Sunday, March 29, 2009

3 is Our Number

This weekend anyway! Five classes and we ended up with four 3rd place finishes. Zac added the 4th one today, finishing with a 79 and 3rd in Open. Had we had about 1 more second to get the pen gate shut before time was called, he'd have had 2nd place and been the overall champion for the weekend. Today's winner, and weekend champion, was Victoria Wilcox with her bitch Pat, with second place going to Christine Henry and Tweed.

Jet ran early this morning and had a very nice run around the course, after pulling up a bit short on her outrun. Unfortunately, the two small lambs just would not split up in the shedding ring. Jet and I tried everything we could and i don't think we could have split them apart with a spatula! Finally one of the lambs broke off and Jet gripped it, ending our run.

Zac ran very late in the class and had an interesting group of sheep. There was a horned ewe that had "opinions" on where she wanted to go - leaning off at every opportunity and trying to get off course. The second ewe and one of the small lambs were pretty happy to stick with her, but the second little lamb had decided she was hungry and was putting her head down to graze at every opportunity and lagging behind the main group. Zac did an excellent job sorting them out, changing his method to suit them on the spot. As i wrote in yesterday's post, Zac prefers to get out front and work the lead sheep in a group, then slip back and tuck the rear sheep in as needed. Today however, he got in behind the group and pushed from the rear, something i've tried showing him many times, and can handle him into doing, but have never seen him choose to do on his own. His lines were pretty clean around the course and we got to the shedding ring with about 3 minutes to go. The groups had been difficult to split all day and they certainly didn't get any better as they got more and more tired. I had to do a lot of fiddling around and moving the lambs to try to get one ewe and one lamb on each side of the split, but it finally came and Zac came in like a bullet and did a beautiful job holding the shed. I looked at my watch and had all of 20 seconds to get to the pen and shove the sheep in. I really didn't think we even had time to move the sheep into position, much less get them in, but Zac brought them straight up, they hesitated a tiny bit, we forced them in, started shutting the gate and time ran out, arrggh!

I couldn't be happier with all three dogs' performances this weekend. It was a nice weekend and enjoyable trial. Even the weather cooperated, with the rain and storms all hitting during non-trial hours. The field was very nice, and Anet and her crew had worked hard to make it a good trial and for us to all feel welcome. I hope they'll do it again soon!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Dogs

It was a good day with good dogs at the trial today. I'm so pleased with the current trial team of Zac, Jet and Billy. All three are a joy to live with, to use around the farm, and to run in trials. They're just nice, nice dogs all around - sweet, easy to live with, good temperaments, keen as heck to work and ready to give it their all.

The sheep at this weekend's trial are the type to bring out the worst in Zac. They lean really hard on the dogs, trying to find a way to slip off from them and break for the exhaust or the woods. Zac always wants to flank a little too far onto the heads of these sort of sheep, cutting off their escape route, and holding them hard on the field. It's a good quality in a dog, to have one that is so determined to keep control of all of the sheep - Zac would never lose a sheep, never let one run off on him. Unfortunately, sometimes this works against us in that it can shut the sheep down so they stop moving forward freely - after being cut off from "escaping" over and over, they just stop moving forward very well and because Zac is more concerned with preventing the break than in getting behind and pushing, forward progress can get slow. So, i tried to hold Zac more behind the sheep and get a little more flow without taking away his control. It worked pretty well though we timed out after penning and before the shed. But then again, so did 95% of the other teams (time was a little short). Zac's run was pretty decent and he ended up 4 points off the lead, good for 3rd place.

I thought Jet ran extremely well. Her strength tends to be more on wool sheep but these hair sheep were leaning very hard on the dogs, and she moved them like they were on rails, strong and smooth, stroking along behind them. She overworked the pressure on the fetch and i couldn't get her to give me a flank off the pressure to get them online, so we lost a lot of points on the fetch but her work was really pretty. Driveaway was straight online, crossdrive wiggly (my fault, i didn't hold that line well with either dog for some reason), return leg straight as could be, pen clean. It's so nice to have that power and push she has, always there ready to go. Sweet.

