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.

Mar 22, 2011

Week 115 - Sonoma 2011

Planning ahead
Day 220os
A week out from the Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial, a big, important trial for us, I am thinking about fine-tuning the dogs and instilling as much confidence as I possibly can. I had just the kittehs with me today, because they are light, light, light and good for the confidence part. They are also very touchy, so good for the fine-tuning part as well.

I started with bigger outruns for Star, 1 to each side, then shortened them up to a couple hundred yards. The shorter outruns keen up my dog measurably and, because it is so easy for him, they create the confidence I need going onto an unfamiliar field and fresh wool sheep. After the outrun, we practiced shedding and taking a single. On the hill field the finish is shed, pen single, and Star needs the practice. The kittehs don't split well, and so with an eye towards confidence, I made it as easy as possible, calling my dog through no matter where they split. As long as I got an easy shed, I called him through. Right now I don't need any mis-steps, only work I can praise, praise, praise.

Day 221os
With only 2 days left for practice, I kept things short and sweet today. I wanted to start, remain and finish on a good note, and that is just what happened. I had the kittehs, and 2 Dorper lambs to keep things interesting. I set them at the bottom of the hill shaded up under the big eucalyptus tree where they were impossible to spot. Guiding Star by taking steps in the necessary direction of travel, I told him to "look," then sent with a shush. In both directions today, Star started well, picking up pace along the way to finish spot on. From correcting him on the come-bye side weeks ago, he is still a little unsure that way, but much improved today, which was good to see.
Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial
I can safely report that my dog is completely unaffected by inclement weather. At Sonoma, he was tested absolutely. Throughout the dog trial, on either field, and both days, Star stayed true to form remaining steady, compliant and precise. The only hiccup to the entire trial experience for us occurred when I let him down Saturday at the pen during the first running on what is called "the flat field."

To be perfectly honest with you, I thought this trial might be a bit over little Star man's head. Both fields are small, but treacherous, and the trial always provides sheep that are fit and testing.  Add to that the fact that  water was to be found everywhere on both fields from puddles to muddy bogs, to rivulets to rushing streams, and you've got quite a challenge for a nursery dog.

On Saturday, Star ran towards the end of the run order on "the flat field," named that way, because compared to "the hill field," it is. The gather is short, maybe 200 yards, and my dog managed it with no trouble at all coming around at the top fence line to gather himself up and make a nice lift. The sheep would rather not breach strong rain run-off flowing across the fetch and drive lines, and I was liberal with encouragement, both voice and "walk-up" whistle to keep him coming forward. The post is set beside and a little behind the pen, so to make a nice turn there, you must be between the two. After a competent fetch that cost only 5 points, Star easily kept his sheep where they needed to be, and the most difficult part of the course was begun without any fuss at all. The instant the sheep were pointed towards the drive-away panel, I said "there," and Star stopped dead allowing the sheep to comfortably toddle up the drive line. After that it was just a matter of quiet flank and walk-up whistles with some soft voice encouragement all around the drive for tight turns, straight lines and a completed drive worth 26 points. That's when the wheels came off, at least for me.

On deck on the "flat field"

As you well know, Star-man is so sensitive to my pressure. All it takes to curb his enthusiasm is my least bit of frustration, a careless tone of voice, or too many decibels. I knew our run had been a good one up to that point. I was worried about penning to begin with, because we have not practiced it much, and it hasn't been a factor at recent dog trials where I could have developed confidence. The sheep were penning well, but still required convincing, some more than others, and there had been the errant ewe who ran off on previous runs. It happens. Where I should have used "here, here, watch 'em, shush, shush," I used "come on," in a growly voice, and Star slowed to a crawl giving ground to my demeanor on flanks necessary to stop ewes who were sizing up my dog. One ewe in particular knew when she had the upper hand, and after stopping a break or two, Star lost to her when she simply strutted right past him. We timed out leaving 20 precious points on the field and I was reminded yet again of a valuble lesson. No dog is perfect. Every, single dog, no matter how talented has bits and pieces that must be handled around. Going forward I will only encourage my dog, and not do anything to reduce his cha-cha especially where I need it most. It was a very expensive lesson that I should not have needed.

From 60-some dogs, Star finished somewhere in the top 20. The breakdown of points off looked like this:
OR 1 - Lift 1 - Fetch 5 - Drive 4 - Pen 10 - Shed 10 for a total score of 69 out of 100. Just for the record, a score of 89 would have put him 2nd. Argh!

