Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ann gives us her version of TMT...

What Kind Of Handler Are You?

I am a lazy handler I guess. I don't like drilling. I don't like micromanaging. I want to get a job done, either at home or at a trial, with a minimum of fuss.

What is your perfect dog?
The one that does exactly what I need it to do, all the time!

Do you like a dog that is really on the muscle?

I can't stand this phrase and I think it's overused, and certainly interpreted differently by different people, at least as far as I can tell. To me, a dog that's on the muscle is being too pushy and not listening. I don't mind a pushy dog but combined with not listening is not something I'd want to deal with all the time. There's a time and place for it, but it's not every time nor every place. And generally it's not on the fetch at a trial. Dogs are supposed to help us with low-stress, efficient management of stock. A dog on the muscle most of the time is unlikely to be doing that.

Do you like a dog that needs a steady stream of whistles?
I abhor a dog that needs a steady stream of whistles, but I think the operative word here is *need.* The only time a steady stream of whistles is likely needed is if you're trying to win an open trial and your lines need to be on the order of "millimeter tolerance," to quote a well-known big hat. I still don't like to hear it on the fetch, though, and to me a silent or near-silent gather is golden.

Are you a maximal or minimal whistler?
That depends (see above). I tend to whistle very little on the gather. One reason I got into this habit is that my first open trial dog that I trained myself doesn't like a lot of commands. Since I know that more commands are necessary on the drive, I compromised by leaving her alone on the fetch. Well, that, and the two biggest bobbles I ever made on the fetch (once at the Bluegrass and once at the National Finals--hey, if you're gonna do it, may as well do it big!) were because I decided she was a bit offline and insisted she "fix' it. And you guessed it: Both times she was right and I was wrong, and my intervention caused a missed fetch panel. Score two for me! I did learn my lesson, though. I think.

Do you like a natural dog that feels the sheep and just needs a little direction here and there?
Yes, I like a dog that can read the sheep and respond appropriately, with or without me. There are times, especially at home, where I have to send the dog for sheep that are out of my sight. Other times when a student's dog has sent the sheep to the back of beyond and I don't want to walk all that way to get them, etc. I have to trust that my dog can go out blind, find the sheep, deal with whatever is presented in a fair and efficient manner, and bring them back, all on her own. It's nice to have that quality and to know that your dog really is saving you time, worry, and work. On the trial field, I know a lot of folks prefer a loose-eyed dog they can put anywhere, but then you get back to that pesky constant commanding thing, which I don't like. I want my dog working as a partner with me, especially at the shed and pen, and let's face it, a natural dog is going to read and react to the sheep a lot faster than I can read them and then tell a dog what to do....

Do you like a dog that prefers certain type of sheep?
No. My dogs need to work whatever is presented to them. The first time I went to the finals, Twist had never worked range ewes. We had one practice on the practice field, and off we went. She handled the range sheep just fine. I like a dog who can learn from new sheep how to handle them. That means if you're trialing, then you might not be successful the first time you encounter sheep that are new and different, but a good (natural) dog will figure out how to work unfamiliar stock so that the next time out on that same type of stock the dog will have figured out how to handle them (and the handler will also perhaps adjust handling to accommodate the differences in the stock).

Do you like a dog that wants to partner up and be a really good team player?
Yes, taking care of my livestock (especially) and trialing shouldn't make me unhappy, and if I rely on my dogs to help me with both of those endeavors then they need to partner up with me. I don't want to have to fight a dog to get a job done, at home or at a trial. I don't want to have to beat a dog into submission (or any variation of that), nor do I want to have to constantly nag a dog or be ever vigilant so that the dog doesn't take a mile every chance it gets. Not for me. The dog's job is to make my work easier, period.

Do you like a dog that really knows what s/he wants and you, as a handler really has to manage?

No. See the above. Working livestock isn't about what the dog wants. It's about the efficient and humane handling of stock. That's what I want, and therefore the dog needs to want to make me happy, generally speaking.

Do you want push?
I want push when it's needed, but I don't want to be constantly riding the brakes. When I want things to be hurried along, I expect the dog to push away. When I want slow, calm work, I don't want to have to constantly remind the dog to slow up. This ties in with the dog that can read stock and react appropriately and also partner up with the human to get the job done.

Do you want a good listener?
Within reason. I want a dog that thinks for itself but is willing to take my input, right or wrong. It's okay if the dog gives me a dirty look when I screw up, but ultimately if I insist on something I expect the dog to comply, and if I was wrong, then I'll take the blame (while the poor dog is fixing my mess). I know my dogs well enough that if one refuses a command, I'll take into account that the dog may have a reason and may adjust my plans accordingly. It's that partnership thing. But I also don't want to have a long, loud discussion about it if I really want the dog to take a command.

