Welcome to The Real Time Canine

My name is Amelia Smith of BorderSmith Kennel and with The Real Time Canine, I am providing training technique for Border Collie Sheepdogs. Beginning with 10 week old Kensmuir Star, I will document his daily lessons in words and pictures every Sunday. Previously subscription based, the complete working journal is now available here every Sunday.

From the moment I collected Star, his training began and you will be with us every step of the way. Good manners, willingness & confidence are necessary for him to attain my goal to become a useful working sheepdog and successful trial competitor. From the first lessons on manners & socialization to his first exposure to sheep, you will be a part of Star's journey to success.

After a lifetime with animals, dogs, horses and livestock, I am happy to share my expertise with you. I have found success in sheepdog trials at home and abroad and have trained dogs that went on to find success with others. To learn more about me and my dogs, please visit my BorderSmith website and my BorderSmith Blog! Cheers and thank you very much.

Feb 25, 2011

Week 112 - Zamora 2011

It is with some regret and a little mixed emotion that I begin composing the last private RTC. We have been a good group, you and me, and the discipline of writing has helped me stay on track with Star. Thank you for that. Thank you for your patronage, attentiveness, friendship, support, and commentary. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and hope you have as well.

Exhaust sheep? What exhaust sheep?

Zamora - Open 1
I have made the trip many times to Zamora, and because it poses challenges like nowhere else, it is one of my favorite dog trials. The seemingly endless hills that we run on appear out of nowhere and jut out sharply from the otherwise flat, agricultural expanse of the Sacramento Delta Region. One minute you are sailing down I-5, the next you are a few miles away on a winding, 2-lane road looking for the old red barns at the base of the trial field. It was windy and cold when I arrived Thursday night, with just enough daylight to air out the dogs and remember why I love the place.
Friday morning dawned cloudy and oh-so-cold. The weather man said 30% chance of rain, so the fog caught me off guard. At the trial field, we were unable to see even the post from the nearby parking area, and the trial was delayed by hours. As a result, the shed was eliminated leaving us a 90 point course, and 9 minutes to run instead of 11. With more than 80 dogs to compete over a day and a half in open #1, something had to go. I applaud the organizers for not running to a standard, or shortening the course, neither the outrun or the drive. It is why we come to Zamora after all, and the gather remained somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 yards with a 200 yard drive. Standing there on soggy ground, in inclement weather staring at that huge hill, the thought occurred to me that it might be a bit much for little Starman. And that was before I found out we were running on only 3 head of yearlings. Oh my! What the weatherman should have said was 30% chance of rain all day, because it began shortly after the fog lifted and did not stop.

Perfect Start

The post was an elevated platform welded up by a handler, and named after long-time Border Collie supporter, Guido Lombardi, who just happens to be last year's inductee into the ABCA Hall of Fame. The Lombardi Tower was placed below a rushing stream which had to be crossed by the dogs running out, and after the drive, by dogs and sheep to get to the pen. The drive ended, and drive points awarded at the uphill creek bank on the way back. Very few made it that far, and they were the ones that won the day with scores in the low 60s. After a day and a half of running all those dogs, no one had gotten a pen, with most either getting lost on the outrun, or like me with both dogs, timing out around the drive.

I wasn't worried about Star's run, or the least bit nervous, because I looked at it as a training run, with absolutely no expectation of anything. Honestly, I was thrilled just to see him start in the correct direction and head uphill. He is such a marvelous spotter of sheep, even as far as they were set, I knew he had seen them, so I figured; "what the hell." Not only is the hill steep vertically, but it undulates greatly horizontally as the dogs run up. Almost from the minute you send them, they lose sight of their sheep. Because the dogs must travel up and down as well as out and around, I have no reason to believe that they can see their sheep again until they top out on the last rise just before the set out. If they cross over the highest ridgeline too soon, they won't see sheep again until they come around at the top, if then, and many overshot, crossed their course looking, came on flat and tight, or just plain got lost. There were a few that made a big circle to finish back at their handler's feet. It is a long walk up that hill to find your dog when there is no telling where they might have gone.

