Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Zac puppies are on the way! Due January 10th, out of a nice little bitch named Rhyme.
Rhyme's mother is Peggy Stein's Kit, a littermate to my Jet (sired by my old Ben). I'm really excited to see these lines being tied together. Ben was a very powerful dog and produced that in his pups. Rhyme's sire is Myra Soden's Moel Hemp, a very talented dog bred by Ceri Rundle. If you google Bwlch Hemp x Dolwen Fan, you will see many well known and accomplished sheepdogs that are bred the same as Myra's Hemp.

I expect the Zac x Rhyme pups to be athletic, very biddable, good listeners, with a lot of come forward, nice flanks and natural outruns, as there is an abundance of those qualities through all of the lines. Let's hope i'm right! They're due on my birthday and i think that would be a nice gift.

Here's a link to Zac's pedigree (click here)

And here's one to Rhyme's pedigree (click here)

And here is more info on Zac and some pictures of both him and dogs in his background (click here)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Packed Pen

I've referred to the packed pen method of training in the past here on the blog. Yesterday some friends and i got together with 3 fifteen month old dogs and did a lot of packed pen work. We got a bit of video and i thought i'd share it on here.

This first video is Zeke and it's his first time ever in the pen. Normally i'd start a dog on a 6 foot leash but Zeke is pretty calm and has a good idea what the flank commands mean, so i just left him loose. I want him going calmly around the sheep and not flipping his direction. You'll see he figures this whole thing out pretty quickly and his confidence grows a lot in a few short minutes.

This next video is of Moon, one of the Zac puppies. She's done just a little packed pen work before this video. It's been a terrific training method for her as she's been quite the determined little gripper. With her confidence growing, she finds she doesn't need to be biting, and even when she does, it's mostly nice and workmanlike. She really reminds me of her grandmother Spottie in this video.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall trials

The fall trials are starting to kick in now. I took Bill and Zac up to the Montpelier trial Oct 2nd to run. I just went the one day. It's close enough to drive up and back, and gives me an excuse to spend the day with my friend Joan, since she rides up with me. It was a fun day and nice to see some folks i hadn't seen in a while. The crowd was huge this year for the fiber festival, maybe because the weather was so nice. Zac was first up in the Open and had a nice run but i had trouble penning - the sheep were glued to my knees. I finally managed to convince them to go in by actually moving to the other side of the gate, with the rope across their backs, so that Zac could get close enough to make them move. Weird! We couldn't get them to separate for the shed at all. Bill ran later on and had a nice go, finishing 2nd for the day.

Edgeworth was last weekend and the lovely trial it always is. I don't understand why it draws mostly local people rather than folks from further away like it used to. I guess maybe because it's just after the Finals, and also there are so many other good trials in other parts of the country these days. But we ran about 60 dogs for each round. Zac and Bill ran out beautifully both days, which is always a nice feeling on that difficult outrun. Both were very good around the course, not losing many points there. I didn't do an especially good job on the at-hand elements (a chute, pen, shed/split) but that was no fault of the dogs. Not sure what was up with that, maybe just a bit of a let down after all the Finals excitement. Zac ended up 4th and Bill 8th in the first go, and both were just out of the placings in the second.

We're off this weekend to the Watercress SDT in Limestone, TN. The setting is absolutely stunning, up in the mountains among all of the fall color. I'm hoping having had a weekend off that we'll be back in a more competitive mode, or maybe i should say hoping *I* will be. Zac ran extremely well at this trial last year, with a nearly perfect run on the second day, the kind you don't forget. I'd love to see a repeat performance!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finals strategies

I promised to do a Finals wrap up blog, so here it is. I'll do it in two sections, one a more personal one and a second detailing some of the strategies i picked up and used since i do try to keep this blog at least somewhat educational (for myself and my poor memory as well as for others!).

First off, it was the most amazing week of dog trialing. I almost felt as if i should just stop right there, it'll never be topped. But you know that ain't happening, right?! My good friend Lauren was right there for most of the week and called it "fantasy week at the Finals" and it surely was. It was an amazing high. My dogs worked so well, i could not possibly have been more proud of the job they both did. They performed like the champs i've always known them to be, each winning their day in the qualifying rounds and not missing a single sheep through a single panel over 6 runs. I'm still awestruck by the job young Bill did and the trust he showed on the final day when i was asking him to perform so far above his training level. It's truly humbling what these sheepdogs are capable of.

The people at the Finals were absolutely amazing. I felt like i was riding a wave of good wishes and congratulations the whole time. I was just blown away by it. So many smiling happy faces who were genuinely happy to cheer us on and hanging in there on every whistle. Wow, it still gives me goosebumps. The level of competition was amazing and i have to say i learned an awful lot just being in amongst it and watching and studying. I try to remember that especially in this particular endeavor, "you don't know what you don't know until you know it". I think i know more now, or at least i'm aware of the more that's out there. All in all, it's been a surreal experience. The addition of the webcast and the Twitter feed added to the experience in ways i doubt anyone really expected. I've heard from people all over the country (and some overseas), both in and out of the sheepdog trial world, offering congratulations and telling me how much they enjoyed seeing both dogs run. Pretty mind blowing really.
Okay, so on to the trial strategies part. I have to give credit again to the competitors at the Finals. I was fortunate enough to draw up late enough in the Open that i could watch a lot of really good handling in both rounds, and formulate my own strategy based on what i was seeing work. Bill and i didn't have a real chance to do more than try to conquer the bad ewe he had in the Nursery, but i sure used things i picked up once we got to the Open.

Carla King ran very early in the first round of Open and went out and laid down a gorgeous, calm run to post a high score. The sheep responded extremely well to her quiet, gentle handling, especially at the shed, where she just calmly folded off her shed sheep. I hardly think they even noticed they'd been split! I tried very hard to emulate Carla's handling and quiet manner, easing the sheep around as gently as they would allow.

I noticed that one dog seemed to really settle his sheep and take a bit of the fight out of them by pushing them off a little hard to the right after lifting. It was almost as if he said "no breaking to the left, got it?" and they just bent to his will from that point. I decided to try that, giving up a point or so in hopes of keeping some others on the fetch. We had gorgeous online fetches the entire week, as well as very good drive lines, from the Nursery right up to the double lift and i think this was part of it.

I picked up my strategy for the very tricky turn at the post from watching a good friend compete. It seemed he was pushing the sheep offline to the right at bit so he could do a series of small turns/flanks rather than one large sweeping move around the post that would give the sheep a head of steam that the dog would have to try to stop. My dogs were happy to use this method and it seemed to help break the sheep from bolting. Once i had the sheep turned, i decided to have my dogs settle them a bit before letting them continue down the driveaway line. I'd stop the sheep and let my dogs eye them up a bit, trying to build some rapport and trust between them all, and also show the sheep that they weren't getting away from my guys. It didn't always work, i know Zac had some runners that hit that panel at a dead run, but it mostly did, and i think it also helped the dogs master the sheep when it was time to turn onto the crossdrive. They'd already explained to the sheep that they were in charge and there was no need to test them.

Another strategy i picked up watching a top competitor was to go through the panels a little deep rather than going for the tight turns we normally aim for. It's not worth risking the miss when you're trying to get to the next round. Another thing i picked up, and this was from my own mistake in Bill's nursery run, is to keep my fingers up so i can keep whistling when i need it. I'd dropped my hands to shout "lie down" before a panel with Bill, and when i needed a fast flank, he couldn't hear my voice command. Something to remember at trials with spectators, where there is applause on making panels.

The final strategy i picked up goes back to Carla's run, where she folded off her shed sheep so calmly. The sheep were bad for clumping up and not separating if they were pressured, so gentle handling was needed. I didn't manage to do it every time, but when i could, it did work very well.

I think that about covers the big stuff on strategies. It was quite the week, both as an experience to treasure and also for the education. Can't wait until next year in CO!

Friday, October 1, 2010

2010 Finals Slideshow

Talented photographer Michelle Dobbs put together a lovely slideshow from the Finals. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finals Top 17

So on to the final day we go with Bill. I was disappointed to not be running two dogs in the Finals, both because i felt Zac would do well but also because it would have been fun to try it twice. Little did i know, but i'd get 2 shots at it anyway.

