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...