|Happy New Year Every One|
No good dog trial narrative would fail to include the preparation, and that is what I did yesterday and today. Yesterday in the small field, and I remembered, and used a valuable tool that once helped me with Price in the shed ring. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I taught Price to shed, and I mucked it up, but good. At one point, he refused to come through at all, and why would he? I corrected him for the wrong things at the worst possible times, and poor Price had absolutely no idea what it was that I wanted. What I did with Star yesterday is how I fixed Price, who eventually came to be a master shedder.
I put about 10hd of sheep in my round pen yesterday, and then used Star to let them out 1 or 2 at a time. When you do this, the dogs quickly understand that it is there job to hold some back. Unlike shedding out in the open, which has no real purpose that the dogs can easily grasp, inside the round pen, they can easily internalize a purpose to the job, and they love it. Once there are sheep inside and outside of the pen, there is a huge draw to the gate, so not only are the dogs always coming through using their eye, it is all very up close and personal, which never fails to create excitement. Additionally, the round pen serves to hold the sheep together, which makes it easier, and a lot more fun for me and the dogs. As smart as Star is, he caught on immediately, and enjoyed himself thoroughly.
|Thing 1 and Thing 2|
A funny thing happened on the way to the sheep today. I sent Star left on a little outrun of about 400 yards, and once he became just shy of the top, he stopped, jumped back, turned away from his sheep, trotted off and then started back. I thought; "what the...?" After that he came on to his sheep perfectly, and worked well. I wondered if there was a snake, or something in the grass, but December is surely not snake season. Afterward he worked so well that I had forgotten about it altogether by the time we walked down to the creek to cool out. Once there I saw what had happened. The goat guy had kept goats in that part of the field at some point, and the e-net fence was standing directly in the path of where Star had made his outrun. He must not have seen it until he was right on top of it, and it startled him. I was glad to know what he had overcome without any help whatsoever from me. Very smart.
Since we are preparing for Snowbirds on the Border Sheepdog Trial this week, the dogs are undergoing some fine tuning. These past 2 days Star has been better, (much better,) than Mirk, because Mirkie is not really a precision instrument. Star is happy to stop and turn on a dime. He is so keen to take my whistles, no matter what I ask, no matter how fast he is moving when I ask it, and today he demonstrated that in grand style.
Star is also getting bolder, more sure of himself. The Chevies are still as flighty as ever, and in the hill field where we were today, they know the shortest way back to the trailer. I asked Star to cross drive them towards and away from the trailer, so we could practice pace. The sheep will run unless given sufficient personal space, and I was happy to see Star accomplish just the right amount of pressure to make a nice job of it. They did escape once, however, scurrying all the way up the hill to the trailer. I had flanked Star to cover, but they squirted determinedly, so I gave him the hurry up offense, and sent him quicker, but their head start had been too much. At 400 yards away from me, I was anxious to see if he knew enough to get 4, flighty lambs off the trailer started towards me. He took his time. At first he gave too much ground, and I could see the sheep moving back and forth in front of the trailer, with Star moving back and forth around back. I blew a series of quiet walk up whistles, suggesting to him no to flank, but walk on steady. I saw the sheep move straight away from the trailer, but turn to look at the dog. Not enough pressure. Next I saw a lamb try to duck back, but he stopped her cold, and I thought "this is really good for him." Another duck or two from the lambs, but Star knew the game by now, and he had them headed straight towards me.
I am allowing Star semi-silent fetches more often than not. He tends to over flank when left on his own, which causes him a lot of unnecessary work. It is best for him to learn the lesson on his own. If he gets completely off course, I blow a flank, but otherwise, I've been leaving him to his own devices, and it seems to be working. I can always give him a steady whistle to eliminate the over flanking, and I do, but it is really a beautiful sight to watch my dog holding the pressure of his own accord to bee line sheep to my feet. I will not always be available to help, so I need him as independent as possible.
With a strong draw to the sheep trailer, I am using it to make sure Star's flanks are free. So, if he is fetching to me, and the draw is to my left, I will flank him right, or come-bye, away from the pressure, which allows the sheep to escape. Not only is he perfectly happy to release the pressure and obey, but the drill has taught him to flank with speed instead of lolly-gagging as he was before on the stoney Dorpers. This exercise has also allowed me to sharpen his gears. In other words, I can now give him a regular flank whistle, which gets me a flank at regular speed, or I can blow a speedy flank whistle, and get after burners. Very handy.
Lastly we worked on shedding, and I am so happy to report that after 1 quick lesson in the round pen, Star has sharpened measurably. The other thing he demonstrated to me today was his ability to wait quietly until I asked him to come through. I use "on your feet" to keep him standing, and he was much better with it today, only hitting his belly a time or two. While shedding, he is becoming comfortable remaining on his feet without moving, and developing a shoulder-lean as well. In other words, I can direct the sheep one way, or the other, and Star will follow the sheep's direction by leaning towards it until I ask him to either flank or come through. This is a skill common among great shedders, and this development makes me really happy. Pretty is as pretty does, and Star was simply stunning today.
|A Star is Born|
In his 1st open, during his nursery year, against 63 other dogs, little Star man placed third, and I could not be more proud of my dog. He was far better than I ever would have hoped, and scored a 78 without a pen. That means he only lost 12 points around the small, but tricky course. The yearling sheep are Suffolk-cross, ewe and wether lambs, completely happy to stand and fight, or run off, 1 at a time as often as not. A lot of dogs lost their sheep around the course, and few panels were made. Of those that were, few were made cleanly. We made all our panels with only 1 bobble at the fetch gate when Star spent 30 seconds stopping them from circumnavigation. The drive panels were made clean as a whistle with crisp turns on my "hurry-up whistles" made to stop the drifting sheep from widening. The fact that Star took every whistle on a dime, including the stop, and the bend-flanks, made for straight lines and tight turns. Wary of the spectators, the sheep held their ground around the post, and Star had the best turn I saw, remaining cool and calm with deliberate steps to accomplish the task like "buttah." I really appreciated him there.
