Friday, October 12, 2012

Working Pia

Pia had a pretty big weekend last weekend, and I was hoping I'd have a chance to sit down and get it written out. My thanks to for making this post possible.

Pia - 17 months

While farm-sitting for Julie last weekend I went over to Robin's to walk dogs and work Pia. One of the road-blocks I've had is that Pia needs a smaller space still, and she needs some fairly quiet and forgiving sheep. I've worked her very little, and she's still rocking a bit of the yeehaw. So, I loaded up some big woolies into Robin's round pen, and set about the business of trying to get Pia's attention.

We did three or four short sessions spaced out over several hours. The sheep were being fair, but she wasn't really learning from them, and didn't seem remotely concerned about fixing her messes. She was basically going back and forth between orbiting at 100 mph and then diving in for a little grab. Corrections weren't helpful, though speaking to her quietly seemed to help some. On one level she was trying to figure out what I wanted, but she just couldn't seem to get to that place.

I realized quickly as the sheep kept going from corner to corner that this situation was not a good one. Things were deteriorating.  I was getting frustrated.  Pia was getting frustrated. The sheep were not happy. I was not happy. I tried bringing in Linc, and I also tried tying him in one of the corners. It didn't seem to change the situation much.

Finally after a nice walk I decided to take the dogs back to Julie's and think about it for a while and come up with a new plan. I KNEW that if I could get into the sheep I could help her. I just had to figure out how to do that.  I hatched a new plan, and the new plan looked nothing like the old plan.

I took Nick with me, and took Pia into the smallest of Julie's pastures with her lambs that have been worked a decent bit. I'd say the space was roughly 3 to 4 times bigger than the round pen.  Maybe more. There were a few moments of yeehaw.  However, because Nick was there I was finally able to get into the sheep, and able to gently influence Pia at her problem spots - 10:00 and 2:00 quite specifically.  I tried to be as in the moment as possible and see her thinking about a dive so that I could put myself in the right place and speak to her.

I don't even know where Nick was, but suddenly everything came together.  Pia, for the first time, settled in behind the sheep and started walking them up.  She went to balance (first time) and started wearing the sheep to me.  She tucked in a few of the edges.

I almost cried right there in the field.  Ok, maybe I did a little. I think that Pia and I (because of Nick) were both able to get where we needed to be. In that moment the picture made sense to Pia.  From there I was able to lie Nick down, and Pia worked by herself.  It was good.  Really good. 

I love that moment. That first time when a dog actually settles in behind the sheep.  Poetry in motion.

Then because I love this photo, here is Linc:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Heavy Hearted

Last weekend I loaded up the doggers and headed up to farm-sit for Julie. I was almost to her place when I got the call that a good friend, Dan King, had passed away unexpectedly. I had to pull over and stop as my mind and heart were just stunned.  It has been very difficult to wrap my head around Dan being gone.

The moment I met Dan he instantly made me feel like he *saw* me, and not only that but accepted me and cared for me (and my dogs) exactly as I was. Dan was always ready with a cup of coffee in the mornings at a dog trial, or a glass of wine beside his camper upon arrival. There have been very few dog trials that I've been to where Dan wasn't there - and it won't be the same without him.  This world won't be the same without him. My heart aches for his family, and all of his friends. There have been a lot of amazing tributes to him all over the Internet, and every time I read one more I cry anew. It is touching to see that one life really can and has made a difference to so many others.

I don't have any photos of Dan that I took myself - however I have several photos that he took of me and my dogs, which I value. I will remember the weekend of the cherry pit spitting contest, and the first sushi sampling because of him. So many things to remember and I hope that his kind and accepting spirit will be something that the rest of us take away.

He saw the good in my dogs, the good in my runs (even when I didn't), and the good in other people. He was a model of how to welcome and encourage other people - and I hope I can learn more of that lesson and emulate it.

My heart is heavy, and I don't feel much like offering up anything funny (though there was this one rooster incident that involved me poking him with a leafy branch to try to dislodge him from his perch so that I could close the chicken-house door). I couldn't make the memorial, but I've been taking some time to reflect and mourn.

Godspeed, Dan, until we all meet again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sheep In Car

I thought today would be a good day for a Nick and sheep post.  My thanks to for making this possible. 

This morning I loaded up a couple of dogs and headed down the road to pick up some sheep to take to the processor. No trailer? No truck? No problem! Why not just load them into your minivan?

Famous last words, spoken by me...

"Oh, don't worry.  We'll just pop em right on up in there. I don't think we'll even need to touch them."

Hah. Hahahahaha.

Most of the time sheep I've loaded up into trailers seem to prefer to just hop in (as opposed to using a ramp). Well, let me just enlighten you, world. They don't prefer to hop right up into minivans. Minivans with Ex-Pens are instruments of sheepy death.Clearly.

There was screeching halting at the hatch. There was much shoving and cajoling. I even gave them a bucket of corn in the pen. Corn was not the secret weapon I'd expected.

So I had Nick hold the sheep while I (one by one) with the help of the friend who owns the sheep, hoisted them up in there like sacks of very heavy potatoes. I guess the best way to describe it would be one foot at a time. They weren't terribly inclined to help, but we worked it out. The very nice newspaper and shavings bedding got all  mushed around, but it actually wound up serving it's purpose well (see photo).

That photo, by the way, was what I could see in my rear view mirror. Sheep staring at me through the holes in the crate. That particular wether was the sniffiest thing.

Go figure that once we got down to the processor they were not having ANY of the whole getting out of the van thing. Oh but no. "No, thank you," said the sheep. The little unloader dude, who incidentally weighed less than the sheep,  hopped up in there to shove them out. Then he and I and Nick pushed them along the walk of doom, up the ramp, and into their holding cell.

They were Not. Impressed. They did NOT want to go up that ramp.

Nick on the other hand had a ball. He got to do some work on a single - as once I had two in there, the single tried to break and run away. We cured him of that notion, but it took some time and some really good work from my dog and I. It didn't take all that long to get the sheep loaded, or unloaded once we were there. But it certainly wasn't the idyllic lovely pop em in pop em out sort of walk through the flowery meadow that I'd pictured in my mind.

When I got to the processor and starting unloading, this (really hot) guy pulled up behind me to unload two steers.  He got out and came over to see my set up.  With big eyes he looked at me and said, "How did you get them IN there?"  Not missing a beat I answered, "Oh, my dog brought them up and popped them right up in there."

What can I say.  He was cute and I saw no need to mention belly-flopping on the back of a sheep hanging off of the back of my minivan. By that point my cool hairdo had flopped like a wilty flower, and I am pretty sure I was covered in all kinds of things. I had to save SOME face.

I've had two showers today. My hands still smell like sheep.  I am happy.

Nick is happy (photo by Dan King).

Linc is less happy since I didn't get him out, but he'll get his chance over the weekend (photo by Robin French).