Friday, January 28, 2011

Zac x Rhyme pups at 2 weeks

The puppies are 3 weeks old today. Here at their 2 week old pics. Taff, Hawk and Cap are tricolors, Sweep and Nell are black and white, no tri.





Hawk again

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moon Video

Here's some video of Moon from this weekend. I'm very pleased to see her thinking more all the time. I'd still like to see her thinking more on her flanks and feeling the sheep more, but she's making real progress. I like her little drives, especially considering i've done absolutely nothing to teach her to drive. No walking along with her, nothing. She's just picking it up from wanting to work so badly and being so willing to flank and go with the flow for me. Her head is up a bit when she drives but that's because i'm quietly saying her name to hold her back from going around to head the sheep. She's going to be very stylish at the end of the day. I'm liking what i'm seeing!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Full Moon

Catchy title, eh? There actually is a very full, gorgeous moon in the sky this week but i'm talking about Moon with a capital M. Zeke has managed to get hurt so it's going to be all Moon all the time for a little while around the farm. I'm hoping it's nothing serious with Zeke but he's on strict rest until we get it sorted out. I think it's a sprained or strained muscle so i've got him on rest and anti-inflammatories, and will be taking him for massage asap, and to the ortho if it's not improving quickly enough. Bill is exhibiting a nearly identical hitch on the opposite rear leg so i've got two on the injured reserve list right now. You'd think winter lay off time would be injury free, but it seems like maybe the slippery mud causes something about every year.

So on to Moon. I'm working on trying to bring out a little more eye and feel in her because she's really too rash and rushed in her approach to sheep. My dog broke flock only gets mildly annoyed with her current method, but i can guarantee most other sheep are going to be more than uncomfortable with it. I'd like to see her slow down and think more and i'd prefer she get the idea on her own rather than me having to handle her through it. I've tried the "wet blankets" approach with her - a term from horse training referring to working until the saddle blanket is wet, and beyond. Boy have i tried it. I'd hate to add up the amount of time little Moon has worked since the middle of December. I'll just leave it at hours and hours and hours. And hours. And more hours. Did i mention hours? If we could get on the wide open plains for full days of work for a few weeks, i think the method might work with Moon. It's certainly helped some but with my setup, it's not going to be enough. So i'm trying to come up with some different ways to get her brain engaged and see if her feet will join in. I'd like to have a bunch of fresh sheep that she'd really have to work hard to balance, but i'm not sure at this point that would help a whole lot. She doesn't always care just yet if she brings all the sheep to me (common young dog stuff). And while with most dogs it's easy enough to fuss a bit and get them caring, fussing at Moon and putting pressure on her to loop back for escapees brings out her bad side and she rushes in to the sheep in front of her (remember what i said in the last post about her getting hotter and faster when pressured on a correction?). So yesterday i decided to try her on one sheep. I've heard about this bringing out more eye so it seemed worth a shot. I wouldn't try this with many brash youngsters for fear of the sheep running headlong into a fence, but one of Moon's nicer qualities is that she doesn't get wound up and chase sheep when things aren't right (only does it when i put pressure on her, go figure). She's just not a chaser. I had out a cooperative Cheviot ewe who was more than happy to keep running off to some grain whenever the opportunity opened, and just sent Moon over and over to retrieve her. I've certainly worked singles before with my dogs, but it was very interesting watching one so loose eyed. I didn't see that Moon was finding the right balance point as she'd hit the top of her outrun, but i did see her leaning out on her flanks to cover and balance as she brought the ewe in to me. And i did see her start thinking about gearing down some as she fetched. I would be very happy if she'd put all that together in her mind and start allowing the sheep some room as she brings them in - she pushes well past the point of comfort for the sheep when she's behind them. I see her giving the sheep room in her flanks, so i know it's in there, she's just not making the connection when she's behind and coming straight on.

I'm going to keep trying some of the single sheep work with Moon and see how it goes. I also plan to "mechanicalize" her fetches more, to see if she doesn't start to realize it makes things go better if she eases up some. It's a funny game, this dog training stuff. I actually really like that she'll come forward without hesitation, that she's forward and game and wants things to get moving, and now. And yet at the same time i don't like it because she's not thinking enough for me. A few years ago, a friend pointed out to me how many sheepdog qualities are a double edged sword, where you get one thing you like but you have to realize there's that other edge to it too. So we'll see how this quality works out in little Moon with some time. I keep reminding myself that there are so many things about her that i admire - all that athleticism, another double edged sword?! - so i'm trying to stick it out and see where we go. It's been an interesting ride so far!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Young Dogs, Working Styles