I wasn't planning to run Billy in the Nursery today. It was supposed to be the full Open course and i felt the very long drive was too much for him, but the course was shortened back down to the same size as yesterday, so i decided at the last minute to go ahead, with a plan to use it as a training run since he'd not run out either time yesterday the way he's capable of doing. The sheep had gotten very cranky by this afternoon and it took a good while to get our group from the setout pen and onto the field. It actually was a good thing as i had the chance to talk a bit with Bill and get him really concentrating out in front of us, watching for the sheep to appear. I set him up to run wider than yesterday and he went well, holding himself out nicely. I did say "back" to him a couple of times to just hold him out (even though he didn't need it) and get into his head a bit. He'd run away with things on his fetch on the second run yesterday and i wanted to be in his head before he lifted today. He landed nicely behind the sheep, deep, and came on well for a good lift. He wanted to push in hard but i got him stopped, and flanked out onto the pressure side, whew! Once he did it once, it felt good to him and he gave it to me well for the rest of the fetch. He was right in there pushing on the pressure but flanking sweet and clean when i asked for it. Turn at the post was smooth and the drive away started well. It was a little offline but i decided to just leave him alone and let him motor on with the sheep since he was pushing well and holding his line on his own. When i did flank him to try to hit the panel, we ended up with a big swing in front of the panels but did hit it, and had a super tight turn. Bill worked well on the crossdrive but i still managed to get the line wrong. I didn't want to have another big swing, wanted him to just flow along and feel his drive so didn't make a big effort to hit the crossdrive panels. What i could see of the return leg looked good. There was a blind section and Bill brought the sheep out of it a little to the right of the line - i don't mind that since it means he was just overworking the pressure and i prefer that to not taking charge. This group of sheep didn't especially want to go in the pen, seemed quite content to stand in the mouth and weren't responding much to me, so Bill had to walk in strong and put them in, which he did well, especially as he'd never even seen a pen until a day or two before. :-) It was a really sweet, smooth run and more what i expect Billy to work like. His first run yesterday was good, but jerky and not smooth. Today made up for it and i couldn't be happier with my young guy. He ended up a couple of points off of 1st place (those "backs" on the outrun!) with another 3rd place and one out of getting a Nursery leg again.

It was a good day and we seem to be getting pretty good at 3rd place (3 now), and the weather even cooperated with the rain holding off until we had finished. Tomorrow is the last day of the trial, and Zac and Jet get another crack at it. I think the sheep are going to be really tired and ready for us to all go on home.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Billy's Trial Debut

Bill did really well in his first trip out on the trial field! I ran him in the Nursery class today at the Climax SDT and he ended up 3rd out of 12 dogs. The field is very nice, rolling hills. The hair sheep were a little difficult, each group having 2 adults and 2 small lambs, alternately heavy or light and pulling to draws on the field. I heard someone say the outrun was 225-250 yards though it didn't seem quite that long. Nursery ran twice and the weather sure cooperated. The forecast was for rain all day but it pretty much held off until we had finished. Denise Wall won the first class with her nice young bitch May, and Dawn Boyce won the second.

First run went like this: I wanted to send Bill left because of the pressure, but he got locked into the sheep from the previous run being exhausted that direction, so i opted to send him right instead. Right tends to be his better side anyway. He never did see the sheep at the top of the field from the handler's post. I fiddled around trying to get him to look up the field but he never quite saw them since he was so convinced sheep were more off to his left. He left my feet and went somewhat straight up the field, but did look up and see the set out sheep finally, and did a dramatic turn to the right to put himself around the sheep properly. He ended nice and deep and came up with authority on the sheep for a nice lift and a 20-10 start. The fetch was pretty straight but slightly off line as Bill was trying to sort out the sheep. His group had a ewe, the flock ram and 2 little lambs in it. The ram was giving him a little trouble and Bill was really curious about those little lambs! He seemed to be giving the lambs a little extra attention as he was getting his brain around the idea of those being sheep - i don't think he's ever worked lambs that small. But he did a nice job holding things together, handling the ram that kept thinking about challenging him, and keeping the fetch line pretty straight. Turn around the post was fine. The drive was zig-zaggy but he kept his cool nicely. The sheep were pretty touchy and turned very easily, so it took quite a bit of handling to get any sort of line going, and Bill took that well. I've not handled him that much with nit-picky flanks when driving at home, tend to just let him motor on. I was pleased with how well he was listening though the drive was mostly all over the place. The return leg of the drive was very nice and pen was clean. Final score was 63 out of 90, good for 3rd place!

