quick and agile. Which he proves by turning our sectional into his own Puppy Parkour course. Anyone seated there at the time becomes an obstacle. Yes, outrageous, bad puppy behavior. How can I allow such mayhem? Well, because he does it with so much joy and enthusiasm it makes me laugh, and laughing does my heart good.

He’s getting so big. He used to fit under that coffee table. Soon he’ll weigh too much to pick up and hug so I take advantage of puppy snuggles whenever I can get them.

Around the farm, Dillon is Finn’s best bud, at least for now. They wrestle and romp until Dillon has had enough of puppy exuberance and signals he’s done. Finn doesn’t always heed the signal, however, so there are times I have to intervene before Dillon loses his cool.

Jig has no cool to lose. She wants to eat Finn. Literally. Chomp first, ask questions later. All is not lost, however, because she was that way with Dillon when he was a puppy and now they play all the time.

Grady prefers not to be bothered. He’s feeling his age and puppies are obnoxious.

The hole in my heart is still there; some days larger and more empty than others. It isn’t Finn’s job to replace Cian, or make me forget him. Neither of those things could ever happen. Finn has no job other than to be a puppy, make me smile and laugh, and take me on a new journey.

It may have been too soon to bring in a pup, but it’s also too late. Come what may, this little guy isn’t going anywhere.

Winter Interlude

There’s generally not a whole lot to write about this time of year but winter has been unusually and suspiciously mild around here so far. That, combined with some time off, has given me the opportunity to get in a bit of training. And, of course, there’s this…

Okay, on to working dogs. I was fortunate enough to talk Bob into coming out one day and bringing his camera which is one of the few times I get pictures of my dogs during training. I have a group of this year’s lambs that I hadn’t been working until recently. I’ve been using them more over the past several weeks. They’re good for helping teach so many things as they aren’t fetchy, they’re sensible, and there are at least two the dog needs to keep an eye on or they’ll leave.

I’ve been taking both dogs out on them for different reasons. With Jig it’s still fine-tuning her gather and cover with a little driving thrown in. With Dillon it’s working on a gather, getting to head, and rating better. He does a good job of that in the small arena, but out in the open it’s push-push-push.

Knowledgeable eyes on you while training is always a good thing and that opportunity also presented itself a few days ago. (Thanks, Janna!) She pointed out several things I was doing with Dillon that weren’t helping our cause any. Like, trying to fix the gather at the end instead of at the top where it needed fixing — which would probably take care of the rest by default. Also, I was moving my feet to try and make Dillon right, instead of moving my feet to make him more wrong which would cause him to correct himself. And, lastly, um… “He’s looking at me way too much.” Hmmm… how would I know that unless I was also looking at him? And where should I be looking? Yeah, not at my dog.

Me, not watching my dog. This is one of the times when I guarantee he wasn’t looking at me in return.
I was thinking of setting up a parallel drive here, but Dill was being Mr. Pushy and that needs fixing first.
Miss Jig got some camera time as well, doing a little driving.

And before I forget, I wanted to share an example of how our focus and what’s in our heads can influence our training and our dogs.

I was working Dillon and had very clear expectations for our session. I was focused and completely in the zone which, honestly, doesn’t happen that often. When I gave Dillon a flank he took it without hesitation. We were really working well together. I wasn’t watching him, he wasn’t watching me. I was not only cuing him verbally, but my intentions matched. I was, quite honestly, lost-in-the-moment.

I broke him off to set him up for another gather and that’s when I spotted two figures in camo walking our lot line. I stopped to watch them and see if I needed to ask what they were doing, but they headed off into the neighbor’s woods. I continued to ponder what they were doing, what hunting season it was, and who they were when I asked Dill for a go-bye. He started, paused, curved back. I redirected, but I was still looking in the direction of the figures and my mind was now completely on them. Dillon stopped his flank and stood there, watching me. Yes, I looked at him in return, then pushed him out into his flank. It wasn’t his best but, then again, at that moment neither was I.

Just something to keep in mind for the future. The right mindset can make all the difference. Especially with a dog that’s really tuned into you, which Dillon definitely is.

New Beginnings

Many of you already know our latest news.

Over the weekend we added this adorable guy to the family.

I wasn’t actively looking to add a pup yet. I knew one would be coming eventually, just not yet. It didn’t feel like the right time, for multiple reasons. Even though my plan was to wait until spring and a breeding I knew was in the works, I did look into this litter when I heard about it. I’ve always liked Killi ever since the first time I saw Becky working him as a young dog. There’s just something about him.

In any case, we all know what they say about plans, right?