It was a much better weather day for a dog trial, overcast with cooler temps. Bill and i drew up 6th, a pretty good spot to run in usually. I might have preferred a little later draw just so i could watch and study earlier runs but at least we weren't 1st or 2nd. I was really concerned about getting Bill to do the turnback to the 2nd lot of sheep. He only has the start of a proper turnback in his repertoire. He understands the verbal "look" command means to turn around and look for sheep behind him. I've blown the whistle to him a couple of times to start teaching it to him, but always follow it with voice as he doesn't know it yet. He's been on a few turnbacks to sheep that were in sight, up to maybe 150-200 yards or so, and i did send him back to sheep that he couldn't see, about 50 yards away, once or twice at the farm, just before heading to the Finals. I didn't want to do a lot of turnback training just before the fall trials, since it tends to make dogs look back a little too easily on fetches if you've been working on it. Better to train it during the off season. Unfortunately, Bill was hurt during the past winter off season and missed out. So, it was with some trepidation that i stepped to the post. True, it was an honor to just make the cut, but i sure did want to try the course. I was pretty relaxed though. Someone (wish i could remember who!) had made a comment that Bill trusts me and he'd go back, and i took a good deal of comfort from that thought. It's true, we've gotten to be a pretty close team and i've tried to always be fair and not ask for more than he can do, and he does trust me.

The first group of ten was spotted about 600 yards out, in the upper left corner of the field. I'd already sent Bill out 3 times to the left, but to sheep spotted at 350-400 yards and in the middle of the field. He seemed to see the sheep though, and i set him up to run wide, and he went out very well, nicely wide, looking and kicking out as he went. He landed well, pulling up on the pressure, which was downfield to my left. Lift was nice and we started the dogleg fetch online. I had him hard on the pressure, pushing the sheep off to the right a bit to counteract that huge draw, and his fetch was nice, to the panel and through. We settled the sheep at the drop post, but as soon as i flanked Bill over to the right, the sheep broke hard left, as they did on all of the dogs. It was about as hard of a turnback as you could possibly set up. The dogs had to fight to keep the sheep off the exhaust and then just let them run off, and every dog of the day had trouble turning back, even some very experienced ones. I started giving Bill the whistle and following it with the "look" voice command. He was a good boy and released the first group well but just couldn't figure out what i wanted, as he couldn't see any sheep behind him. It took quite a while (felt like hours!) but after trying a few different things, i finally got Bill looking further upfield. He'd already crossed over, so it didn't matter how i got him out, i just needed to get him there. He started upfield, and i'm not sure if he was running back and thinking about the first group, or trying a come bye outrun to the right corner, but, i saw him finally see the sheep, stopped him and redirected him around to the proper away outrun. I could maybe have left him on the come bye path but i was wanting him to do it right and was doing a bit of training out there. He took the redirect very well, kicking out and landing perfectly on the sheep. The sheep took off like crazy towards that exhaust draw but Bill kicked around and caught them, and we kept them online, to the panels and through. That sure felt good!

Okay, so double lift finally accomplished and we continued on to the fetching. Bill did a beautiful job keeping the second group on the fetch line to the post, holding that hard pressure. Unfortunately, by the time we'd evened them up to the first group, the first group had disappeared from sight and were right up against the fence. I sent Bill down in there to try to fish them out (yet another blind turnback) but he came out with only about half. I couldn't see what happened, maybe he got confused by the people and dogs down there that were trying to keep the sheep out in the field, but he did let some get away. I think he should have been able to manage it but i couldn't see, and the groups had been held out in sight on the field on the previous runs, so the judges gave us a rerun. It was a big relief that we would get to continue on and try the course, but oh no, another double lift!We waited about an hour and stepped back to the post. The first outrun, lift and fetch were nearly identical to the morning one. When we got to the drop post, i had Bill push the sheep a few yards to the right, in hopes that maybe they'd stay but unfortunately they took off again when i flanked him around to set up the turnback. I wondered afterwards if a little more time holding them on the spot might have helped, but i doubt it. I started the whistle/voice routine again and though Bill did cross over and need some extra flanking to set up, he did go back and quite a lot easier than the first time. Again he landed well, fetched straight and the sheep were through the panels and coming towards the handlers post. This time, our first lot had been held further out in the field where we could see them. I decided to stop Bill and let the second lot run over to the first, with a plan to send him around them all. He had a hard time understanding what i wanted when he got there though. It was odd, but the groups stayed segregated even though they were really close to each other. Bill went around the back group but then locked in on the front group and was going to let the back one go. I had a heck of a time getting it worked out with him and we lost precious time, on top of all we'd lost on the first turnback (time started at 18 minutes on the second run, when i sent Bill to join up the groups). Finally we got it together and did the turn around the post and began the drive. It was actually more tricky than i expected, since there was a cheviot looking ewe with a friend who wanted to run off, and then a couple of really heavy ewes wanting to stop and stand at the back. Bill had to work really hard and do a lot of running from front to back to keep things together and moving. We wiggled around a bit getting the panels with those troublemakers but hit both panels and the drive was pretty decent all around, if a bit slow.

On to the shedding ring, where time was running low and i had a very tired dog after four 600 yard outruns. He had this "whew, i'm beat!" look on his face. Even fresh, Bill is still a little punky on his shedding since i haven't pushed it with him (one of our winter projects) because of his age. The sheep were being pretty cooperative though, bunching up some nice groups of uncollared ewes, and Bill was hanging in there pretty good. We got a couple of nice cuts, got down to about 3-5 uncollared ewes left and might have gotten it done but time ran out. All the time spent going back cost us there. But we still ended up with a 339 and 8th place!

I was so thrilled with my young guy. He worked his heart out and i was so impressed with how well he handled the sheep. They were big, strong, opinionated ewes who pushed dogs around all week. Straight lines were hard to come by and Bill had not just two, but four beautiful fetches, and also a lovely first leg of the drive. It was a very difficult turnback and he DID trust me, and listened and tried so hard to figure things out even though it was way, way over his head. He was calm, cool and kept his composure and the things he knew how to do, he did extremely well. And the things he didn't, he hung in there and worked out. I'm so very, very proud of him.

Next up, the Finals wrap up...

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 SemiFinals

What a ride. I'm still pinching myself to be sure it was real. Or maybe just so i can stay awake now that we're home - it was quite the trip to come down from!

Bill drew up 15th and Zac 31st in the semifinals round. We were running 5 sheep, 2 with collars. The course was a little bigger than in the preliminary round, with slightly longer drives and a 450 yard outrun. I worried with the earlier draw that Bill might be at a disadvantage since the afternoon sheep seemed generally better, but i needn't have. He ran beautifully, settling his sheep and mastering them, keeping them calm and cooperative. We were to shed off 2 plain, then pen and then single a collared ewe. We were very clean around the course with reasonable lines, shed and pen went well. We again had a missed attempt on the single but did get it. I'm not surprised Bill had trouble with the singles, he's still not completely solid on the shedding so we haven't done much singling yet, trying to remember that he is still a youngster. Final score was 174 and he ended up in 13th place, qualifying for the big show - the top 17 double lift Finals!

Zac ran later and like in the first round, had a real smoker going. He had a difficult ewe in the bunch but really mastered her around the course, showing great confidence and poise, and listening really well. He was totally on his game for the trial. We got around cleanly and into the shedding ring, and i just couldn't get the sheep to line up as i needed. The collared ewes kept staying in with the uncollared, and i couldn't get 2 plain ones together. I stayed smart to start with but then got caught up in pushing them onto Zac. I should have known better and kept things looser as we'd done in the first round. Finally the ewe that had been eying up Zac and giving him grief broke off and he nailed her for a DQ. Heartbreak as i was so looking forward to running him in the top 17 as well. I know he'd have done well, even with that nasty turnback, because we practice it. It was very disappointing but we'll just have to work on that gripping and plan to be back next year.

It was a bit of a nerve wracking day waiting to see if Bill would make it through. I thought he probably would but you never know, and there were some great teams running at the end. A really cool thing was that the semifinals were being webcast. I heard from friends and family all over the country who were watching it all in real time. How amazing is that?

Next post is on the Top 17...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open Finals, Day 3, What Another Day!

