Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to friends and family, and all the great folks we've been fortunate to meet and share time with in 2008. Here's to more great times with you and new friends to come in 2009!

There's not a whole lot going on these days around the farm and with the Shoofly crew. I'm waiting very impatiently to find out if Gael is bred (2 weeks to go until ultrasound!). The dogs are getting some sporadic training, as weather allows - it's been pretty wet lately. Zac seems really sound and his skipping is becoming less and less frequent (knock wood). He's sure happy to be back at work and getting more of it. Billy is coming along in his training, Jet is her usual good self with the work. The holidays have been very nice, quiet but nice.

January is looking to be a busy month if all goes according to plan. If the weather holds, New Years weekend is going to be jam packed. Tomorrow i'm heading to a friend's place to work my dogs. Saturday, i'll be doing a group lesson at Julie's, with about 10 dogs to do. Sunday, more lessons at the farm. Then next weekend is the Edgeworth Winter Trial from friday to sunday, followed by a Fun Day on monday. The next week i'm heading off to KY to visit family, and hopefully sneak away for a day at Vergil Holland's to work the dogs some more. Busy, busy. I hope the weather cooperates!

Now, everyone think puppy thoughts for me....and have a great New Years!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Presents

I just have to show off what my Dad made for me for Christmas. How cool is this? There will be some very happy bluebirds at the farm this summer.
And here's Gael showing off her Christmas collar (see the little Christmas tree?)

It was a gorgeous day at the farm today, sunny and mild. What a lovely sort of Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone from the Shoofly Farm crew. Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday!

The forecast is holding for the christmas party at the farm saturday. Right now the weather guys are predicting 68 degrees and partly cloudy. Sounds better than 40 and raining like it was on our original scheduled date. We'll start 10ish or so and go all day. Hope to see lots of folks there!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Progesterone Test

Well, the news isn't good. Gael's progesterone level was 22.5 yesterday, so the breeding probably won't work. In Zac's opinion, she's been ready for breeding just since Sunday, so hopefully she was still fertile yesterday when we did the AI, but based on the progesterone level, chances are slim. I'll take her in to the vet on Day 26 to be palpated, so the waiting continues. Damn it, i'm really disappointed.

Additional notes, 7:00 PM: After talking to the vet again and studying the timeline of the last few days, i decided to run Gael back in and do another AI, just to be on the safe side. We did a smear on wednesday and know she'd not ovulated at that point, and did the first AI 5 days later, so hopefully it'll work out. Zac definitely said sunday was the day she started making him crazy and as of today is trying to do a natural breeding, though Gael's not real happy about it. Bill is still quite interested as well. So, that's the latest - it's going to be a long wait until January 15th when i can take her to be palpated for pups.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And the Watch Intensifies...

..because now we're watching for puppies! Today, I took Gael and Zac to the vet i want to use during this whole process (reproduction is a special interest of hers). I'd taken them by to see her last wednesday, and based on the smear she did then, and the timeline of the heat and behavior of the dogs, we decided to do a progesterone test. That will tell us where Gael is in terms of ovulation but it won't be back until tomorrow, so we also went ahead and did an AI. Zac has been trying to do a natural breeding for a couple of days, but with Gael being the dominant dog in the house, he was having trouble getting it done. She'd swing around when he got serious about trying, and if i was holding her, he wasn't as aggressive about it all. He may still manage a natural breeding in the next couple of days but this way it's done and we know it's done.

Keep your fingers crossed that the news is good on the progesterone test results tomorrow, that it wasn't too late to get her in pup.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Watch Continues...

Well, the Gael/Zac watch continues. I'm trying to not be too crazy about this whole breeding but i am fretting a bit, worried it won't happen for one reason or another. I've only bred one litter before and both sire and dam were experienced, so that one was easy. Hopefully there will be some good news in the next couple of days.

It's been a nice weekend around here. Even though the forecast yesterday was for rain, i loaded up the dogs and went over to Denise's for a little dog working and visiting. I got the chance to work Billy several times and he did really well. Denise has a nice flat training field and her sheep aren't as broke as mine, so it works nicely for dogs that are just getting the idea of driving. I'm hoping i can get him over there a couple of times in the next few weeks. I thought it was great for Moss when he was at this stage and hope it helps Billy as well.

Last night i caught an enjoyable movie, "The World's Fastest Indian". It's based on a true story, set in the 60s, of Burt Munro, an older New Zealander, and his quest to beat the world land speed record on his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle. It was a good story, maybe a little heavy on the ominous foreshadowing, but a good story.

Today dawned nasty and rainy, like so many recent days. Finally though, the sun came out! I spent the day with my mom Christmas shopping, which was a lot of fun. Other than all of that, i've been playing on Facebook for the last week or so, reconnecting with some old friends from when i lived in Louisville. What i can't figure out, is why they all look so different in their pictures, when i'm sure i haven't changed a bit in the last 20 years?! LOL!

So now we're into Christmas week, and i sure hope i get to work some dogs this week....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shoofly Christmas Party

Since it's supposed to be nasty and raining, the party/potluck this sunday is being rescheduled to next saturday, 12/27. I'll keep a list of who is planning to come and what they're bringing here and update it as i get info. Hope everyone can come!

Robin - apple salad
Joan -
Rachel - deviled eggs, mini meatballs
Sherry - cookies
Anet - sausage/spinach casserole
Susan - buckeyes, pesto pasta salad
Mary Ann - desert
Becca -
Laura - corn muffins & ??
Julie -
Denise -
Darci - ??
Debby & John - shrimp or 7 layer salad
Kelly -

I think i'll just stop eating now so i have room for all of this great sounding stuff!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weekend Report

Not much to report around here. I'm still waiting (very impatiently, my friends will attest) for Gael and Zac to get busy making puppies. It's got to be getting close to time.

The weekend was very busy and very full of dogs (my favorite kind of weekend!). Saturday started with a few lessons. Mary Ann came out with Zac's sister Nan, Lauren was out with Mac and Ghyllie, and Becky and Tim brought their dogs Zee and Cooper, along with a friend of theirs and her dog for a first time exposure to sheep. All of the "regulars" did very well, both human and canine. On Sunday, i went over to Julie's to do more lessons. Julie had Pip and Phoebe out, Darci had Bear and we tried Hank to see if he was ready to start (nope!), Beth came out with Wisp, Pam with Hope and Fly, Kelly with Jen, and we checked to see if Laura's Linc was ready for training yet (maybe). It was a really good weekend with a bunch of really nice dogs, which always makes the full days that much more fun. All of the dogs are making nice progress!

After wrapping up lessons on saturday, i got Billy out and fooled around with him for a good while. I wanted to put him in some different situations and just see what i have with him. I stuffed a small pen chock full of sheep and worked him in there and he was great. He likes hitting hocks and bites noses as well, and is tough and confident. Sheep were stepping and falling on him and he'd just shake it off and get back to work, all very calm and cool. Since he was handling that so well, i had him put the whole flock in the chute system and had him pushing them through there. Again, no problem and he was cool as could be, chomping on heels to push them through when they'd clog up the chute. I'm really liking the maturity and confidence he's showing. I'm still not pushing him along very fast with his training, just trying to wait him out a bit and let him grow into the work. So far, so good.

Now back to the waiting game on Gael and Zac...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Thoughts on Training Dogs

It's a rainy nasty week here so i'm cleaning. Cleaning at home and cleaning at work. Today it's going through tons of old emails. I found this one very good and thought i'd share.

Here are some words from Thomas Capstick, written near the beginning of the last century and based on the ways of 'that little Scotch boy, Alex Millar' :

"Probably between four and eight months old, they will begin to round up poultry, sheep or cattle without instruction or encouragement. The instinct is there naturally, it cannot be helped, and without this true born quality we can never make them into good Sheep Dogs. Training is necessary to enable him to take them where we want them."

"You have to ensure first of all that there is a perfect understanding between the dog and yourself, and that means that you have to gain his affection and friendship. He must learn to trust you so that in all his relations with you there is perfect understanding."

"It would never do, for instance, to praise the dog for doing something one day, and to scold him for the same thing the next. There must be an undeviating standard of right and wrong. Each trainer has his own code of signals, by whistle, the shouted word, and also the gesture made by arm and stick. The dog has to be perfectly familiar with these and learn to act on them immediately."

