Sunday, June 29, 2008

Demon Dog

IT's RAINING!!! Wow, can't believe it, it's been so long i wasn't sure what that stuff falling from the sky was. I wish it would just rain all night and all day for about 3 days. The pasture is shot, the ground is like asphalt, and the pond is getting lower all the time. But right now, glorious rain! Okay, enough of the happy dance for the moment.

It's been a fun but busy weekend here. Yesterday i went over to Denise's for a little dog workin' get-together with a couple of other folks. It was hot as stink but a nice breeze and short sessions kept it tolerable. Jet and Zac both worked very nicely. Billy was his little superstar self. He kind of amazes me. I've done very, very little training on him. I just sort of bring him out and let him have a little go here and there, and he's just moving along in leaps and bounds. He'll run out 50-75 yards pretty decent, balances nicely, is willing to even do a little driving. I was telling the gang, he's pretty darned boring to train really. It's surely a good kind of boring though! I'll try to get some video of him soon if i can get someone to come out and operate the camera. I'm not putting any pressure on him at all and expect he'll easily be ready to run Nursery this winter or early next spring. I probably could push him along and get him ready for this fall but i want to take time training him and see how much he'll just train himself on the sheep and in different situations. He's still just a puppy at 11 months old.

Now, on to the subject of this post - the Demon Dog! Black Bart, the wild man. First a litte background - one evening last week, i thought i had put all the sheep up, and cut the whole gang of dogs out to run and play on the pasture while i was doing some work around the farm (key word: thought). A few minutes later, i look up and here comes Bart and Gael and who knows who else, bringing me 5 sheep. It took me 10 minutes of chasing and yelling to catch that little snot! Had Gael (the original Demon Dog) not been out there, i might have been able to just work Bart a bit and caught him that way, but things were a bit ummmmm, wild with both of them out there. Every time i'd get Gael down and then get balanced up and almost catch Bart, the sheep would shift and they were both off again. Then lambs started squirting off and Bart thought that was grrrrrreat fun, working single lambs and grabbing them. I don't know where the heck the other 4 dogs ended up, except for perhaps heading for the hills with all the yelling that was going on! Okay, so fast forward to yesterday, and you can probably guess what frame of mind Bart was in when i let go of the rope and let him go around the sheep. Let's just say i wasn't exactly part of the picture and it wasn't quite as calm and sweet as the previous times at Denise's. :-) It definitely keened up my sweet 6 month old puppy! I had a long piece of pvc which he was very much ignoring until i kinda sorta cracked him on the head with it - it wasn't really intentional and it wasn't hard enough to hurt his feelings, but he did somewhat notice i was in the same universe with him afterwards. He did settle down a bit and worked very well afterwards, just as keen as could be but balancing and covering and looking like a million bucks. He wasn't having any of that being caught stuff again though and i practically had to tackle him to get him off the sheep. I was grinning from ear to ear. There are good dog problems and bad dog problems, and a too keen dog is surely one of the former! I'm very excited about him and can't wait to get him training. I've always felt some regret that i couldn't do a better job with Gael - she was way too hot for my experience level at the time, and i just never could get a handle on her tension, but she was tremendously tough and talented and i've wanted to turn the clock back and try again. I think i might have another one that's "a lot of dog" and i can't wait! He's all about some sheep now, spent every chance he could today trying to get through fences and under gates to get at the sheep. Yep, i've got another Demon Dog and i'm a-lovin' it!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Good Dog and a Good Day

The Shoofly pack looks and feels a little different tonight. I sold Moss today, back to his breeder Denise Wall. He's such a good dog and i think they're going to be a special team. As much as i love the little snot, i know he's going to be even more special to her and i'm thrilled to be able to let her have him. You can tell by the grin on her face that she's pretty thrilled herself. :-) Moss went right to work for her today, even with me sitting nearby chatting with other friends. Denise said when she got him home, he just hopped out of the truck and blended right in with the other dogs like he'd never left. He was a special one to Denise and her family when he was a baby puppy, and now "Fatty" (his puppy name, because he was such a solid pup) has come home. I expect to be singing the blues this fall when he's kicking butt in Nursery for Denise and not for me, but i'm just so happy for her to have him. I like when my friends are happy!

I took the rest of the Shoofly Pack over to Becca Shouse's for the bc-boards picnic this afternoon. It sure looked weird to open the van doors and not see those wild light eyes of Moss' looking back at me. The picnic was a lot of fun and the dogs had a good time working Becca's sheep. Personally i had a good time drowning my dog-leaving sorrows in banana puddin', yum!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bart's New Game

Bart learned a new game. First you swim out to where the stick is.