The "flat field"
Star ran 2nd on Sunday on the "hill field," after 2 hours spent just outside the host farm's entrance watching a massive live oak being removed with chain saws and a tractor. Mighty winds had toppled the giant moments before we got there directly across the driveway, and it took 2 men with help from many volunteers to clear the entry and allow us to begin.

The "hill field" slopes up gently, then angles up sharply to level off again at the top where sheep are set just where you can see them, but not where you can see the dog's approach. There is really only one way to send, and that is right, either inside or outside a now-rushing stream that bisects the field from top to bottom. Star went the long way around, crossing the stream in a big, awkward leap after which he got confused and lost his way. A re-direct whistle put him right, but he was reluctant to cross back over the stream, choosing instead to run all the way to the top fence-line of the field where a huge culvert was gushing big water from under a road, and down the rock-faced incline. It's a pretty waterfall, but impossible to jump, and I was really impressed to see my smart dog wisely back-track of his own accord to a narrower place where he jumped across and headed up the hill to his waiting sheep. It is a good thing he is a clever fellow, because I never could have whistled that maneuver.

The blustery "hill field"
After all that excitement the lift was made on my repeated walk-up whistles. Remember, I can't see the dog's approach because of the hill, but the sheep came off straight and quiet with Star smoothly on contact just behind. The fetch was on a string to my feet where we avoided the pit falls of a muddy, slippery hillside by remaining true to the line where the ground was steeper, but drier. After an efficient turn around the post, our drive was underway. The sheep were soggy and as a result were working brilliantly. Willing to move, but slowly without rancor, they behaved like 4H lambs in front of Star's quiet resolve. After a clean drive-away panel, there is a sharp left turn after which you go up and through 2 oak trees marked appropriately with bright orange tape. After gaining the trees, we climbed again to level off for the cross drive, which panel was made without any fuss. Another tight turn and were were headed to the shedding ring.

The finish on this field has always been shed, pen, single, and without a complete finish of some sort, there will be no wine for you. Sandy gives wine and money as prizes. Frank Cashen, our Irish judge, had declared a split of any 2, a single of any 1, which I knew would help my young dog where he needed it most and the split came easily enough even if it was on the butts of sheep that were happily moving away. Remembering my bitter lesson from the day before, I shushed and "here-here'd" my now happy dog and the pen was made with quite a bit of handler help. Not wanting to put him off as I had done the day before, I left him alone after flanking him into position, and did the work myself with lots of cooperation from willing ewes that for the most part walked straight in. I have been involved in some very exciting penning in my time, and this was not that way, but it was good for 9 points, and on to the single.

We had a missed attempt, and I suspect the reason the judge did not call it was because while Star came through on the correct sheep, he never fully committed to her. It was hard to hear under all those clothes and weather, so the judge kindly spoke his request for us to re-single. Running out of a very generous 12 minute time clock, I chose to help my dog here as well, running a ewe off the front and calling him in to follow her off. Follow her he did, and this time with intention, so the single was called and we were off.

It had been a decent run, placing us 8th out of over 60 dogs, which was good for an excellent bottle of 1994 Clos du Bois merlot and $125. The points were deducted as follows:

OR 8 - Lift 1 - Fetch 3 - Drive 3 - Split 2 - Pen 1 - Single 8 for a total score of 84 out of 110.

Mar 15, 2011

Week 114

Star's arena was dark this week as Mirk and I trained and prepared for a small, local trial where Star was not entered. With an eye towards the finals and my wallet, I only entered one dog, because Mirk needs the points and Star does not. With a lot of trialing ahead of us, Star already has 35 points, in 34th place in the standings, and is already quailfied for the open and the nursery finals. After Zamora and with Sonoma Wine Country trial coming up in a week, I thought it best just to let him cool his jets and relax. Plus it gave me more time to tune on Mirk.

Random Notes:
Next week is the Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial at Sandy and Arthur Milberg's farm in Santa Rosa, CA. Both Mirk and Star will be running on the small, but treacherous fields in the open. Sandy runs 2 fields and somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 dogs. Half on each field on Saturday, then you switch and run the other. Scores are totaled Sunday after the 2 trials and winners announced. This is one of my favorite trials of the year, because of the beauty, hospitality and, of course...THE WINE!

Check back Monday or Tuesday next week for a full report with pictures.