"A dog can never be an absolute first-rater if it isn't genuinely attached to its master, and thus, eager to do the best in its power to please him, and similarly a sheep dog man will not get the best out of either the dog or himself if he is not very fond of his dog"

"Some people are always ready to blame the youngster; it never occurs to them the fault lies on their doorstep. Remember sympathy plays a great part; all dogs have different temperaments; all masters are not blameless. If we would only study things from a dog's point of view we should certainly make more headway."

"Experience is ever a wise teacher, and when you have a new dog try you understand his temperament, read his expressions, try to fathom which is the best system to adopt to give the best results, and when you feel satisfied that you understand him, apply the methods that you consider best in this particular case. If you have to chastise a dog do it at the right moment, be perfectly fair; this is the only way he can be taught the difference between right and wrong, but the punishment must be given at the right time or he will be bewildered."

"Endless patience is necessary. You cannot force matters, and you must never lose your temper. Sooner or later you will be rewarded for all the time spent, but if you are too hasty at the beginning, and do not show the right temperament yourself, you will never make a successful trainer."

Starting the pup on sheep: Basic obedience done first. Then, "I never like to see sheep unduly chased by a dog; this is unnecessary and can easily be avoided. It is so much better for them when you can make the dog walk steadily, and, what is more important, it shows a better class of training without frightening the sheep."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Broken Back Ranch SDT Report

The trial this weekend was very nice. The field was excellent, very large and rolling. The texel sheep were challenging and the judging fair and consistent. The set out crew had a tough job holding the sheep at the top end but did a good job. Steve and Shelly Godfrey were gracious hosts. The weather was very cold but at least it stayed dry.

Four sheep were set something like 400-450 yards out, then fetched to about 50 yards past the fetch gates. At that point, we were to turn the sheep around a round bale of hay (probably 150 yards or so from the handler's post) and start the drive. The pen and a split followed. The sheep were very difficult to split as they didn't react to handlers at all and were quick to break around the handler and rejoin behind his/her back. On Sunday, the course was reversed and the pen and split were replaced by a maltese cross.

Both of my dogs managed to grip out on saturday, which might be a first for me and my team! Jet ran first and was really on the muscle and pushing, which these sheep did not appreciate much. We just couldn't get a good hold on them, not with Jet being so forceful, and the lines weren't very good. I managed to get a very small gap between the sheep on the split and called Jet through, and she flew in there, but unfortunately it was just too exciting and she grabbed one of the sheep under the ear. She can do that kind of spectacular shed properly but i need to have been practicing shedding a bit with her before the trial. Otherwise her excitement level gets the best of her. Zac ran really well, except for pulling up short on his outrun. He would have placed with a clean shed. I got another small gap on his split and called him through but he grabbed one of the sheep as it was moving off. He was pretty bad about that back when i first moved him to Open and we worked through it then. I guess with the lay off (6 months since his last trial) it's just reared its head again but i'm sure it'll go away again with some more work. It was really hard to get a gap at all with those sheep and i'm sure i probably was a little too excited calling both dogs into such a small hole, but it took a very assertive move on the dog's part to get the shed and holes were hard to come by at all. In hindsight, i'd try calling them through a little more calmly.

On sunday, Zac ran first. He worked pretty well but had a group of sheep that just wouldn't settle to him at all. They took off before he was able to get to the top and begin his lift properly, and never did really settle and relax. We got the group through the first half of the maltese cross but ran out of time before getting through the second half. Again, with a clean finish, he'd have placed. Jet ran reasonably well though her drive was really rough - we were all over the place on at the drive away panel. The maltese cross was beautiful with her, very clean, and she ended up in the money for the day.

All in all, it was a good trial weekend. It was wonderful to finally be running Zac again. The crowd was nice and it was good to see and spend time with friends again. And to top it all off, two very good friends ran in Open for their very first times and both did a great job! Way to go Peggy and Laura, i'm really proud of both of you!!!

In other news, i'm definitely breeding Gael and Zac. We're in waiting mode here now, just waiting on Gael to be ready. I can't wait to have baby Gaels and baby Zacs!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


So, if they'll both cooperate, I'm going to breed Gael and Zac. It should be sometime in the next few days. Here's a little video preview of baby Gael puppies (video of her at 6 weeks old). She was about the sweetest puppy ever.

I don't have video of Zac as a baby but there's a picture of him right below. He was pretty darned adorable.

I'm so excited i can hardly stand myself!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dog Trialin'!

Yay, we're off to a dog trial this weekend! And finally, FINALLY, i get to run Zac again. It's been just over 6 months since his last trial run. He may be a wild man but he's my wild guy and we'll finally be back on a trial course together. The trial is in Cowpens, SC (don't you love that town name?) and i've heard the field is lovely, and we're supposed to be running on wool sheep. I'll be running Zac and Jet -- it'll sure be weird to not be running Spottie after all these years. I'll post a report on the trial on Monday.

In other news, Gael is in heat. And i'm actually thinking about maybe breeding her to Zac. I'll probably chicken out but i'm always saying she's the most talented dog i'll ever own, and one of the biggest "hats" in this country (actually internationally) always told me he thought she'd produce a worldbeater pup. There's some risk to breeding an older bitch, so we'll see...something to torture myself over for a few days anyway!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A New Plan and a Nice Day

You know, i'm always telling people that using the appropriate sheep makes all the difference in training a dog. Funny how hard it is to remember such good advice myself. Today i got out a group of about 8-10 lambs for Billy to work, but this time it was the hair sheep and not the less settled wool lambs. What a difference it made! I'd been thinking the lighter sheep would be good for his driving since he was being a little hesitant to walk up but it turns out the slightly heavier, more sensible hair sheep were a lot better. Bill had been worried about touching those lighter sheep off and had his mind in "defense" mode, worrying about losing them. With the more settled, heavier hair sheep, he could lean into them a bit more without stressing about losing them, and he slipped into "offense" mode, taking charge and being more affirmative and positive on driving. It was very nice to see and he sure enjoyed himself. All of his work today was strong and nice - outruns, flanks, driving, even some shedding work. It was a nice glimpse of the future, for sure.
Billy says, "Will I ever grow into these ears?!"

"Perhaps if i just stare wistfully into the future?"

It's been a nice weekend around the farm with family in for the holiday and friends out to work dogs. Even the weather has been nice. Jet says this is the right attitude for a long holiday break:

Gael just says, "HAY!"

I also managed to get some nice shots of Lauren's good dog Mac. They're turning into such a nice team!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Driving, or Best Laid Plans

Well, the first day of my plan to try running sheep with Bill didn't go exactly according to plan. I tried using about 8-10 wool sheep and they were just too determined when they'd get running off from him. He had no problem stopping and turning them, and really enjoyed it quite a lot. But, they wouldn't slow down and bend off on the small flanks i was asking for to try and keep Bill driving rather than just rushing around. And they'd break so hard on just a light touch straight behind from Bill that he wasn't getting any walking up in before needing to run around them. We'll try again with a different kind of group the next time out. Since the sheep were being such rotten things, i switched to working on some fetching and it was really good for Bill. The sheep not being worked were in a different holding pen that i usually use (actually in my garden :-) so the draw on the working sheep was different than usual. The sheep kept trying to spread out and break off of both ends of the group, giving Bill a lot to think about and work at. I left him to work it out, with him making some mistakes but sorting it out on his own and he really was quite spectacular. At one point he had to retrieve a single that had broken off, and worked and balanced it a solid 75 yards, with it trying everything it could to break back over him to get to the penned sheep. Very good work indeed!