Then you open WIDE and grab it.

Get a good hold and start swimming back in.

Keep your ears out of the water!

Watch out for Jet, she steals sticks!

Ahh, now a good shake and start all over again!

(Who knew he'd ever even learned to fetch?! I've never taught him or played fetch with him. He must have been watching Gael fetch from the pond. I decided to take just him and Jet out, since i was trying to get some pictures, and he decided to show me what he'd learned on his own.)

Oh no! Goodbye Redbud

Well, it finally happened. My beautiful red bud tree, the "signature tree" at the farm, which looks like this in the spring:

Now looks like this:

It's been leaning more and more every year and gravity finally caught up with it. It's funny, i thought the branch on the right would have been the first to go. It's gotten low enough that i smack my head on a regular basis when working dogs in that area. Wonder how long it will be before it gives up and breaks off too? The sheep are sure enjoying stripping the leaves off!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gael update

I took Gael in for her repeat bloodwork today and it looks good! Her alkaline phosphatase is still elevated at 589 (was over 6000 to start, then 4500, and 1542 two weeks ago) but everything else is back to normal. She'll stay on the liver support kibble, Sam-E, milk thistle and Actigall, and we'll do another blood draw in a month. Good news!

Now to put her on a diet. All the good spoiling she's been getting has made her fat. :-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Training: Looking for Sheep

I try very hard to have a consistent program when i train dogs, training in a manner from the start that makes later training a little easier for the dog to understand, based on early cues and body language. For example, if i step sideways away from my dog, that's his cue to leave my side and go around the sheep. If i walk forward towards sheep, i expect my dog to move forward and make contact with the sheep with me. I am very consistent in these cues right from the very first sessions.

By using this consistent system, I begin teaching that blind 600 yard outrun the first time a dog is on sheep! Actually, i even start this earlier with some of my own puppies. If i'm sitting at a trial with a little pup on my lap and he notices the sheep on the field, i'm making a little sss sss noise so he starts associating that noise with sheep. I've had puppies as young as 8 weeks watching sheep at the top of the Open course, and you can bet i'm trying to take advantage of that, as well as let the pup know i like that he's looking for sheep!

I use three signals to help my dog find sheep when they are out of sight, and i begin using them immediately upon starting a dog.

I always approach the sheep with my dog by walking straight forward towards them, making a little sss sss sound with my mouth, almost like a very, very quiet version of a walk up whistle. The dog learns two things - that i walk straight towards where sheep are, and if i make that sss sss noise, sheep are directly in front of me. The dogs love that sss sss noise, because it *always* means sheep are around, where i do occasionally walk around without going towards sheep. :-) When the dog is a little further along in his training, and being sent for sheep that are a little further away (but still in sight if the dog looks for them), i'll walk forward, make my sss sss, and when i see the dog lock in on the sheep, i'll add a "there". Then when the dog is even a little further along, and being sent for sheep that are out of sight, i'll again use all of my cues, and when the dog looks in the right direction, i'll use my "there" as a way of saying "yes, you're looking at the right spot, sheep are out there right where you're looking". Over time, i need to walk forward less and less, and the dog learns that i'm facing where the sheep are, but i have that walking forward to fall back on if my dog is confused. Eventually, i can stand still, facing sheep anywhere, give my dog a little sss sss under my breath, and see the dog start scanning the field with his eyes looking for sheep. And when he faces those unseen sheep 600 yards away, i can give him a quiet "there" and he knows exactly where he should be finding the sheep on his outrun.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Few Pictures

I put up a few pictures on my Pbase site of Gael and Bart from a few days ago, and some of Julie working one of her pups from today
It was a fun day. Julie, Laura, Joan and Kate came over and we worked dogs (a little), snacked on good foods (a lot) and everyone chilled out under the shade trees. Nice!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Training: What is a Correction?

I think corrections are one of the most seriously misunderstood parts of sheepdog training for novice trainers/handlers. There's a lot to a proper correction - timing, pressure, reaction, etc. It might be helpful to stop and think about what a correction actually is. The purpose of correcting a dog is to change behavior. For example, if i correct a dog for inappropriate gripping, he should not only stop the actual in-progress bite, he should think twice about doing it again because what he was doing didn't get him what he wanted - to work unimpeded. He should also let go of the sheep and *do something different* or offer another behavior so he can start to learn a new, more appropriate pattern or habit. Many times we see ineffective corrections, where the trainer repeatedly yells "get out of that" (or some other magic phrase), and the dog just keeps on doing what he was doing, effectively teaching the dog to tune out his handler's corrections. Bad idea there (and a topic for another day)! We also see overdone corrections, where the severity of the correction is too much for the infraction - the dog shuts down instead of offering a different behavior.

