Friday, October 30, 2009

Liking Our Dogs

A couple of recent incidents involving a couple of friends have me thinking about our dogs and what we think of them, specifically our competitors' dogs, not so much our own. I think it's pretty obvious that we're all a little "kennel blind" when it comes to our own dogs - it can be hard to admit faults in our own dogs. I actually don't think that's such a bad thing. I'll never be one to put someone down for liking their own dogs, even if it's a little overboard sometimes. I can think of a lot worse things in a person than over-liking their dogs!

What i've been thinking about though, is our opinion on others' dogs. A friend and i talk about it all the time -- "no one likes anyone else's dogs". Stop and listen to people talking sometime, or even just pay attention under the tent at a dog trial, and you'll think every dog running is a piece of junk, and hardly worth feeding. Start asking around about male dogs with an eye towards finding a stud dog, and you'll wonder how anyone ever breeds anything. I wonder why this is sometimes. Is it just human nature, to focus on the negative so strongly? I know i'm as guilty as the next person, tossing out my dislikes when asked about a dog, and having to remind myself that it wouldn't hurt to focus more on the positive things in that dog first.

I guess the point of all this is, we need to look at our own dogs in as honest a light as we can, for both the good and the bad. And we need to maybe think more about what these wonderful dogs are giving us instead of focusing on the bad parts, in both our and our competitors' dogs. Every dog has it's faults, EVERY one of them. But there's a lot more good parts than bad ones. It wouldn't hurt to think about accentuating the good stuff, both in how we look at them and in how we breed them. It's also probably a good idea to remember "no one likes anyone else's dog" when you hear the offhand (or not so offhand) comment that makes you feel bad about your own dog. I think maybe it's just human nature to be negative about it, so don't get too caught up in what other people think or say. It's what you think that matters the most. And maybe the next time you feel yourself popping off a negative comment about a dog, you can stop to note the good things about him too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Watercress Farm SDT

We're back home after a terrific weekend at the Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN, hosted by Jan Thompson at her gorgeous farm. I mean really, WOW, what a beautiful area. I wish i'd gotten pictures and i'll grab some to post here if i see any pop up on the web. The changing leaves were at their peak and we were surrounded by mountain after mountain. I walked to the top of the field the evening before the trial started to look at the course, and was knocked speechless when i turned around to see the incredible view with the sun laying across the golden leaves on undulating mountains. Whew, not to be forgotten.

Jan and her fabulous crew of helpers did a wonderful job with the trial. I can't think of a single thing i'd suggest to make it better. The field was large and challenging, the sheep were fit and fat and healthy. All in all, every detail was attended to. We were even treated to one of the best handler's dinners of the year to top it off. This was Jan's second year of hosting the trial. I didn't make it last year but I won't miss it again!

Friday was the Novice/Nursery day and i ran Billy twice in Nursery. He ran pretty well in the first go, though a little tight on his outrun. That was surprising as i thought he'd run pretty wide since he was going his wider direction and the field was very open to that side. Fetch and drive were good and the pen should have been good, but Bill took an extra step to push the sheep out just as they were going in. Twice. We finished 3rd for the go. Since he'd run so tight the first go, and Bill has plenty of qualifying placements for the Finals, i thought i'd just train a bit on the second go, trying to widen him out on his outrun. He wasn't having any of that, even though i stopped and redirected him several times, he wasn't bending. Around the course was decent enough but no placement since we were in training mode. I found out later there was a very nice engraved whistle as a prize for the overall and spent some time kicking myself for not trying for that. Lesson learned!