Zac is working well though still pretty wound up from the long lay off. He's very sharp and crisp on his commands but he's still overdoing things a bit. I sure love that exuberance though. He's always up for anything and tries his heart out. He has the most amazing balance that sometimes i get caught up just watching him. Fun fun. I'm hoping i can get him out somewhere for some held outruns over this long weekend since we have a trial next weekend. The leg seems pretty good. I see some skipping but not a lot and it's not seeming to slow him down or affect his work on the field. He's a little uncertain on it in tighter spaces like the holding and sorting pens but i'm hoping that will improve. It's sure a blast having him back to work, i love that boy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trading Problems

Life is conspiring to keep me from training dogs this week, it seems. But today i did manage to get Billy out for a few minutes of good work. I'm trying to get him enthusiastic on his driving and waiting for him to enjoy digging in and pushing on the drive. He loves to boss the sheep on the fetch, so i know it's there and just has to be brought out and encouraged in driving. I worked him today on the whole flock, which numbers 44 right now, with 21 wool sheep and 23 hair sheep. As a group, they're pretty heavy but Bill has good enough power that they move off of him fairly well. I spend a lot of time walking along with him on the drive (and walking and walking!). He's still a little tentative about getting out in front of me and following the sheep and will sometimes stop and not want to move forward. What i've been doing when he does this is to just give him a little flank and a walk up, just to get him moving. This works pretty well but it's not really encouraging him to follow the sheep like i'd like. I've tried voice encouragement but feel like it's actually putting pressure on him, even though i use a positive, upbeat voice. Sometimes dogs take it that way. Even if he wasn't feeling it to be pressure, i really don't like putting positive voice (and therefore "praise") to something i don't want to reinforce (his just standing there rather than pushing forward). I prefer to train by getting the action i want and then putting a positive (reinforcing) voice to it. Tonight i was sending him around the flock to catch them as they moved hard away and a little lightbulb went off over my head. He was really enjoying catching them so i decided to let him make them start running off before he got sent around. In other words, i'd have him drive forward into the flock to make them move hard away from him, and then send him in a rush around them to catch them (rather than just waiting until they were moving away on their own and then sending him). This seemed to fire him up a bit on the driving as he was getting a reward (catching the sheep) for doing the action i was looking for (pushing into the sheep). I wouldn't do this with every dog, since many are very difficult to hold behind their sheep, always trying to flank around to the heads. But Bill is pretty willing to stay behind his sheep, only slightly slipping around, not real hard, and i can also mix in inside flanks to send him to catch the sheep since he's getting the hang of them. He's already used to small flanks so i think i can rein in that "rush" around pretty easily once he's moving forward with more enthusiasm by just using them and showing him how to keep control of the running sheep with small flanks. I'm going to play around with it some and see how it goes anyway, stretching out the distance he drives before getting sent around. This is a good example of "trading problems" in training a dog, creating one problem to solve another in hopes of trading to one easier to fix. We'll see how it works!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Training Time

Today was a very nice day. Several friends came over to work dogs. It was predicted to be a really cold day but the sun was shining and wind calm, so it was actually pretty nice out. The burn barrel was going all day but we didn't have to hover over it to stay warm, just the occasional visit to knock the chill off. We had a range of dogs from puppies starting out up to seasoned Open dogs, showing off for the youngsters, and handlers from the top of the trial world to those just getting a good start at this game. A very nice day indeed.

I'm feeling a bit inspired to get moving on my dogs again, after something of a down time. I'm hoping i can keep up a journal here on the blog of how they do over the next few weeks, if folks are interested. I find the time around the holidays a good time for training - my work days are shorter (those "real job" work days, that is) with some days off scattered here and there. Coinciding with this period, i have Zac getting back to work and needing some good hard training to get his mind right again. And i also have Bill needing to be moved along in his training. Now 16 months old, he's ready to train up and do more good hard work himself.

So, a quick report on how the two of them did today seems a good place to start. I pulled Zac out to run on a small, full course that is still set up on my pasture, left over from the trial we held in September. The sheep were actually being held at the top of the field, rather than just standing out on their own. If i'm remembering correctly, today is the first time Zac has gone out on a "trial" type outrun since the last trial he ran in, over Memorial Day weekend. So what's that, six months ago? I can hardly believe he's been out of training for that long, but it's true. He worked some in June but he's been out of even working since mid-July when he got sick, followed by the long rest and then rehab. Today he ran out pretty tight but leaned off the sheep as he made contact at the top, good to see since that means he was feeling them and wanted to be right, his exuberance just carried him in tighter than he should have been. His fetch felt pretty good, nice contact and good hold as these sheep like to run downhill but he was pulling them back onto himself to slow them. He was really crisp on his commands and sharp on the flanks, nice to see. The drive was pretty wiggy and again his exuberance got in the way. Zac has always been an over-flanker and he was so happy to be out there that he was swinging back and forth and over doing the flanks big time. This didn't make for very pretty lines or very happy sheep! I didn't fool with penning as it's a "gimme" on these sheep. The set up for the shed could have been cleaner but it's hard to get upset with a dog that is practically grinning he's so happy to be cut loose. The actual shed was fine, crisp and clean. It's amazing to me really, how a dog can retain so much and fall right back in after so much time off. What good dog. I'll be needing to settle him down a bit in the next few weeks but still keep that lovely attitude and joy in his work. Mostly, he needs to get enough work to feel sated and satisfied. He's really craving it, you can feel it being around him.

I got Billy out and worked him a little bit, just some easy outruns and a little bit of driving, nothing fancy and nothing very taxing on him. He still needs to get really committed to the task of driving but i did feel like he was closer today, and nearly made the connection. I'm seeing him start to balance the sheep on the drive just a bit and i felt him commit and push on out for maybe 20-25 yards today. That's a good sign that he's about to get it. I got to work him on goats a couple of days ago and they really got him fired up. I let him push them up onto me on the fence and he had a ball catching them as they'd break and was strong on the noses and heels, and to both directions. He'd been a little tentative about covering breaks to his left when he was younger, sometimes catching the sheep and sometimes letting them go, but he was strong to both sides on those goats. I think it was partly because they're different from sheep but also has to be partly because he's maturing. I'm still trying to be patient and let him just grow into some of his work but i do see that he's changing and i think ready for more. I'd like to get him out on some new stock and fields in the next few weeks and may try to get him back on the goats again if i can. He's feeling stronger and more full of himself all the time, and i quite like what i'm seeing!

Just so that i don't completely neglect to mention them, Gael and Jet both did a little bit of work too, but no training. Gael is always so thrilled to get to do anything. I didn't get to any training on Jet, she just had to settle for holding out sheep, and doing some sorting work and set up this morning. I'll try to keep up with her training here on the blog as well. It's easy to let it slide with her since she doesn't ever seem to need any maintenance. Then again, it wouldn't hurt to keep her as tuned as possible. One of these days i'd like for her to manage to trade in one of those red ribbons she's so good at collecting for a blue one.

So that's the Shoofly report for today. A very nice day with good friends and good dogs. My favorite kind of day!

Friday, November 21, 2008

One More Time...

Hopefully this will be the last update on Zac and rehab and all that jazz for awhile. He's done pretty well this week and the skipping on the left (good) side seems to be going away. Yay for that. He's still skipping on the right off and on. I took him over to Vethab today to see Dr. Sherman and in his opinion, he's at 100% physically (same thing the holistic vet said monday). His movement, posture, stance, strength and balance are all normal now. We talked about the skipping and he doesn't have any explanation for it but thinks he'll work through it, or "push through it" as he says. I'm supposed to really put him back to regular working now, not just the light work we've been doing. He said that should be good for him, to really push it. So, that's what i'll do and just keep an eye on him, and hope the skipping goes away. Good news! Zac could really use some good hard work.

It's been a busy week around here. Yesterday i took a new lesson person out to look at some dogs for sale, trying to find a new one for her. That was a lot of fun, i always enjoy seeing different dogs and these belong to an old friend i haven't seen in ages. It was great to catch up after so long. I looked at a couple of dogs for myself as well. I didn't see anything that made me decide to up my dog count (I am *loving* being down to only 4 dogs!) but there was a bitch i quite liked. She was actually sired by one of the pups out of my Spottie x Link litter (Zac's littermate Moss). Unfortunately, she was a little older than i'd want to buy in for starting. In talking to her owner though, we came up with the thought of maybe breeding Bill to her. That would be really exciting! While there, I got the chance to work Jet, Zac and Bill on goats and also some fresh lambs. Zac and Billy had never worked goats before but they sure liked it. All three dogs looked pretty good and Bill and Jet really did great on the fresh lambs.

After a fun dog shopping morning, I hopped on over to Julie's to visit and work dogs some more. Laura was also there and worked Spottie a couple of times. I hid in the van so she'd not be searching around for me, and she worked really well! Nice little outrun, good driving, all much better than over the weekend. I think they're going to get together pretty quickly and both have a good time. It was hard ignoring the little beastie though. She was trying pretty hard to get my attention but i just didn't even look at her or acknowledge her. That'll have to wait until she gets good and committed to working for Laura. I didn't end up doing much dog working but it was fun visiting and hanging out, and we all went out to dinner afterwards, always a good thing.

Tomorrow a whole gang of folks are coming out to work dogs and potluck (not necessarily in that order!). That'll be lots of fun but i sure wish we weren't in for record cold temps. The fire barrel will be really welcome, i'm sure. Then sunday lessons and more visiting. On to a good weekend!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Latest on Zac

(Added 11/18: It appears Vethab was trying to get in touch with me yesterday while i was off in cell phone no man's land seeing the holistic vet. I still haven't talked to Dr Sherman in person but at least there's been some effort there. Added even later: They got in touch with me and Dr. Sherman wants to see Zac, so i'll run him over there friday. More to come...)