A couple weeks ago I received an email that changed mine. There were two Killi boys available yet, did I want to come and see them? Yes! But no. But Yes!! But…

So I went. For some reason or another, the Sad came with me. I don’t mind road trips. Solo road trips give me far too much time in my own head though, and that’s generally not a good thing. I’m not always the best company for myself. And, honestly, as I sat on the kitchen floor trying to make up my mind between the brothers, even though I was pretty sure I liked the blue, I felt the Sad creeping up again. I doubted my readiness to give another piece of my heart. I almost said no to both.

Then the little blue boy picked up a toy, brought it over, and climbed in my lap. His brother came over to steal the toy. The blue boy went to get another, brought it over, and climbed into my lap. My decision was made.

The Sad beat me up on the way home. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Guess I just have to accept the fact I’m still a wee bit emotionally unstable. The as-of-that-moment unnamed blue boy rode pretty well. He’d break into song about every hour and we’d have a talk about what a pretty song it was. I tried out several names on him during the ride until he finally told me they were all wrong — (Not as wrong as Lucky Wilbur, however. Inside joke.) — and told me who he was.

And so I officially introduce Finn, Starstuff For My Heart’s Sake, who has settled in as though he’s always been here, the beginning of a new journey.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”
~author unknown

Teamwork & Communication

More teamwork.

Due to circumstances we were forced to keep the cattle longer than we wanted (BTW, we still have beef quarters or halves available for any of you local folks who might be interested – message me for info). Anyhow, keeping the cattle over winter meant dividing the barn so they could be fed inside. Not something that thrilled me since four large beef cattle make a mess in a hurry. Thankfully, they prefer to spend the majority of their time outside, even in inclement weather, and only come in to eat. They’re a pretty mellow group but still… large and pushy.

The silver lining? Moving them off the feed bunker has become one of Jig’s regular jobs now. It’s one she thoroughly enjoys and I’m seeing vast improvement on how she handles them. No rodeoing, very matter of fact. She’ll walk in on noses, hit if necessary, release pressure as soon as they turn off. If they ball up with their backs to her, she hits the heel. I love seeing that.

The other silver lining? Dillon gets the benefit of job shadowing. Jig’s a good teacher and Dillon is getting a little bolder each time. Instead of hanging back as he did in the clip above, he’s been moving in, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jig, more watching than doing but hopefully it will make an impression.

The dogs are generally around when I’m doing chores. At one point over the weekend, Jig was off doing something (probably making a snack of chicken feed) and Dill was with me while I was filling water troughs. Being that they’re insatiably curious, one of the cattle wandered in and presented Dillon its nose. I encouraged him to walk up, intending to help him move the steer if needed so he could be successful. I gave him my ‘get-em-up” whistle to encourage him and that’s when the stealth bomber appeared. Jig brushed past Dillon, hit the nose, steer left, Jig left (presumably to go back to her snacking), and Dillon looked up at me as though to ask what had just happened. I shrugged and told him, “That’s how it’s done.”

**Editor’s note: the Farm Hand relayed to me yesterday that Dillon moved the cattle off the feeder for him during morning chores because Jig was “nowhere around”. I grilled him on how Dillon did it and if he really did it or if the cattle just left because… dog. Sounds like Dill really did it. Proof the job shadowing is working.**

Clear Communication

An ongoing issue with Dillon is getting him to slow down at the topside when I send him on a gather, a flank, into a pen, or pretty much any other time he brings stock in my direction. This results in the sheep running past me. In the arena or the field this also results in the sheep leaving. You can imagine how pleased I am when that happens. Granted, Dillon will collect them up again, but, not slowing down… aaaaaannnnnndddd they’re gone.

I’ve tried the usual methods to indicate my displeasure. I have stepped through my stock and put pressure on Dillon to slow him down. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I used a flag. I used a shaker bottle. I used a pocket rocket. He would respond by popping out of my pressure, trying to flank around and beat me, all while staring at me as though I’d sprouted horns. As soon as I released the pressure he’d get to pushing again.

I pondered other methods and last week employed the silent version of a pocket rocket: a plastic bottle weighted with enough water to make it throwable. Silent, and hopefully effective.

I set Dillon up for a gather and as soon as he hit the topside and aimed the sheep at me without ever once breaking stride, I whipped the bottle his way. My aim is notoriously bad, however, this time it was spot on. The bottle bounced off the ground in front of him and Dillon sprang backwards. He eyeballed the bottle as though it might leap up and attack, looked at me, looked at the sheep and offered a down with no further input from me.