So on to working styles of the youngsters. I'll start with Zeke. He's a more quiet sort of dog with sheep for the most part. He has a bit of eye and quite a lot of feel for sheep. His flanks have a nice, naturally good shape to them, not too wide and not too tight. I'm still assessing his power and courage, but so far haven't seen signs of anything lacking in either area. He tends toward a more methodical style of work and i do spend time speeding him up occasionally, just trying to get him to be a little more brash and a little more trusting that things aren't going to get too out of whack if he isn't quite so careful. His brother Bill was like this as a youngster too and i found he grew out of it with time. It's a nice attitude towards work, that wanting to be right all the time and to not let things get messy, and one i quite enjoy. His outruns still need work as he tends to wind in at the top and while he ends up nicely on balance, he can be a little lazy about completely covering before he begins toward the sheep. Lifts are nice but the first part of the fetch can be a bit hard. It was a little difficult to get him started with driving but he's really getting it now and seems to enjoy settling in behind and just stroking along. I introduce shedding to many of my dogs early, and Zeke has loved it almost from the start. All in all, he's just a nice young dog, and enjoyable to train. He's not without his problems but he's a real team player. Not that he's especially soft natured, but I have to watch correcting him as it really crushes him to be wrong or to displease me. Fortunately, there's not much need for it with him.

Moon is a very different flavor of working dog. She's extremely keen to work with tons and tons of drive. No worries about hurting the feelings on this one! Correcting her is quite the challenge as she gets hotter and faster with any pressure put on her. It tends to stretch me as a trainer to figure out how best to communicate to her that i don't like something she's doing. She can really push my buttons, this one! She's very fast and as athletic of a dog as i've ever seen, with loads of stamina. I quite admire the athlete she is. She's not had as much time and training as Zeke, but is very quickly catching up to him. She's wicked smart, as quick a learner as i've had when it comes to commands and whistles. At this point she's not showing much in the way of eye and little feel for the "bubble" on sheep, but i'm hoping to bring some out. She pushes in too hard and sheep don't enjoy this, but she wants things to get moving, and moving quickly. She doesn't have a naturally square flank, preferring to come forward a bit then flare around, though we're working on that and it's improving. Neither her father or grandmother have naturally square flanks, but sheep were always pretty forgiving of it with them. I think it'll end up the same way with Moon, but i'd like her to release and flank when asked, so am working on it early. Interestingly, she does have a nice, natural bend on her outruns, giving nice room both on the sides and at the back, even at longer distances. She's a very good listener and very biddable, and is developing some pace on her fetch. Because she has so little eye and is so biddable, you can put her just about anywhere on a flank, on and off balance, and even on inside flanks. I've barely introduced driving to her and yet she'll drive sheep off a pretty good distance just because she'll go anywhere you tell her, plus she just *loves* to get in behind and make things move. I think she may pick up driving without ever really being taught exactly what driving is! I'm still assessing power and courage, hard to do right now as she tends to bully the sheep a bit with her speed, so that remains to be tested. She's more than happy to come right through sheep to me, so i expect she'll shed well.

So begins the tale of two youngsters. It's interesting to me that one is tight and fast yet has a nice bend to her gathers, while the other has nice feel and attitude yet is too tight on his gathers. Quite the opposite of what you would predict! I really don't think they could be much different in terms of overall working styles and strengths and weaknesses. I can't say for certain that i'll stick with both of them for the long haul but it's certainly giving me a lot to think and ponder and plot on during these dreary winter days.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Young Dogs

So "blah season" has settled in around here. Cold and icy, or rainy and muddy seem to be the themes this time of year. I get little snatches of dog training in when i can fit it, but also spend a lot of time plotting future adventures and pondering on the youngsters. My two youngsters this year, Moon and Zeke, couldn't be any different from each other. Both are right at 18 months old. It's a very good age, both will be eligible for the Nurseries for 2011 and 2012.

I picked Zeke up this past August from Joni Swanke. He's a half brother to Bill, by way of their father Lew. Zeke is a real sweetie pie, goofy and friendly and engaging. He decided he wanted to be my dog practically at first sight. I worked him a bit when i was out in ND and he immediately attached himself to me, to the point of chasing off my own dogs when they'd try to come near me! I really was trying to find a bitch to add to my pack, not another dog, but finally gave in to Zeke's charms and bought him. He's been such a nice addition. He's calm and respectful around the house and yard, and just generally a good guy to have around. He wants nothing more than to be a good boy and for me to be happy with him. One approving glance from me and his chest practically explodes with joy that he's made me smile.

Then there's Moon. Moon is a daughter of Zac and was my puppy from the litter. Unfortunately for Moon, i'd gotten all silly over Tug and never really bonded with her like i did him. When two puppies growing up together became too wild for my taste, i sent her off with a friend for raising. She came home after a while and it was still too much chaos for me, so i placed her with the friend. Over the last couple of months, it's become obvious that Moon is too intense as a starting sheepdog for a home without easy, consistent access to work, so she's come back to me. And what a different creature she is from Zeke. She does everything as fast as she can and is busy, busy, busy. She's a very sweet dog but is more independent, at least at this point. I'm starting to see flashes of her looking for approval from me, but only the tiniest snips before she's on to something else in her mind. She's kind of a pain in the behind to live with, being the "border collie your mother always warned you about". She makes her own entertainment in the yard, from chasing squirrels to digging holes. She's not too bad in the house. Though she'd like to bounce around and play rougher than i allow, she is able to settle down. I'd hate to see how she'd have been if she were a pet living with a first time BC owner in an apartment somewhere! I'm pretty sure she'll settle down and get with the program in my pack with a little time. I keep my dogs pretty quiet and calm, without too much foolishness going on. She's only been home about 3 weeks and is already chilling out a bit. Her father Zac is over the top keen for sheep work, but he's a lovely dog around the house and yard, and i expect Moon will be as well when she gets settled and grows up a bit.