Today i got Zac in to see our holistic vet/chiropractor. I've been wanting to get him to her for an educated opinion on what's been going on these last 2-3 months with rehab and all. I'd actually wanted to get him to her before starting the rehab but it just got too rushed - she's almost 2 hours away and it can be hard to get an appointment without waiting a few weeks. This evening, i'm wishing i'd been patient and had made that happen.

She feels that physically, Zac is fine (remember, this is the same thing the orthopedist said back in July before we went to Vethab). Her feeling is that there is something neurological going on, some disconnect somewhere telling Zac to skip, with no real physical reason for it. I could see the frustration i've been feeling over this on her face as well, when she was saying she wished there was some way to just get the message from the muscles to the brain.

We took Zac out for a nice long walk, up and down hills, and he cooperated very nicely by skipping exactly as he would at home, just a few steps here and there, and a bit on the left leg as well as the right. After the walk, we went inside and she did a very, very thorough exam, adjusting his back just a little bit, and said all of his toes on the one side were out, indicating that leg had been worked pretty hard. The only reaction she really was able to note on exam was muscle spasm in both pectineus muscles when she was really hyperextending his leg and hock, and that was just for an instant as it stopped immediately on letting off the extension. We talked about a little something the orthopedist had seen on Zac's spinal radiograph and said was nothing to worry about, and she asked that i send those films to her to review as well, just in case. I think she hates a mystery almost as much as i do.

We went back over the whole history, starting last fall with the original injury (when last she'd seen him), the re-injury this spring, all the way through the problems this summer with his liver and urinary problem, up through the shockwave treatment, rehab and the business with the boots. She was very interested in the whole process and tied a lot of it together (guess that's why they call it "holistic" :-) She did a prostate exam just to make sure that was all okay and we talked quite a bit about the liver issue and possible relation to doxycycline. We talked a good bit about the recent rehab and treatment, and well, let's just say it was very telling to note when she'd get very quiet. I asked about doing acupuncture since this is a sort of "disconnect" problem and acupuncture is supposed to work by establishing flow, and she thought that was a good idea so did that along with some B12. Ultimately, she said everything is even and strong and healthy and he should get back to working.

I was pretty disturbed about one thing she said. I mentioned the left (good) leg skip and that it had started when Zac was wearing the boot and had continued when i took the boot off last weekend. I've been thinking that it would probably go away with a little time but she said she wouldn't count on that, that it may continue on along with the right side. This bothers me greatly and i hope it doesn't end up happening. It's one thing for him to end up basically where he was before starting the shockwave treatment and rehab, i can handle that, if it just didn't work. But if the subsequent business with the boots and bells and stuff has created an additional problem, i won't be real happy, let's just put it that way. Dr Sherman made a note that he saw Zac skipping on both back legs the last time i took him in, on October 27, and prescribed 10 more days wearing the boot to "really get him comfortable on that bad side" by keeping the good side uncomfortable. If that backfired and ended up teaching a new skip, that seems like something he should have foreseen.

So, i'm really wishing i'd gone with my instincts and consulted this vet before starting the rehab. I guess if i hadn't done the whole rehab process and Zac was still skipping that i might be sitting here wondering if it would have fixed it. BUT, i'm pretty upset that it seems the whole rehab process didn't just not work, it seems Zac is actually worse, if you consider skipping on both legs rather than just the original skip worse (I certainly do). And, i have a big fat credit card bill to deal with on top of it. I'm still trying to give Dr Sherman a chance to make this right somehow, but i'm also sitting here with 2 calls and messages to him over the last week unanswered. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It Sure is Quiet...

Dogs are disappearing at an alarming rate around here! Spottie has a "teaching position" - she's gone to stay with Laura for a while to help her get on into Open. It's a great thing for both of them - Laura's just on the edge of being ready for Open but her dog is still a young guy and doesn't need the added pressure just yet. Hopefully Spottie will work well enough for Laura that they can jump right into Open and with a little experience for Laura, Nick can follow right along.

In the meantime, it's awfully quiet here with only four dogs!

In the latest Zac/rehab news: I left a message for Dr Sherman at Vethab last tuesday since he'd said to call if Zac seemed to be skipping more or getting worse. Since Zac was skipping on both legs instead of just the original right one, i felt this qualified as "worse". Unfortunately i'm still waiting to hear back from Dr Sherman so i guess i'll call him again this week. I actually think Zac looks pretty strong on his leg and i'm continuing to work him and let him run around and exercise with the other dogs. He was skipping about 1/3 on the good leg, 2/3 on the bad at the beginning of last week (after coming out of the boot over the weekend, after wearing it for over a month when working or exercising). He seems to be working out of skipping on the good leg and it's down to about 1 out of 10 skips being on that side. I'm going to keep an eye on it and see what Dr Sherman has to say.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Training Billy

Wow, i just realized i haven't done an actual update on where Billy is in his training since August 27th. I know i've sort of made offhand mention of him here and there but i sure haven't done a very good job of keeping up my "Training Bill" series, now have i?

We were pretty busy with trials most of the fall so Bill wasn't getting very regular work. I've also been trying to be patient with him and not push him along too fast. I suspect he's going to one day wake up with a lot more push and fire to him. I hope so anyway! He's a lovely young dog with a good bit of talent, but laid back to the extreme. It's not that he isn't keen because he surely is very keen to work, no problem there. He's just Mr Cool, okay maybe actually Mr Freezey Pop, and nothing rattles him. This is wonderful for day in, day out, get 'r done work but i'd like a bit of that extra something to come out, that extra spark that separates a great trial dog and a good farm dog. We'll see, he's still less than 16 months old and his sire is one of the most fiery dogs out there, so it could come.

I get him out and work him 2 or 3 times a week, just letting him progress at his own pace. He's quite a good outrunner to both sides, allowing nice distance behind his sheep and approaching with calm confidence on his lift. The fetch tends to be quite fast and Bill will run up the back of the sheep frequently. I don't really want to train away from this just yet. I'll explain why in a second. Bill seems to have a pretty good down and a fair understanding of the flank commands. He's following sheep pretty well on the drive and will push against a draw when doing it, but hasn't really committed to taking control of the drive yet. I do lots and lots of walking along with him, helping him drive and bully the sheep a bit. I expect we'll be doing this for awhile.

Okay, so the reason i don't want to correct Billy too harshly for diving into the sheep from the rear on a fetch -- when driving, Billy has a hard time penetrating the "bubble" around the sheep. He wants to be quite far back from them and can even be a little sticky about walking up on the drive. I don't want to reinforce this by insisting that he maintain that bubble on the fetch. I'm glad to see him penetrating the bubble there and hope it will reinforce the thought of doing it on the drive. What i do when i see him sticking on the drive is to try a walk up, and if it doesn't work, i give him a small flank with a "there, walk up" (this gets him moving forward) so i don't have to pick at him and make him hate hearing "walk up". Using this method, he's actually doing what i want (walking forward) when he hears the command, so should associate the movement with the words. I'd rather he was in motion and doing the action, so i can put the correct words to it, than be standing still hearing it and associating the words with no motion. I hope that's clear - i get the motion and put the command to it, rather than saying the command and hoping he'll do it (why should he, if he's not *learned the command* yet?). My hope is that over time he'll learn to enjoy getting up in there a little closer and bossing the sheep more. Maturity may very well take care of this on its own.

So, that's the latest Billy update, along with a bit of training advice as well. Maybe i can remember to update before another 2 or 3 months passes!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend Update

What a busy weekend! It was a fun one and very dog-filled. I had a couple of lessons on Saturday and then the Shoofly dogs had their turn - Billy and Zac both got good, long training sessions and Jet got a good dose of farmwork. Then all 5 dogs had a terrific run around the pasture with much racing about and playing. I got on the ATV and we even did some good sprints. They sure love competing to get to the front, trying to beat each other and me. It was wonderful exercise and they were all happy and satisfied when we loaded up to go home.