Do you want try? (Not tri.)
Definitely. Nothing is worse (especially in a tough work situation) than a dog that has to be coaxed to work. I'd rather have the dog trying and screwing up than not doing anything at all or being perfect but very hesitant. A dog with heart who will give everything it's got to you when the going gets tough. That said, my first trial dog was one I had to give a lot of encouragement to. He lacked confidence. He was also very kind to his sheep and could settle the most bug-eyed scaredy sheep that had been molested by the previous dog. He taught me to *handle* because it was my handling and force of will that got us around trial courses. The best compliment I ever got from a judge was after a run in which things fell apart for a while through no real fault of my dog (different dog). We got it back together. I don't remember if we placed that day (this was in a eastern pro-novice class I think). As I came off the field, the judge said to me that he was very impressed with my calm quiet handling of the situation. That's what I learned from that first dog who needed to be coaxed (calm and quiet was the only way to work him), and it has served me well at home and at trials ever since.

Do you like a dog who gets the job done, no matter the sheep, but it’s a big job to get that dog listening?
There are times, especially at home (say, loading a trailer) or when setting sheep for a trial (for the latter mainly when moving the whole flock up into the pens, etc., where they don't want to go) that I really want the dog to get the job done. That doesn't mean, however, that he's allowed dirty grips, hanging on, etc., but I will pretty much just give a "Get 'em up!" command and let him figure out how to make that happen. When I do that, though, I recognize that some yeehaw! type behavior (not tail-up-in-the-air silly stuff, but rather rougher work than what I might accept under normal circumstances) might ensue. I still don't want to fight the dog to get it to listen. I think it's entirely possible for a dog to get the job done and still listen. The work just may not be as pretty.

Do you want it all?
Of course. But there are things I'll compromise on; that is, there are some things I definitely want more than others.

Can you have it all? Since I don’t know enough to know what I don’t know, what do you want? What do you like?

I don't think you can have it all. There is no perfect dog. That's what I meant about compromise. If the dog has most of what I want, then I'll work with or around the parts I don't like. To me the most important qualities are a natural and thinking dog who wants to do the right thing and is willing to partner. I like a speedy dog, but one of my best work and trial dogs was not particularly fast. I want a dog with confidence, but also self restraint. A dog that will protect itself (and me) when needed, but can also finesse difficult stock without resorting to teeth as the only tool in the toolbox. For example, the same dog should be willing to take the ram head on if he's being an ass, but should show restraint around a ewe with a newborn lamb, even if the ewe is also being something of an ass, and of course it should be even more careful with little lambs. A dog that can respond appropriately most of the time to all the different situations it might encounter on the farm or at a trial is probably about as close to perfect as you're going to get.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Early Christmas Present--Another Tell Me Thursday

Sigh. I keep thinking I need to set aside time to keep this blog updated. It's sad when it takes a blogger friend to get me to do any posting. My early New Year's resolution (yeah, I know, it's not even Christmas yet) is to blog on a regular basis. Everyone is welcome to hound me if I don't.

Now on to the important stuff!

(Thanks Nana for the spiffy new widget!)

1. What are your plans for the holiday season?

Working. Freelancing generally means no paid holidays, but I'm grateful I have work to do, and I just took on an extra project that's due right after Christmas, so Christmas = work. And anyway, I haven't done much of anything related to Christmas in quite some time. Even back when I was still celebrating it, I tended to work over the holidays because it's always really quiet in the office then (at least when you're in a regular non-home office) and you can get a ton of work done! And I'm hoping to take plenty of nice long walks with the dogs.

2. Do you decorate? If so, what have you done so far?

I don't decorate anymore either. I think that started when Moses the Horrible entered my life and it just became easier not to bother. With a bunch of dogs and cats, trees and the like just don't stand a chance anyway. Less pressure to take stuff out and less pressure to take it down and put it away. Stress-free living!

3. a. Favorite recent dog photo? b. Photo that shows your mood today (or one word)?

My current favorite is this one, because Kes looks like a little mischief-maker:

This is my mood, a little old biddy sitting alone on a rocker:

4. There's been a discussion on the BC Boards about "don't train for the novice classes... just train for open and the rest will fall into place." What are your thoughts on this?

Well I made my position pretty clear over there. Open should be the goal, and if you have a good mentor, that person can help you recognize and capitalize on "open training moments." But you still have to crawl before you can walk. As long as you aim to walk sooner or later, it's okay to crawl at the start.

5. What are your top five cannot-do-without-them dog items?

1. I must have my little flat-sided metal pails. Even if Richard R. teases me mercilessly about them whenever he sees me at a sheepdog trial.

2. Cow hooves. They are relatively cheap, don't take up a lot of space (though they hurt like an SOB if you step on one in the night), and the dogs love them. It saves furniture (mostly), shoes (mostly), and stuff from little (or big) gnawing teeth.

3. Lark can't live without her winter horse blanket style jackets. Mexican blankets as winter bedding for everyone else. Twist votes for her wicker dog basket. She sorely misses her beloved Moses (not to be confused with Moses the Horrible) basket that Willow very kindly chewed beyond usability.

4. Leashes. My dogs are almost never on leash, but if you look in my van you'd think either (a) I have a leash fetish, (b) I'm a leash hoarder, or (c) both.

5. Metronidazole. I never leave home without it. (I actually take a bunch of first-aid-related stuff, but metronidazole is the one thing I'd truly be sorry to be without.)