Well, this has been some kind of week. Zac had his run today in the Finals and did a terrific job! If not for one silly mistake on my part, he'd now be leading the National Finals with 3/4s of the dogs already run. As it is, he's sitting in 4th place, 2 points behind Bill in 2nd. No matter what happens from here on out, it's already been amazing!

Zac was set to run 30th today. I was hoping the sheep would turn sweeter in the afternoon as they'd done on wednesday but they sure took their time doing it. I'd thought the heat would make the sheep more cranky but it seemed to make them lose their inclination to fight a bit. They'd still take advantage of mistakes but weren't quite so nasty about it. I don't think they really changed until just about the time we ran, later than yesterday. Zac was really good to them though, and they seemed to like him so it's hard to say for sure. They were pretty opinionated on the split and single so it's possible he made them a little better around the course. Either way, they were happy to walk nicely right around. I sent Zac left and he went out beautifully, bending just where i was looking for it. He landed nice and deep, and i dropped him about 11:00 to counter the leftward draw. The sheep folded off the lift towards me and i got Zac over on the left quickly, and we actually pushed the sheep over to the right a bit. I didn't want them getting any ideas that they could take off to the left as they'd been doing all week. I kept the fetch slow and it was very straight and online except for the topmost part. It looks like our gather score is 8 off on the HA website, and that's combined for 2 judges, so that's about as clean as it gets. (Bill was 8 off too!). Drive away was perfect, straight through the panels and turn was tight. I got low on the cross drive, then took it high, but again, i didn't fiddle too much with it so we could keep a nice flow. I didn't want panelitis getting me - i can get nervous and start lashing around at them sometimes. Return leg good and the sheep ambled nicely into the ring and stopped. So here's where i get nervous a bit with Zac, as he's been quite good at gripping off in the ring, especially when we've had a good run. So i was very careful setting up the split and kept it really quiet with Zac. He came in a little slow and glanced at the wrong group, but the split was called, all fine. The left behind sheep got to the far edge of the ring and i brought the others back to them. The judges had told us specifically to regather in the ring, and i thought i had done it, but i must have been over the edge. And them somehow i managed to not take the group through the shedding ring, though it's nearly on top of the pen, so i got hit 10 points (5 per judge) for the error (they called me over and told me after the run). But off to the pen, where the sheep jostled around a bit but did finally go in. I decided Zac could grab a quick dip in the water tub, then got back in the ring and very carefully got the single with Mr Grip at the Very Last Moment. I kept him calm and cool and watched carefully since i knew we were having a heck of a run, and he just held it nicely. Woo hoo! Final score was 185. With those 10 points back, he'd be sitting at 195, six points above the current top score. We won't give those points away next time!

It's been a fun Finals with lots of good dog work, great for watching and studying. I know i've learned a ton watching the great handling and have been taking lots of mental notes. And i just couldn't be more proud of Bill and Zac. They're so much fun and such good boys!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Open Finals, Day 1, What a Day!

What a day! The Open has begun and the running is tough. The committee moved the course a bit off the draw but someone forgot to explain to the sheep that that should have helped a bit. They are really pulling hard off to the left of the field, beyond the first drive panel. It's been a tough job all day getting that line with the sheep, and that's after fighting like mad to hold the fetch line. Whew. There were some really good dogs running today and it was very hard to even leave the viewing area because there was always someone running or on deck that i wanted to see.

I ran Bill late this afternoon in the #31 spot and i couldn't be any more proud of my young guy. I sent him left after waiting what seemed like forever for the sheep to be spotted and settled at the set out point. There was some breaking and jostling around but finally they did settle and off Bill went.He went out beautifully, bending in exactly the spots i'd have hoped for, and ending nicely deep. Because i felt the proper place to come in was around 10:30-11 o'clock, behind the lone tree on the field, i hit him with a steady whistle just as insurance, though it felt like he was making that decision just fine on his own. He came on quietly and with authority and the sheep folded off the top, straight at me. I started hitting the away whistle fast and furious as i wanted him set up on the left side and he took them pretty nicely, actually pushing the sheep a little off to the right. The fetch was pretty much straight and through the panels. The rest of the fetch was nice, turn around the post was pretty good though a bit wide. That really difficult first leg of the drive was just that - difficult - but it went well and we managed to stay online. The sheep stalled a couple of times but Bill just leaned right into them and they'd move off. I was loving how flexible he was being, locking in and pushing but still taking all my flanks and stops and walk ups right off. Through the panel, nice tight turn. The cross drive was a little more wiggly and lower than i wanted, but i didn't want to get too picky about it at that point and just kept it flowing over and through the panels. Return leg was pretty good and the sheep were nicely settled coming into the ring. We kept it calm and quiet and folded 2 off for the split, then eased them into the pen pretty easily with Bill just taking that job over for me as he walked them up and pressed them in. Deep breath and back to the ring for the single and we got a nice gap where i called Bill in but he hesitated and it closed, so a missed attempt. Another deep breath and we got a good one right at the edge of the ring. The judge took some time calling it and i fretted that they thought we'd left the ring but finally, whew, he called it!

I couldn't have been more proud of my young boy, he was a real champ out there. The strategies i'd planned to deal with the draw worked well because he was working so well with me and the sheep were listening to him. And even better yet, when they announced the score, we'd taken the lead with a 187! I don't know if that'll hold up for 3 more long days with all of these amazing dogs and handlers here still to run, but we'll surely make it to the semi-finals where we'll get another go at the sheep. Oh geez, now i have to figure out what to wear as it'll be televised on the live streaming video feed. At least i know what Bill will wear - he's going commando, LOL!
(photo above and in blog title by denise wall)

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Nursery Finals

What a wonderful trial going on here in VA. The organizers have done a fabulous job. Great field, great sheep. The sheep have been a good test of the dogs without being too much for the youngsters.

It was a bittersweet sort of day for me with Bill. I was so excited to run him and felt he was very ready and poised to do well. Unfortunately the luck of the draw got us. The sheep have been mostly very good but we had the misfortune to draw one that was a real stinker. She juked and jived and tried every trick in the book to get away from the moment she stepped on the field. We were doing a right hand drive and the sheep had been breaking all day to the left, and honestly i started wondering how the heck we were going to deal with that ewe on the crossdrive before we'd even brought her off the top end.

I sent Bill to the left on his outrun and he ran out very nicely, wide and deep. I'd planned on stopping him around 11 o'clock to counter the draw to the left but he came in there on his own, walking in with calm confidence. The sheep still broke to the left a bit but Bill took my flanks well and caught them. They got a bit offline but not too bad considering how hard it had been all day to hold them. We got the panels pretty easily and kept them online the rest of the fetch. This whole time, that one stinker of a ewe was breaking really hard to the left side about every 10 yards or so. Bill did a terrific job catching her and putting her back in, over and over and over, while we both worked hard to keep the other 3 online and sticking close enough to not lose them while the bad one was breaking. And i mean she was breaking hard! The turn around the post was dicey but we got it done. The first leg of the drive had been tough all day, with the sheep not wanting to line out and go straight downhill. Bill did a pretty nice job with the line, even though that ewe was breaking harder than ever, and her friends were starting to think about ways to take advantage of Bill being so busy with the stinker. We got them nicely through the panel and then the race was on! We had to take the sheep in the direction they wanted to go, and go they did, hellbent. I managed to time it exactly how i wanted, will Bill on the top side of the sheep as they flew through the panels. I had to give him a hard down command and went to voice, which meant i was giving that all important flank command by voice just as the crowd cheered like crazy for the made panels, and Bill didn't hear me. That little error killed us (i think he would have heard a whistled command), as the sheep got that extra jump ahead of Bill and ran to the fence where they so wanted to go. It was down over a hill and i couldn't see, other than that stinker ewe breaking off and heading uphill. Bill worked his butt off to bring the other 4 out but we needed all 5 - time ran out and we didn't get our drive score. In actuality, that 5th one had managed to get through the fence and into the big flock of sheep hanging out on the other side of the fence so there was no way we could have gotten it back together at that point. It was just heartbreaking because we'd worked so hard on such a bad ewe and Bill had done a stellar job. The whole crowd was disappointed, the cheers when we caught that panel and groans when the sheep got away were huge. It's hard to not get behind a little dog working so hard and doing such a good job.