Fetch on a String

If your dog runs tight, you run the risk of them being sucked down into the gully by the terrain, and cross their course. At Zamora, that is quite common. What is uncommon is the 20 point outrun, which may have been accomplished by a few. Maybe not. Re-direct whistles were heard repeatedly throughout the weekend. Star ran perfectly, starting up and angling nicely. He dropped over the first hill, reappeared on the next running just below the ridgeline of the farthest hill. After another up and down, he was still right on the ridge, and I was starting to feel lucky...I mean hopeful. Then he dropped over and was lost to me. All I could hope was that the fence would turn him, and he would reappear behind his sheep. I waited...then I waited some more losing precious time off a short clock. I blew "walk-up." Nothing. More "walk-up" then his name. Calling his name again, I blew a recall just before he flew out from about 11 o'clock, and presumably the set out pen, onto his sheep. I could see he was sizing things up, so I encouraged with a whistle to shift sheep that were set on hay. After an instant's hesitation, he had them and down they came.

It was rainy, windy and cold, and the yearlings tried the dog every which way but loose with Star taking every whistle as if on rails, first coming on then giving ground, trying to discover where to be and how to handle sheep that were completely unfamiliar to him. It was a young dog's fetch winning a few stand-offs, losing ground to the hills and time to the clock. A cone across the creek from the post designated the turn into the drive. Beaten by the sheep to that point, Star had to unwind about half way around the cone, but had his sheep settled beautifully thereafter. The turn was wide, but the first drive leg was relatively steady. Panel made, tight turn on precise response to my whistles, and I was really starting to like my dog. There is no part of this course that is level, but the cross-drive is somewhat flat and the sheep seem content to toddle across in full view of the hand when given sufficient personal space. If they run, you will lose them, they will split, they will disappear, they will dive into the creek where they will lie down and give up. All was lost to the dogs that lacked patience. Star flanked cleanly, but slowly, and it took a bit of doing to get them across. Another panel made, another tight turn, and we were home free...except for the clock.

One down, one to go

2010 National Champion, Patrick Shannahan was judging from inside an old rusty pickup, and I heard the door creak before I heard Patrick call time with Star about 20 feet short of his drive points. I hollered "NO!" and spat out my whistle, because I knew that Star's work had been good enough to place in the points if we completed our drive. We scored 31 points for the outrun, lift, and fetch with up to 30 more lost to the drive. I gave up the sheep to the exhaust dog, then trotted past Patrick's window, banging and said "that was my nursery dog!" It's supposed to be fun to run a dog, right? Yes...yes it is, and I have not had that much fun running a dog in years and years. Our run flowed smoothly, and it felt really good.

Zamora - Open II
The forecast for Saturday was cloudy with some showers, which was fairly accurate. I stopped at the Exxon station on my way in for a Mocha Coffee in a tall cup, and was glad for my layers upon layers of clothing, because it was cold with a bit of a breeze. There were a few dogs to run from the first day, then another 20 or so to finish up Open I before Open II could begin. Both my dogs had run Friday, with Star up around 24th in the afternoon on Saturday, and Mirk idle until Sunday, mid-day. I was hoping for clear skies during our run, and got them. Before the 2nd open, it was decided to move the post beyond the creek, eliminate the pen, and include a single leaving the time at 9 minutes. With everything moved to the far side of the even more rain-swollen creek to save time, the only thing that had to cross were the hands for the meeting and the hands and dogs for the running. It was a great decision, made up a lot of lost time, and worked well for everyone from judge to exhaust.

A long way across

Star is a calm sort of dog. He doesn't get his tail in a ringer before his run, and happily played beside the creek with random stops to look up the field when sheep were being set and fetched. I had told a friend that the good dogs would remember the way on the outrun, reflecting later that my statement may come back to haunt me. I had a good feeling about it on my way to the post, having made things easier by again refusing to have any expectations for my dog. I set him up near me, and sent him with a shush, figuring that the word "away" might start him too wide. He was off on a perfect path, neither too wide nor too tight, and it only got better as he ascended the hill. Running hard, Star Crossed over the first hill, and reappeared on the next just below the ridgeline traveling parallel to it. I had the thought that if he stayed on that path, he would be absolutely perfect, and that is just what he did. The outrun was now about 500 yards from hand to sheep, but much farther by the dog's route. It takes a long time for the dog to get to the top on an outrun like that, so I had plenty of time to watch Star run and run and run. Knowing he was on a perfect path removed all concern, and I simply stood there feeling nothing but pure enjoyment. Star is a good dog. He knew the way.