And if we don't get another TMT before the holidays, Merrry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Winter to everyone!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Time for Another TMT, or I Haven't Been MIA, Really

It's been a while! I missed a couple because I had to head out on Thursdays to set sheep for the Lexington SDT and then the Water Cress SDT. If you gotta miss TMT, doing it for a sheepdog trial, even if not competing, is about a good a reason as you can have!

Kestrel stayed home with Laura (who was kindly farmsitting) for Lexington, but I took her along to Tennessee and she had a grand time playing at the top with two great puppy sitters, AKA pen workers!

Otherwise, I'm just plugging along here. I need to go get the ewes from the top pasture and bring them down to the rams, but have been too trifling to do that yet. But I will make the time for Tell Me Thursday, lol!

1. What are you thankful for this week?

I am thankful that I spent years in a career that lends itself to freelancing. In this economy it has meant the difference between sinking and swimming (or at least floundering along).

I am also thankful to be alive. That probably sums it up.

2. How do you deal with a squeaker/shrieker/noisy dog?

I kill it. Oh, not an option? Well, let's see. In the case of friends' squeaker/shrieker/noisy dogs, I move them into my bedroom at night, which seems to solve the problem. I've gone so far as to put a dog in a crate in the van, but if the weather is suitable for that, then invariably my windows are open, so I still end up hearing it. I wish I could learn to tune it out like I have learned to do (mostly) with the guard dogs, but all I can say is that I am THANKFUL not to have a squeaker/shrieker/noisy dog!

3. Barbara wants to know: what would you say is ONE skill or attribute needed to be successful?

Perseverance. Luck helps too, of course, but that would be two, so I'll stick with perserverance. The common theme that seems to run among those who are successful is that they KEPT TRYING, no matter who are what seemed to be barriers to what they wanted to do. Of course, I think it also helps to know when to say when, but if you are not willing to persevere in the first place, you'll never accomplish anything.

4. Pippin wants to know: what are your favorite games?
Kestrel asked if she could be a guest blogger to answer this question. I said sure.

Kestrel: "The bestest game in the world is the one mom calls "Remora." It's where I hang on Ranger's mane and try to stay attached no matter what he's doing, even if he's flanking around sheep. It's really fun. Kind of like the carnival rides mom says make her want to hurl. Oh, and I get to practice spitting out hair whenever I do finally let go. My second favorite game is racing after the big dogs telling them off. My mom calls it yapping like a damned fool. Is that a compliment?"

5. What are some of your strategies for dealing with winter?

Make like a bear and put on an extra layer of fat to see me through. Oh, I guess I already did that, or forgot to take it off after LAST winter. I'd say that my strategy would be never to set foot outside except under great duress, but in truth, my real strategy is to save money on heat by keeping the thermostat really low. It means I'm well acclimated to the low temperatures and in fact often can't tell the difference between outside and in. Every night is a three (or more) dog night. Acclimation, baby!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are the questions getting harder, or is it just me?

Okay, I'm playing this week, but my apologies in advance for the lameness of my answers....

1. What movie do you love but are too embarrassed to admit you love it?

Gosh, I really don't know. I watch only highbrow stuff (kidding!), so how could I be embarrassed by any of them?

2. Ann wants to know: How far do you drive/travel to attend trials, clinics, lessons? How far is too far?

Well, when I was gainfully employed at a good-paying job, I even went so far as to drive to Sturgis to the National Sheepdog Finals. If I had the money, I'd probably drive 8-10 hours, though not on a regular basis. But I certainly did go through periods when I was trialing every weekend and traveling up to 6 hours or so to do so. Before I had livestock of my own, it was pretty easy to just head off wherever. The catch for me now is old animals and a farm. Going away for any length of time means finding someone to care for stuff here. So even if I were flush financially, I think I'd be limited by the need for someone to mind the farm....

3. What is your theme song (circa Ally McBeal)?

Um, I don't know. The song that goes through my head is usually related to something someone has said to me recently. For example, someone suggested Karma as a good puppy name. For the next week I was singing Karma Chameleon. But I don't find myself attaching theme songs to particular activities. I guess I'm just boring that way.

4. Laura S wants to know: If you had to choose a new dog activity, one that you had never done before, what would you choose?

Um, probably dock diving. It just seems low key enough and fun enough for all concerned. But of course it would help to have a dog who likes to swim and doesn't drop like a stone from the end of the dock.

Otherwise, just having a great place to go hiking or swimming with the dogs on a regular basis (daily would be awesome) would make me and the dogs happier than any organized sport.

5. What would your dog choose (or scribe, if you're Pippin)?

For at least some of them, that would probably be an eating contest, lol! Seriously, though, I think most of them would choose swimming or hiking, especially if a good squirrel chase could be thrown in on a regular basis. Oh and Twist would like her own five acres, set aside just for digging for "mice."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Taking a Break for TMT #9

While I'm eating my lunch, I'm going to play!

