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.

Jun 26, 2011

Week 119

So, here's our trialing schedule for July, August and September.

Kelly Creek - Huntsville, UT 7/2-4
Nicomodes Gulch - Monte Vista, CO 7/15-17

Free to Be, Mountainair, NM 7/27-31

Kemmer - Kemmer, WY 8/26-28

Steamboat - Steamboat, CO 9/3-5

Meeker Championship - Meeker, CO 9/7-11 I'm wait-listed for this one and may not get in

National Finals - Carbondale, CO 9/13-18

In between these dog trials I will be on the Strang Ranch giving lessons and helping the Strang's prepare for the finals. And I'll be enjoying uncommonly good company, riding with Bridget, if she'll have me, and training my dogs every chance I get. I am truly blessed.

Day 228os
It's been bloody hot here all week, but I'm training, training anyway. Kelly Creek is just right around the corner, and the dogs aren't in shape as much as I would like. They are running well, all things considered though, and we are prepared for heat, if not for altitude.

Star man faltered in the heat today, and it seemed to zap his strength most of all. The sheep were hot, and heavy, and Star was sluggish, and slow. Not a good combination. After a few outruns, and the drudgery of shoving stubborn sheep down the fetch line, I fell back on work that's fun and fast. After some simple flanking drills, we reverted to shedding. Still running out in front of the shed off sheep, Star was gliding through the holes easily enough, and wearing with intention under my quiet "shush, shush, here, here" to hold his sheep.

I made it a short day for both dogs. There was little shade, the drinking water was hot, and the sheep were unhappy.

Day 229os
I loaded the dogs, and went to Coto de Caza in Orange County again to give lessons to some really nice people who are just learning. The area they have to work in is an arena made from PVC post and rail fencing. The sheep were quick to find a way out, making it difficult to keep them in afterward. Star took turns with Mirk doing sheep retrieval today, and made some new friends whom he impressed mightily.

Star has a tremendous personality and he makes friends easily. Today he made his retrieval and then would run to everybody there in turn for a pet and some love. It is as if he said, "I was wonderful, wasn't I? Did you see me? I was wonderful." And, of course everyone agreed. He exhibits the same behavior when we are anywhere working where there are other handlers. He runs back when I call him off, wagging his whole body and looking for praise, which is always quick to come his way.

Day 230os
Short and sweet again today. I have so much to do before I leave in 3 days that I don't have a lot of time for the dogs. But I squeezed them in today, then went home and worked on the trailer until 8:30pm.

We were in the big field with Buff's owner, who came for a lesson. Buff is going with me trialing this summer, and I have him entered in every one that would allow me 3 dogs. Because of cancellations at Nicodomes in Colorado, he's entered in all of them, except the Meeker Championship, but I'm wait-listed there anyway.

Just a few short outruns, some fetching and driving, and we were finished. On the first outrun, I set Star up in front of me, and he ran tight. Again, I'll not complain about that, because of his tendency to run wide. However, the next time, I stepped off to his side with him beside me, and got the most beautifully made outrun that he has given me since the dog trial at Zamora. I thought, "OK, now we're ready for the summer," and called it a day.

Next week's post will be from the Kelly Creek Trial in Huntsville, UT.   Check back!

Jun 19, 2011

Week 118

I am counting the days now. My first upcoming dog trial is July 2, 3, 4, so I will be leaving home for my 3 month sojourn around the 30th, and I simply can. not. wait. I am taking Buff, a dog belonging to one of my students, on this trip and she dropped him off today for a 2 week tune up before our very first trial together. We are cracking out as a team at the Kelley Creek Trial in Huntsville, UT over the 4th of July weekend. Such a lovely dog, I really don't have my hopes set too high for our first outing, because we have so little time together beforehand. His owner expects he will win. No pressure, I expect we will learn and get better together as the summer wears on. The worst part about leaving for a trip like this is that you are one day closer to coming home. I nevah want to come home.