He flew around at the top, nicely off his sheep, overflanking to about the same spot from which he appeared the day before. I knew where the set out was, and knew that he was not lost, but covering the draw, which was proven absolutely when the sheep lifted smartly, quiet and straight as an arrow right at me. I never saw the breakdown of scores, but think it is possible that Star had no points off on the outrun or the lift. It was that pretty. Soft, soft whistles on the fetch brought wide, sweeping, open flanks that the sheep just loved, and there was no hesitation from Star at any point. He had schooled up on Friday, and looked like he knew what he was doing on Saturday. About mid-fetch, the sheep tried him uphill with intention and speed, causing Star to fall behind and lose the fetch line for an instant. A series of hurry-up flank whistles together with "here, here," put the sheep right back on line, then another bobble on the other side. A bit off line approaching the post made the sheep disappear behind a hill for a bit. All I could see were the tops of their ears and my dog disappearing to cover. Again, I said "here, here," to bring him in tighter, and everybody showed up for a turn at the post that was just wide. With things well in hand, and the sheep settling nicely, we began the drive.

Setting up the single

Unless you have seen Star work, you cannot appreciate how precise he is when I tell you that he took every whistle precisely. Not only is he immediately responsive, but he will bend, speed up, or slow down a flank, and he will stop exactly where I need him to. For these reasons and more, he is a driving machine, and this was no exception. Sheep love Star, he does not scare them, and they move off him like water in front of your hand on a swoosh. I can bend him, start him and stop him, or even reverse him mid-stride wherever necessary to hold the line exactly. Just about however the sheep jog in front of a panel, he can save it and is so happy to do so. He does not get rattled like some dogs do when you literally throw them a curve. The drive away uneventful, the turn tight and crisp. All the way along the cross drive, the sheep ambled quietly toward the panel, and Star moved easily behind watching intently every move they made. Another tight turn, and they were headed towards me walking easily.

It was determined that hands could leave the post after making or breaking the plane of the cross-drive panel. The shed was a single, and there was no pen. The ring was imagined between the cross-drive panel and the post, and the ground there was flat but sloping. Sheep love to run a hill. Either up or down, doesn't matter to them, just so long as they run. That fact made the single a bit tricky, but Star knew his job, stayed calm on his feet, just like I have taught him at home. With only 3 head of yearlings, we had to work a bit to get a gap. I lined the sheep out away from the exhaust hoping the slight draw would cause one to turn from the others, then commit making Star's job as easy as I could make it. Patrick allowed us any single, be it head or tail, and I was confident that Star would be up to either task. He did not dissappoint. The hole appeared quickly and I called Star through. To be honest, I didn't see him come through, because I was watching my sheep and poised to give a flank if necessary to help him hold her. It was simply not necessary. He must have flown through, because upon my "shu, shu, watch her," he materialized instantly from behind me, creeping forward with all eyes on the prize. It was a solid single.

On 77 points, Star and I placed 2nd behind Geri Byrne and Jim with a stellar run and 81 points. Another dog had tied our score, but my dog won the tie based on his Outrun, lift and fetch points. The breakdown looked like this: Outrun - 0, Lift - 0, Fetch - 5, Drive - 7, Single - 1

Happy Handler
Random notes:
Mirk deserves honorable mention. He was one of the unfortunates that did not finish his drive in the first go-round. In fairness, he was the last dog to run on Friday, and the light was fading fast. It was cold, raining, getting dark, and I hustled a dog that should never be handled that way. After getting lost on the outrun, the results of the hurry-up offense were dismal, and I left the trial field frustrated with my dog. Sunday was by far the best day of the trial weather-wise. It dawned clear and cold without a cloud in sight. We were all just so happy to see the sun, no one complained about the cold. Mirk ran mid-day in open II, and things warmed up to the extent that lawn chairs had sprung up all over the place. Again Mirk struggled on the outrun, with a friend later claiming she had 13 points off that phase alone. From the lift on, however, the dog ran like buttah, taking every whistle, using his abundant power sparingly to finish with a spectacular single that will stay with me a while. On 74 points out of 90, Mirk lost a 3-way tie to finish in 8th place, and just like that, I had both dogs in the top 10.