1. If you're not at the 2011 Sheepdog finals this weekend what are you planning to do?

The list is so long. I was planning to go get hay (squares and a round bale), but that might not be possible if it's raining. The other big project is to ready the Elam Currin pasture for habitation by a guard dog and work on the pond where the sheep go to drink to make it a little more sheep friendly. Gates still need to be hung here, and since I can't manage to fix my wheelbarrow I was planning to borrow the neighbor's so I can clean out the sheep loafing area under the tobacco barn lean to. Oh, and the dog yard fence needs to be finished too. In other words, I will be trying to do the chores that are always piling up and never getting done. I didn't buy views of the finals anyway, so I won't be tempted to sit inside and watch, even if the weather isn't great (at least I won't be sweating like a pig while I work, right?). Oh, and a puppy might be arriving. Anyone want to take bets on how much I get done?

2. One item you NEVER walk onto the trial field (any trial field, or training class will suffice) without?

That would be my lucky stick. The one with green (now blue) tape around the middle to hold it together where someone splintered it sorting sheep at a gate (I have no idea how). Okay, I have actually walked onto the trial field without it, when the occasion called for me to use my nice crook, but I always feel a little bereft if I don't have my old taped-up stick with me. (And if I see Laura's sunglasses lying in the grass, I pick them up, lol!)

3. Katy wants to know if you have a pre-run ritual that you observe?

Not really. I try to get my dog to watch a few lifts before our run, and I will take the dog on a short walk to see if pottying is needed and just to have a little quiet time before heading to the post. Oh, and I always have to have a last drink of water before I go through the gate. (I ttry to get the dog to take a drink too, though not of my water).

4. How old were you when you had your first real kiss?

Really? You want to know this? I don't know. A teenager certainly. I couldn't even tell you who it was. I must have been real impressed by the whole thing.

5. Bonnie wants to know what you do for yard mud control during the winter?

There is no such thing as yard mud control here. If I'm out in the yard and it's been raining, I do try to avoid the pits the dogs have dug, because falling into one filled with muddy water is no fun, and generally means a twisted ankle. I put a sheet down by the back door so that most of the mud gets wiped off the dogs (okay, at least from the bottoms of their feet) as they come through the door. Beyond that, I live with the dirt. (Heh. No comments from the peanut gallery named Laura.) Hey, this is the country and it's a farm. Mud is a fact of life, except when we're in a drought (which seems to be most of the time lately), in which case I'm very happy to see mud in any form because it means we've had rain....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Woo hoo! TMT rolls around again!

It's that day of the week again, the one we all look forward to, thanks to Laura over at Crooks and Crazies!

1. What is the biggest thing that grossed you out over the past week?

Probably the portajon at the trial, after about a day of use. 'Nuff said. Followed be sheep snot. And then there's the daily grossness of multiple spiders (big, freaky-looking ones) and spiderwebs (big, sticky, and um, freaky looking) plastered to my face as I take the sheep through the woods twice a day to and from their new pasture. I'm getting slightly inured to the whole thing, but still 8 pounds of silk and icky spider plastered across my face twice a day is pretty gross. I guess the spiders/spiderwebs win for the cumulative grossness....

2. What do you feed your dogs?

Most of them get Diamond Naturals. Phoebe gets Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream, and Jill gets Wellness Super 5. Some also get raw meals. All get various toppers, including eggs from my hens (see Laura's post), cottage cheese, yogurt, canned fish, you name it.

3. If you could move anywhere where would you live?

Wales. I adored it when I visited there and could so see myself, my sheep (or sheep I'd get there since I couldn't import mine), and my dogs living there just fine. If I couldn't have sheep, then I would probably move to the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

4. What is the funniest thought that occurred to you (or thing that happened to you) this week?

Need you ask? Laura the Skeered looking after my poor, harmless chickens. The thought is always good for a laugh, and her descriptions of the goings on usually make me laugh so hard I cry. I look forward to Laura farm sitting for me because I know that belly laughs are soon to follow....

5. If you couldn't have your breed of choice what would be next on your list?

There's a bunch. If it had to be a small dog, probably an IG, maybe a wirehaired fox terrier (just like the one I grew up with, natch!). If a large dog, well, I've always wanted a Scottish deerhound, but an Ibizan or Pharaoh hound would work too. Heck, really any dog would make me happy, as long as it wasn't all gross and slobbery.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hello? Did an entire week go by and I just didn't notice? Two weeks?

But yes, I am taking a moment to join back in with Laura Carson's Tell Me Thursday, after missing last week. So here we go. Wheee!

1. What five things can't you live without?

Can I list chocolate five times? No? Alrighty then...

1. Chocolate (it's gotta be first anyway)
2. Fizzy water (seltzer water)
3. A to-go cup (that one's for you Laura! Hee.)
4. Sleep (and I never seem to get enough)
5. My critters (I can't imagine a life without them)
**And a bonus item**
6. Books (Seriously. I'm pretty much never not reading one.)