So that's a quick introduction to my current projects, the Nursery dogs for this year. They are very different, for sure, and will be interesting to get trained up. I don't know how much of the difference is based on gender and how much on breeding, but i expect they'll keep me on my toes and force me to be flexible in my approach. Next up, i'll talk about how they are when it comes to sheep work, where they continue their "couldn't be any less alike" ways.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Puppies and trials

The puppies are here! Four boys and one girl, born Jan 9th, all healthy and fat. I can't wait to get my hands on them and i know already i'm going to have a devil of a time picking one. It's probably a good thing they're 3-4 hours from me or i'd be curled up with them myself.

We're going to have a couple of trials at the farm this spring to raise money for ovarian cancer research and to cover some feed costs. Since i'm not lambing this year, the sheep have to pay their own way in a different manner than usual. It'll be a lot of fun and hopefully fill a niche as there aren't many trials around in the spring, and fewer and fewer all the time for the novice handlers and dogs. Entry forms are on my website at

Zeke had a less than stellar debut at the Edgeworth winter trial last weekend. He didn't quite know what to make of those zippy katahdin lambs. But he mostly kept his cool and i think it was good for him. I saw lots i liked anyway, as he was very serious about the whole thing, spotting his sheep nicely even though they blended into the terrain. He was very focused when it came time to run even though he was Mr Party Boy waiting around to go. He really cracks me up sometimes. I'm surprised he didn't get whiplash from whipping his head around taking in all of the people and dogs standing around. Big goofball.

Plans have changed a bit here and we won't be doing the TX trip after all, just too many miles and too many days off work. Instead i'm going to pack the dogs up and head to the Suwannee SDT in FL for some (hopefully) warm days in mid February. In addition to Zac and Bill in the Open, I'm planning to run Zeke in Nursery and thinking he'll be ready by then. If things go really well between now and then, i may even take a deep breath and try Moon in PN. We'll see!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Years Catchup

I'm sure doing a lousy job keeping up with the blog, aren't I? It's been a busy couple of months actually, as i'm trying to train young dogs in all the free moments i can find and there were a few holidays in there as well.

I guess i'll just catch up on the dogs first. Zac and Bill are doing fine, though both a little aggravated with me as i'm forcing them to take a little break. I'm so mean. But really, after working so hard towards the Finals and the fall trials, it was time for some down time for both of them. I'm trying to ease them both back into training and conditioning now, as we sneak up on a trip to Texas in February for some trialing. I don't plan to work as hard towards it as we did the trips this past year, or the trips to be made later this year, since it's coming at a time when we don't normally do a lot and i don't want to get too much out of that rhythm. Neither of them need a lot of work to be pretty sharp workwise. I may be singing the blues about not conditioning them better physically when we get there, but it'll just have to do. I don't think it's good to try to keep them tuned and at peak all the time. At six and three years old, they should be fine, where i'd be more concerned about a dog that was a little older. As long as it's not too hot, we'll be okay.

The lineup of dogs in my pack has changed a good bit since the fall. Gael is back in the pack and firmly re-planted in the middle of my bed. It's nice having her back home. She still wants to work whenever i'll let her, and she's still the demon on sheep she's always been. What a toughie she is, and still as stylish and fun to watch as ever. I don't work her much, as i kind of like keeping my blood pressure in the normal range! Zeke joined the pack late in the summer and is a great addition. I enjoy him so much, both on and off sheep, and am looking forward to running him in the Nursery the next couple of years. Moon has also rejoined the pack recently. What a little pill she is! Fast, energetic and keen, keen, keen, a little version of her father Zac. I'm seeing a lot i like in her work, in the short time i've had her back. If i can keep up with her, she should be a lot of fun, and like Zeke she has two years of Nursery as well. The youngsters are keeping me on my toes and in the training field as much as possible right now, since they're at an age where they soak up all i can give them.

Earlier in the fall, i let a friend take Tug home to live with her and her little group of dogs. He wasn't working out like i'd hoped for sheep work, and my friend adored him, so i bit the bullet and let him go, hard as it was for me. Tragically, last week she lost Tug in a bizarre accident. We're all still in shock and very, very sad that he's gone. It's hard to believe such a joyful spirit as his is gone.
So that's where we all are these days. Clicking along and trying to get past some sad stuff, and leaning forward to good things to come. The Rhyme/Zac pups are due this weekend, and there were 5 showing up on the xrays yesterday. That'll be a fun time, seeing what they look like and picking out the newest Shoofly baby. And we have some fun trips planned this year, to TX, ND and CO. So here we go, into 2011.