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.

Jul 20, 2011

Week 121 - Nicomodes Gulch 2011

Had I known what to expect at this trial, I would have gone anyway. The conditions are difficult, and the sheep were the biggest obstacle. They didn't want to line out, they didn't like the turn at the post, they were happy to run off in any direction, and to Star's chagrin, they were not overly impressed by the dogs.

On Friday, they gave us 4 head and 9 minutes, I think. The sheep were set about 450 yards out and deep in between 2 sets of trees. So deep, in fact, that the dogs running in the morning had the additional challenge of spotting sheep that were set in the shade making them all but impossible to see, even for the hands. I watched the first dog of the day, and when it was sent, had to make a concerted effort to find the sheep.

I wasn't worried. Star is a sheep-finding jesse, and just in case, has a tremendous re-direct. As it worked out, both skills were needed, but my little doggie did not disappoint. To send left meant he had to run around trees close to the sheep that would make them disappear to him, even if at some point he spotted them, and then him to me. An away-to-me outrun meant I could see my dog all the way, but he would have to go past the set-out pen.

Deciding that away was the lesser of 2 evils, that's what I chose. Star left my feet wide and fast heading for the farthest reaches of the field. About mid-way he seemed to pull in a bit, and I heard the words "trust your dog," then didn't.  I knew he would kick himself out if he spotted his sheep, but many older, wiser dogs had not, and I decided sheep to my feet was better than a few points lost on the outrun. I blew the re-direct, and he took it so precisely that I had to cut it short so that he did not run out too wide. The instant I stopped the whistle, he stopped widening and together we were on the perfect path to sheep.

He did not stop short, but he did slow, which I am attributing to the 2 mounted set-out riders. I can't remember whether Star has ever seen horses at the top, but he persevered and came on to the lift. I blew a big walk-up,  because I could see he was tentative, and it was just what he needed to boost his confidence. His lift was slightly off-line but a flank whistle or 2 had them coming straight to me. A little slow to react near the fetch panel caused us to miss it, but the running had been so erratic all day that Star was having one of the best fetches I had seen even without the panel.

All day the sheep had fought to avoid turning the post, and it was that spot that had me worried. There was a tight squeeze between the post, the judges trailer, and waiting handlers. The big, aged ewes had never been dogged, but successfully fought off coyotes and whatever else they have in the mountains of Utah all their lives. Star was not match for them, and they stalled around the post. To his credit, Star never quit trying, but after much shushing, here-here-ing, and watch-'em, watch-'ems, he was unable to shift them, and I retired, not all that gracefully. The scores had been dismal, a 58 was leading at that point, and I was reluctant to give up on what had been a stellar beginning.

I felt better about Sunday. The course was changed and they gave us 8 head of sheep to help them feel better about moving along, I imagine. They were happier in this bigger group. The drive was reversed to mitigate the sucking chest wound that was the draw to exhaust, and that worked well also. With 12 generous minutes to run, I thought we just might have a chance.

Earlier in the year at Zamora, Star had remembered perfectly the 550 yard, technically difficult outrun, and had navigated the entire uphill jaunt without losing so much as a point. On Sunday I trusted my dog, and was rewarded with a big, booming outrun of the kind I have come to expect. No hesitancy at the top this time, he was comfortable with the horses. A slight bobble on the lift, but nothing to get upset about, and Star brought his sheep straight through the heart of the fetch panel. OK, now I was having fun.

The turn at the post was a bit wide with some hesitation, but we made it and the drive started well. Unfortunately, it didn't go or end well, and we missed both panels, made ungainly, wide turns at both, and lost a lot of time with one ewe hanging back, one ewe leading the pack, and the rest of them taking their own sweet time about it. Star's drive was ragged, and I knew at the end of it that were would not be collecting a check.

The finish of this trial was split 4 and 4, put them through a Y-chute, re-gather and single. Star got as far as a stellar split, holding 4 away from 4 to the immediate satisfaction of the judge. Where many dogs struggled even to hold sheep in the ring, Star had calmly and decisively convinced them to go their separate ways, and it was been lovely to watch.

Once again, I have to remember what we did right with no more than that to hold me over until New Mexico, and the Free to Be Trial coming up. Nicomodes was a great test of the dogs, and I was pleased to see that my 2 year old nursery dog could stand his own in good company. Just a little more maturity please.

Jul 4, 2011

Week 120-Kelly Creek 2011

Staying Cool at Kelly Creek
Day 231os
We had one last practice before leaving home for the summer, and for Kelly Creek, the 1st of 7 dog trials this summer. It was a hot day, so I didn't plan to put any pressure on the dogs. I wanted to simply remind them of a square flank, stretch them out as far as I could and tune up the finesse work of driving straight lines by taking whistles precisely. Star and Mirk worked beautifully, and Star had an epiphany. Timing is everything, right? We;re leaving for a dog trial, and Star passes a milestone. Sweet!

