Monday, March 31, 2008

My happy pills have waggin' tails...

I saw that statement "My happy pills have waggin' tails..." in someone's signature line on the BC-Boards and really like it. Of course when it's been raining for 3 days, those happy pills have wet, muddy, waggin' tails and aren't quite so happiness-inducing! The house dogs (Gael, Jet and Zac) and i spent Sunday trapped in the house looking through the glass doors at the gang of young boy dogs(Moss, Bill and Bart) romping in the mud and making big fat messes of themselves. Those boys officially moved outside to the dog shed as of yesterday! I have a nice shed with crates set up in it just outside my back door and when the overnight temperatures are warm enough, some of the dogs become "outside" dogs, as opposed to being crated in the house. All of the dogs go into 10x10 runs during the day when i'm at work. Well, except Gael, who doesn't like being out there - she's crated in the house. That works out well since i have only 6 runs anyway. When i get home in the afternoon, everyone loads up in the van and we go to the farm until dark, to work sheep, or do chores, or farm/sheep maintenance, or just whatever - we always manage to squeeze out every minute of available daylight doing *something* it seems. Then home, where the dogs and i have our dinners (them raw, me cooked ;-). Then the house dogs are loose in the house most of the evening, and Spottie and the youngsters are outside running around. At bedtime, Spottie goes in her crate in the kitchen (where she can protect her treasures in her crate and supervise all comings and goings), youngsters go into crates in the dog shed, Zac and Gael in crates in my bedroom, and Jet onto my bed. Sleep a few hours, then all dogs loose in the backyard to play for an hour or two, then into the 10x10s and i'm off to work again. Rinse and repeat, and that's our weekdays. The thing is, we're supposed to get weekends to break up this pattern with fun and interesting stuff but noooooo, it rained most of saturday and all of sunday, and now monday it's still pouring. No fair. I know we're not supposed to complain about rain because we've been in this horrible drought but surely it's okay to complain about the timing? I guess the bright side is that lambing hasn't started at least, and we should get some grass growing after this rain. But still, 28 muddy feet and 7 sloppy, nasty waggin' tails to go home to....i may have 7 outside dogs after today!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This is spring?!

Oh, what an ugly day it's been here. 80 degrees yesterday and today i woke up to 40s and cold rain. Days like today are almost enough to convince me that 7 dogs is too many. That's 28 muddy feet to wipe off! It never did warm up much and was drippy and damp off and on all day. Of course the dogs don't seem to mind. Puppy Bart has been wallowing in the mud all day, the little pig.

We got over to the farm after lunchtime during a break in the rain and i worked Moss and Bill again. I wasn't planning to since neither had an especially good training session yesterday. I'd worked them 3 days in a row and thought perhaps today off would be good. But i decided to play around some and boy am i glad i did. Moss was really on today. I did a little drilling on his flanks, speeding them up and letting him enjoy himself while still maintaining his distance, and asking him to stay out and then use his eye a bit before walking up. It seemed to carry over to his other work nicely. He was keen and pushy on his driving, and he's showing a lot more intensity on his fetch, head down, studying all the sheep and thinking hard. And he seems to have learned his flank commads - he was taking them on the drive, both on and off balance, without any extra body or voice cues. It seems to have just hit home with him, or else he hit an age where it could sink in, because he sure didn't even half know them a week ago.

I got Billy out and worked him again too, just to see where he'd be today. He's probably only been on sheep maybe a dozen times all together, and i'd worked him 3 days in a row, trying to decide if he's ready to train or not. He's very young, just turned 8 months old. But he doesn't seem to be a tender sort of 8 month old. He's not a hard headed dog or a soft dog. He's just a very, very even tempered dog, not an emotional dog at all. It's a quality i think i'm going to like in him a lot as a working dog, but it does make it a little hard to read him at this point. When he was a little younger i could see some little signs that he wasn't ready, a tail wag here, ears pinned there. But i haven't seen anything like that this week and i've had to put some pretty fair pressure on him so i think he's ready for a start on training. I'll watch him and train or not train based on how he reacts but for now i think i'll go ahead and get started on him. Part of the reason i want to do that is that he is very one-sided, with a strong preference to the away side. It's something i like to get on early, and considering his even temper, i'd like to make an impression before he gets older and possibly tougher and more convinced to do what he wants vs what i want. He's not hard to get to at this age and the training isn't hurting his feelings at all. So i've worked on "evening him up" this week and he's doing a lot better. Today he was actually fighting me a bit to go his bad direction, where earlier this week he was doing all he could to avoid it. I also worked some on his flanking, just keeping him out a little so he can feel the sheep from a little distance. He's going to have tons of feel and i believe a good amount of power. I'm hopeful he's going to be a "cool power" kind of dog, steady and confident with an even pace that sheep trust. I'll need to watch his eye and have already started trying to break it some as he goes around on his flanks, to make sure he releases the sheep and doesn't get caught up in eying and controlling the sheep before he gets all the way to balance. I have had 2 good strong dogs with his kind of contact that ended up stopping short on outruns - Ben and Jet - and i really want to avoid that problem if i can. It's the only thing that kept those 2 from being really top winning Open dogs and was the reason i retired Ben from trials and placed him on a goat farm. You just can't be competitive if you give up points on every outrun like that. So, i'll watch it with Bill, keep it in mind as he trains up. I have very high hopes for him, he seems to have tremendous potential at this point.