Second run went like this: Bill acted like the 20 month old dog he is! :-) He seemed to see the sheep from the handlers post, so i sent him left as i'd wanted to do before because of the draw on the sheep to that side. He left my feet seeing them, seemed to lose track of them, looked up and saw them again, and did that same beautiful dramatic turn he'd done on his first run. Unfortunately, it was the exact same dramatic turn (to the right!) resulting in a crossover. The sheep took off to the left as i'd been expecting, and Bill kind of helped them along, pushing into them and not taking stops or flanks or anything i might be suggesting. Finally he busted in and gripped. Good to know he really is just a youngster still. ;-)

Overall, i was very pleased with Bill and have a good idea what i need to be doing with him to get him ready for trials. There's no reason to rush it with him but we can start working on a few things, and i have to find some larger fields to get him out on. It was a good day and i'm excited about his future. Now on to Zac and Jet's turns tomorrow and sunday in the Open.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring!

It sure looks like Spring outside today! We had rain again last night and it's colder than it's been the last few days, but everything looks crisp and fresh, the grass is greening up, forsythias are blooming, and the redbuds are starting to bloom as well.

Before i continue, let's have a moment of silence in honor of the farm's fallen friend - the signature redbud that screamed "SPRING!!" for so many years but finally bit the dust last summer, a victim of age and insects...
It really is starting to feel like spring. The ewes are huge as lambing approaches. The dogs are getting some good training in as trials are just around the corner.

I have a fun weekend ahead. I'm not going to end up getting to that dog trial as planned since we needed to reschedule the lesson day from last weekend due to the rain. Tomorrow i'm going to run the dogs over to Denise's to train. They're all working pretty well at home. Peggy and I have been trading some longer outruns at the farm all week (as long as we can anyway, diagonally laid out it's probably 300 yards or so, with a partially blind fetch that has changing pressures). Zac and Jet are working and listening nicely. Bill had a little setback early in the week trying to figure out sheep that were splitting up on him - he was pushing in too hard. He seems to have sorted that out somewhat though, so i'll be trying to do longer outruns with him too. Traveling tomorrow really is for him, as i need to keep gently challenging him with his training. It's easy to forget he's just a 20 month old pup. He's probably not really ready for the Nursery trial next friday. My plan is to be very quick to leave the post and help him have a good experience. He'll be running against dogs with a full year of experience and maturity on him so i don't plan on his being competitive just yet. Anyway, tomorrow should be fun and i may even take the chance to see what baby Meg thinks of sheep.

Sunday is group lesson day in Julie's in Liberty, always fun. It looks like a nice group of dogs and the weather is supposed to be good. Then next week a few days more of training, then off to the dog trial, and lambing starts almost immediately after (if not during!). Lambing ends and then we're off to KY for the May trials. Spring just got here but it's going to roar along quickly!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will it ever...

...stop raining?!

Got a couple of decent indoor pictures of the dogs, maybe my first ever. I really need to figure out how to do things like use the flash, etc.
Meg looking innocent...

Shiny Billy!
What better to do on a rainy day than wrestle-mania!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Looking Ahead

Trials season is sneaking up quickly. There are a couple of early season trials the next two weekends that i'm planning to attend. I hope to use these trials to guage where the dogs are in training and conditioning as we look ahead to the larger May trials in Kentucky. April will bring lambing at Shoofly, so travel will be more limited but there should be some practical dog work to do.

I'm starting to work and train the dogs on a more regular basis after a winter of off and on training (mostly off!). Spring conditioning is starting as well, with consistent sessions of running along to the ATV, gradually building up muscle and stamina. All of the dogs are a little soft physically, as the sudden warm temperatures this week served to point out. They're getting hot much faster than they should but we have time to get in shape before May. The dogs seem pretty sharp mentally with their work and are enjoying getting out. I'll be trying to haul them around as much as i can to new fields and sheep to challenge them. It'll be good for sharpening up the Open dogs, Zac and Jet, and seeing where they are needing a little extra attention as we tune up for the big trials. I expect that'll mostly be shedding work, as that's where they were both being a bit too rambunctious at our last trials. Bill needs lots of "miles" on new fields and sheep, just expanding his repertoire and confidence. I'm quite pleased with where he is right now, he's right on schedule for a good spring and will hopefully be ready to move on to Open late this summer and into the fall.