Saturday was a dreary, yucky weather day, cold with misty rain most of the day. I ran Zac around 14th or so. He ran out pretty well but ended up tight at the top, pushing the sheep offline to start the fetch. The fetch ended up pretty good once we got them back on line, pretty tight to the line and Zac had the group really nailed together. As we turned the post, Zac started fighting me, not taking the flank i was asking for and once he took it, i saw why. The lead ewe in the group took off like a bat out of hell up the field as soon as Zac took the pressure off of her. It was very odd and i'd have never predicted it from how they were acting on the fetch. Zac worked his butt off to catch her, well up the field and well past the first drive gates. We got back on the crossdrive line and finished out the drive in good control. Next was the shed and i was quite thrilled with Zac's performance there as we took 2 lambs off the group of 4 in fine fashion. He's gotten to be a really good shedding dog and it's a lot of fun for both of us. On to the pen where we worked to get the group in only to have time called as the gate was about 6 inches from shut. It wasn't an easy group of sheep and i was really pleased with Zac. Jet, on the other hand, was a little stinker when i ran her later in the afternoon. I knew she'd pull up short on this course, but the little you-know-what pulled up in *front* of the sheep, pushing them off backwards! I was very unhappy with her and then she didn't want to flank on the fetch once we got going in the right direction, so i went into training mode, thinking i'd try to salvage something from the run by getting her listening for the next day's run. I ended up walking off on the drive, once i felt i'd made my point with her.

Sunday was a much nicer weather day, sunny though still pretty cold. I decided to substitute Billy in for Jet in my morning run to give him experience, since i really didn't expect Jet to do much better than the first day. He ran out nicely to the left (oddly enough, the side he's usually tight on) and lifted well. After the lift, he pushed into the sheep, splitting them and knocking them offline. Actually, i think he did it twice before getting it together and into the range where i could have some impact on him. The second half of the fetch was nice, the turn and first leg of the drive good, and then Bill refused to flank right to turn at the panels. He didn't want to come off the pressure but the sheep started booking up the field, getting very deep before he finally caught them. We put them right back online and finished the drive very nicely. The pen was very clean and then we were on to the shedding ring, where we were to take a single off the back of the group of three. The sheep were very hard to split and we manuevered them around a bit trying to get a good shed, with Bill seeming to be "getting it" on the shedding, really keyed in and trying to help me get a gap. I was happy to see that, i think he's on his way to being a good shedder. Since the back single wasn't coming easily, and the sheep were so difficult to split, i decided to take the front sheep as she kept leading out and leaving a nice gap. We got slaughtered on points for it but the run wasn't going to be really competitive anyway. I didn't want to keep fiddling with getting it right since Bill was trying so hard, and wanted to do something to give him a sense of accomplishment. He came in nicely with good enthusiasm and was quite pleased with himself. I was very happy with him overall. I want to make sure he's having positive experiences since he's just moved to Open, and this was a good one.

After a long wait, Zac was finally up as the second to last dog of the day. I sent him off left as i had the day before and he kicked wide and deep, obviously having learned something from the first time out there. He landed perfectly and the sheep drifted off the top, straight towards me. He kicked to one side and i kicked him back over, and from there the sheep never veered offline a bit. It was a nice, calm walk straight towards me. I'd gone out hoping to work on having a nice flow to the run and Zac was giving it to me. I'd put him over on the pressure side to show the sheep they shouldn't veer off, being very careful to not let Zac overdo it and make the sheep turn off the fetch line, and then he'd scoot behind to make sure they were continuing towards me without stopping for a graze. Turn around the post was smooth and tight, and the first leg of the drive continued on as the fetch had, dead straight and a comfortable pace. With the late afternoon light, it was really hard to tell when the sheep were through the driveaway panels, and i was getting nervous knowing we had such a good run going. I wiggled the sheep just a hair to try to see if they were through and decided they weren't, driving on just a little further, and then saw a bit of shadow from the panel on the inside sheep's backside, so started the turn carefully. The group squeaked right around the panel and were through. The crossdrive was straight and online and just as we got to the panel i started protecting the bottom side a little too much and the sheep barely slipped around the top panel for 6 points gone (the first points we'd lost). It was pretty hard to see as the shadows were playing tricks around those panels, but i think nerves were getting to me. I don't get nervous usually, but having a good run will do it to me. I knew my run was good enough that it would place if i finished clean, even with the missed panels, so i kept the pressure on. Our return leg to the pen was very good, the pen clean as a whistle. On to the shed with about a minute and a half to go. We flanked back and forth a bit, trying see who might be the better candidate to split off and i decided on a lamb that was hanging at the back by just a hair. I wanted to string them out but they weren't having anything to do with that and were clumped up very tightly after having just spent 8 minutes leaning on each other around the course. I got in position and brought Zac slowly forward until the front two started forward, and calmly called Zac in - "this one" (weird since i never use that particular command). Zac came in strong and a bit far, and then was very exuberant trying to hold the single, and we lost 2 points on the shed (for coming through too far). Final score was 92, I was blown away, that was the best run i've ever had in terms of flow and control and lines. I'm still enjoying it today! We ended up in 3rd place, behind Christine Henry and Bob Washer, but really the placement didn't matter. The memory sure will.