The pictures on this page were taken by dear friend, Larry Klingman, who together with his beautiful wife, Joella, made the trip to Zamora simply to serve as talisman and woman and bring me luck with loads of laughter. Thank you very much you two.

Feb 23, 2011

Week 111

Argh! Late again. I am so sorry, but life is just swirling around me right now. I have company, leaving for a dog trial in 2 days, training hard, yada, yada, yada. Thank you for your understanding. I know you do, because you always do...and I appreciate it mightily...Blessings

Bottom to Top
Day 214os Short and sweet. That's the way I kept it for the most part today. My dog is trained, my dog had a minor setback, my dog's handler needs to "put the dog back in the dog," as they say, so I made it easy, fast and fun. Just what little Starman needed, and he had it...fun that is. Lots of it. Then, just to make sure I was covering all my bases, we had a little love-fest by the truck before heading out for creek-time and a nice long walk. All this in beautiful, sunny, warm, so Cali weather that made for a spectacular day starting and ending on a positive note.

Day 215os
My dogs were so good today! With one slight exception working Mirk, most of what I did today was praise enthusiastically, applaud, (yes I clap for my dogs,) and exclaim "beautiful work!" at the top of my lungs. The dogs and I had so much fun. I started by leaving the kittehs near the top of the hill, walking to the bottom and sending from there. It was every bit of 400 yards, and part of me said; "keep it short and sweet like yesterday," but I risked it anyway, and Star rallied.

Go big or go home, that's what I always say. Coming off a couple days of short, fast gathers with renewed confidence, I thought I would be able to propel him correctly, and I was. I sent come-bye first, because it will be my choice at Zamora next week. I know that field. He started out a bit wide, but I said his name, and he pulled right in. Then, he began to cross, so I blew a soft come-bye whistle, which he took, but then began to slow. With some shushing and walk-up whistles, I propelled him beyond the boulders that were by then obscuring his view of the sheep and was gratified to see him go full tilt when he spotted them. He covered deep and soft, making a beautiful job of the lift and fetch, and flanking all the way around when asked to push them back out for Mirk. Relief, joy, pride, it was all there and I shared it with Star who knew he had done good.

Working Mirk, I had to correct for a better stop, but worried what that would do to Star's fragile psyche. He was tied close by. When I am preparing for a dog trial, I want my dogs as confident as I can make them, and usually spend the last week doing everything I can to accomplish it. With that in mind, I walked out to Mirk, and schooled more quietly up close. I schooled both dogs by rounding an imaginary post and driving a bit with Star his usual precise self. His work had more heft to it though, which is another sign of confidence. Afterward, I swapped ends and went to the other side of the field. From where I was working, the come-bye side of the field is wide open making it very easy for Star to be too wide. From the other end, he would be blocked by a line of trees.

By the time we got to the other end, the sheep had wandered making the outrun about 44 0 yards. Star is such a keen spotter, and walked out with me intent on finding sheep. Such a nice feature that. I never, ever have to encourage him to look, and he doesn't give up if at first he doesn't succeed. I do love that about him. I set him up on my left, walked him up a bit and sent with a shush. Off he went running the entire length of that field at top speed. The sheep were impossible to see from where we started, and boulder outcroppings obscured them further along the way, but he was never deterred. He never offered to pull in once, and I could tell when he did spot them, because he widened every bit that he could to finish beautifully on balance at the top. I left him completely alone on the fetch except to blow a soft walk up now and then. Here's a tip for you; when you want to straighten a fetch line, it can often be better accomplished with a walk up whistle over a flank. If a flank whistle causes the dog to widen, the sheep will then drift farther off line. If your dog has good balance, a walk up whistle will propel him forward, but he will stay on balance and hold the line on his own. Star is just such a dog, so all I did was blow walk up and allow him to figure the line on his own. It can be very hard to trust your dog and blow the walk up instead of a flank when sheep are drifting off line. But, if you try it a time or two with success, you will handle better for it.