Of course that all goes down to the nature of training young dogs - it's quite the roller coaster ride. One day you think you have the next national champion and the next you're wondering if it's time to sell him. It'll make you crazy but i love it!

Okay, you read this far, now leave a comment so i know someone is out there reading. :-)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Young dogs

I sure do love working with young dogs. Yesterday evening i worked Moss (16 months) and Billy (8 months). Moss has been off and on in training the last few months. I'll do a bit with him, then put him up for awhile, then do a bit more, then put him up again. Mostly now i'm waiting on him to mature into all the "mechanical" stuff he already knows. He has a rudimentary grasp of all the skills he'll need to be a fully trained sheepdog and i've been able to get all that training done without putting a lot of pressure on him. He runs out nicely, stops, calls off, is driving a bit, sheds, has a basic turnback, and is useful for most farm chores. His biggest problem has been that he's just a little less keen than i'd like, but that should come with age and maturity, and then because he's already got the skills, he should finish out his training in a snap. He's never once offered to quit work in his training and he's got no fear of sheep at all, he's just been a little lackadaisical about it. I found that males off of his greatgrandfather (Gael's sire actually) were *very* lackadaisical but i thought Moss' closer relatives plus the fact that that dog was so far back in Moss' pedigree would keep it from being a problem. But added to that, was the relatively slow maturing of another line in Moss' background, and well, i've had to be very patient with his training. I took him to a friend's last weekend and something clicked into place for him on his driving. Where before he was pretty tentative, now he's taking charge and actually driving sheep. And his keenness level does seem to be coming up a bit. I've been able to do a little bit of the kind of training that requires the dog to take some pressure - insisting he learn his flanks, take some off balance flanks, even flank to the heads a bit on fetches - and he's responding well to it. This isn't the path i'd recommend for most dogs or for novice trainers because there's a tremendous amount of reading the dog and evaluating what the dog is happy with and can take. But so far, putting the mechanics on first and waiting for the talent and ability to catch up is working for Moss. He's a pretty nice little dog and sheep really like his manner, which bodes well for his career as a trial dog. I've entered him in a couple of upcoming trials in ProNovice, in hopes that he'll be ready. We'll see! He's still pretty young at 16 months so i'll have to let him tell me if he's really ready for more.

Now Billy, is a whole 'nother kinda dog. I'm hoping to work him a bit more this weekend so should have a report on him soon. He seems to have tons of potential and i'm just itching to train him.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Waiting, waiting, waiting

It seems to be a waiting time of year right now. I'm waiting on lambing to start, waiting on sheepdog trial season to start, waiting on Moss, Bill and Bart to get old enough to train, waiting on grass to grow on the pasture...waiting, waiting, waiting. I'm not the most patient person in the world to start with and i like to have things to be looking forward to and preparing for. One of my saddest days of the year is the last day of the last dog trial of the fall. It's always so bleak to think of months of waiting for the next one. I love the anticipation and the preparing to go - getting the dogs tuned up, getting the camper ready to go, packing, getting there, setting up and finally, STEPPING TO THE POST! Running a dog is quite the rush for me, being totally in the moment and putting everything into doing our best, reading the situation second by second and adjusting based on the dog, the sheep, the field, the sun, the wind, the everything. There are so many variables to account for and manage and it's just the best feeling in the world to be doing it. We got a nice taste of it at the trial in Florida a couple of weeks ago. Next up is the Shaker Village trial (May 2-4) and the Bluegrass Classic (May 13-18), both in Kentucky. The Bluegrass is probably the biggest, most prestigious trial i'll be able to attend this year so the anticipation is huge. But for now, waiting, waiting, WAITING.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A new blog

So I'm trying out different blogs and this is my test of Blogger. I signed up for Livejournal too but it seems less then simple to use if you do more than quick postings. So I'll try this one for awhile and see how friendly it is.