It was a great trial and a nice weekend. The puppies even had a ball, meeting lots of people and dogs, and having great wrestling sessions in their pen with brother Ranger. Next up, the Rural Hill trial in 2 weeks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lexington SDT

We're home after a somewhat successful weekend at the Lexington SDT, hosted by Dave Clark and Cheryl Branibar. Dave and Cheryl are delightful hosts and i don't think there's anyone out there who works harder to make sure we all have a good time. The field is gorgeous, sheep healthy, judging good, set out even and well done, and the handler's dinner superb. They try very hard to cross all the t's and dot all the i's and it really showed. Thanks so much to both of them!

Friday was a misty, dreary day, and much colder than normal for this time of year. We met to run two Nursery classes in the afternoon, each with 8 dogs so qualifying two youngsters for the National Finals next year in Middletown, VA. I was running Bill and he did a very nice job, especially on his first run, which i thought was smooth and flowing and really sweet. He ended up second in the first class and won the second, so now is officially qualified. I'll keep running him for experience, but it's nice to have the qualifying done so we can relax on that. I was very pleased with his enthusiasm, coming off a bad experience at the Edgeworth trial last weekend. He seemed none the worse for it, and perhaps even learned a bit from it as he was more willing to take some redirects over the weekend.

We lucked out on the weather over the weekend. It was very cold but not raining as had been forecast going in, whew. I ran all three dogs in the Open. Bill was first up both days and i was really thrilled with him. He ended up running when the sheep were especially cranky, and handled them and himself very well. The outrun was horribly tricky, with many experienced Open dogs crossing over or not finding the sheep. Bill certainly had trouble as well, but got out there both times. His first outrun was relatively clean, just one stop and redirect and on he went. The second time, he ran deeper and came across the pen full of sheep at the top of the field, which perplexed him. After a bit, i got him to go on around where he found his group of sheep. I thought that was a very good learning experience for him. It was a bit rough around the course, as it was for everyone, but Bill got around both days with fairly decent lines. We had a quick shed to finish the course saturday and then timed out at the pen on sunday. I really loved how Bill worked and held it together, and the authority he was showing over his sheep. Confidence was just shining through and i couldn't have been happier to see that!

I ran Jet second on saturday and she pulled up terribly, terribly short on her outrun and it took forever to get her over to lift. It was very frustrating, to say the least. Zac ran third and had a beautiful run, coming at a time when the sheep were being extra cranky and tearing around the course like crazy. He ran out well (after trying to cross behind me on his send command, which cost us dearly on points), nice lift, straight, calm fetch and drive. Pen was clean and when i looked down at my watch to see how much time we had left, i realized it hadn't started counting down! (probably because i was fiddling with resetting it, etc after Zac tried to go the wrong way). I was pretty certain time was short, so started rushing around on the shed and couldn't get it set up before time ran out. Turns out i might have had time to get it set up, but it was pretty tight. Overall, it was a very good run and i thought the score would be close to the leader at the time, but we ended up 7th instead, quite a way off the leading score. I think i must have been seeing the lines a little differently than the judge but that's the way it goes sometimes. I'm certain she was judging the lines tighter than i'd thought as well (note to self: be pickier next time, dummy!). The cross behind me surely didn't help much either. Anyway, it was a nice run and i was proud of how Zac handled and settled the sheep.