Hot dog

Day 216os
Another glorious day, and more great work from Star. The big booming outruns have returned in all their glory, and even Star's shedding was exemplary today. I think he has finally internalized the whole concept of it and found the joy. So nice. He even once came flying through uninvited, but I did not say one word, I just let him come and praised him mightily. No discouragement, not even a little bit at this point. I want him thinking that he is 10 feet tall and bullet proof. I asked him through on the heads for the most part, he took his sheep with courage, confidence and speed, and he had fun doing it. You can't ask for more. Now we just have to practice it until he learns every sheep trick in the book, and can foil them all.

Star had beautiful outwork today. Once again, I stayed focused on the left, or come-bye side. Working first from bottom to top, the tree line was on our right, leaving Star most of the field to go too wide when sent come-bye. I set him up on my left and first walked forward with him, giving him a walk-up, then a come-bye flank. He started tight, and I was glad of it. The sheep were obscured by topography, about half way out he started to pull in, and that is the good news. He was not too wide. Had not started too wide, and did widen going out. I whistled him out, and he finished brilliantly. At the dog trial next weekend, I will set him up more to my left, and hope that without the walk up, he will start right. I followed him up the field and after he lifted, flanked him all the way around his sheep from about 300 yards away just to make sure he stays supple and listens. He was and he did.

Once again, we swapped ends, so I could work Star to the left blocked by the line of trees. After working Mirk, I set the sheep as far away as I could without crossing the creek, another 440 yard outrun that was very long and very narrow. Star would have to go all the way to the bank of the creek to be correct, and that's just what he did. So nice to have my dog all back together, and just in time for the hills of Zamora.

Day 217os
More of the same today, we started with the creek to our backs and wide open spaces on the come-bye side. After that I again swapped ends and sent Star on a 440 yard narrow gather. He started correctly on the first outrun of the day, then over-widened. I said his name and blew "walk-up," which had the effect of slowing him to a stop before he took off on my shush and finished well. Much trepidation from Star when I flanked him around come-bye on an inside to put the sheep back, so I walked up the field and made it more exciting. Could have been the baubled outrun, could have been the distance, could have been the heat, but I just think that Star has good days, and then he has great ones. I repeated the same outrun, but this time said "here" just as he began to widen, which pulled him right in without loss of speed. He had not been very receptive to my walk-up whistle when I used them to pull him in, so I tried another ploy. It worked and after a bit more practice, we now have a specific word that means "too wide."

It was hot today, and of course, I forgot the water bucket. We can always go to the creek, and did, but I like to have water at both ends. Once working the other way, Star accomplished 2 long, narrow gathers with the tree line holding him in, and we set up some shedding on the kittehs. I was gratified to see him fly right through. Hey, I think he's got it.

Cool dog
Random Notes:
About Mirk, I have to share with you that I had a revelation while listening to Richard Millichap on a video working one of his young dogs. All of his dogs are on the same whistles. He trained Mirk and they worked side by side on the hill for a few years, before he came home with me. I learned them, I could blow them note for note, but no two whistles are ever quite the same. Plus over time, I had unintentionally altered them changing the length and timing from one note to the next. There have been times when my whistled command left Mirk standing stock still, or even looking back wondering.

I've had him for almost 3 years, and even after all that time, the sound of those whistles coming from my computer had Mirk rustling in his crate. I turned off the sound, but listened intently after he went outside. Yup, my whistles had slipped enough that I could see why he might be confused. Interestingly, it was the stop whistle that had undergone the biggest modification, and the one with which I had the most trouble. In Wales, Mirk, and his half brother, Lad, would stop so hard that their bodies rocked forward when their feet stopped moving. Here at home, I could duplicate that with Lad, but never with Mirk. After watching the video, I went out and tried to match more closely the stop whistle I had heard. The difference was so dramatic that it shocked me. The dog stopped on a dime...and his body rocked forward. I wonder what else I am missing.

