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!