It was almost too hot to work dogs today, and the grass was almost too tall. Those of you living in the cold country must think I'm lying, but that's just the way it is here in sunny, Southern California. The bad news is that we are over-crowded, over-taxed, and over-regulated in my home state. There is always a trade off.
The big field where I train my dogs has 2 distinct areas, created by seasonal Keys Creek, which cuts off the upper third and is running strong right now. There is the flat portion, where I can get those booming, 500-600 yard outruns, and there is what I call the hill field. The flat portion is annually planted to rye grass, causing me to remain at the other end from any day now, until they harvest the grass hay sometime around April, May, June, depending on rain. Today I was on the bigger, flat portion trying to get a few more of those monstrous outruns in before Zamora, and before it is planted. Like I said, it was too hot, and too tall, but I have to go for it while I can.
Most of the time today, all I could see was the top of Star's head as he was running out, and sometimes he disappeared completely. I could see the taller, whiter sheep, though, so I could tell where the dog was by watching them. I set up 500+ yard outruns, and sent Star in both directions. Because of the heat, I wanted him to fetch them a bit, then flank around and put them back where he found them for Mirk. No sense bringing the sheep all the way too me. Too much work for them in the tall grass, not to mention the dog.
Star apparently forgot this lesson from the other day, and was reluctant to come off the pressure, flank around inside and start the drive. I had to walk up the field a bit, speak to him, and help. I noticed that a hurry up flank has meaning to him now, because of all the previous work, setting up a strong draw and making Star flank off-pressure and inside to stop sheep from escaping. That lesson he retained, so I used the hurry up whistles to get him going when he would have preferred not to, and it worked well. It is very rewarding when I take time to notice how all the training pieces fit together, and recognize the hidden picture hidden within the jigsaw puzzle. That's what happened today.
The farmer has begun plowing the flat field, so we were back on the hill today. The goat guy has 300 goats behind e-net fencing there, but he was around the corner, and out of my way for the most part. It was hot again today, but this hill hasn't been planted in years, so there is old feed, and new grass coming, but it's not near as dense as the part that gets planted. The low parts of the hill field are choked with tall weeds of the kind that grow in moisture, but I'm glad to see that the goat guy has fencing set up to turn his goats out there, and mow it down. Without him grazing the weeds off every year or 2, the hill would be too choked with brush for me to use it. Not a big fan of goats, I do appreciate their particular talents.
I used Mirk to set the sheep about 300 yards out, then took turns with both dogs making outruns. Mirk slows down measurably in heat, and it's almost painful for me to recognize the difference between him in cold weather, and him in hot. He hates it hot, and today I watched him amble down the long hill casting wider and wider. In fact so wide, that at one point I thought; "what the hell is he doing?" Then I watched him head for the creek, and I thought he had quit me for water. Without reason, he then stopped all together, reversed direction and started back, and my blood pressure spiked. I blew a stop and an away-to-me, that he took, cast out again, and disappeared over the bank of the creek before showing up too deep, and way off contact with his sheep. After retrieving Star, I stood and watched him do almost the very same thing, foot step for foot step, and became perplexed to say the least.
The next outruns were made in the other direction without incident, so I sort of forgot about the aberration, and went about my training. More off balance work on the fetch today, and both dogs were more pliable after yesterday. Actually, today both dogs steered like Ferraris, and I was having a grand time. Gorgeous weather, beautiful field, compliant, well-trained dogs, nice sheep. Fun! There is a practice used to train horses whereby you teach them things like lead changes in rough, uneven, or even freshly plowed ground. The idea being that if they learn to make smooth flying-lead-changes on bad ground, they will look like Baryshnikov in a well-groomed show ring. It seems to me that yesterday's work in dense rye grass had the same effect on my dogs today. Hmmm...
After a short rest, I started down the hill to a flat area for shedding practice. Star has a very nice way of settling sheep, which causes them to come apart slowly on his appropriate pressure, where they fly apart haphazardly under Mirk's brashness. Attitude is everything, and Star is patient and kind. As I've said before many times, Mirk is not a precision instrument, but will always get the job done. With sheep like my kittehs, shedding is a lot more fun with Star. Unlike Mirk that I have to hold back, I must encourage Star to remain on his feet, but his technique will win the day far more often on the trial field.