Feb 11, 2011

Week 110

It is hard to believe that you guys have been with me for over 2 years. The very 1st RTC was created in November of 2008, and it has been a good ride. I appreciate your patronage more than I can say. Thank you.
Uphill Swing
Day 212os
OK, I have Star's outruns screwed up...again! It all started last week when I widened him around the end of the e-net fencing. Seems innocuous enough, doesn't it? Not to little Star man. He took it to heart, and is now too wide from my feet. I was so frustrated with myself today that I cannot even tell ya! I should know better, I should be much, much softer and gentler with this dog no matter what he does wrong. He never needs to be spoken to harshly. It's just not necessary.

I first sent him on a fairly big outrun of about 350 yards, and I again sent him from where he could not see his sheep. He squared off completely at my feet, and took the long way 'round. I stood there thinking, "well, that was dumb." I then shortened up his outrun, making sure that he could easily see his sheep before giving the flank. Still too wide, so I said his name to pull him in, which bothered him, but he kept going. After a few repetitions of this maneuver with only marginal improvement, I decided to work on shedding. My thought was that it would keen him up, create excitement, be fun.

Today I had all of my sheep with me, the kittehs and the Dorpers. Adding the Dorpers to the mix for shedding makes it easier, therefore more fun, and allows me to get in the middle of everything to shush, chouse and just generally give Star a shot in the arm. It also allowed me to work on shedding off a few sheep at a time and keep him excitedly on task. It worked, Star made some beautiful moves and by the time we were finished, was coming through like a shot. Good to see.

The other thing that was good to see was a little brace action as we finished. I sent Star, then Mirk for all the sheep that were a hundred or so yards away in plain view. Star got there first, but slowed when he saw Mirk coming, then stopped altogether. My plan is to let Star figure this out on his own, so I just kept whistling steadies for Mirk, which kept Star pretty much rooted to one spot. To his credit, though, he kept creeping up the hill and eventually took over completely once I downed Mirk near the top. The fact that Star will come on at all is a huge improvement, and I'm glad for it.

How was that?
Day 213os
I had all the sheep with me again today with Star STILL showing hesitancy on the outrun. I decided to take it off the table completely, and just work on other things. I used just the kittehs for a bit of driving and we practiced making smooth turns around the post. I use the boulders in the field as targets to practice accuracy for panels at a dog trial. Star was smooth and steady, so lovely to steer and Mr. Precision when it came to stops and turns. Forgetting the outrun SNAFU was just what he and I needed, and we both had fun. Lots of praise and one-on-one bonding afterward to try and get us moving forward again.

I kicked out the Dorpers for more shedding practice, and Star was really good today. Very keen, very quick to come through. Shedding set up another opportunity for us today, and for the 2nd time, I schooled Star on a turn back. We shed off the Dorpers, and together moved them uphill towards the trailer. Once at the top of the hill, I walked towards Star through the Dorpers and said; "that'll do," then a quiet look back whistle followed by; "look back." Now granted, Star knew the kittehs were below him, but on my "look back," Star's head snapped so fast it surprised me, but I managed a quick away to me whistle, and he was off like a shot. Now that brought a smile to my face, and also conjured a word of caution received from an International winner. He told me never to practice the look back over much, because the dogs take to it so easily. Over doing it will cause some dogs to look back unprovoked, which causes points to fly off on a trial field. Warning heeded. Star is one of those dogs.

Day 214os
Man, it was pretty today. I actually had my wits about me, and set up outruns that were easily managed and fun for Star. His path, his enthusiasm, and his confidence returned a bit today. It made me think that I need to take him back to the small pen at home, and send him for small gathers there. It's what I've done in the past when we hit this rock in the road, and worked beautifully. The problem was created on the come-bye side, and that is where it has stayed. That's the side we worked on for the most part today, and what I did was send him left from my right side, leaving him alone once he was off. I also set him up in front of me, giving a walk up, then a shush, or giving a walk up and going with him a bit before sending him. His work was much improved. Yes, we're definitely going back to the small pen, for some short, fast gathers.

A little R and R