The runs on Sunday with Zac and Jet weren't anything to write home about. The sheep were racing around and really tired of the whole thing, and neither dog managed much with the groups we'd drawn. It was kind of a shame to see the sheep get so bad, since the rest of the trial was so well planned and executed. Not many dogs actually got to do a lift since the sheep were racing off the top end so hard, and that's a shame since that's when the dogs need to set the tone for the run. I'm not sure what would have made it better, perhaps running four sheep instead of three - i've seen that help tremendously at a couple of recent trials. It would mean another trip or two around the course over the weekend for each sheep, but that might not be so bad if it could be a calmer trip and not a race to try to beat the dogs. Moving the setout pens to a position behind the setout point, rather than off to the side, might have helped as well. The pull to the exhaust was hard but might have been okay if the draw uphill to the setout wasn't there as well. That's all just supposition though, no complaints here. It was a very good trial.

Now off to the Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN this coming friday-sunday!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Trials and Catching up

I thought i ought to catch things up here, it's been nearly a month since i did. The last post about the dogs was right after the trial at Don McCaig's. The weekend following the trial we had a group lesson at Julie's, and little did we know but one of the dogs had picked up kennel cough at the trial. About 5 days after the lesson, Meg and Tug (formerly known as ZJ) started coughing, only 2 days before the WFAC trial. That sure threw a monkey wrench into our plans! With some careful planning and good common sense, we managed to get through the trial and to not pass it around to those attending, whew. Speaking of the trial, it really was awesome, and what great friends around here to come together and do such a terrific job. I ran all three Open dogs at the trial and they ran well enough. Bill was the only one to place, coming in 4th the first day. It's hard to run dogs and run the trial, so i was pleased enough with them. And Bill gets his first USBCHA points! Actually, if we need it, that could count as his first Nursery leg too - a top 20% placement in Open counts towards Nursery qualifying.

The day after the trial, the dogs that hadn't been coughing started up. Eventually all 7 managed to have kennel cough, but other than for Meg, it wasn't that bad, just a day or so each. Poor Meg coughed for 8 or 9 days and pretty hard. By the end of the week, everyone but her was done, so i loaded up Bill and Zac, and Joan brought along Brook, and we headed up to the first day of the Montpelier SDT. Zac ran very well but we couldn't get the shed. Had we run later in the day, i might have taken a cheap shed instead of getting stuck trying to do it properly. But we ran early and i didn't know proper sheds were going to be few and far between (not sure i saw more than a couple all day). Bill ran later in the day and got completely flummoxed by the heavy school sheep that just stood there with their heads down in the grain pan. He finally got frustrated and chased one off and grabbed it. I felt bad for him, he's just not seen anything like that before. Zac had similar trouble when he was young and got over it, and i'm sure Bill will too, but i sure hated seeing it. We spent some time working on it during the next week and he seemed to figure it out a bit.

So, on to the Edgeworth SDT this past weekend. I had all 3 dogs entered. I ran Bill first in both rounds and he didn't find his sheep either time. It was just too far out for him and without redirects and with only a beginning of a turnback, i didn't have a good way to help him. At the end of the trial, the Wilsons offered to let us help dogs that hadn't made it to the top, so i walked most of the way up with him and sent him to pick the sheep up. He was gimpy on one of his feet, so i didn't want to overdo it with him, but i wanted to be sure he got to find sheep. I doubt it will make that much difference but by next year, we'll have more tools in our toolbox for getting up there. I regret entering him but i doubt it'll cause any irreparable harm. I won't do it again with a dog that doesn't have the things i need to help him or her get out there.