Star has always been reluctant to hold the shed or single if any sheep tries to break back. Until today, it always made him nervous, which resulted in his glancing to the cast off sheep, and so losing the sheep I mean to hold. It always frustrated me, but I know better than to correct a puppy in the shed ring when what you need more than anything in there is confidence. So, I made a decision early to stay the course, and just keep working at it. Today was pay off day.

As we practiced shedding, not only did Star hold the shed and the single, but he balanced the drive taking the shed off sheep away from the cast offs, and it was a simply gorgous site. I could  see the light go on today, and his confidence multiply. OK, now we're ready for the summer trials.

Kelly Creek Dog Trial
From my experience this year, if you don't like Kelly Creek, you don't like dog trialing. Developed by an architect, and his now widowed wife, Patsy, the place is a virtual sheepdog wonderland. Patsy and her husband created it for sheepdog and agility dog training on acreage with huge specimen trees, meandering pathways, gurgling brooks, diverted waterways, 2 huge ponds stocked with cutthroat trout, and a small, but oh-so-treacherous trial field.

Star was 3rd on Saturday, and I retired with him on Sunday. From local Forest Service grazing leases, the fine wool ewes really were range ewes such as you see at much bigger dog trials, but we are in sheep country after all. They were big, strong, and used to fending for themselves, so the dogs didn't provide much of a challenge compared to mountain lions and coyotes that they're used to. Star was overmatched and made his way around the course slowly and very cautiously. On Saturday, his outrun and lift were perfect, and we sliced the fetch panel in two. Space was tight between the post and the fence and the turn was made more difficult by a poorly placed pen obstructing the first drive leg, but my dog was strong there on much "shush, shush" from me. All weekend long these bad girls refused to line out, and precious few runs occurred where all 3 panels were made, but it was the cross drive that laid us bare.

Set on the lip of 1 of 2 terraces running horizontally across the field, if you were high on the cross drive you lost sight of both sheep and dog. If low, the points were slashed, and in either case the unpredictable ewes made the panels almost impossible for most of us. In addition, it was a long way across, and Star had to hold untractable sheep while using every ounce of power he could muster to keep things moving forward. His work was halting and careful, but he never quit trying, never quit listening, and never lost his precarious nerve. He was slow, but he made it to the shed ring with a clean, fast, 2 - 2 split off the back on the nose, and we timed out at the pen for 3rd place on a dismal score of 67. I hate to  place well by being the best of the worst, but we could just as easily been at the other end of that spectrum.

Sunday was a different story, Star and I both were wrong from the minute we set foot on the field. At this trial I had 3 dogs running, Star, Mirk, and a student's dog named Buff. What I discovered through the process is that you don't try as hard to win with each dog individually when you have more chances. In the short time I've been running Star, I have come to take him for granted, especially on the outrun, but I forgot to factor in the size of the field. It is small,  the outrun only about 250 yards, and it is fenced, which can often make solid outrunning dogs run tight. I learned that lesson the hard way, and completely forgot it at Kelly Creek.

Star was looking to my right while I set him up on my left, which is always a recipe for disaster, and he was wrong from his very first step, and then he pulled in even more. He ran tight to the extent that he required a stop and re-direct to prevent a cross over, and we were off to a bad start. Star was slow to lift sheep which were far more comfortable standing up to the dogs on day two. The sheep immediately drifted off line to the  side of the field which was home to the exhaust, and my usually precise nursery dog wouldn't take the come-bye flank. We barely made the fetch panel, but the entire top half of the fetch was way off line.

His  best work on Sunday came at the turn. Over 2 days of trialing, our sheep hated the tight space between the post and the fence, but Star had them dead to rights here. To keep them moving forward I  flanked him come-bye on a clockwise turn, then back away-to-me to keep the sheep moving forward, and then allowed him to drift on his own to cover and hold  them tight to me. He handled it like a seasoned pro, and had a clean, tight turn that started us a dead-straight drive away. I can't remember whether we made the drive away panel, because all I can think about is the tortuous cross-drive. We were high, we were low, we disappeared below the terrace, and popped back up with sheep coming straight toward us. I couldn't really blame Star for just wanting to give them back to me. He was struggling.

In front of the cross-drive panel, and at the last minute, the sheep zigged torwards the exhaust pen low of the panel, and Star had to make a run for it to block them. Just accomplishing the block, it became a stand off between him and sheep, and I walked away from the post deciding to help my dog, give him a shot in the arm, and promote confidence in my good, young dog. Some said I should have continued on, but with the finals just around the corner, no one will ever convince me that fighting recalcitrant sheep for a probable finish out of  the  points and money is better than retaining and promoting precious confidence. I was right to retire, I just know it.