So it was a tough day but also in some ways a really rewarding one. Bill really got to show his stuff out there, and it really made me feel great to have so many handlers come up and compliment his work and commiserate over that rotten ewe. It was disappointing because i think expectations that Bill would do well in the Nursery were pretty high. I know i felt he would do well and i sure would have liked to have made the second round to run for the Championship. But as always, there's a little luck involved in sheepdog trials and you do the best you can with what you get. I think we did that yesterday. Now, perhaps the sheepdog trial luck gods could cut us a break when we run tomorrow in the Open...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finals time!

Finally it's Finals! 2010 USBCHA National Finals, in Middletown, VA at Belle Grove plantation. The course is beautiful and the local host committee has stepped in and done a stellar job. The sheep look fit, a group of 650 border cheviot crossbreeds, all 2-4 years old. The course is straightforward for the Nursery, right hand drive of about 125 yards on each leg, outrun 325 yards. I'm on the Handlers Association trial committee this year. I was on it at the 2007 Finals in PA and enjoyed it a lot, so am looking forward to it again. Basically, the local committee oversees what is happening outside the fence - crowds, vendors, all the million things that go into making this huge event - while the HA committee oversees the action on the inside of the fence - setting the course, watching every run for any kind of controversy or decision making that needs done, keeping things flowing and fair for everyone.

Tomorrow we begin the Nursery at 8 am and will go through the first 54 dogs on the running order. I don't run Bill until 91st, so will be watching closely and formulating my strategies for sunday. I can hardly wait to see him going out on that outrun since i've been aiming towards this since the 20 07Finals, when Bill was delivered to me as a 7 week old pup. He sat himself down in front of me, looked me right in the face with this open, honest expression as if to say "yup, i'm your dog" and now here we are. He's definitely my dog!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Finals Prep

How about this, 2 posts in one week?! Okay, i'm sitting here feeling a bit sorry for myself that i'm not out west, suffering through Meeker. Yes, it seems the sheep are winning out there, but i sure wish i was there to give it a go. Next year, for sure. I'm just not good at sitting on the sidelines watching. I'm pretty sure the "reload" button on my browser is about to go on strike after being hit 7,659 times this last week with both Soldier Hollow and Meeker posting scores. Okay, that's probably a low estimate. Whatever did we do before the instant gratification of scores being posted on the web? Did we ever actually wait on results to appear in magazines, weeks after the events? And now, we cry and fidget when more than a handful of dogs have run and no scores posted. Are we spoiled or what?! So, i'm distracting myself with a second blog posting in less than a week, how about that.

Preparations for running the dogs at the Finals are going along fine. I can't say that i have much experience in getting dogs ready for something like this, but i'm winging it and feeling okay about it. I've only ever actually run 3 times at the finals. In 2003 at Sturgis, I ran Jet in the Nursery and Spottie in the Open. I have almost no recollection of Spottie's run though i do remember a lot about Jet's. It really was mostly a "just happy to be here" experience for me then. At Gettysburg, in 2007, i again ran Spottie in the Open (Zac was hurt) and i do remember a good bit about it, but again, we weren't competitive and i didn't expect to be. But things have changed with more time and experience, and i hope we will be competitive this time around. I know i feel more competent and have a lot of faith in both Bill and Zac. So, i'm taking preparations pretty seriously as i feel it's knowledge and experience we'll be needing this year and in future Finals as well.

It can be tough to do enough physical conditioning in this area of the country in August, as it's just really hot and humid most times. But i've been jogging and trotting the dogs pretty regularly for the last month, several days a week, for 30-60 minutes at a time. There are lots of dips in the pond as we circle past it and the dogs seem to never get bored with the same circuit, happily trotting along with tongues and tails wagging.

Another thing i've done in preparation is buy in a dozen fresh lambs to work the dogs on. These sheep react nicely to the dogs and are fun and interesting for them and me as well. I'm not working the dogs for long sessions, but we've been doing some shedding and penning, and also just gathering and feeling these sheep. I'm trying to get the dogs flexible in their work as much as possible but not doing a lot of drilling or even very long sessions. Both were very well tuned when we got home from Canada a month ago and i want them to be fresh and rested for the next few weeks of trialing. The new sheep will hopefully keep them sharp. I also have to be careful to watch how the dogs are taking the physical stuff. Both of them have had muscle injuries in the past and i don't want to push it too hard too fast and end up with them tweaking something. Bill has looked a little off to me once or twice since Canada so i'm being especially watchful of him.

With about 10 days to go now, i'm thinking about dietary considerations. This is where i feel most like i'm winging it, for sure. I started using K9 Energy Edge about a week ago after each working session. I'm also switching up their kibble just a bit. I've been feeding a mix of Diamond Naturals Chicken and Rice with a better, more "high power" food (Red Paw or Evo) for quite a while, but now i'm increasing the percentage of the better food. I usually feed once a day, just an evening meal, but will be adding a breakfast meal now, of a premade raw food. My reasoning for this is that i'd like to add a bit more fat to their diets. Also, i've drawn up all 3 times in the running order towards the end of the day. I'm thinking it would be better to not be running them with no "fuel" added to the system for like 18 hours before they run, and want to get them used to the new feeding regimen.

I think that's about all i'm doing on the dogs, well, except for just being extra careful about things like playtime in the backyard and such, where they might get hurt. I call it "bubble wrap time"! As for preparations for myself, i'm trying to get good sleep as we run up to the event, and thinking about places where i might fall down in my handling and making lots of mental notes. Actually, i'm also making some real notes, since i remember things i've written much better. I'll review both kind of notes and hope to be on my game when we actually get on the field. I know there's a lot of luck when it comes to a trial like the Finals, luck of the draw on the sheep, time of day, weather, etc., etc. I don't mind that, i know it's just part of it. But i really hate it when i come off the field thinking "if I had //fill in the blank// things would have gone better". So for me the biggest part of Finals prep is trying to figure out all of those things. I know experience is the best teacher for those things but i'm hoping the Finals this year will be less of a learning experience than in the past!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Not Catching Up, for a change

How about this - a post where i don't have to start off apologizing for being a bad blogger and having to catch up?!

It's Labor Day weekend and there's not a lot going on around the Shoofly front. There's tons going on everywhere else in the world it seems like, trials all over the place, but we're not at one. I decided to just chill with the dogs and wait until the Finals in a couple of weeks rather than pack up and go to a trial beforehand. I'm positively itching to get to the Finals and run the dogs, that's for sure. But we'll be all rested up and i'm working daily on the dogs' conditioning to get ready. I'm sticking to mostly light work for Zac and Bill, with a little tuning up here and there. I got some fresh new sheep and we're having a good time working them. That's been good for them as well as me. Still, i wish the gap between Kingston and the Finals hadn't been so long. It felt like both dogs were right where i wanted them mentally for Finals when we got home from Canada. We'll see if it's held up.

I've been working the two youngsters pretty regularly. As with most youngsters, one day i think i have the next superstar and the next i'm wondering if they're going to work out. Zeke is a bit ahead of Tug in his training and seems a little more mature though they're the same age. Tug is keen keen keen and it gets in the way of his brain sometimes. Only time will tell but i'm hopeful that both will work out and at least one of them will be ready for Nursery next year. I'm also working Gael just a little, enough to make her a happy old dog.

I don't guess i've properly introduced Zeke. He's 13 months old, off of Joni's Lew and a bitch that is off of Raymond MacPherson's Roy. Zeke and Bill share the same father though i don't see a huge lot of similarity between them just yet. Here are a couple of pictures, in addition to the one above (and yes, i do have a matched set of white faced dogs for the Nursery with Zeke and Tug!)--

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Remember this little beastie?
You can follow the current adventures of Meg as she gets trained and begins trialing at

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Catching Up, again...

It seems like every time i post i'm "catching up", but here goes again. Life stays pretty busy, just the way i like it, and i'm tending to just do quick posts on Facebook rather than be good about the blog. So, if you'd like more up-to-date posts, you'll probably have to join FB and keep up there. There are also many pictures on there from trips and trials to new and old dogs. I will try to keep the blog updated during the upcoming fall trial season. I laid out the calendar the other day and from the beginning of the Finals in mid-September to Thanksgiving, there is a fairly local trial every weekend but one. I don't think we'll hit every single one of those, but probably will make most of them. The dogs are running so well, i hate to miss anything!

