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!