The outrun is small, maybe 250 yards, but it has a waist. Like an hour glass, there is lots of room in the first third for the dogs to cast, then the field narrows before opening up again leaving space to cover without upset. Many dogs pulled in at the middle, and Star was no exception. I blew a strong come-bye re-direct, which he took on the fly and flying, immediately spotting his sheep when he hit another gear and widened again on his own running flat out with confidence landing perfectly on balance, nice and deep. The sheep were set on hay, and some dogs struggled because of it. Star came on smoothly, but I gave a series of 2 strong walk up whistles, and I may have over-compensated. There was a tiny explosion quite possibly initiated by my dog, but no harm done. Already, there was a strong draw to my left, so I followed the walk up whistles with an immediate away-to-me bend-flank, and the lift, after the tremor, was dead on. He had them.
The fetch was on a string with Star bending as requested to hold the line until just the other side of the panels, when the sheep hesitated. Star had to use a bit of muscle to persuade them through. After the turn at the post, the first drive leg was easy, and again, I was pre-emptive with a "hurry-up" flank around the turn. Star drove like a rally car at Monaco; speedy, precise, with tight braking, and exciting to handle. Many dogs went wide at the panels, allowing sheep to either run uphill towards the set out, or past the cross-drive panel towards their over night pen. Star flanked squarely, stopped on the head of a pin, moved the sheep evenly, then softly stopped again to release the pressure and slow them down. The sheep cruised all the way around the drive. The cross drive line became a bit high, but with one adjustment we sliced the panel in half. Another tight turn where most were not, and Star took each whistle precisely for a laser straight last drive leg. I make up a lot of points on the competition on that leg, and I always wonder why others don't do the same thing. It is basically a fetch, the easy leg, and the most over looked. I stood at the post thinking "Velvet Elvis," Amanda Milliken's description of her good dog, Clive, at Sonoma last year. My dog was that smooth.
Our judge from Kentucky, Bob Washer, gave us the benefit of the doubt on the shed and made it any 2 of the 5 head. Heads, tails, it didn't matter. Whenever they give you a head start in a foot race, I say; "take it!" Star eased them gently into the shed ring, applying his lessons from home, with patience beyond his years. The sheep broke once, but Star covered long before they came anywhere close to the edge of the ring, then we harmonized on perfect pitch for a sharp 2/3 shed. I was not the least surprised to see him come right through. We had 2 full minutes to finish, and it was "my bad" at the pen. Star was giving ground on flanks, which was counter-productive. The trait is not uncommon in youngsters and usually evaporates with experience over time. Over compensating, I put too much pressure on flighty lambs that became unsettled, and they squirted a time or two, but Star contained them within the plane of the gate. If only I had...well, never mind, because Star did a compelling job of plugging the holes and was learning on the job. By the second break away, he had trained his sheep not to, and the judge called time with all 5 standing stock still in the mouth of the pen. I was beaming at that point, and jogged off praising my doggie to some muffled applause from my peers.
The first trial was run over 2 days, Thursday and Friday. I went back Friday for Mirk's run and checked Star's score. 78 points and it went like this; 1 off the outrun, 2 off the lift, 3 off the fetch, 6 off the drive, 0 off the shed, and 10 off for no pen. Mirk's run was efficient, but messy, ending at the pen with yet another clock exhausted . Much improved, Mirk handled better for me than ever before, and I am happy with his progress. Star beat him handily, however, which gave me a chuckle. Mirk scored a luke-warm 66, but managed 9th place, and some much needed open, qualifying points.
By California standards, this has been 1 icy cold dog trial. Highly uncommon here, the morning temperatures have been in the low 20's. As a result the sheep are responding to the dogs with random unpredictability, especially early. One second you see sheep stepping beautifully down a perfectly straight line. A split second later you have a fleeing single in the camping area all by its lonesome. Many runs have started well, and ended just like that.
Fortunately for me, Star's run started well, ended well, and went quite well in the middle too. I can describe for you how it went every step of the way, but easier to simply read again the recount of day 1. Three exceptions; No re-direct on the outrun this time. Star knew exactly where they were. My timing was bad, at the fetch panel causing us to miss, and we successfully penned. 63 dogs run, and this is how Bob Washer scored the run; 1off the outrun,1 off the lift, 7 off the fetch, 2 off the drive (2!!!) 0 off the shed, and 0 off the pen. Losing just 11 points all the way around the course, Star scored a total of 89 points and placed 3rd again in the 2nd running of the open.
I only completely internalized the scope of my nursery dog's accomplishments when I tallied them in my head during the ride home.
Third place in each of his first 2 open trials...during his nursery year.
Qualified for the national nursery finals at his first dog trial of the season.
Garnered 22 open points, which is likely sufficient to qualify him for the national open finals.
The only dog to place in the money in both open runs at the dog trial.
Won prize money totaling $600.
I only have 1 thing to say; I guess I better teach him a look back now.
There is one more item of note that I am happy to report. Star's demeanor at the trial was impressive. Before, and after his run, and while we were killing time, Star was perfectly happy to be out and about, calmly walking on his leash and even sleeping under my chair beside the trail field in full view of the action. In contrast to Mirk that is in constant motion, sniffing, peeing, twitching, whipping, jingling, and annoying me to utter distraction, Star just hangs out and patiently waits his turn. Nice feature that, and while I would like to take credit for some of it, and do, mostly he was just born that way.