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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.
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.
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.
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.