Hot and Dry

Day 225os
I am telling you, I just love to watch this dog run out. Star is a heavy-bodied dog who floats like a butterfly when stretched into a searing outrun, and it is a thing or beauty. With his thick tail trailing behind, his footfalls are heavy to point that you can hear them, but he is so athletic and strong that he resembles a thoroughbred on the back stretch making it look easy.

Of all my dogs, Star is the heaviest, around 48 pounds. With that weight propelling great momentum, he is a force at top speed. He knocked me flat one day when he was playing, and I went sprawling from his strength. Like a football halfback, Star is a bit heavier, but agile and strong, and it hurts when he hits you.

Last winter I was struggling with Star's outrun a bit when he became over-wide on the come-by side after a senseless correction from me that he took to heart. Now, he seems a bit tight on that side. OK, so come-bye remains the weaker of his 2 directions. I have been setting him up a bit in front of me before I send him left, and his first gather is usually blind by design. I like to make him think, and look, and think some more. Remembering back to over-wide, I have been trying to compensate by setting him up this way, and it is not working. Now he is tight. I plan to go back to a more traditional start with Star beside me, and we will see how that works for us.

I practiced keeping him loose today by flanking him from side to side on the fetch. This is an exercise I replay often to make sure all my dogs are free-flanking. I flank them between 9 and 3 o'clock while fetching, the same while driving, and sometimes from the fetch, all the way around to 6 o'clock to drive sheep away. After the hiatus, Star was a bit slow to release, but not bad, and I loosened him up today. Unlike Mirk, that I felt I was chipping out of concrete to break him loose on the fetch, Star is pretty happy to be placed exactly where I need him. For some reason, though, he is slower to come around from a fetch to the come-bye side, and I can't help wonder whether it is left over residue from that poor correction all these months ago. He is so sensitive!

Day 226os
I ducked off and worked dogs by myself today, and it felt really good. With just enough room in the truck for everbody from Dexter to Price, it's always fun and the dogs love it. We started with Mirk unloading sheep, and I worked him first, as always. I have found that Price and Star will wait patiently for their turn, but Mirk is miserable if he doesn't have first go. It worked out to Star's advantage, because when finished, Mirk left sheep set for Star's first outrun, which I made blind for practice and confidence.

I sent him left first, and again he was tight. I flanked him off the fetch, into a drive, pushed the sheep back out, and tried it again. This time, I set him up to my left, but beside me, and he ran wide and deep, kicking himself out even further when he picked up his sheep. This outrun confusion of first tight, then wide is not troubling to me, because Star's senses are heightened from the pressure at a dog trial. Even if he starts wrong, which hasn't happened very often, he listens keenly, and will take any re-direct.

Fairly hot today, I was mindful of how tired he was getting. This day, I put him away after the first outrun giving him a rest while I worked Mirk again. Conditioning is becoming more and more important as the trials get closer, but it's easy to overheat a dog in Southern Calif weather, so I watch the dogs closely. I never miss an opportunity to practice shedding with Star, because he still has a way to go overcoming his trepedition when sheep try to break over him. Again today I had to quash my frustration as he stood flat-footed and watched a single return to the shed off sheep not confident enough to cover and hold her. Getting mad only exacerbates the problem. It is absolutely counter productive with Star to get mad. I made his shedding mistake a positive and set up another. The next time, after Star came flying into the hole we made together, I ran to the head of the sheep he was to hold, and I let him fetch them to me, instead of balance them away. He likes this much better, held them to me without any hesitation, and I will stay with it for a while, probably right up until trial time. Confidence is everything.

Day 227os
We started off today with a blind outrun, and Star pretty much ran straight up the middle. Of course he didn't know he was doing so, because the sheep were hidden, but he didn't take my 3 or 4 re-directs either, which was troublesome. I am still not worried about it, just aware of it. I will set him by my side at the dog trials to send on the outruns, and he will run out beautifully. I believe in him, and he's never let me down.