It's a gorgeous day here in Shoofly Farm land. High is to be 70 degrees, sunny and bright. It's my favorite time of year, especially since daylight saving time started early this year and i have an extra hour of daylight in the evenings at the farm. The forsythia and redbuds are blooming, the ewes are huge and ready to pop out lambs any time, and it's just a nice time to enjoy the farm. The dogs seem to be pretty healthy and happy and enjoying the spring too - they run like fiends and all 7 are spinning and dancing on our evening hikes around the farm. I joined Weight Watchers back in January (18 pounds gone!) and am trying to walk a solid 40 minutes every evening. It's not great for my knee to be pounding up and down the hills, but neither is carrying extra weight so i'll just ice it and keep on trucking.

The dogs are doing great in their sheep work and trialing. Spottie is 10 years old now but acts and works more like a 6 year old. I so enjoy running her at the trials. It's just a comfortable feeling having her there. I was always able to relax with her at the post, right from the first time i ran her, and now i'm not only relaxed but really confident in her abilities. I heard Amanda Milliken say once that she loves an 8 year old dog because they know so much and you're just a good team by then, the dog is still fit and keen and able and hasn't slowed down for the most part. Well, i've had my 8 year old dog for 3 years now and she's still fit and keen and able. Lucky me! Here's a recent picture of her.

Since this is a new blog, I'll copy the 2 entries i'd made on Livejournal here:

(March 19)
We're just home from the Suwannee SDT in Brandord FL, hosted by Cheryl and Dick Williams. It was a very good trial and Cheryl and Dick are always such gracious, welcoming hosts. There were only about 35 dogs running and the sheep were a little less of a challenge than we all expected. They were lightly dogged and not accustomed to being worked in small groups but behaved themselves very well all weekend, allowing for some very high scores. The course was flat with about a 280 yard outrun. The Shoofly dogs ran very well with 3 placements among them. Jet was a little pushy for the hair sheep, especially at the sheds. She ended up just out of the placements both days, mostly because of being a bit short on her outruns. Spottie ran very well both days. A cranky ewe at the shed kept her out of the placements Saturday and on Sunday she ended up tied for 2nd with only 6 points off, finishing 3rd after the tie was broken. Fortunately the dog she was tied with was Zac, so we ended up with that 2nd place after all! Zac was very consistent again this weekend, finishing 4th on Saturday and 2nd Sunday. He's turning out to be a really good trial dog and I'm looking forward to running him this spring.

In very sad news, Cheryl's father Walt Jagger had a massive stroke at his farm Monday and passed away Tuesday morning. My heart just aches for Cheryl, knowing she was in FL and unable to get back to PA before Walt died. Cheryl is just the nicest person, always happy to see you and interested in you and your dogs. She was the clinician at some of the early clinics I attended and organized, and she's just always been great to be around, seeing the positive in all the dogs and trials. I'm certain she got this quality from Walt, as he was the same way, always joking and teasing and a true pleasure to be around, and always a gentleman. In a world where many of the old timers are a little tough, he was always sweet and kind to his dogs and you could just tell he *really* liked them. One of the first times I met him was at the old Oatlands trial, many years ago. He took a liking to Spottie and did everything he could short of stealing her to get her from me. Ever since, he'd tease me about me having "his dog" whenever we'd cross paths. He was a bright spot in the trial world and I'll really miss him.

(March 24):
It was a great weekend with the boy dogs. Used to be, i had all (or mostly) females but over time it seems i've gone over to males. My 3 oldest dogs are girls (Spottie, Gael, Jet) and the most recent 4 are males (Zac, Moss, Billy, Bart). Zac is sneaking up on 4 years old (in May) and the other 3 boys are young - 16 months, 8 months, and 3 months. I find Zac to be tremendously consistent in his work. Day to day, trial to trial, he's always about the same. The girls are a little more up and down. If this observation holds true in the future, i'm sitting pretty good on dogs for the future. This weekend I went to my friend Denise's to work her wool sheep and it was mostly "boys day out". Moss came from Denise so i always work him a fair bit for her, plus he's at an age where he's soaking up the training. He was really wonderful saturday and made huge training strides, jumping right off the training plateau he'd been on for a few weeks. I'd found he wasn't really progressing much in his training so backed off for a few weeks and it seems to have helped. He's hit enough maturity to go on now. I put Bill on Denise's yearlings and he looked great as usual. I'm really just waiting on him to grow up a bit before starting to train him. He's so sweet and easy going that i don't see any need to rush it with him. He's a very talented dog with a lot of potential. Big news for the weekend was Bart, the 12 week old puppy. We tried him on the lambs and it was amazing! I'd have to say that was the best first exposure I've ever seen in all the years of training dogs. Wow! Here's a link to the video

I'd been planning to sell one of the young dogs so i wouldn't be so overwhelmed trying to train them all, but now i just have to hang onto them to see how they turn out. Too many promising young dogs -- not a bad problem to have!

Easter sunday was nice and relaxed. I poked around at the farm and played with the dogs, and went to Mom and Pop's for dinner. It's so nice having them close by and spending time with them.