On Sunday, we loaded up early in the morning and went to Julie's. She had generously offered her farm and sheep for the day, since there are several people who live in that area who were wanting lessons, and some who have a hard time getting away for a long drive and day at Shoofly farm. I wanted to get over there early, before the crowd showed up to make sure Julie got plenty of time for lessons with her young dogs. So many times, the person who organizes things and hosts ends up short changed and i wanted to make sure it didn't happen this day. It was a good thing, since we ended up with a whole lot of dogs to get through. I think this was the first time i've done lessons away from my place and sheep, but it went really well. It felt kind of like a clinic and i really enjoyed it. We ended up with about 12 dogs and a handful of spectators, and managed to finish before it got dark (okay, completely dark that is!). The dogs ranged from just starting out in the round pen up to Ranch or Nursery level and all of the handlers seemed to pick up what we were trying to do with the dogs pretty well. I hope we do it again soon so i can see if they did! The sheep were really good for the different levels the dogs were working at and the weather was gorgeous. Thanks so much to Julie for hosting, and also for the great picture that she got of Billy (above).

A quick Zac update: I worked him pretty hard saturday, both on sheep and hiking afterwards. He did some hopping and skipping but interestingly, it was about 2/3 on the "bad" leg and 1/3 on the good leg. This was his first time out of the single boot on the good side, he was boot-free finally. I was concerned that all the habit-breaking work with the boot on had just taught him to skip on both legs now. Yesterday he hardly even got out of the crate since i was busy all day with lessons, but when he did get walked, he seemed pretty "skippy" to me, on the strange ground at Julie's. He looked like he couldn't quite decide which side to skip on though and looked more like an adolescent dog who has suddenly grown leggy and doesn't know what to do with them. Today, he seemed a lot more comfortable, both when working and afterwards just running around with the pack on the pasture. I'm hoping he's going to settle out of this and even up. We'll see! The saga continues....

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Love Cheviots

How can you not? Just look at these faces.

OOOOOOPs! Part Duex (Part Duh?)

Okay, i think i've got just about everything fixed on the blog now. In case you missed it, i made quite the mess of things playing around with downloaded templates and such. I learned some things (mainly don't download templates!) and hopefully all will work fine now, and i may be able to make some pretty cool changes in the future as well. If something doesn't work, or you miss something that got deleted, let me know and i'll get on it.

There's no big dog news to report right now. Zac is back to work on a limited basis and doing very well. He still skips and hops some but his leg seems plenty strong. Bill is coming along well, when i get the time to work him. He's still just a puppy at 15 months so i'm not in a big rush to get him moved along in his training. Growing up and maturing are his big jobs right now. He'll outrun most of my field and is driving a bit, and mostly knows his flanks. I wouldn't want to ask a lot more of one so young. The others are getting good exercise but with short evenings not much sheep work.

We have a fun weekend ahead of us. Tomorrow is mostly free so i'm hoping to get some new pictures of the dogs, the sheep and the farm. The foliage is incredible right now. On sunday i'm heading to Julie Poudrier's to do a bunch of lessons. That'll be fun - i've never done lessons away from my own place and sheep.

Anyway, let me know if you love or hate the new layout!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And Then There Were 5

The Latest Update: Bart has made it to South Dakota just fine, has been picked up and is settling right in!

Bart is up, up and away! He's in Minneapolis in the middle of a layover, and will be in Rapid City, SD this afternoon. Drop off at RDU was quick and easy, though awfully darned early this morning. He was so sweet and happy, and it was really, really hard to leave him there. I know he's doing fine though. With that great temperament, he'll handle the flight without any problems. And his breeder will be waiting on him and take great care of him. I'm sure i'll regret letting him go many times over in the future. Once that shoulder is fixed, he's going to be a terrific work dog.

So now the Shoofly gang is only 5 dogs, wow. I can't remember the last time i only had 5 dogs. It had to have been before i got Gael, and she came along about November of 1999, making it a 6 dog pack then. It's going to be some kind of nice to not actually have a puppy running around for change, and no one that has to be walked on a leash when we travel. Weird!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hot Diggety DOG!

Zac gets to GO BACK TO WORK!!!! Finally, the day we've been waiting for, yeeee haaaaa! There are still some concessions, like wearing a boot for 10 days while working, but damn, finally some sheep in front of his nose. We saw Dr. Sherman this morning and he was pleased with Zac's progress. I felt like it was too slow but he was happy with it, so off we go to work and to see how that goes. Keep your fingers crossed for the Zac-man!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rainy Day Catchup

It's not often that i'm happy to see a rainy saturday, unless we're in a drought like last year. But things have been so busy lately that a nice drippy day, forced to rest and relax is probably a good thing. We'll see how long i can make myself sit still though.

Knowing it would mean 4 weekends in a row on the road, i opted out of going to the trial in TN this weekend. I did hear from my friend Lauren on her way home from it last night though, and she won the ProNovice with her Mac dog, woo hoo! I'm so pleased for her.

I also decided to scratch from the Rural Hill SDT in a couple of weeks. I was disappointed to hear they were going to use the same old hair sheep they always use, rather than the fresh wool sheep we'd been hearing about and promised. That's a shame because good sheep would make it a great trial. Added to that, i'm not sure if i'll have Zac back to running by then. So, i pulled. I'll stay home, save the expense, and get back to doing more lessons. Our next trial will be at Steve Godfrey's in SC in December, followed by the Edgeworth Winter trial in January.

I'm looking forward to those trials, and to getting back to a regular lesson schedule, and to getting Billy trained up more. I've been working him a bit more regularly, between Zac's PT sessions in the evenings and he's really soaking it up now. If the light will flicker on on driving, he'll be ready for Nursery in no time. He just needs to be a little more committed to taking charge of the sheep on the drive. I'll need to get him out to some new fields as well and should have time for that now.

I've managed to finally make a decision on Bart and he's leaving for SD on Tuesday - the flight is actually even booked. He's everything i hoped he'd be working wise, but is limping again and needs the surgery for his OCD. His breeder has offered to get him fixed up so he's going back to her. I'll miss him a lot but it'll be nice to get down to 5 dogs.

Zac is doing well with his rehab and goes back to Vethab monday morning. I've started pushing him pretty hard on that leg, trying to get him to stop the skipping, and he does seem to be slowly improving. I'm planning to really make him use it this weekend, with boots and bells and whatever else i came come up with to make him feel most comfortable on the healed up leg. I had him and Gael and Spottie back to the chiropractor this week and i feel that's helping all 3 dogs a lot as well.

So, that's the latest Shoofly news. Hmm, looks like the rain is easing off, maybe i can go run Zac now.....or work Jet....get some chores done around the farm.... ;-)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lexington SDT, etc.

The Lexington SDT this weekend was very nice. The field was gorgeous, large and laid out nicely. The sheep were relatively decent, though cranky about shedding and sometimes about penning. Set out was done extremely well, i thought. There were a couple of things that could have been done better (printed running orders, letting people know about changes to the class schedule before they actually arrived at the trial) but they weren't a huge deal and are part of the growing pains of a new trial. I'm sure things will run more smoothly as the hosts gain more experience. Speaking of the hosts, David Clark and Cheryl Branibar were lovely hosts, gracious and welcoming, and they worked tirelessly. Hats off to both of them. Bob Washer won the 1st round, after a run off with Mike Hanley. Mark Billadeau won the 2nd round, with Christine Henry finishing second.

I was happy with how my dogs ran this weekend. They were sharp and crisp, but unfortunately i wasn't quite as sharp. Three weekends in a row on the road caught up with me a bit, i believe. In the first round, i ran Spottie second in the class and Jet had the last run of the day. Neither of those draws tend to be good ones for me, plus it was the first cold day of the season out there. Spottie ran quite well, clean all the way around, and even got a shed, which was hard to come by in the early going. I was a little disappointed when her score was posted but decided that i needed to sharpen up my drive lines. Jet decided the sheep had been set well to the right of where they actually were, so ran very straight up the field and needed two stops and finally a turnback whistle to get going to the right spot. That pretty much took us out of contention right off the bat. I also ran Gael in the middle of the day. She ran out beautifully but the sheep were slow to lift, obviously having never heard that Gael will punish sheep that take too long to lift for her. About 25 yards into the fetch, she ran through them. But we got it back together and she was pretty decent around the course, for the tense little monster she is. I didn't run her in the second round and probably won't run her at trials any more. I love working her around the farm but trials are just too much for her nerves. And mine.