After working, I took all the dogs to the creek for a dip, and that's when I discovered what had caused them trouble on the away-to-me outruns. A large section of the field had been fenced off with e-net which wasn't easily visible empty. The dogs had run out, encountered the fence and found a way around, taking them into the creek and way deep of their mark. Oh, now I see...Unfortunately I had no way to take back the corrections I had barked to the dogs. Border Collies, the resilient breed.
The weather cooled off today, but was beautifully sunny and warm. It was the kind of January day that you can't even imagine when you are snow-blowing your driveway in Northern Michigan. With the trial next month in Zamora on my mind, there is a lot of training going on, and not a lot of writing. The days are running together for me journal-wise, but the dogs are getting much needed attention.
Today was not a great day. Occasionally, I rent sheep for practice, so I had the Dorper ewes on the hill field for that purpose. Yes, I could bring the Dorpers and the kittehs over, separate them and let my customers have a go on the Dorpers, but that just seemed like too much work, so Star and Mirk both were less than stellar on plodding sheep. It is interesting, though, how the difference changes the dogs ability to hear me. Star was less than responsive to my flank commands on the fetch, and got stuck behind his sheep. Where he flanks off freely for the most part on sheep that are moving easily in front of him, it is so much work just to move the Dorpers, that he is too busy to hear me. I had to walk up the field more than once to remind him who was running the show, and it is quite unusual for me to have to raise my voice as I did today. A little goes a long way with Star man, and I am careful, but the correction helped, and he was sharper on my whistles afterward in spite of the sour sheep.
On a happy side-note, when finishing up today, I sent first Star, then Mirk to gather up and load the sheep. I wanted to see if Star had over come his fear of the brace. Star left, seconds later, Mirk right. Star had just lifted when Mirk got there, and I was pleased to see that Star slowed, but kept coming. Mirk immediately passed him by, and took control of the sheep, but Star kept coming about 15 paces behind. All the way up the hill they moved together that way, until Mirk stopped when the sheep approached me. But Star kept coming, passing Mirk this time to follow his sheep all the way into the trailer, and stop staring through the doorway. My little man is growing into his power.
The dogs and I made the most of another glorious day, working on the hill field, then playing in the creek. I brought the kittehs, and the dogs sharpened on flighty sheep with increased keenness and motivation. We worked on outruns and driving. We worked from bottom to top and started from a place where the goat man's e-fence was off to my left to get a maximum outrun of about 440 yards. This meant that again the dogs had to hit the fence, turn uphill running alongside, then cast out wider once they got to the end of it. The situation always makes for a good learning opportunity, that went a bit awry with Star. The first time I sent Star, he didn't cast out at the end of the fence, so I stopped him way short of his sheep, recalled and enlightened him. Remember, a little goes a long way.
The next time I sent him, he went straight to the fence, and turned left instead of right, which would have caused him to go the long way around. Silly! I stopped him, and walked him up to the end of the fence, then said "come-bye," at which he squared off too much, and ran out looking, and not seeing sheep with which he was completely off contact. I just let him go. He went so wide that he crossed the dirt road, and headed for the oak trees before realizing that he was completely lost, and turning in to get his bearings. Unable to do that, he stopped and looked for sheep. Too wide is just as bad as too tight, so I recalled him again to set it up differently. "If you're going to be that stupid, you can run twice as far!" I can count on one had how many times I have recalled Star from an outrun. Never a good idea with a young dog, because you don't want them ever to think that it's OK to come back empty handed. I only did it because he is mature enough now to handle it, and he was very wrong. Star was reluctant to quit looking for sheep all the way back, and I absolutely love that about him. I felt bad that I had caused the problem in the first place with over-correction even though it was only over-correction to Star. It is the reason he is so easy to guide. He is absolutely keen to take direction when lost. He never quits looking, listening and trying until he finds his sheep. Nice feature that, and existing because he trusts me. "If she says so, they're out here somewhere."