2. How do you transport your dogs? This question suggested by several peeps, including Mara.

I, too, am the Queen of the Van Dogmobile. Mine is a newer, slightly larger model than our intrepid TMT leader's, but then again, I spent like a gazillion more dollars for it. It's a 2005 GMC Safari mid-size van. A dinosaur. The last of its kind. The seats are probably in pristine condition sitting in the hallway in an old farmhouse in Elizabeth City, NC, where I lived when I got the van. It's stuffed full of crates and the other necessitites of a (formerly) semi-nomadic life, including baby wipes, batteries, toilet paper, and a rain suit (and much, much more!). When the border collies started spontaneously multiplying, I realized that carrying them in a Honda Civic wasn't the most practical approach, so I found a used Astro van. I drove it into the ground, and it died on me (um, Laura, it was the transmission...) in the middle of nowhere between Raleigh and Windsor at night, full of dogs, on the way back from a sheepdog trial. Fortunately I had AAA and I was within the 100-mile tow range (just barely). The dogs got to ride in the van on the back of the rollback; I rode in the cab. And there was a very nice policeman who parked his car behind my van, with lights on, until help came, since I hadn't quite made it off the highway. Yep, those were the days. I plan to drive this one into the ground, too, though I'm not putting as many miles on as I have in the past. And that reminds me that I must check the oil before heading to the land of no cell phone service and no houses within walking distance this weekend (also known as Donald McCaig's Highland SDT).

3. What role does obedience play in your training or running of your dog(s)?

One reason I like what I call a natural and thinking dog is because, well, the dog thinks for itself. Sometimes that works against me, but more often than not, it saves my butt. I'd rather know that I might have to have a, ahem, discussion with my dog about why it really should take the command I'm giving than have to worry about telling the dog what to do constantly. That's really been the toughest adjustment about working Ranger: He prefers to be an obedient dog who does what he's told. Most of the time anyway. But I don't think he has a greatly developed sense of thinking for himself, which is strange because I try to train all my dogs in a way that encourages that. Of course it never helps when I end up laughing at a dog who is doing something disobedient (that would be you, Pip). Like Laura noted with Nick (still thinking about that flank you insisted on at Donald's?), I have on occasion insisted that Twist take a flank, always with a bad result and a dirty "I told you so" look from my dog.

4. At what point do you start putting commands on your dogs?

Some people would say my dogs don't have commands. C'mon, it's because they're such good, natural, thinking dogs that I don't have to tell them what to do, ever. What? You don't believe that? I start with very few commands because I don't want my chatter to distract a youngster from learning to feel and really work the stock. If I just use my body pressure and the pressure/movement from the stock, I can get a lot accomplished without ever saying a word (okay, except for the somewhat commonly used "Hey!", which can mean anything from "What the hell do you think you're doing trying to pull that ewe down?" to "Hello? Anybody out there?"). In fact, my youngsters probably think "Hey" is the main command needed to work stock. Anyway, I never really think about when I start using voice commands. It really depends on the individual dog. If the dog is very natural and sensible right out of the box, I might add commands sooner rather than later. But really I don't have a formula for when I start putting commands on--it just kind of happens.

5. Do you talk to strangers in elevators? Question posted by Laura #1

Well, that depends. I won't just strike up a conversation for the sake of doing so, but back when I actually lived a life where I could find myself in elevators with strangers or barely acquaintances, I'd talk to someone if the circumstances seemed to encourage it (say, we were attending the same meeting or had some other connection, however artificial). As a corollary to that, in some situations I might even have felt compelled to make conversation, for example, if I was on the elevator with one of my company's clients and that person knew I worked for said company, but that's one of those non-spontaneous command-performance kind of things (as in, if I want to keep my job, must make nice to the clients!).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

If it weren't for Laura, well, this blog would still be languishing, I'm afraid

Yay! It's Tell Me Thursday, thanks to Laura at Crooks and Crazies.

So here we go.

1. Who is your newest dog? Where is he/she from, and why did you choose this particular dog/breeding? This question posted by Jodi.

My newest dog isn't so new anymore. Ranger turned 2 at the end of July. I was working with the bitch and thought she had some very nice attributes, and I also knew the sire, although he wasn't the original sire that was discussed. Because the bitch's owner moved back to Utah at the time the bitch (Chris) was coming in heat, I ended up keeping Chris so that Robin could breed Zac to her. Then I ended up keeping her and whelping the litter. There were just three pups, so I got the last one in exchange for keeping Chris and whelping and raising the litter. Chris is largely farm bred, Zac is a son of Robin French's Spottie and Nancy Schreeder's Link.

I am beginning to look around at planned breedings and put my name on some lists. See below for what I want in a dog.

2. What traits drew you to this dog or breeding? (also by Jodi)

Hmmmm...good question. Not for his looks, lol! As I said above, I saw things in Chris I really liked and thought that Zac's more sensible/biddable nature (though still with plenty of push) would make a decent cross. Interestingly enough, Ranger has pretty much zero eye and is nothing like any other dog I have. He's been a challenge to train because he's not what I'm used to, but as Pat Shanahan told me once, the different dogs are the ones who make us better trainers! Unfortunately for Ranger, my income is tiny and so I'm not trialing, which in turn removes a lot of the incentive for training a lot. Maybe things will turn around before he's too old.