Mar 8, 2011

Week 113

Welcome all! And I mean that literally as this is the very first RTC created not just for subscribers, but for all. It is a pleasure to have everyone with us, and I hope reading this will help you half as much with your dogs as writing it does for mine.

Spotting Sheep

Day 218os
After all their hard work preparing for Zamora, I thought it best to give the boys a break. I did not work my dogs at all the first week after the trial. Our Spring season is heating up, though, so it is time to get back to work with a small, local trial in a week, and the Sonoma Wine Country trial at month's end. With typically 80 dogs to run, there are a lot of points available at Sonoma, and we have to be ready. Last year Mirk was 10th there on the hill field, and I would like to improve on that significantly this year.

I had visitors from Italia, (I will never again refer to it as Italy,) come out today with a friend to watch the dogs work. The communication was spotty, but my Italian heritage was useful, as Antonella, Juno and I gesture wildly when we talk. We made due. My friend, Jan, interpreted, and explained that in as much as Star is so advanced for his age, that he is a very good student. I never looked at it quite that way, but Jan is right. He has learned his lessons quickly, and has, in essence, skipped grades along the way.

I had the Dorpers on site today, and noticed that Star is moving them along easier than ever before. He is definitely growing into his power, and even demonstrated an appropriate grip here and there. Unprovoked by me, it was his decision, executed perfectly with good timing and a very welcome sight. It tells me he is thinking on his own and has learned when and how to do the job at hand most efficiently. You gotta love a dog that thinks correctly for himself. Training was short and sweet today. Just a couple bigger gathers, a bit of driving and a few quiet sheds.

That'll do boys

Day 219os
Today was another light day. I asked Star for a couple big gathers and practiced off-balance flanks on the fetch. I finished up with a bit of shedding, and was happy to see this job is getting easier for Star. He definitely understands the purpose now, and comes through on the right ones every time. There is no hesitation in his work, and he is clearly starting to really like it.

I left the Dorpers at home, and brought their lambs and the kittehs, which made a nice mix of light and stupid. Always interesting. There is a wether in the mix, that would hang back. Good practice at keeping everything together. Not that Star needs the practice. He is determined at all costs to keep everything together, which is why it was so hard to teach him to shed in the beginning. But, when most of the group is toddling off, he had to take an off-balance flank to bring up the straggler when what he wanted to do was flank the other way and head the ones that were moving away. It was good practice for Star to listen carefully, and take my flanks anyway, even when he thought I was wrong. I am never wrong, after all. Or am I?

Day 220os
Today was a day of the biggest outruns I could set up. About 440 yards on the part of my training field that is not planted to rye grass hay. When I am working big like this, I use Mirk to move the sheep out where I want them, and Star is usually sent blind, not having seen where I put them. Since the field is almost as long as it is wide, he really has no idea where to look until I show him. His sheep could be anywhere. I start Star on the side I want him to go, then walk with him towards the sheep a few steps saying "walk up... look." Each time he is successfull finding his sheep, our trust in each other grows. Mine that Star will find them, and his that they are out there somewhere. I have been setting things up like this for Star almost since I first taught him an outrun, and he has become an excellent spotter, looker, and finder of sheep. In the beginning, I set up short blind outruns usually hiding the sheep behind a boulder or in a clump of tall grass. Today was a day for the big ones.

Star has been faltering at home, (certainly not at Zamora,) and has been running wide. Today I put sheep down by the creek so when I sent to his worst side for that, come-bye, a tree-line and the edge of the field kept him close. He went out unsure the first time, once slowing to look back, then over the opposite shoulder at me. A couple "shu-shus" and he was off like lightening. Good to see. I don't mind having to encourage him once in a while. It's all part of the process for a young dog.


Random Notes:
There are a few unusual words and acronyms that I use in my writing, so here is a short glossary to help you understand what is going on.

RTC - Real Time Canine, which is the title of my journal, chosen because just like Harry Potter, it chronicles Star's life and training neither past or present, but in real time

Kittehs - I recently bought some Border Cheviots that a friend commented would work and flock like kittens. He was right, and I have referred to them as "kittehs" ever since. It is an appropriate nickname.

Day 218os - The number represents the number of days that Star has been in training since the very first day I put him on sheep. Since the day I got him at 10 weeks old Star has been learning, and I have chronicled all of that in previous posts. But the number represents actual training days on sheep which began when he was about 7 months of age.