That was the one and only time I had to throw that bottle. Every gather after that, he’d hit the topside, slow to a walk, and as soon as the sheep were within 20′ of me, he’d down on his own. In one or two cases he chose a stand, usually when the sheep were looking like they might veer off.

Wow. Success.

Well, sort of.

As is sometimes the case, success with one problem brings up new ones. Now that I had Dillon understanding he needs to think a bit when bringing me the stock, I had to convince him to walk into the pressure of me and those sheep to bring them closer. I liked his thoughtful approach but there are going to be times I need the sheep… well… a bit closer.

And, yes, that is Linus watching from the other side of the fence.

As you can see, he’s starting to get it. We’ll keep working it until it’s smoother, he’s surer of what I’m asking, and then we’ll move to a bit bigger area.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Have a great Thanksgiving. Be safe if you’re traveling. Eat, drink, hug the ones you love. Take time for yourself.

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.
Go raibh mile maith agat.

Last Friday the weather was finally conducive to getting the ewes out with the ram so the afternoon became all about getting them sorted and moved. Knowing there would be a few challengers in the group I fully intended to give Jig the nod. Dillon needs more experience learning how to handle belligerent stock and though I’ve been working on it with him, we’re having a few problems. It’s well known; Dillon and I have communication issues.

Then, in the way it often happens, the wise words of a friend popped into my head. Why not work Jig and Dillon together? How better to learn than side-by-side with an experienced dog?

The team, ready to go to work. Jig’s ear set says she may looking forward to it a bit too much.
Right off the bat, someone has to cause an issue. Dillon isn’t in the picture, but he’s right behind Jig in this image and the next. Watching and, hopefully, learning.
Walking in nice and steady, giving the ewe the opportunity to make the right decision.
She invariably did, saving her a hit to the nose.
It took a lot of years to get Jig to this point and I sure do love watching her in action.
You can just barely see Jig in the back pushing everyone forward. Dillon voluntarily took up a position on the side, keeping anyone from making a break for it.
He’s definitely got his eye on the potential troublemaker
The one time Dillon joined Jig at the rear, making sure there were no stragglers.
For the most part Jig and Dillon kept to their self-appointed roles: Jig providing the muscle and the push, Dillon holding the flank and tucking heads. Every now and again Jig would come up to make sure Dill had it handled.
Dillon giving a final push to get them through the gate while Jig was back by me getting a straggler.
“That’ll do,” brings Dillon right back, while Miss Jig…
She apparently wanted to make sure the ewes were all the way through the gate.

I’m not sure how much Dillon will learn from this exercise, but it sure was fun.

Part of my plan going forward is to make a concerted effort to get the dogs off the farm more often and take advantage of other places to train. Although you can’t recreate trial situations due to all the factors involved, the more opportunities you can give your dog, and yourself, to train on different stock and at different facilities, the better you will be for it.

Toward that end and much to Jig’s dismay, I packed the dogs into the truck Saturday and headed north for a day and a half of working dogs, talking dogs, planning future arenas, and goofing with our dogs, topped off by some serious damage to a gallon of apple cider and a bottle of Fireball.

Jig and I got the opportunity to work in a couple Post Advanced sized fields.

One of the fields we worked in.
Although narrow, this field was over 600′ long,
giving us a chance to work in the type of area we rarely have access to.

She had still her high ears on, so things weren’t as pretty as I would have liked. At home I’ve backed up to some foundation work with her and when I started doing that, things went better. Not spectacular, but nothing overly horrendous either.

Dillon not only got to work in the large fields, (which he handled awesomely — outside of the fact it became blatantly obvious he has no clue it’s not desirable to run the sheep over the top of me) but we even worked ducks. *gasp!* Twice.

The first time was out in the yard, which was an epic fail except for the part where the ducks disappeared under a pair of trailers. I have to say, it was pretty impressive watching Dill work independently as he figured out how to get the ducks out from their hiding places and regrouped. Once that happened, however, it all fell to shit again.

The next morning we worked the ducks indoors under my friend’s watchful eyes. I’ve said it before, it really helps to have experienced onlookers not afraid to tell you what they’re seeing. It made all the difference in the world. Dillon doesn’t know much about ducks and I’d been doing too much handling out in the open. That caused him to spend far too much time watching me and not paying any attention to the ducks. Inside, once that was pointed out to me, I switched gears and went into doing some Big S Turns. Once I got my timing right, things went much better. Everyone relaxed and it felt like a really good session.

Not only that, but it was, overall, a really good weekend. Just the right amount of fun, relaxation, pushing boundaries, and learning. I need to make having more of these a priority.