So, back to catching up. I left on July 15th for a nearly monthlong trip of training and trialing. First i went to Joni Swanke's in Bowman, ND for almost 2 weeks of training and working the dogs. It was amazing, wide open spaces with wonderful sheep all around. I can't even begin to describe it all but it was great fun and i feel very fortunate to have been able to do it. New friends, new experiences, new training methods and things to think on, it was more than i could have hoped for.

After leaving ND, we went to the Upper Midwest Stockdog Challenge trial in Jordan, MN. Bill ran especially well, having gained a lot of experience and confidence from his ND days. Zac was a little off his game on the outrun, i think as he was adjusting to some things i was doing differently, and ran out a bit tight both days. But both dogs did very well. Bill won his 1st Open trial on the 1st go (and gaining enough points to qualify for the USBCHA Open Finals on the last day of qualifying), and was 4th the second. Zac was 4th on the first go. While on the trip, i'd started thinking it was time to look for a good retirement home for Jet, and an excellent home came up, so i let her go. It was terribly difficult to get in the truck and leave, but i know she's in good hands and is happy to be working again.

From MN, we traveled on to the Kingston SDT at Grass Creek Park in Kingston, Ontario. It's a wonderful trial that i'd attended several years ago, and had been trying to return to since. It's not a huge course but it's tricky and the sheep can be quite difficult. I was thrilled with how both dogs ran again, full of confidence and poise, and listening like champs. In the first round, i ran both dogs very near the beginning of the order (i had entered Jet and she would have been at the end had i run her). That ended up being bad for me as i had a terrible time in the shedding ring with both dogs, not completing the shed or being able to attempt the pen. I think with more time to watch and take notes between my runs, that perhaps i could have done a better job with the later run, but that's how it goes sometimes. Both dogs ended up with scores of 60, quite good comparatively speaking, for just the outrun, lift, fetch, drive. I loved how both dogs felt to handle, smooth and easy. Both ran extremely well again in the second round. Bill ran very late in the day, at a time when the sheep simply were not penning, and still managed to pull out a 69 score with no pen or shed. Not enough to get to the Final round (top 15 combined scores) but really a stellar job on his part. Zac ran at a better time of day and laid down a nice run for a score of 85, good for 11th place and a spot in the Finals.

We ran 8th in the double lift final and i couldn't have been happier with or more proud of Zac. He ran out beautifully and his turnback was all i could have asked for, clean and sharp. Fetches were good, with him holding the second lot to their line, rather than letting them pull offline to the first group. The drive was just what i wanted - straight lines, tight turns, all 20 sheep through both panels, though with some wiggling about and fancy footwork to get them clean through the crossdrive panel. Gotta love a dog that throws his whole self into flanking! Now 4 years ago when i went to this trial, Jet got into the double lift and we struggled mightily with the international shed, never managing to get it done. But despite being quite hot and more than a little excited, Zac did a very nice job and we got it done pretty easily. I couldn't seem to get the shed sheep to leave very far though, so i had Zac push the last 2 upfield towards their friends near the setout. This was sticky for me, as i knew the 5 collared ones were wanting to run up over the hill behind the post and to the exhaust area, so i didn't get to push those 2 shed ones quite as far away as i'd have liked, but i thought they were still plenty far enough away. And this is where i made our big mistake. Zac was quite hot by this time, as he was running during the only really sunny part of the day. I'd been sending him to water during the shedding to try to keep him cooler, as well as taking our time as much as possible around the course, but he was still pretty warm and it was affecting his work. He moved the collared sheep handily to the mouth of the pen though, and they were kind of stalled out there. Having about a minute and a half left to go, i should have been more patient and waited it out, and i believe the sheep would have gone in. I saw it happen several times exactly that way in later runs, but didn't have it in my mind when i needed it. Zac and i both put just a hair of pressure on the sheep and one ewe exploded out and ran up the field towards those 2 darned sheep that wouldn't get on upfield and out of sight. Zac got confused when i tried to get him to go after her, and the time spent getting him convinced gave the ewe time to rejoin the 2, and we had to return to the shedding ring. I really think had he not been so hot, that Zac would have caught that ewe easily, as he loves that sort of thing. While he was regathering the 3 sheep upfield, the 4 other collared ones made their way up over the hill and to the exhaust. I had Zac take the 3 to the 4 and spent many long seconds waiting for all 7 to reappear, just hoping and praying nothing awful was happening back there that would result in a DQ after so much nice work. Fortunately, they did come out, finally, and we went back to the shedding ring with very little time left, and time ran out. Final score was 234 out of a possible 340 (60 points gone on the shed & pen). It was a good enough score to hold up for Reserve Champion at the end of the day! It was a great placement against wonderful competition.

So now we're back home and gearing up for the National Finals next month in Middletown, VA, where Zac will run in the Open and Bill in both Nursery and Open. I don't plan to do a lot of training on those two, as i like where they are right now. Mostly i'll just do a good bit of conditioning with them, and also get a good jump on my young dogs. Zac's son Tug is starting to really come along now, after a crash course of sheep work in ND and i'm quite excited about him. And i brought home a new dog from ND as well - Zeke, a half brother to Bill by way of their sire Lew. I'm feeling lucky to have those 2, as they are both eligible for the next 2 years of Nursery competition. They'll be the winter project at Shoofly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


26 days, 5000 miles, 13 states, 2 countries, many sheep, wonderful new friends, new experiences, 2 sheepdog trials, one Open win for Bill and qualification for the Finals, and a Reserve Championship for Zac in the double lift at Kingston, and we're finally home. Happy to see everything is still in place here but sure wishing i had opened my eyes to another cool North Dakota morning and wide open spaces again today!

It'll take awhile but i'll put together pictures and a writeup on the trip soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

WFAC, Hop Bottom SDT, Finals Benefit SDT

It sure is easy to get behind on this blogging stuff. Life has been crazy busy this last month. Following the trial at Dr Ben's, we had to get ready and host the 3rd Whistle for a Cure SDT. It was a very successful weekend, with nearly $3000 raised for ovarian cancer research at Duke. The weekend after that, i loaded up the pack and we drove to Hop Bottom, PA for the PA State Championship SDT, hosted by Dick and Cheryl Williams. It's a fun little trial and they're always such gracious hosts. I was hoping to pick up some qualifying points on Bill for the Finals, but it wasn't meant to be, as we drew sheep that just didn't want to pen on both runs. Zac ran very well, finishing 10th the first day and 5th the second, out of about 85 dogs. The last weekend in June, we went to a benefit trial for the 2010 Finals at Dr Ben's place. There weren't a lot of dogs running but it was fun. Bill had a mostly really nice run in the first round, but a mess at the top with the setout knocked him out of the placings. Zac was winning the trial when he decided to grip after a successful shed. That was my fault for calling him in at a bad angle but it was disappointing as he had the trial won hands down. The second day, Bill had better luck at the top end and finished 3rd, picking up a couple more points towards the Finals. I don't know if he'll have enough, and we have only one more shot at it, but he's had a good year and will run in the Nursery Finals at least.

On the way to the benefit trial, i stopped and picked up my new camper. It's a little longer than the last one, and has a slide, and i think i'm really going to like it. There's a ton more room. I thought it was a good time as i'm getting ready to go on an extended dog training/trialing trip. I'll be heading to ND on July 17, training dogs for 9 or 10 days, then head to the Upper Midwest SDT in Jordan, MN, then head over to Kingston, Ontario for the big trial there. I'm especially looking forward to the training time, getting Bill and Zac and Jet out on a whole different kind of sheep than they've ever seen, on new fields, and spending some time getting Tug started, as well as seeing lots of new dogs, meeting some new people and getting some new training ideas. It should be quite the adventure!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Circle BR SDT 2010

The Memorial Day weekend trial at Dr Ben and Emily Ousley's in Lawndale, NC is one I've attended nearly every year since i first started competing at sheepdog trials. So that's what, 16 years or so? Time sure has flown but one thing remains the same - the Ousley family are just the nicest people you'd ever want to meet and they bend over backwards to make all of us feel like we're family too.

