Monday, January 18, 2010

International Shedding Clinic

This past Saturday I went with Julie and met up with Robin and Dan at an International Shedding clinic with Tommy Wilson. I was fortunate to be able to go audit, and had an absolute ball. I always watch International Sheds at trials on the edge of my seat, and it was nice to be able to begin to have some sort of understanding without the pressures of a trial situation. Shoot, if I'm truly honest it was nice to not have the pressures of trying to do it with my dog but to be able to watch and learn.

I usually manage to take a few things home from a clinic, somehow only being able to absorb a small number of things at one time. Here are the four things I took home from this one:

  1. Watch the sheep you want to keep, but don't look at the ones you want to let go
  2. Sometimes you do what you have to do to save it, even if it means losing a couple of points
  3. If you turn the ones back you want to let go too many times they'll not want to go
  4. If you turn the ones back you want to keep very assertively they'll think twice about trying to go next time

It was a fun time, and since the Small Dog was one of the chosen three who got to go, he had a blast of a time. Dan King kindly took the two pictures in this post, thanks Dan!

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Afternoon in the Life of a Crazy

I loaded up the CrazyMobile with six dogs yesterday - my five plus Robin's Moon who happens to be hanging out at Chez Crazy for a little while (not permanently). We went out to Julie's to work a little and to play a little.

We took two nice walks - and nevermind the fact that it's stupid cold outside the border collies, excepting Moon, all decided to take a swim in the frigid creek. Not just once, but twice. Man was it cold, but the dogs were happy to get out.

Zippy was not thrilled to be taken on a walk, but my vet wants to see him maintain the muscle mass in his back end, or possibly increase it. Speaking of Zippy - turns out he has a Grade 4 heart murmur. I need to get him scheduled to go in and take an X-Ray, and start him on some meds. He's just sixteen, and finally starting to show his age some. It absolutely breaks my heart, but on the other hand I've been blessed with almost five years with him now and I'm grateful for each day. Well, that is except for the days maybe where he's "One Papillon Free to a Good Home".

Ginger got to come into the big pasture with me while Julie and I worked on pulling some of the unpalatable parts of the round bale she'd just gotten off of the bale. While we did this Ginger wandered around obvlivious to the fact that Kelly and Spottie were out there working. Ginger is oblivious to sheep as Zippy is oblivious to chickens.

I worked Linc a bit - and practiced staying relaxed but firm. It worked pretty well, and he managed to stay relaxed. I used him to sort Crazy Red out of the group, and then to sort sheep later for the puppies. I didn't see any crashing into the sheep on inside flanks, and I was very pleased that he seemed to be listening just right. I think it would be fair to say we BOTH had good attitudes. Mark the day down.

After that I got to see some puppy working (yay puppies!) and then Nick got recruited to push the sheep off of the feed bunks while Julie put out feed. He pushed the ducks off of the feed too - which always makes him happy as he loves him some ducks. I then took him behind the barn with me to collect eggs where he got attacked by one of Julie's housemate's Velociraptors. I told him to "get em up" - which to Julie's dismay only resulted in closed-mouthed lungeing. Oh yeah, Velociraptors of the world shall quake at our feet. NOT! So much for that. I'd hoped he might teach them a lesson. Guess not.

Finally around 4:30 we put dogs up and went to pick up about 35,000 bales of hay. No, not really. Actually it was 35 bales of hay that the hay guy threw down to me as I loaded them on the trailer. Julie supervised. Activity points baby! We wound up putting them up in the dark as we realized when we got back that we had JUST enough daylight for that second dog walk. I'll admit that when we got to the last bale (we had to carry it a ways, toss it over the fence, and then stack it in the barn) I was pretty wiped out. Good work - a nice start to this week's plan to start losing weight, making healthier choices, and so on. Too bad it won't count as the week starts on Tuesday.

Our reward? After the hay stacking (Julie did most of the stacking part) a stop at Cracker Barrel for pancakes. YUM! So really living in the city and not having my own sheep means I have to work harder to get my dogs work, and work harder to get MYSELF work. But it's worth it.

After all of that I went home and washed off Nick's neck. Why? That's because Nick had apparently amused himself by rolling in cat pee while I helped Julie with hay. Bad dog. I then fed dogs, and hung out with my feet up just waiting for bed time. I must have gotten lazy recently as the work took much more of a toll on me as it should. But man is it ever rewarding.

Photo by Dan King

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Growing Pains

This dog working thing is so fluid.  It's intuitive, in the moment, and it changes from one second to the next.  I'm not a big fan of changes.  I like rules, schedules, and I like for things to be as they are and stay as they are forever Amen.  So sometimes when I think I have a particular issue with a dog worked out and it pops back up I just don't know what to do.  When the picture changes I struggle just a little sometimes.

I farm-sat for Mary and Tony over Christmas.  I had a ball, the dogs had a ball, and while farm-sitting is always hard work (anyone need a good farm-sitter?) I always have fun.  I worked the dogs a little while I was there, but unfortunately being over the holidays I didn't have as much free time as I would have liked.

Anyway, one day out there Robin commented that it didn't seem like Linc and I were having much fun.  Turns out she was right.  He was being a little hard-head, and in response I was cranking on him.  The tougher I'd get the tougher he'd get, and it was like watching a modern day sword-fight except with sheep, dogs, and one seriously pissed off human. 

So with Robin's help I relaxed. I helped my dog relax.  Suddenly we were working together as a team again.  That begs the question - does he get tough because I get tough, or do I get tough because he does?  Do we feed on each other - is it like a spontaneous combustion?  Did he *already* know I was stressed and it just became one big head butting match?  I realize that I am under considerable stress otherwise, and I'm sure that it must be eeking out and leaching into my dog working.  I noticed Nick reacting strongly to me the other day at Mary's, and I'm sure some of it is simply a response to the turmoil that has nothing to do with them at all.  These dogs, they read me well.  I can only hope to become a fraction as skilled in reading them!

Every time I think I have my relationship with Linc figured out it seems like I've set myself up for another growing pain.  I think I have it all figured out, and then I realize I'm having a lapse.  I'll realize I have my shoulders up around my ears, and I'm running around the field shrieking like a banshee and looking like I have no neck.  I'm like the neckless bandit of dog working.  Not pretty.  So thankfully Robin and Julie gently remind me to relax, and next thing I know the whole picture changes.

These growing pains are hard.  But they're worth it I think.  Linc is going to make me a better trainer and handler even if it kills us both.