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|
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|
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|
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.