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.