The trial is set on a field that rises out in front of you in terraces, and the sheep come from the large home flock of katahdins. For the friday afternoon Nursery class, 5 sheep were run. I ran Bill and he did a lovely job, running clean enough that he nearly won the class even though we couldn't get the sheep penned. He ended up 2nd behind Christine and her Rook son Kaige. He continued to run very well in the Open classes over the weekend, though i'd have liked to see him deeper at the top end of his outrun. This field tends to bring the dogs in tight but i thought he was even tighter than i'd have expected. We'll be working on that a bit before the fall trials, though i won't overdo it as i think he'll be one to loosen up naturally as he ages. I was happy with his work the whole weekend, as he was very consistent and had good control of the sheep on every run. He ended up in 10th place in the first round and just out of the placings in the 2nd, and nearly made the double lift based on combined scores. In our second run, we had a ewe that just didn't want to be penned and losing that 10 points knocked us out of it. I also ran Bill in monday Nursery class but decided to just try to train on him a bit rather than run competitively. I wanted to work on his outrun and did stop him to redirect but the sheep broke down the field, which was unfortunate.

Zac ran quite well at the trial as well, though his overenthusiasm did hurt us in the first round. He had a gorgeous go around the course but was overflanking at the shed and we never managed to get it, losing those and the pen points. He did place in the second round, 14th.

I stuck around on monday to watch the Ranch and ProNovice classes and ended up setting sheep for the PN class. It's always fun to see how the dogs look from that end of the field. An extra added treat was getting to see my Gael run for the first time with Kelly. She did great!

It was a great trial with a lot of dogs to run this year, over 70 Open dogs in each round. The sheep seemed fit and mostly pretty even. We'll head back over to the same trial site at the end of June for a trial to benefit the 2010 National Finals.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bluegrass Wrap up

Sorry to be a slacker in posting about the KY trials but i was having too much fun to spend much time in front of the computer! The Bluegrass was terrific this year and i had a blast. There were lots of new handlers to meet and lots of new dogs to watch, as well as the chance to see what a year of progress had done for others. It's hard to beat the Bluegrass for a great time spent away from the handler's post. I know i came home excited and motivated about the dogs.

I was mostly pretty thrilled with how my dogs ran. Because i was limited to one dog in the Open by virtue of the draw, Bill was only running in the Nursery. He was a bit off his game on his first run, and was startled at the top end of the field as he picked his sheep up, by the set out person's big yellow boots, of all things (!). It was kind of funny really but not exactly how i planned our BG week to start. His fetch was very offline but the rest of the run was nearly perfect and he ended up about halfway down the pack. He was back to form on his second run. I gave him a very hard down at the top to get him to settle back a bit and it paid off, as the run was very good and he finished 2nd by one point. For the 3rd round of Nursery, the sheep come over from the Open field and things get interesting, as the young dogs meet the wily Texas lambs. The first 2 days were run on nice yearling wool sheep but they are pretty dogged. The Texas lambs have been worked in groups of 3 exactly one time in their lives, on the Open field. Bill's first run on these sheep was less than stellar as he ran right into them after lifting. We were lucky to not be DQed! He got more comfortable and was really enjoying them by the end of the run though, and ended up about 1/4 of the way down in the final placings. On to the final Nursery run, and Bill was really terrific. I went out with a different plan, and dropped him at the top just a hair short of balance so i could see him when he came forward, and hopefully keep him from rushing into the sheep. It worked like a charm and the whole run was beautiful. We ended up tied for first and won the run off, for a 1st place finish. I was really pleased and proud of my young guy for a great week. It was a bit like last year in the Nursery, where he got a bit better each time out and ended up winning the final day as well. It's nice to measure against such a large Nursery class, with most of the contenders for this years Finals attending, as well.

Jet was up in the Open class early on Thursday, a very good time to run as it's cool and the sheep are usually a little bit more agreeable. Unfortunately, we ended up wasting the good draw. I'd planned for weeks to send Jet to the right, in hopes she'd get deep enough that even with her habitual stopping short, that she could get a decent lift. But as i watched run after run on Wednesday end as the sheep broke back to the left, i decided to try sending her left instead. Stopping short would really leave her at the correct lift point, and we'd save tons of time that she'd have used easing over from the right side after pulling up. I knew it was risky but decided to try it anyway. Unfortunately Jet pulled up in front of the sheep, not even getting around them, and they broke back anyway. I kicked myself pretty good in hindsight, thinking i should have stuck with my plan to send right, as i'm sure she'd have gotten the sheep down the field but that's how it goes sometimes.

I decided to sub Zac in for the second Open run rather than send Jet out again. He's been working pretty strong and i thought the sheep would be better in the second round, and he would be the better choice. We were up early Saturday morning, when the sheep were good again. I was actually feeling pretty nervous, which is very unusual for me, i just don't get nervous at trialing much at all. But i was this time, i think because Zac didn't do well last year, having a lot of trouble getting the sheep down the field. But he's older and stronger now, and was running in a much better time slot, and he didn't have any trouble at all lifting. I let him get them well started, not worrying too much about them getting off line, as i wanted the draw back to the set out to fade before i messed with him much. We got them back in the vicinity of the fetch panels easily enough but i took him off the pressure on the sheep right at the panel and they slipped around. First leg of the drive was nice but i did the same thing at the panel, drew some pressure off the sheep and they slipped around (that was my nerves working on me, i think). Crossdrive was really nice, right straight through the panels (my nemesis in years past, that darned crossdrive panel, and it's the only one i hit). Return leg was very good, on into the shedding ring. Now i've had lots of trouble shedding at the Bluegrass in the past, but for some reason my nerves were gone (maybe because i'd given away so many points at the panels) and i was feeling pretty confident. I got it set up and called Zac in on one heck of a shed, tiny little gap, and he blew in like gangbusters. It was truly pretty darned spectacular. After it was called, the lamb tried to go over Zac and he went straight up in the air stopping it. Unfortunately, it then broke up the field and when he couldn't catch it in front (probably because i was yelling at him just enough to slow him down a hair), he grabbed it by the shoulder and we got the dreaded "thank you" for a DQ. All in all though, i was thrilled with Zac. He really ran well, listening to me and handling the sheep, and it was so much fun being out there with him. I'd have sure liked another crack at the sheep to handle our way through the run better, that's for sure.

It was a great trip to KY and i can't wait to go back next year!
(photos by Mindy Bower)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chinquapinwood SDT Wrap up

The 2010 Chinquapinwood trial was very nice. The trial is hosted by Mike and Laura Hanley at their beautiful farm near Lexington KY. It's a really gorgeous farm with manicured green grass, classic Ky horse fencing, and every detail is attended to all weekend, including a fabulous handlers dinner on Saturday evening.

I was very pleased with all 3 Open dogs this weekend. I spent the time between Shaker Village and this trial at the farm of Vergil and Anne Marie Holland, and was able to get a couple of lessons in with Vergil, and it certainly paid off in the performances of Zac and Bill. Both ran extremely well. Zac ended up placing in the first round and i was surprised neither placed in the second as they ran very clean. The drive panels are really tough to hit on this field and there are tons of misses but we hit them both on every run. Sheds were tight for us as several were made with only 1 or 2 seconds left on the clock. All in all, it was a very enjoyable weekend though i was disappointed to not pick up some qualifying points towards the Finals for Jet and Bill.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shaker Village Rafting Trip 2010

Oh wait, it's not a rafting trip, it just FEELS like one. 8.5 inches of rain, handlers unable to get to the trial field because of flooded roads, others (like myself) trapped at the trial field by creeks running over roads. Seriously, we do this for fun?! I have to say, Bob Washer gets the diehard award in my book. I heard he walked his dogs in across the flooded creek just to get here to run. I say i *heard* this, because i've been planted in my camper almost the entire weekend, emerging occasionally to run a dog.