Like Laura, I like a natural dog (that is, one that can read sheep and respond appropriately without input from me) with plenty of push, but who also wants to partner up with the human. I want a thinking dog who will do his/her part once he's figured out what the task is. A dog I can trust to do the right thing when out of sight. Sensible. I like a bit of eye because I think it's a big help when shedding and penning (and doing chores at home when you don't have a handling system). A natural outrunner. Not afraid to join the fight if need be. Did I just describe Twist? I want another one almost exactly like her, but without such a wide outrun. Puppy gods, are you listening?

3. What's on your feet right now?

My feet are currently nekkid! That's one of the small pleasures of working at home.

4. What are you reading right now?

The current book in the bathroom is The Girl in the Blue Beret, by Bobbie Ann Mason. It's the story of a retired and widowed airline pilot who returns to the field in Belgium where his B-17 crashed on his 10th mission during WWII. From the dust jacket synopsis: "Marshall's search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart--and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war--none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret."

Recently finished: The Wind in the Woods, by Rose Senehi, a thriller set in the Green River Valley of North Carolina, and The Lake of Dreams, by Kim Edwards (who wrote The Memory Keeper's Daughter). For any horse lovers out there, I also recently read Renegade Champion: The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada, by Richard Rust. It's the story of an Army horse who went rogue and was slated to be destroyed, but was bought by an Army colonel for his daughter, who eventually turned Fitz around and became one of the first women to compete (and win) nationally on the jumper circuit (this was when the Army still fielded Olympic riding teams and women were largely confined to handy hunter classes). It's a great true story about a girl and her horse and overcoming obstacles. Okay, I'll stop myself here.

Laura should know better than to ask someone like me about books....

5. What upcoming trials are you looking forward to? If you don't trial dogs I'll take whatever activity that you're looking forward to.

Donald McCaig's Highland SDT. Not because I'll be running a dog (I'm not), but I'll be setting sheep. Donald's is my absolute favorite place to go. The beauty, the Cowpasture River, so many stars at night (I live in a rural area, but the star viewing here doesn't hold a candle to the star viewing there). No cell service. Time spent with my good friend Debbie, who works the pen. Setting sheep at a trial is hard work, but going to Yucatec Farm has so many benefits for the soul, that I look forward to it every year. And of course, it's thanks to Laura that I can go away and know that the farm, the critters, and the old dogs are all in the most excellent of hands!

Me taking the polypays out in the early morning at Donald's.

Simon and Pip, the unsung heroes of many a trial (Simon is Debbie's dog and works the pens).

Simon and Pip doing their thing at Longshot Farm. Simon pushes out, Pip picks up. You can see me in the distance walking to the set out, and Debbie is back in the pen, moving the next sets forward. Simon and Pip know their jobs and just do them while Debbie and I do our thing. (You can barely see Pip in the upper right at the tree line--I stole these photos off Facebook, so sorry for the small size.)

I will try to get some photos of the beauty of Yucatec Farm this year and post them to this blog after the trial.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's Tell Me Thursday over at Crooks and Crazies...

...and that seems to be the only time I post anymore, but it's better than nothing, right?

Questions for today:

1. In sheepdog training (or lets call it *any* type of training), how do you keep from taking yourself, your dog, your lack of progress too seriously? posed by Ann

That's a tough one. Right now, the fact that I have essentially no money and can't trial and have dogs who are fine for doing the chores means that it's pretty easy to just blow off lack of progress. I keep saying I'm going to just put the youngster up for a few months. But I find I can't really do that. So simple chores still happen. My lambs are over at Robin's, the ewes need to gain weight, and it's been freakin' hot, so easy enough not to worry about progress. I've just got Ranger who needs training; everyone else would really just need tuning up, so there's not a lot of pressure to do anything. Of course, that's sort of a cop out, but I imagine if I had trials as an incentive, I'd work harder with Ranger and probably what I consider a lack of progress right now really wouldn't be.

2. How many crates do you have? For reals.

This may not be an exact count, because I'm not sure how many are in the garage (2 or 3), so let's say approximately 24, not including cat crates. That's really just a little more than 2 per dog, and my crates double as chick-raising crates as well, so they do multi-duty around here. And then there's Jill's indoor X-pen, which is her de facto crate in the house.

3. How do you keep your dogs in shape?

We used to take long walks to the river several times a day, but I got to the point where I just couldn't take the gazillions of ticks they (and I) were picking up, so now we just don't exercise. Since we're not trialing or doing anything terribly strenuous at home, it's not a big deal, but I at least need to do something over the next month to get Pip and Phoebe in a bit better shape, since they will be the set out dogs at Donald's trial, and it's really not fair to them to expect them to work three long days when they've been slugs most of the summer. That said, Pip, after a couple of months of soundness (no doubt as a result of doing next to nothing overly physical), was limping again the other day. Sigh.

4. Who is your favorite movie/tv star eye candy at the moment?

Well, that's a tough one since I haven't been going to the movies or watching much TV. But Liam Neeson always qualifies as a fave of mine, so he's got my vote for this Tell Me Thursday.

5. What is your livestock situation? Have your own? Borrow? Herd the cats? (You can subsitute other equipment for livestock if you don't work stock with your dogs).