What your dog does after a correction will tell you if you're correcting effectively, so read your dog. Are you getting all three of the things you need to see in a good correction:
1. The inappropriate action stops immediately
2. The dog offers a different behavior immediately
3. The dog offers a different behavior over time

Corrections should be instructive for your dog. It may even help to think of them as *constructive* criticism.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Is It Monday Yet?

Hi, my name is Robin and i'm a workaholic. A weekend workaholic to be exact. Seriously, i think the reason i like dog trials so much is i can actually just hang out and not kill myself working around the house and farm. You'd never know it to look at me, but i'm just not capable of sitting around and not doing something - anything. I started the weekend off on friday evening by shearing about 6 or 8 sheep. That was fun, i've never sheared a sheep before and i enjoyed it alot. Not so sure the sheep would agree but they're definitely cooler and after the first one they don't even look too bad. Saturday morning bright and early, i was off to Kate's to shear a few more sheep, until we ran out of sharp blades. Then i loaded the new truck up with a bunch of stuff from the farm to take to the dump. Back home and i handwashed the camper, the van and the new truck, and then mowed the backyard. This is the point where i should have stopped but noooooo...i loaded the dogs up to go to the farm "so they could run and play". Hah. They ran and played and swam for about 30 minutes then spent about 3 hours watching me weedeating thistles in the sun. I ran by my folks' house afterwards and in a fit of perfect timing, walked in the door as dinner hit the table. Yum. :-) Home to a shower and about the 5th change of clothes of the day, and i watched Juno (and even kept my eyes open till the end). This morning i got the front yard mowed (about an acre) and washed 4 dogs by 10:30. At this point i did manage to hang out in the house and just chill for awhile. Okay, that's not entirely true. Someone called and i chatted on the phone for about an hour. :-) Finally, i couldn't stand it any more and was outside again. Five hours later my dog pens look wonderful from the pressure washing and cleaning. Another shower and yet another change of clothes, and i'm trying really hard to just stay here on the couch! But it's still daylight out there......and i hate to waste daylight.....

Seriously, someone needs to save me from myself. I mean, it's 102 degrees out there.

I think we might just have to have a Shoofly Day next weekend. Everybody grab your dogs and a dish, and come over and work dogs and eat and visit! So i can rest. ;-)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dogs and Sheep

There sure are a lot of folks out there looking for young trained dogs these days. I could probably sell 5 or 6 Mosses. Wish i had them to sell since i'm keeping the original! Unfortunately the only dog i'd let go right now is probably Spottie, but no one is beating down my door looking for a 10 year old Open dog. :-) I actually am looking for the perfect retirement home for her. She's still got a couple of good years running trials in her and she could teach a novice handler a lot. It'll take a perfect home for me to let her go since she has some issues - like staring at cats and obsessing on small dogs - otherwise she'll stay right here with me. She's done so much for me, she deserves a happy, spoiled-dog retirement.

It's also time to move along some sheep. I'll be selling a few nicely broke hairsheep that are perfect for starting dogs on. I sold similar ones last year and they were a big hit with their new owners. I try to price them very reasonably for dog people, so let me know if you'd like on the list by emailing me.

Now that things are settling down with the dogs and the farm and trucks and all, i'll try to get back on track with training articles in the next week or two.

Stay cool!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Okay, so we didn't buy the black truck in the last post. But we did buy this gray one! :-)

I had a 4WD Nissan way back pre-dogs and I've always wanted another one, and today i got it (I just couldn't make myself buy the oh-so-practical minivan!). Gael was an excellent assistant shopper, accompanying me on 3 test drives and through numerous offices at the dealership. She finished up her shopping by placing 4 wet feet right on the front seat to break the new truck in for dogs and permanently called "shotgun!".

Latest Gael Lab tests

Good news! I just got the numbers on Gael as of this morning and her alkaline phosphatase is now 1542 (was over 6000 to start, then 4500 last week) and her ALT is now 463 (was 1528 to start, 1428 last week) and REALLY good news is her bilirubin is back in the normal range. So, she's still pretty high on the enzymes but they're moving in the right direction, YAY!!!! She'll stay on the drug and supplement regimen she's on and we'll test her again in 2 weeks. She feels really good and was practically bouncing off the walls last night. Whew!!!!

To celebrate, she and i went and test drove this (Gael looked extremely stylish in the back seat):