Jet and Spottie ran very late in the second round, Jet at #49 and Spottie last at #57. I thought Jet had a very good run and was quite shocked at her score but i guess that's the way it goes sometimes. She was very clean on her gather with a gorgeous, straight fetch. Apparently the judge and i had differing ideas on the drive lines as we lost 12 points there. The finish was clean. Spottie was her usual spectacular self on the outrun and lift, completely nailing it and receiving a 20-10, as well as compliments from the setout person. I couldn't quite get her far enough to the right to cover the draw and we missed the fetch gates. The drive and pen were decent and after a missed attempt on the shed, i retired since she was looking tired and we were far from placing.

All in all, it was a nice trial in a beautiful setting, with changing leaves and autumn colors in the mountain backdrop.

There's not much to report on the Zac rehab front right now. I'm continuing his hikes every day and the sprints as we can find the space. He does still skip very occasionally, even with his good side made somewhat less comfortable by the boot with pebbles in it. I have a call in to Dr Sherman and hope to talk to him today to get the plan for the coming week. I'd like to be able to start working him soon and possibly run him in the Rural Hill SDT in November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another Update....

Zac is doing really well. I haven't seen him limp on the backyard potty walks (with no boot) more than once or maybe twice all week. With the boot on, with some pebbles in it, i've seen almost no skipping in his 30 minute hikes the last 2 evenings. I actually don't think i saw a single skip tonight. He really loves the second session each evening when he gets to do sprints. I put him on a stay, walk 70 or so yards away, and call him, and that boy flies! He really liked it when i had Gael out running against him tuesday evening. I tried that tonight with Spottie and she decided it was way too much work for an old dog.

I worked Bart again this evening for a few minutes and he did really well. I thought i saw some odd movements when he was trying to sidestep using that bad right shoulder, but i didn't see any limping during or after he worked. So far so good, and still hoping the Adequan will have taken care of the OCD. He's such a sweet puppy and trying really hard to chill out and be less wild.

So that's the latest on the gimpy boys. All is going well for now. We're off to the Lexington SDT this weekend, hosted by David Clark and Cheryl Branibar. It should be a lot of fun and the site looks terrific. I'll post an update and trial report at the beginning of next week.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Zac Plan

Wow, we had a really great evening at the farm. I popped Zac out of the truck for his hiking session and he skipped a couple of times right away, so i put his boot on. I'd reloaded the pebbles inside and it looked pretty uncomfortable, so i took it off again after a couple of minutes and he did really well from that point on - no skipping for the rest of the 30 minutes. I was surprised and just waiting for him to look bad but he really seemed a lot more comfortable than last week in the same spaces. His second session was eight 60 yard sprints and he still seemed fine, and he totally loved the sprints. I'd thought earlier in the day that he seemed a little better when i had him out for his potty breaks but chalked it up to wishful thinking. My theory is that after hiking around on the rougher terrain at Edgeworth for four days that the smoother, less grown up home ground felt like a piece of cake.

I finally did hear back from Dr. Sherman after we got home and he said this was all not too surprising to him, that it tends to corroborate the habit theory. I got a more concrete plan from him and am to keep the boot on for two solid weeks. We want Zac to get really comfortable with the off leg and i'm to resist the temptation to test it. We'll stick to the long hikes and sprints, adding extra challenge as i can find it (rough terrain, etc) and touch base next week, and go from there. Sheep work will have to wait until we have him balanced up on both legs. I'm feeling really encouraged.

Making it an even better evening, I worked Bart a bit and he looked like a million bucks, and wasn't lame at all afterwards. A very good evening all around!

Edgeworth and Zac

The trial this weekend at Edgeworth was really nice, as usual. It's always a highlight of the trialing year for me and didn't disappoint. The leaves were just starting to change on the mountain backdrop and the weather was gorgeous. It might have been a little warm on the dogs late in the afternoons but it was mostly comfortable. The commercial whiteface sheep were very even from group to group, with only the odd one here and there misbehaving. These sheep always like to test a dog's ability to hold a line, especially on the 600 yard fetch.

I was very pleased with my dogs. Spottie ran first and did a good job. She didn't want to come on quite strong enough to hold the line on the fetch or on the return leg of the drive, but otherwise was quite good around the course. She finished just out of the placings. Jet was wonderful, pushing her sheep around the course with calm authority and presence. The judge had made it clear he didn't want the sheep to meander along, that he liked to see them moved at a workmanlike pace, and Jet was happy to oblige. Her at-hand work was sharp and crisp, and her shed a thing of beauty, performed perfectly. In the second round, Spottie ran extremely well and i was a little surprised she didn't place higher, as were others watching. I'm still trying to puzzle out getting hit 3 points on the shed. But she ran strong and confident and hardly looked her age. This may have been her best placement at the fall Edgeworth trial - she's never done especially well there for some reason (though she loves the winter trial and has won or placed several times there). Jet had an extremely nice start to her run in the second round, right up to the driveaway panel where a little breeze across the tall grass caused a hearing problem, and we got badly off line. It was a real shame, as she was listening very well at 600 yards but couldn't hear me at 150. We finished the drive and when a ewe started breaking at the pen, i just retired as i knew we were far out of the money already. Both girls were very sharp all weekend and it's always a thrill to run that big course. Next up, the Lexington SDT in Lexington VA this coming weekend. All 3 girls are scheduled to run.

Final results were:
Open 1 (61 dogs)
1 Bev Lambert & Mirk 89
2 Robin French & Jet 88
3 Carla King & Emma 86
4 Tom Forrester & Pete 85
5 Shay McMullen & Lad 84
6 Christine Henry & Rook 82
7 Nancy Obernier & Ben 81
8 Flo Wilson & Midge 81
9 Craig Rogers & Jake 80
10 Shay McMullen & Britt 78
11 Bev Lambert & Bill 78
12 Janet Harvey & Scott 75

Open 2 (58 dogs)
1 Bev Lambert & Mirk 89
2 Flo Wilson & Jen 88
3 Bruce Fogt & Annie 86
4 Shay McMullen & Britt 84
5 Dawn Boyce & Tink 84
6 Carla King & Emma 84
7 Linda Tesdahl & Jaffe 83
8 Robin French & Spottie 83
9 Bev Lambert & Bill 82
10 Tom Forrester & Pete 81
11 Renee Billadeau & Bette 80
12 Bruce Fogt & Chloe 80

The Zac saga continues:
Zac did lots of nice long walks around the Edgeworth farm in his boot with the pebbles in it. He does seem to skip less with it on, though i'd be hard pressed to say he skips much less with it off. He does look strong and fit and is galloping around with ease. I'm waiting to hear from Dr Sherman to formulate the plan for this week. According to the homework schedule we've been following, he is allowed to begin working sheep later this week. If his muscle is truly healed, i can see that happening. It makes me nervous to put him to work when he's still got the original problem (skipping) there, even if there's no indication of a different type of injury. When this injury first happened last year though, it took getting him active and moving again to get the skip to lessen, so we'll see. I'll have to talk to Dr Sherman first though. I have too much money and time invested to proceed without some guidance.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

1 lousy point....

...that's all Jet and i needed to win Edgeworth this weekend, darn it! Bev Lambert won both rounds with Mirk, both times with an 89. Jet and I were second on the 1st round, and Florence Wilson in the 2nd round, both with 88s. Spottie finished the 2nd round with an 83, good for 8th place.

More later on the trial and an update on Zac, about to be officially renamed Skippy, if he doesn't stop hopping on that leg. I'll be on the phone bright and early tomorrow to Vethab again. For now, time for bed!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Latest on Zac and the Gang

It's been an interesting few days with Zac since he was cut loose from in-clinic care with VetHab last week. His daily homework for the first week of at-home rehab was 2 walks on a flexi, making sure he did a bit of each gait - walk, trot, canter, light gallop - followed by 5 minutes with the cone cavalettis. Walks were to be increased by 3 minutes every other day (starting at 15 minutes) with at least 2 hours between sessions.

When we went out to do his sessions Thursday evening, he was still skipping, a bit more than i was expecting. Dr. Sherman had said i might see the occasional hop as Zac figured out that his muscle didn't hurt any more and got used to the movements again, but this looked to me like it might be more than what he was talking about. How disappointing! I went ahead and did the sessions and tried to keep it pretty light and avoid the places i knew Zac would skip (downhill on a counterclockwise arc) since that had been the prevailing instruction i'd been getting over the treatment weeks - to keep him on leash so he wouldn't skip.