We worked on precision shedding today and with a mix of lambs, wethers and Dorpers, it was not always easy to take just the back two, and just what I wanted. I'll tell you one thing the dog does with spectacular skill; Star comes through the hole with intention and he always comes in behind me, which I just love. Asking Star through on the shed is like pulling the lever on a slot machine, and hitting the jackpot. And good news! Today a sheep tried to break back, and he ran to cover her, and he tried to grip! Now that might not seem like great shedding strategy to you, but it was a beautiful sight to me. It showed his burgeoning confidence, some latent courage, and some slow-growth maturity. He lost the sheep, but he tried. I was so pleased with. I set up another shed, and to shore up his new-found power, this time I made it easy for him. That-a-Boy Starman!

Jun 12, 2011

Week 117

Steady Star

My how time flies. It's been exactly 2 months since I've worked my dogs. Hard to believe, isn't it? And why would anyone who loves sheepdogs and trialing them as much as I do, who owns sheep, put it all away for such a very long time? Simple answer really...life. In particular, it was work that caused the hiatus. As much as I would like to, and as much as I believe it's possible, I haven't quite figured out how to make a living solely from the dogs. But, I'm working on it, and in the mean time, I have a day job. Or, more accurately in my case, a night job. I work nights to keep my days free for training dogs, and handlers, and tending my sheep. For the last 6 weeks, I've been taking a class relating to my job, and I simply haven't had the time, the energy, or the strength to work what amounted to 11 hour days, and rouse myself to the dogs. But we're back at it now.

Hardpan rodeo aftermath

Day 223os
I loaded up today and headed out to the big field. The foxtails are treacherous in the un-mowed portions, but the rodeo came and went over Memorial Day in that field, and about a third of the 40-acre portion was cleared for it, so we went there. The dogs were rusty, Mirk more so than Star. Mirk reverted to mediocre flanks that left the sheep wary, and I had to remind him where we left off. Star seemed a bit unsure of himself out there. Both were horribly winded in a short time, and it's not even hot yet!

Because the mowed area is so small, the outruns were short, but I sent Star blindly for his first, and he was actually a bit tight to the left, where he is normally too wide. Well, they're not remote control cars are they? Circumstance changes them, and apparently Star tightens up after time off. Not a bad thing, and I'll have to remember to let him have it for a while, and not do anything stupid like become frustrated, push him out, and get him too wide again. Really! That lesson should be learned by now. He ran out well, fast, looking the whole way. He was his usual focused self, and it was good to see.

I have quite a mish-mash of sheep right now, some fresh Cheviot lambs, 2 fresh Blue-faced Leicester lambs, last years "kittehs" (cheviots) and 3 Dorper ewes from last years lamb crop. A recent coyote attack has left me doctoring, doctoring, doctoring, I have a yearling Cheviot with a bad eye, and the lambs are too young, so today it was the healthy kittehs and 1 Dorper who thinks she's a Cheviot judging from how flighty she is.

After a few short and sweet outruns, we (figuratively) went to the shedding ring, which really wasn't much fun on this group who would rather run than shed. Star has such a cool demeanor, that he quiets the sheep and makes hard shedding pretty easy. He remembered the command "on your feet," which I have to use liberally on him, or he flops down to watch from his belly. Like a tennis player receiving the serve, it's easier to respond when your feet are moving, so I keep him on his, and either walking up quietly, or flanking calmly. He understands the job completely now, and has gotten really good at that part. He's not bad at coming through either, and did an outstanding job of holding a single today. She bobbed, and he weaved to keep her separate, and he did most of the work unaided by me. Good boy.

A bit of driving, flanking off balance, and we were headed for home. I kept the session short, so the dogs wouldn't get too sore , and because they tired easily today. 2 months is a long time to lay about just sucking up groceries. With just 3 short months until the National Finals, we'll be back at it hard now. That time will evaporate much too quickly.