This year, i finally got to run Zac at Edgeworth! He's been hurt the last 2 fall seasons, so hadn't run out there before. He had trouble getting out there but with some help, did get there at least. In the first round, i sent him right and it took 4 or 5 redirects, but he did get there. He lifted badly to the side but caught the sheep, and we got them online, and the rest of the run was really pretty. Lines were good, turns tight, good flow. The split and pen were extremely nice with Zac doing an exceptional job on the shedding. We ran out of time on the single, with it he would have been well into the placings. Zac's second run was pretty lousy. He didn't want to take the redirects and crossed over. He did take a beautiful turnback to finish on the left side (i'd sent right) nicely. The lift was straight and sweet but the sheep tore down the fetch like bats out of hell. It wasn't like Zac at all, he's a pretty pacey fetcher. I'm not sure if it was him or the sheep or a combination of both but it wasn't good. The first leg of the drive was similar, though at that point i finally had control on Zac so i know it wasn't him. Hearing was bad near the first gate and Zac took a wrong flank, causing the sheep to veer around. I decided to retire and so did one of the sheep - one of the rear ones finally had enough of trying to keep up with the running leaders and laid down. I had Zac catch the runners and settle them near the down one, and she finally popped up okay. Frustrating to say the least!

Jet had her usual good Edgeworth. She always manages to do pretty well there, and finished 2nd in each of the last 2 years, by one point each time. She ran out nicely wide both days to the right. She did pull up well short both times, on pressure (actually short of the balance point but covering it as she walked in). In her first run, she lifted well but the first half of the fetch was off, and then the rest of the fetch and the drive were nice. Her split, pen, single were really sweet. It's so much fun to shed with Jet - she makes holes with me and really partners up for the job, comes in like a bullet and holds like a brick wall. Her second run was the last of the day on saturday and the wind was blowing, making it hard for the dogs to hear. She still ran very well, the only real blip (other than being short up top) a bad miss on the crossdrive gates when she couldn't hear me. She ended up placing both days, the first time for that! She was 5th out of 60 dogs in the first round, and 9th out of 58 in the second. Go Jet! The trial was a lot of fun and i was very pleased with Jet and Zac for 3 of 4 runs. The first go featured a turn around a post about 100 yards from the handlers post to begin the drive, as well as a marked shed. I was very happy with the tight turns my dogs made at that post, and their shedding was gorgeous. I'll be looking forward to the winter trial at Edgeworth.

So next up is the Lexington SDT this coming weekend. Bill is entered in Nursery and Open, and Jet and Zac in Open. I'm not sure Bill will get to do all of that, he's got a sore foot so i'll have to see how he looks. I'll decide on the Open runs after seeing how he does both performance-wise and on his foot in the Nurseries. I want to back off a bit on him and not be pushing him on too quickly. I wasn't too happy to see him having trouble the last two weekends and don't want him having another bad experience, not so soon anyway. He'll be fine but there's no need to rush things with him.

Other than all of the trial stuff, i've been just having a blast with the puppies, Moon and Tug. They're great pups, happy and bright and funny. Tug especially cracks me up - he's a very playful little guy, just like his dad, and into everything. Moon is sweeter and more loving, and a better listener, wanting to do right. As much as i can't wait to see how they turn out as sheepdogs, i wish i could freeze them in place right now and keep them little! Meg has moved on to a new home. I'd decided to maybe keep her around longer but ran into a friend needing another dog, so decided to let Meg go to kind of help her out. But then she found another dog before Meg got over the kennel cough and was ready to go. While all of this was going on, a top handler stepped in and said she was looking and asked if she could see Meg, and bought her on the spot. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of Meg on the national scene in about a year and i'll be crying the blues for selling her! But it's a good thing for Meg and for the rest of the Shoofly dogs too. It's easy to get spread too thin and then everyone gets cheated, and i was sitting here with four dogs at or under 2 years old. Too many.

I think that about catches us up on the dogs. Hopefully i'll have lots of good things to report after the trials the next two weekends!