Friday morning i was on the phone to Vethab bright and early but Dr. Sherman wasn't in. The receptionist said she'd get a message to him and call me back, but i never heard anything. I went on ahead to the dog trial and did his sessions there. I was pretty concerned after the first one. The ground was fairly uneven, with shallow tire ruts and clumpy grass, and Zac skipped a fair bit. This was no good, it really didn't look much different than what i'd have expected pre-Vethab. I just kept the two sessions that day pretty light on the intensity and took some mental notes. Saturday and Sunday, the area we'd walked in Friday was covered with cars, so i walked him on some much less lumpy ground, along a gravel road and in areas behind the vendor tents, and he looked pretty okay, no excessive skipping.

Monday morning i was on the phone to Vethab the minute they opened and got a time scheduled to see Dr. Sherman that afternoon. Dr. Sherman examined Zac and couldn't find any kind of pain reaction. The gluteal is still sound. So we went outside and after watching a tech trot Zac around and not getting anything, i finally got them to let me show them myself. Off the leash, trot down a hill, skip, skip, there ya go. I think it surprised Dr. Sherman a bit, how easy it is to reproduce and how consistent. He jumped right on Zac and started poking and prodding and still couldn't find a thing to explain it. So he pulled out some boots and bells and started trying things to see if he could lessen the skip, and we formulated a plan, on the idea that it's a habit or muscle memory or some such.

Monday evening Zac did his session with boots on all 4 feet, and a bell on the "good" rear side, to make it a little less comfortable than the bad side. I didn't find this set up to make much difference to Zac, as he continued to skip about when i'd be predicting it (after looking at it for over a year, i can predict it pretty well!). The plan was to try this for 2 sessions and then take the boot off the bad side, giving it better traction and making it feel even more comfortable to use. I decided to forego the second 4-boot session and go right to 3 boots on Tuesday's first session, rather than just keep up the skipping, and i dropped the use of the bell. I found this arrangement did indeed decrease the skipping to about 50% of what it had been. In his second session, i rotated the boot on his good rear side so that the seam was underfoot, to make it a bit more uncomfortable. It was pushing things along a little faster than we'd planned, but i just couldn't see wasting time and having him doing it "wrong" (skipping) repeatedly - that seemed counter to the idea back in the short leash, don't let him skip period. With the seam turned underfoot, the skipping dropped considerably, to maybe 10-20% of what it was without boots or with 4 boots. I talked to Dr. Sherman today and we're going to follow this plan and re-evaluate next week. I may need to make the good rear side a little more uncomfortable as Zac gets used to the boots by putting kibble or beans or something in the boot. It'll be interesting to see how he does these next few days, especially as the area i'll be able to walk him in at Edgeworth this weekend is very rough and lumpy, where the ground at home is pretty smooth even if it's sloped. I walked him there Sunday evening when i dropped the camper off and he hopped a fair bit. Hopefully with the boots, he'll set that bad side down more and get stronger and more confident on it. I did notice, after the first evening in 4 brand new, clean boots, that one was definitely less mud-crusted afterwards. I'm wondering if Zac hasn't been compensating off that leg even when he's not skipping.

As for the other dogs, I took them all to a chiropractor yesterday that we'd not seen before, and liked very much. I was wanting to have Spottie and Gael adjusted, and Zac examined, but ended up running all 6 dogs through for quick checks. Bart got a fair bit of attention to even him up from compensating for the bad shoulder, and Jet and Billy both got a thumbs up as they were in pretty good shape. Gael's back needed some adjusting, and Zac's pubic bone (out from skipping probably). Spottie had a very painful back and needed a fair bit of work, and will get follow up attention. It was obvious she was in pain and that it hurt when worked on - i've never seen Spottie curl a lip or growl ever! She and Gael were a little sore yesterday but this morning, everyone seemed bright and happy and bouncy, and more playful than usual. We'll be going back soon. And by "we", i do mean we. My dogs get rehab and chiropractors and massages, and all i get is a bag of ice and a handful of ibuprofen. I think it's my turn!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monpelier SDT Report

The trial was a lot of fun! I actually had a better time than i was expecting. It can be hot and crowded with spectators, and the sheep and field can be frustrating, but it was a beautiful weekend with good friends, the sheep were relatively well behaved and all in all, it was a very enjoyable trip.

I arrived Friday afternoon after an easy trip up, in brilliant sunshine, and pulled right onto a nice level camping spot. The trial field looked very good, deep in lush green grass. In years past, there has been a boggy, grown up area to the right of the set out point for Open. Dogs sent that way on the outrun would have to either be really tight or choose to go well around the mess and pop out to the side of the sheep. This year it was well mowed and made for an attractive right hand outrun. That was very nice since there's a fenceline on the left that can push dogs into the sheep, though it's not usually much of a problem with more room on that side to work.

The trial started Saturday morning with the Novice classes and the standard of running was pretty poor for the most part. There were a few nicer runs but mostly it was quite bad, with dogs circling sheep and chasing and just generally looking like the handlers were being a bit ambitious in entering the trial. Fortunately there weren't many spectators around yet. I was somewhat surprised as I thought the quality of the Novice classes had gotten better in recent years. There were a few good runs though, with most of the runs by my friends and training buddies being pretty good, and some great!

Open started after the lunch break. The sheep gave us handlers a good bit to think about as they'd be heavy one minute and bolting the next, depending on where you were on the course. Some groups were splitting because of a particulary "runny" individual, and some because there would be a hard lagger in the group. The lift was a tough one because the sheep were set on a large amount of grain and many of them would get their heads down and just chow down until a dog was practically touching noses with them. There were many "popcorn" lifts, as the sheep jumped straight in the air to begin the fetch. Fetches were generally pretty straightforward without a lot of fighting to keep the line. The sheep would try to lean off to the left (towards the exhaust in the rear left corner) as they passed the fetch gates but were fairly easy to keep on line with a bit of flanking. The left hand drive away involved protecting the hard lean to the exhaust for the first 2/3s of the way out, then a quick switch to covering the draw to the right of the panels as the sheep felt their friends at the top of the field and began breaking hard that way. It was a tricky panel to hit with the draw to either side like that - a little late flank or a bit of over flank and you were flying around trying to get the sheep back in the mouth of the panels. The crossdrive was pretty straightforward with just a bit of draw to the top of the field. Lining up the panel was tricky and many people very carefully drove just around the top or bottom thinking they were right on line. The pen was a gimme - step out of the way and the sheep ran in. Since the sheep were so very dog broke, shedding could be difficult, especially if you had a big ewe who wanted to lead out and run off, but it was manageable for the most part. Raymond MacPherson judged and i felt did a very nice job.

I was pretty pleased with my dogs' performance. We were definitely rusty the first day. Gael ran first and was on the muscle on the fetch, not taking any stops the whole way in. That's not too surprising really, we are talking about Gael, who i haven't run much the last few years for just that reason! This was her first trial in a year and i was very pleased with her. Once we began the drive, she was pretty good. A little tough to hold, but definitely controlling herself with some sheep that were doing their best to wind her up. When i saw all that grain being tossed out to hold the sheep at the top, i really expected to have two days of outrun, lift, grip out of her - she builds up tension when her eye kicks in from the sheep not responding, such as when they have their heads down in grain. She blew into them a little but no grip and we got around the full course both days. Actually, on this first run, the exhaust dog came out to "help" while we were shedding and Gael just kept working to keep the sheep on the field while he was trying to take them away (and his handler was trying to get him off). I was well pleased with how cool she was during all of that splitting and catching. Jet and Spottie both ran reasonably well though both were pretty stiff on their flanks, especially to the away side. Both made it around the course well enough though lines weren't very neat with them fighting me on that flank. Jet had a stinky ewe and fought her all the way around, and finally got fed up and gripped on the shed.

The girls all ran much better on Sunday and had shaken off the dust, taking flanks and stops and just generally being much more crisp in their performances. I ran Spottie first and even with my contortions at the first drive panel and a less than perfect shed, she ended up 2nd for the day. Next up was Gael, who again goosed the sheep on the fetch but began taking her stop a little further out, and generally listened better all around. Finally Jet ran and did a very nice job, finishing up 5th. I made a handling mistake with her at the crossdrive panels that cost us the win.

I was very pleased with my team this weekend though i did miss having Zac out there. Now we're off to Edgeworth this coming weekend. My plan is to run Spottie and Jet, unless the temperatures just seem too warm for Spottie. It's a very big hill course with long grass and a lot to ask of an older girl, and i won't run her if she'll get hot. Gael will have to step in if it comes to that.