The trial started Friday with the novice classes and two Nursery classes. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and pleasant and just nearly perfect. I ran Dot in PN and she did reasonably well. She was a little hesitant on her outrun, perhaps because the field is steep and rough with brushy growth. But she took her redirects, lifted well, nice straight fetch taking all the small flanks i was giving her. Turn was around a post set in front of the handler's post and was nice. Drive out was good but ended a bit to the right of the panels, and Dot decided she just couldn't take any away flanks there. She finally ran clockwise around the sheep and brought them back to me, and we penned easily. Even with the very costly missed panel and circling the sheep, she ended up 6th of 19 dogs. I was pretty pleased with her but won't be running her at the Bluegrass. She was still on the waiting list but i don't think she's quite ready for trials just yet.

Bill ran two Nursery classes. His 1st run was going extremely well though he had a difficult group of sheep. One kept lagging behind and trying to fade off and it cost us quite a bit of time on the fetch and drive out. I tried making up some time on the crossdrive by having Bill flank and bump her to speed the group along, and the one cranky ewe decided she had enough and bolted up the hill. Bill couldn't catch her, i think because his leg is still not 100%, and we retired. His second run wasn't nearly as clean and i missed the driveaway panels, which landed us 5th of 15 dogs.

Saturday morning the thunder and lightning began about 5am and the weather was the major focus of the rest of the weekend. Jet ran 5th and we were somewhat lucky on the weather. It wasn't raining when we began, but by the end of our run, the sky had gotten so dark i could hardly see, and it just opened up as soon as we came off and the trial was halted for a long break. Jet didn't run out well, pulling up well short, pushing the sheep off sideways. She didn't want to give up the pressure point and it took some doing to get her to put the sheep back online, but we got there fairly soon after the lift point. The rest of the run was very clean but the top end killed our score and we were out of the placings. Zac ran in the rain later on. He also pulled up quite short, as many dogs were doing. And he pushed the sheep hard off sideways and just wouldn't take my away flank to fix it. I couldn't get the sheep back online until the fetch panels and he just kept flipping back to overwork the draw. We got around the drive okay but were called on standard before shedding. I was very pleased with how well Zac moved these heavy sheep, lambing seems to have been very good for him.

Sunday brought more, you guessed it, heavy rain. I decided to run Bill in Jet's spot since she'd pulled up so short. It was hard to tell exactly what happened up top, but it looked like Bill pulled up short and the sheep ran back to the set out, without him even trying to stop them. I don't know if he was in front of them or just short off to the side, but either way, he did nothing to try to stop them. I wish i knew what happened because it wasn't very Bill-like, to my eye. He's not run out with any enthusiasm this weekend and i think his leg must be bothering him. It seems to bother him the most when he goes uphill, and this field is sharply steep to the top. He's definitely off somehow, either physically or mentally. I'll see how he does this week with some work and have to decide if he's really ready for trialing. Zac ran later and we got around without being called to the standard but i doubt we placed. I haven't seen scores yet. He ran out a bit better than saturday, finishing better, but still pushed the sheep off to the side and gave me a big fight about putting them back online. We got there sooner than yesterday but he sure didn't want to take those flanks again. Drive was clean, pen clean, then i took the front sheep on the single since we were about out of time and it kept presenting.

All in all, it's not been the start i was hoping for with this long trial trip. I'm going to try to work the Open dogs some this week, at some distance, to see if i can get a little more compliance out of them. It's a problem we run into too frequently as a result of working mostly in small fields.

Oh, have i mentioned how happy i am to have my own ark, a.k.a. camper here?!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Trial Season

The spring trial season is nearly here! It's been a busy few weeks around the farm and with the Shoofly pack. Lambing started about April 1st and just finished up this week. Final count out of 22 ewes is 19 ram lambs and 11 ewe lambs. It was mostly an easy lambing, only a little hiccup here and there. It's pretty amazing to look out on the farm and see about 70 sheep hanging out. That's a lot for my little place, for sure! I'll be having a big sheep sell-off after the Whistle for a Cure trial in June, trying to get back down to about 30 sheep total. It'll be tough picking out that many to sell but it's got to be done. Reserve yours now! ;-)

The dogs are doing pretty okay. Zac has been getting the lion's share of the work and is loving every second of it, in true Zac fashion. Lambing has been good for him. He missed a lot of this kind of work when he was younger and should have been getting it, due to injury. So better late than never i guess. He's not always completely confident he can handle cranky mama ewes but he's always in there trying his heart out. And he's learned to push silly baby lambs around, even if he does have a somewhat disgusted look on his face doing so. Jet is cranking along, Bill's been gimpy but i'm hoping/planning to run him at the upcoming trials anyway. Tug is cute as ever and still on hold for starting his sheep training. He's really rough on the sheep and i'm hoping to get a bit of help with him on our upcoming trip. Dot is settling in well and working more nicely all the time.

So speaking of the upcoming trial season, we're off to KY, leaving next Thursday. First stop will be the Shaker Village trial in Harrodsburg. This is one of my favorite trials, with a gorgeous field. Since there's a 2 dog limit on Open, i'm planning to run Zac and Jet in Open, with Bill in Nursery and Dot in ProNovice. Following the trial, I'm going to pull the camper over to Vergil and AnneMarie Holland's for a few days of visiting and working dogs around Lexington, and hopefully visiting my brother and his family in Louisville. Then we're off to Mike and Laura Hanley's Chinquapinwood trial, where all 3 Open dogs get to run, and Bill will run Nursery. Following that, we head to the Bluegrass Classic SDT. It looks like i'll only be able to run 1 dog in the Open this year, with my current spot very low on the waiting list for the second one, and I plan for that to be Jet. Bill will run in the Nursery and I'll have Dot in PN and then move her up to Ranch for the final 2 days. I may shift my plans on which Open dogs run when, but this is my current plan. Bill's been gimpy since injuring his rear leg in January and seemed to tweak it some last week, so it will be a late call on running him. I may sub him in for Jet if she doesn't run well at Shaker Village, and if the heat is getting to her at the Bluegrass, i may run Zac in the second round. I'm especially looking forward to the first 2 trials. It's a little harder to muster up excitement for the BG this year, with just one Open run per round. I know they have to limit the trial and this is the most fair way to do it, but i have to say, if i didn't have dogs to run on the novice field as well as the Open field, i probably would skip it. I don't see sitting around for 4 days (2 days for each Open round) to get only 2 Open runs in as a good use of vacation time and travel dollars. So, let's hope Bill does well in the Nursery and Dot gets off the waiting list (I expect she will) for PN and Ranch and does well there too!

I should have internet access on the road, and will be posting trial updates as often as i can here and on Facebook.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Boy have i turned into a slacker about this blog. It's been almost a whole month since i posted, hard to believe. I did start on a new training article but haven't quite found the motivation to finish it. Maybe soon.

Winter is turning to spring around here. Temps are up, the grass is turning green and starting to grow, and the early flowering trees and bushes are coloring up. I'm still waiting on the red buds but the Bradford pears and forsythias are doing their showy stuff right now. It's nice at the farm right now as we're mostly past the mud season and haven't started the battle against the summer weeds. The sheep are fat and happy and look to be about ready to burst with lambs. Pre-lambing vaccinations have been done, we sheared the wool ewes this past weekend, and will do a last minute worming in the next week or so, and then lambing should begin around April 1st. I'm eager to get started with it after hearing of lambs all over from so many friends around the country on Facebook. I've also made arrangements to buy in a small flock of katahdins, so the ovine population at Shoofly is getting ready to really explode. They look to be nice sheep and i'm looking forward to working them while everyone else is off on maternity leave.

The Shoofly dogs are doing pretty well. It's been a very laid back winter for them mostly. Zac and Bill have both been on extended rest to recover from injuries. Both are just now coming back to work, and we have a job ahead of us getting ready for trial season. It's coming on fast, with our first trial being the Shaker Village trial, May 1st & 2nd in KY. They'll bounce right back to working okay, but we're under the gun on conditioning. Jet has been doing the lion's share of work this winter at the farm but it's not enough to keep a dog fit, and at almost 9 years old that's a pretty big consideration for running her. Right now, if everyone is sound and fit, i plan to run Bill and Zac at Shaker Village and Chinquapinwood, and Jet at the Bluegrass.