I'm trying to plan out trial trips for the coming year. I may decide to just stay in Kentucky for the whole 2.5 weeks from the Shaker Village trial to the Chinquapinwood trial and finish up at the Bluegrass (assuming i get into the Chinquapinwood trial, still waiting to hear on that one). I need to line up some training opportunities during the week between SV and Chinquapinwood, and if i can do that i'll just stick around. It doesn't make much sense to drive home 10 hours the monday after SV and turn around and drive straight back on friday. Also on the calendar will be a trip to Ontario this august for a series of trials, taking in about 10-12 days and finishing with the Kingston SDT. I went up there a few years ago and it was great trialing so i'm looking forward to that, especially with 2 Open dogs in their prime and a youngster that should be really ready for the challenge and aged to run the Nurseries. If everyone stays healthy, it should be a fun spring and summer of travels with the dogs.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Busy Weekend

Whew, what a busy weekend. 80 degree days will do that to you. Friday evening and early saturday morning, i gave a couple of lessons to beginner dogs. It's always fun getting people started with sheepwork with their dogs. I've met some really wonderful people doing lessons and learn something new from every dog. They're all such individuals.

After finishing the lesson saturday, we started in on "sheep torture day" - getting everyone ready for lambing season and some general sheep maintenance. All of the sheep got their yearly vaccinations. Then we trimmed hooves on all of the sheep that weren't really heavily pregnant. It went pretty quickly with help from a small but efficient crew. After an indulgent lunch (as usual when we all get together!), we spent a couple of hours working and training the dogs. It was pretty warm on the dogs with the sudden appearance of summer, after having snow on the ground less than a week ago. The dogs all worked well though. I tried Bill on a practice course, having sheep held for his outrun and then trying the full drive. The three wool wethers i had out for him were pretty cranky with the heat and kept trying to split and fool him, but he kept his cool extremely well and was listening like a champ. I was very, very pleased with him. Baby Meg spent the day charming everyone. She takes that particular job very seriously. After everyone left, i took a few minutes to till the garden - if that isn't a sure sign spring is coming, i don't know what is.

Today i did a lesson day at Julie's, always a fun day. We had a couple less dogs so there was a bit more time to concentrate on the dogs that were there. With the temp again over 80, plus the mental stress of a lesson, the dogs were getting hot pretty quickly. But it was a good day with a bunch of good dogs again. It's very encouraging to see these dogs on a regular basis and see the progression in their training. I popped Billy out for a quick turn during a break and he was working really sharp, getting more sure of his whistles, taking little flanks on his drive and showing good confidence in general. I feel like he'll not only be ready for Nursery this spring, he should be fairly competitive. Hope so anyway! Meg was again doing her best to be the BC Puppy Ambassador. She's darned cute. Right now, she's racing around the living room teasing the big dogs and making them chase her. Gael watches from above, on the couch, to make sure no one goes too far with "her" puppy, jumping down to chastise any of the other adults that she feels are playing too rough with the little one.

So that was the weekend and now we're all home, and me with a March sunburn!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dorky Dogs in Snow

We don't get a lot of snow around here, so it's always fun to try to get some decent dog pictures when we do. My dogs think it's a real challenge to look as dorky as possible.

First, Gael, who likes posing in the snow, says "I know i'm sexy, even with snow on my nose". Note her little admirer, Meg.
Now Zac. I don't know what the heck he was doing, shaking snow off maybe?
And now Jet. Jet, who i am on a quest to get a decent picture of. I laughed out loud when this shot came up. Her eyes are open for a change, but what a look!
I actually did get a few decent pictures of the dogs today.
And even a pretty decent picture of Jet!
Zac loves him some snow!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Training Secrets Revealed!

We've been stuck in the house for 2 days with it pouring buckets of rain. Just now it started sleeting and snow is due in any time. But training Billy has continued! I really don't take him out and work him all that much, and I'm always saying he's "training himself". So...i've decided to let you all in on my secret for training him. Just pop in a DVD of the British International Supreme Championship and here ya go!

This was the 1990 International and Bill seemed especially interested in Johnny Wilson's run. Points to Billy for good taste!