I have my own: sheep and chickens (because, you know, Lark and Pip LOVE to work the chickens, and they do come in handy when the chicks and some of the big chickens are slow to go in the coop at night). I have a small flock of sheep--seven mule ewes, six tunis ewes, the BFL ram, and 20 lambs, a good number of which I will be keeping back for the breeding flock this year, assuming I have enough pasture to justify it. I have a Suffolk ram lamb coming sometime in the next week or so. I have more chickens than I have sheep; it's easier to count crates than to count chickens....

Sorry, no photos today--for some reason Blogger isn't allowing me to upload and I have work to do so can't fiddle around to try to figure it out or just to outwait the dam* system till it decides to cooperate.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hey, I'm on Time (For Once!)

(1) How did you get into border collies (or whatever your dogs of choice are)? What started it all?

Sorry for those of you who have heard this, oh, like a gazillion times, but Laura asked....

I was living on my own in Fredericksburg, VA, and was recently divorced. I had always had cats because I traveled fairly often for work and they were easy to leave with someone checking on them every other day.

I grew up with all sorts of dogs and knew that someday I wanted a dog. And that someday became now. The local paper, The Free Lance-Star published weekly a list of pets available at the "Pet Assistance League," (PAL) a group that took any breed off death row.

I used to peruse the listings and I had been thinking about getting a dog. One of my favorite dogs growing up was a Belgain Tervuren named Shai Fox. She used to go everywhere with us when we traveled the countryside on horseback (along with our wire-haired fox terrier named Nip).

Anyway, I knew I wanted a herding breed. This was 25 years later and I had recently seen Tervurens and didn't like the changes that had occurred over time, but I seriously consider a malinois, since they seemed less affected by the show ring.

To make a long story short PAL listed a bouvier and I went to see her. We didn't click. But my mom, who was with me and who was a sighthound fan, saw a little Italian greyhound. She couldn't stop talking about it, so I agreed to go back with her the next day so she could adopt him.

While we were there, the woman said to me, "I know you said you weren't interested in a male dog, but let me just show you this fellow." That was Indy, a border collie x aussie. He passed away last year at age 17.

That's Willow in the very back (Kat in the middle). About four years after getting Indy, I decided to move the North Carolina. Indy was a very sociable dog and had dog friends to play with at two of my neighbors' houses. I wanted him to have a buddy when we moved, and so I contacted Appalachian Mountain Border Collie Rescue, and Willow entered our lives. I still didn't have any ideas about working dogs--Willow was my jogging and rollerblading partner (Indy was too random for those activities--he'd go along great for days or weeks and then one day decide to cut directly in front of me chasing something and I'd fall and end up with a major case of road rash.

Anyway, after I moved my vet had a client who had a border collie that she couldn't care for. That border collie belonged to her husband, who had died of cancer. The dog had been left to develop all sorts of OCD behaviors out in her yard. Because she traveled fairly often, he was boarded at the vet's a lot. He had surgery to remove a lick granuloma (one of the obsessive behaviors). So my vet talked me into taking him. I did so with the idea of fostering and rehoming, but soon realized that he had issues that pretty much made him unadoptable (i.e., fear biting). But when I got him, he came with his pedigree and I mentioned it to the person I'd adopted Willow from. I sent her a copy and she recognized the lines he came from and suggested I try him on sheep at Carol Calhoun's place, which was about an hour and 20 minutes from me. I did so. Farleigh was a bit of a wash out, but Willow took to it like a, well, border collie to sheep. And the rest is history.

Here's Farleigh looking very grey about the muzzle. Um, and shaved in his "Liberty Lavendar Dog" incarnation, lol!

(2) How many dogs do you have? All dog math variations accepted.

Nine border collies and two LGDs. There, I admit it. No special math.

(3) What do you do for a day job?

Day job? What's that? Living hand to mouth.... If anyone knows of any work for a freelance writer and editor, pass it my way!

(4) What questions would you like to answer (or ask)?

Um, you're asking me to think. Don't know if I can do that. Can't you be nosy enough for all of us?

(5) What was for dinner last night?

Not hot dogs, for once! Actually Peggy took me to George's and I had a lovely spinach salad. I was desperate for something fresh and green. In fact it was a banner day for eating for me. Since I had to go to Jim's in Raleigh to pick up Joan's clothes, I stopped at Greek Fiesta (a new place near where he lives) for lunch and had dolmades, felafel, taboulleh, and tzatziki sauce with pita bread. A yummo day. Today, sadly, it's back to PB and honey and whatever I can scrape together for dinner.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Better late than, oh, never mind!

Forgive me, but I was in something of a crunch last week, but I did want to play, so here I am arriving late to the party (late to the party is nothing new after all!).

1. Most embarrassing trial moment

Ha! Emabarassing trial moment? NEVER! Seriously though, like with fights and everything else unpleasant and in the past, I tend to put that stuff out of my mind. But there is one recent event that I still dwell on at times (usually when I'm exasperated with the little dear). I've thought about it because it's almost time for the Highland SDT and I actually thought about running Ranger in nursery (um, a 350+-yard outrun).