Hay curing in the field

Day 224os
As a run-up to the National Finals this year, I have planned a trialing trip that will take me from Huntsville Utah, through Lacamas, Washington and all the way down to Mountainaire, New Mexico. As if that weren't enough good fortune, I will using the Strang Ranch, home of this year's finals, as my home base, and hanging out with some of my dearest friends in between these far-flung dog trials. But there's more... I am taking a student's new dog along to run in addition to my own, and the hits just keep right on coming! So, today was a day to work Buff, who is unfamiliar to me, but becoming less so all the time. What a lovely dog he is, so willing, such a keen listener, so kind to his sheep with flanks that are clean, clean, clean and a solid outrun. I am a very lucky girl.

More of the rust was removed today while working Star, and his confidence returned in good measure. There's more in there somewhere, and I will summon it up. That dog just loves to run out, and I just love to watch him. Today was no exception. Constrained by the mowed limits of the big field, the gathers were short, but Star man was his speedy, efficient self, and I was really pleased to see him remain on contact and avoid the pitfalls of too wide. I knew my hiatus would do the dog some good.

We practiced close work with things like turning the post, keeping the first leg of the drive straight from the beginning and cross-driving. I threw in some of the fresh, 3-month old kittehs to make things interesting, and driving a straight line was challenging with them in the mix. Then shedding and singling with Star's lack of confidence rearing it's ugly head on the single. Some dogs become more keen with a single to balance off the flock, but it makes Star nervous. Today, he started right through on my encouragement, but waffled when the single tried him all 3 times, looking back to the cast-offs, and lost her back to the others. I'm not concerned about it. Star's rusty, and typically rises to the occasion over time. He was singling confidently before the break, and I expect we'll return to that sooner than later. The sheds were no problem and I only needed to use encouragement when singling was not. Star wilts from the wrong type of human pressure, and thrives under an encouraging hand.

It was a bit hot today, and I again kept things short and sweet. I think I overdid it yesterday after such a long respite, so I was more careful today. All 3 dogs, Mirk, Star and Buff were very good for me, and I managed to quit on high notes them all, which I find to be so important in the scheme of things.

Load up please

Day 225os
Today was lovely, a gentle, cool breeze, bright blue skies and 3 talented dogs to work. An enthusiastic sheepdog trainer really can't ask for more than that. I can complain about the foxtails if I want, but I'd rather focus on the beauty of the dogs, the land and the day. The land is not at it's pretties just now with the soil packed to hard pan from the rodeo traffic, but it's still better than the foxtails. Hay is curing across the creek, raked into neat rows across 100 acres or so, and that's where we'll be headed after it's bailed. You have to make hay when the sun shines, and we haven't had enough of it yet to really cure that hay, but I'm looking forward to the day.

With Buff's owner, Mandy, in attendance for a lesson, she and I took turns working our dogs. Buff got a go, then Mirk, then Star until we had given them each 2 sessions. Star looked even less rusty than the 2 previous days, and began to show the polish and confidence he demonstrated over the winter. A couple short outruns, a bit of driving, then back to shedding practice. I had a plan for strengthening his ability to single, and was anxious to give it a go today.

Star is such a keen shedder. He completely understands the what and the why, even while he sometimes stumbles on the how, so today I figured a way to help him. Essentially, I went back to basics. After singling off a sheep, instead of asking Star to balance the drive and move her away, I ran to the head, and let him balance the single to me. Understanding the fetch better than he does driving a single, he balanced her beautifully, stopping more than one attempt to break back, and I was gratified to watch his success. I repeated the exercise to make sure, and he did a great job. More of the same in store tomorrow until Star becomes sure of himself.

With all these trials upcoming, I hope Star will be able to use his new-found singling talents. You are never asked to single until the end of any given course, and at the finals, the single usually doesn't come until the semi-finals of the open. So, if Star has to rely on this training, it means he's gotten around in good form. Always the optimist, I'm thinking positively.