|Hot and Dry|
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!
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.
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!