I can see Laura smirking now. Why? Because she was kind enough to set sheep there for the P/N class last year so I could come off the top and run Ranger. Okay, to cut Ranger some slack, he had just turned a year old, and the outrun was long for an eastern P/N class (it was maybe 200 yards, would you say Laura?).

I still cringe to think about it, and when I tell you the story, you'll understand why.

First some background. I am an open handler. People pay me good money to set sheep at trials because they can count on my and my four-legged co-workers to do a good, consistent job no matter how awful the sheep might be. I am a good trainer. I have been to two finals and qualified for a few more. Not trying to brag, but just to give a little background here.

So I come down the field and Ranger and I walk to the post. Now remember, we've JUST COME FROM THE TOP. You know, WHERE THE ENTIRE FLOCK IS. We were JUST THERE.

Okay, so back to the run. I send Ranger to the right so he can't kick out too far (ha! she of the wide-running dogs--which Ranger most definitely is NOT--is using a time-honored strategy). Of course you know what's coming. If I remember correctly, Ranger barely made it past the fetch panels, maybe half way out, before cutting in. He wasn't even LOOKING for sheep. Oh, no, NOT. LOOKING. AT. ALL.

What was he doing, you ask? Well, he was looking at me. How is this possible? Because when he started to cut in and I tried to stop and redirect, I think he thought that I was telling him it was PLAY time. Yes, my dog was out there bounding around, looking at me instead of looking for sheep, his tail waving happily in the air. His body language was saying "Wheeeee! We're having fun out here in the middle of this big field!"

What's worse is that once I left the post I still couldn't get him to lie down and look back for his sheep. I had to run 2/3 of the way out there, all the while knowing that everyone was watching my moron of a dog leaping and bounding about as if he was having the time of his life.

I did finally get him out and around his sheep, but it pretty much went downhill (can you believe that's even possible?) from there and we exhausted the sheep (of course we couldn't even manage to do that with any sort of finesse).

Thank DOG I didn't have to hang around the handler's tent but instead could slink my way back up to the top, trailing my shame behind me....

Ranger in a slightly more serious trialing moment (because no one captured the ignominy that was Donald's trial, thank goodness):

2. Favorite whistle

I love, love, love my Arnold whistle. Of course Dave Arnold no longer makes whistles and I lost my favorite one of the two I had. (I was walking the dogs, pulled my sweatshirt off over my head, and apparently lost it then. I searched and searched and searched in the area where I pulled off that shirt, but never could find it. One of the saddest days....).

Aside from the cheap plastic whistle I learned to make noise one, the Arnold is what my first trainer used and so it was the first one I tried. It's shaped something like a kidney, but I don't blow it out of my mouth because I hold it with my teeth (which probably isn't a good thing if one is feeling stress while working one's dog--jaw fatigue is sure to follow).

I have tried a couple other whistles and there are some I might even like, but what I'd really like to do is convince someone with an Arnold to sell me their spare(s). I do have a copy in brass, but it's not quite the same. Still, it's better than nothing. And Bordercollics Anonymous doesn't have a photo, so you'll just have to imagine what it might look like. Then again, since no one seems to have them, what's the point of a photo? It's not like you'd be able to go find one after all!

And I'd really love to learn to finger whistle (for those times when I'm not doing anything that would prevent me from wanting my fingers anywhere near my mouth), but I seem to be a hopeless loser when it comes to that skill. Of course maybe if I really put my mind to it instead of just bemoaning the fact that I can't....

So there.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What a Way to Resurrect!

Yes, it's been a year (or thereabouts) and I've been meaning to start posting again, but haven't gotten around to it. At least not till Laura forced my hand. So here we go!

So the question is this: "If you were a sheep, what breed would you be?"

To be honest, I've been thinking about this all day, and short of just saying something stupid, like "a sheeple," I'm a bit stumped. But I must come up with something!

So, I'll confine myself to sheep breeds I have owned, or at least worked with. That narrows it down a bit.

And the winner is: Scottish Blackface!

(That would be the two in the front.)

Yes, I admit that I got rid of mine because they truly were a pain in the patootie. But you have to admire their independent spirit. And the fact that there's a thin sheep under all that wool!

Here's what the OK State Sheep Breeds site says about the Scottish Blackface:

"The Scottish Blackface is an attractive, hardy, old breed whose origins are lost to us. It is likely that the breed developed in the border area of Scotland and England.

I can live with description, even the "old" part, since that's getting to be true too!

And it says this, too:
"There are small flocks scattered across the USA but this robust little breed has remained a minor breed."

So, we Scottish blackface are rare individuals, unique amongst the larger crowds of sheep in this country.

And lastly, this:
"The Scottish Blackface are excellent on brushy hillsides and can be useful for improving pastures. They are very adept at regaining condition after lambing or a hard winter."

I skipped the part about good mothers, blah, blah, blah, but I do think that I can improve a pasture if I try, and anyone who knows me knows I'm an easy keeper!

What I like about the breed is their independent streak. They know what they want, and they just go do it, no matter how irritating that might be to their human. That "mind of their own" trait can be exasperating, but it's what makes them survivors--in adversity, on bad forage, in harsh weather.

I aspire to be that sort of independent minded survivor type!