The puppies are doing well, growing up and mostly looking like dogs instead of puppies. Well, little fluffy Tug still looks puppyish sometimes, but Moon looks all grown up. Moon came home with me for awhile, but it became obvious that she and Tug really needed to be separated. They play too rough and are way into each other, and oblivious to people, when they're together. So this past weekend Moon went to her new permanent home with Laura C. According to Moon, that's where she belonged anyway. She just loves Laura and her pack, making that obvious when she squeezed through the fence wire to run and jump in Laura's van the last time she was around. It looks to me like a match meant to be.

In other Shoofly dog news, i've added a new dog. Dot is a 4 year old, fully trained dog who was having some trouble meshing with her owner at sheep work. Sometimes it just goes that way, and it's really quite nice that Dot's owner recognized this and let Dot go to a place where she might fit her handler better. I know it was hard to see a dog she'd raised from a baby puppy leave, and i respect her for doing what she thought was best for the dog. Hard to do! So far, Dot is fitting in very well and she seems to like working for me. She's a real love personality-wise and i hope to run her some at the spring trials. I'm looking forward to spending time working her and getting together with her on the field.

That leaves the Shoofly pack at 5 dogs, a nice number to be taking along to the trials in KY this spring. Right now i'm planning to go to the Shaker Village trial and stay straight through to the end of the Bluegrass. It'll be quite an adventure living in the camper for that long!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Family Pics

I got a nice family picture of the "Spottie Family" yesterday. From L to R: Zac and Nan (Spottie x Link), Spottie herself, then the Zac x Chris pups, Ranger, Moon, and Tug.

This is a shot of the 3 pups, looking pretty grown up at almost 7 months old. All 3 are very keen for sheep. They're sweet pups, outgoing and friendly, and getting very curly!
I liked this picture of Zac and his sister Nan - someone said it looks like a prom picture. It makes me think "big brother, little sister". Nan was spending the weekend for a little training tune up.This is what most of the pictures turned out like. Who would think you could make six dogs *not* look at you, all at once!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Snow and Hill Training

The winter weather here provided us with a nice training challenge that i thought i'd share. Last week we got several inches of snow and i grabbed the dogs and went out and worked in it. It's cold and miserable, but the weather provides a challenge that can be hard to find on a small farm with a well dogged flock of sheep. That challenge is the opportunity to make sheep go somewhere they really don't want to go, and allows the dogs to dig down and really push into some heavy, stubborn sheep.

My farm has a fairly steep hill. It's not huge but rises somewhat steeply. I love that hill, it's wonderful for training dogs. It's an excellent place to tap into natural sheep behavior and use it to my advantage, and to train dogs naturally. Sheep don't care for going straight up a hill, they prefer to amble on a diagonal up a hill face. Look at the sheep paths in a field - they're never straight up and down. If your feet were split in two right down the middle, you wouldn't like going straight uphill either! This is especially true with big wool sheep. Hair sheep have smaller, more trim feet so it's not as big of a deal to them, but they still don't love it. I use this natural tendency in sheep a lot in training. For example, when teaching a youngster to drive, i do a lot of driving back and forth across the face of the hill. The sheep tend to be happy and calm, not too heavy (as going uphill) and not too light (as going downhill, with gravity and pull to the barn at work). This is just one way i use that hill, there are many.

Back to the snow days. At the bottom of my hill, there's a runoff stream cutting through the pasture. It's dry or only slightly wet 90% of the time. It'll run after a big rain if we're not too dry out. But in winter it runs pretty frequently, especially in a wet winter such as we're having this year. And with a wet winter and a big snow melting, it's running pretty good. So, add a wet area with running stream and a snow covered hill to go up, and 40 sheep, about half of which are wool, and it's a very good opportunity for the dogs to get in there and really have to push and figure out how to *make* sheep move from the bottom area to the top. Other times, the dogs are mostly guiding the movement of the sheep, controlling the leaders, with an occasional push at the rear to keep the stragglers up. With this winter situation, the dogs have to figure out how to push sheep from the side and the rear, and it takes a good bit more oomph.

It's interesting to me to go out and do this with the dogs, and to see how their methods work or don't, and how the different dogs will adapt to it. If a dog is having trouble moving the sheep, i'll try to make it a little easier by asking them to take a more diagonal path. I'll also let the stronger dogs have the first shot at it, as it does get easier to move the sheep uphill once they've done it and broken up the snow some. Sometimes i'll do this as a drive, and sometime as a fetch. It's always easier to fetch than drive, so i'll add that variable to my training plan. It's a fun and interesting thing to do on a snow day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winter Drags on...

It's really dragging this year, that's for sure. We've been getting a lot of rain, and even a pretty big snow (for this area) this past weekend. It makes training dogs a challenge when everything is so slippery and muddy. The farm drains pretty well but even with that, it's been pretty soupy.

Tug and Moon are growing up and getting big. At 6 months old, both are right around 30 pounds. Moon is still with Laura and i have Tug with me. It's really worked out well for me, as it's so much easier having one puppy at a time. And it's been good for the pups, for sure. They were way too into each other. Tug's a nice guy to have around and mostly is pretty calm and well-behaved. He has his moments of course, but he's handled all the indoor time this winter remarkably well. I've had him on sheep a couple of times recently and am impressed by his "want to" - he wants desperately to get into sheep. And he doesn't seem to have any "back down" to him, but yet he's fairly responsive to body pressure. He's a long way from ready to train, and i'll be curious to see if my early impressions hold out.

The big dogs are doing all right. Jet clips on along, sweet girl that she is. Zac is still on rest/rehab time. When weather allows, he and i are marching up and down hills at the farm, trying to calmly get him back into shape. I'm hoping to start working him soon, well, as soon as the snow and ice is gone anyway. I noticed some blood in his urine recently and we're trying to figure out what's causing that. I should hear something from the vet in the next day or two. Bill has been loosely on quiet/rest time. He was off on his left rear a few weeks ago and it seemed a good time to rest him.

We're off to the Lazy J SDT this weekend in Carnesville, GA. I'll be running Bill and Jet in the Open, in hopes of picking up some points towards qualifying for the Finals this year. Zac has enough points already that i can relax on running him. I would really like to get Jet qualified. She'll be 9 years old in April and is my best dog on tougher wool sheep. I plan to run her at any wool sheep trials i can get to this year. Here's hoping we get a break on the wet weather for this weekend!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tug on Sheep

He's surely keen at not quite six months old! Thanks to Christine Henry for the pictures.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Catching Up Again, Edgeworth Winter SDT

Sorry, i've been slack lately on posting here. There's not a whole lot going on but i can do a Shoofly Dog update. The puppies are 5 months old and growing up, wild little creatures. Moon is a real sweetie pie and is spending time with a friend so she and Tug can learn to stand on their own. Together they are a 2 puppy wrecking machine and go completely deaf to outside influence. She'll come back in a few weeks but in the meantime is having a good time and stealing hearts. Tug looks more like Zac every day and is just the funniest puppy. He's really a good boy. We tried them and Ranger on sheep again recently and they still look like they'll be working fiends, keen keen keen. Just what i like to see at this age. Gael is still out on loan and working very well, behaving herself nicely. Zac is on enforced rest again, as i try to clear up a nagging soreness he was having. Hopefully he'll be back to work in a month or so. Jet and Billy continue along, no big news there, they just wish there was more sheep work to be had this time of year. Short days keep that from happening much though.

I took the dogs up to the Edgeworth Winter SDT this past weekend and ran Bill and Jet. I thought both dogs worked very well and handled the sheep nicely but just some little errors on my part in all the runs cost us placements. Both dogs were just out of it the first day, by a couple of points. Second day was the same story, after i had trouble penning on both runs. I ran Bill's Nursery run at the end of the second day and he did something that i thought was pretty spectacular. At the pen, a ewe decided to challenge him and he just hung in there, walking slowly forward, very calmly. Finally this ewe decided she was trapped and butted him. And he just stood there, calm as could be, as though a fly had just buzzed around his head or something, no big deal. I don't think anyone has ever tried to butt him before and he just stood in there like a very experienced, confident dog. Really, a pretty special sort of natural reaction on his part. The group calmly turned around and walked in the pen afterwards. That was worth all of the effort of getting there! It was a really nice trial as usual, though really cold out. The sheep were lovely and a lot of fun. I wish i'd been sharper but it's the off season and it surely showed. I don't know about the dogs but it sure seems i'll need a little tuning up before spring!