On a sad note, i learned this weekend that my good old Ben dog died this past summer. He was 12 and a half years old and i'd placed him at 8 with a very nice couple near Charlottesville. They have an angora goat farm and produce fiber and yarn, and travel around to fiber festivals and fairs, and were set up at the Montpelier Fiber Festival. They are very nice people and doted on Ben, and he was in heaven working their goats and sleeping on their bed, and accompanying Steve to work every day. I hope he and Bailey and Belle are all together sharing stories about the good old working days now. Rest well guys.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Command vs. Correction

Recently there was a question on one of the internet lists that got me thinking. Someone asked a pretty simple question - do you use different words as widening commands on each side? For example, would you use "out" on the come bye flank and "back" on the away flank (those are what i use, btw), or would you use the same word on both sides?

The responses weren't really what i expected. There were a couple of quick, polite responses saying the writer did use different words (what i was expecting to hear), but the more vocal response was along the lines of "if you train your dogs right, you don't need widening words for your flanks". There was also a small, quieter response along the lines of "if your dogs are bred right, you don't need to widen the flanks".

In considering these responses, it occurred to me that the answer really depends on the situation and the dog (doesn't it seem that's where we always begin?). Are we talking about a dog that is slicing his flanks and causing general havoc? Or are we talking about a dog that is flanking pretty much okay but you'd like to have the flexibility to ask for a wide flank when you feel the occasion calls for one? The difference in these situations is that in the former you need to correct the dog's action by widening his flanks, while in the latter you're looking to command his action so he gives you a wider flank, two vastly different things.

If you're trying to correct improper action, it doesn't matter what word you use, anything will do because you're simply trying to alter the behavior, to say "don't do that because it pisses me off, now try something else to see if it makes me happier". The appropriate response from the dog to correction is to not offer that behavior again, in order to avoid the correction or make the handler happy.

In our second scenario, with the dog that is flanking pretty much okay, we're trying to associate an action with a word so that you can ask for that action to be repeated on command. I think this is where the 2nd and 3rd answers to the original query fall short. I find it to be tremendously useful to be able to ask my dogs for various types of flanks, both around the farm and on the trial field. If you can't do this with a finished, seasoned dog, you're missing out on a useful tool to have in your arsenal.

As i noted above, i use "out" on the come bye flank and "back" on the away side. If i say "come bye", i expect a normal flank from my dog, whatever is a normal flank for that particular dog. Some flank more square, some tighter, but it should be a reasonable, normal flank. If i ask "come out", i expect a fairly normal start to the flank (the come part) and then a widening action (the out part). If i ask "out" or "OUT!" (no come), i expect a good widening from the first bit of motion. These tend to be tools i use when the sheep are between myself and the dog, say on the fetch, on an outside flank on a crossdrive, when setting up the shed or penning, gate sorting, that type of thing.

To complicate things a little bit, i don't find these widening commands to work very well on inside flanks. I think, because they're taught by putting a little pressure on a dog to give ground, that the dogs just don't like to move towards me on those widening commands. It may be that the context just doesn't feel right to the dogs, but regardless, if i give an inside flank with the widening part added, i find it confuses the dogs a bit, unless i'm asking the dog to actually flank around behind me, rather than between myself and the sheep. I have another variation to widen an inside flank. From very early on in training, i use a dog's name to pull him towards me in any situation, so it's a very comfortable thing to the dog. So if a dog is a good ways out in the field from me and i want a wide inside flank, i use the dog's name to "pull" on him. Some people use "here" the same way but i like using the dog's name. I may ask for a small lean towards me with just "Jet" or a bigger one with "come bye Jet" or any even bigger one with "Jet, Jet, here Jet, come bye!". And i'll use the name before or after the command depending on the angle the dog is in relation to my position - you have to imagine a rope between yourself and the dog to visualize which way he'll pull when you call his name. I also have tightening commands on my dogs that follow along on the same lines, though i find i don't use them all that much.

In the extremely competitive world sheepdog trialing has become, these extra tools can be a big advantage and i guess that's why the 2nd and 3rd responses to that original query caught me by surprise, though on reflection you can puzzle out where the person offering advice was coming from. So i guess the message to take away from this article is to stop and think about what you're trying to accomplish with those "words". Commands are not, and should not be, corrections, and if you're using them that way, you're cheating yourself of some great tools with which to communicate with your dog.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Shoo-dogs Update

Zac is free! Well, sort of. He was finally released from his treatment at VetHab today. I have lots of homework and he'll go back for regular rechecks, but Dr. Sherman feels that Zac is pretty much healed up. To recap, Zac was injured over a year ago and developed a skip in his gait on his right rear leg. He'd pick it up and carry it now and again. Diagnosed with a probable iliopsoas strain, he mostly recovered over several weeks and was pretty much okay all winter, with just a very occasional skip. Then in April he reinjured it somehow and was again laid up. He got better but never quite back to where he'd been over the winter. I took him to several different vets, specialists, therapists, etc. and never was able to get a good solid diagnosis. I kept getting an "I think it 's probably the iliopsoas" and no good explanation for why it wouldn't heal completely. So in mid-August i took him to Dr. John Sherman at VetHab and he diagnosed him with a chronic gluteal strain and recommended a course of treatment and rehab. Zac began with a shockwave treatment, followed by 3x/week of PT (water treadmill, etc.) for 3 weeks. Then he had a second shockwave treatment and another 3.5 weeks of PT. The idea was to almost reinjure the muscle and then control how it healed back up to avoid the adhesions (broken up by the shockwave) that were causing a chronic problem. I have two more weeks of controlled exercise and PT to do with him at home, and then he gets to go back to work. It's a shame that he'll miss the Edgeworth trial for the second year in a row, with the same injury, as well as the other October trials. But, i should have him ready for Rural Hill in November and the new trial in SC in December. He'll go back for a recheck in 3-4 weeks and I'm sure hoping we get to say goodbye to this injury permanently. We'll have new motto after all of this - "Warm up, warm up, warm up!"

A quick update on the rest of the gang --

Spottie keeps on trucking. I'm trying to get her in better condition since she'll need to take Zac's spot at the trials. She's definitely slowed down a bit at almost 11 years old but she should be able to handle it since she takes pretty good care of herself when she works.

Gael has been having a very good time lately - I've started working her again and she'll be running some in the fall trials (if i feel brave enough!). I'd sworn off running her but she's just so darned much fun to work, and she seems to finally be feeling less tense and worried when she works. She still makes my heart sing with admiration when she's working so sweet, it's a thing of beauty. I may not run her much in trials but i think i'll keep working her. We both enjoy it.

Jet is top dog these days, doing all of the work around the farm and enjoying every minute of it. She's such a good, strong dog and handles everything that comes her way. I'm looking forward to seeing how she does at these fall trials, especially the ones on more difficult wool sheep. She really shines on them and her tendency to pull up short on her outrun doesn't hit us quite as hard in the scores.

Billy is still growing up and has firmly planted himself as a member of the pack. He's such a sweet, sweet dog and i'm looking forward to finishing him out this winter. As strongly as he's bonded to me, i have a feeling he'll give me everything he can with the sheep. Time will tell!

And Bart, well Bart is still here and still bouncing. I swear his name should be Tigger as i've never seen a puppy with more spring to him. That's not a good thing when you're a puppy who has been diagnosed with OCD in one shoulder, so i keep trying to hold him down. He's about due for his next Adequan shot, so that means he's gone about 10 weeks with only one tiny limping episode, this past weekend.

Trial season is upon us! I've been busily packing the camper and making plans, and envisioning straight lines, tight turns and slick shedding. We leave Friday for the Montpelier SDT in Orange, VA. It's held in conjunction with a sheep and wool festival, which is always fun, and many times expensive with the great shopping. The trial itself can be frustrating as the field is small, the hearing not great, and the very dogged hair sheep will probably be uneven from group to group. But it's a chance to get the dogs out and shake off some trial dust, and visit with friends and trial folk. Then next Friday to Sunday is the Edgeworth Open SDT in Gordonsville, VA, at the home of Florence and Tommy Wilson. This is one of our top trials of the year, on a beautiful field with a 600 yard outrun, super wool sheep and stiff competition. The following weekend we travel to Lexington, VA to David Clark's trial. This will be the second year for the trial and it's in a new setting, which looks gorgeous from the pictures I've seen. The sheep will be wool sheep again, Montadales I believe. November brings the Rural Hill SDT in Huntersville, NC and we've been promised fresh wool sheep to run on. Then the new trial in SC in December, on more wool sheep, Texels as i understand it. It's going to be a busy fall!