Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Different Dog, Different Personality

Like last week, I brought Peg to train along with Rodeo. This time I drove out to Caroline’s house north of town, which is on a nice piece of property. She has chickens and a couple of pastures that are just crying out for sheep, but are empty for the time being.

As we drove southward on I5, the outside temperature, according to the readout on the car’s dash, rose from 70 degrees to over 80. I found Brian relaxing in the shade with Doc, Miggy, and Raven, along with a new arrival named Bell. “Meet the princess!” Brian announced. Bell is a two-year old, very dainty and with pricked ears, with tons of cuteness and charisma. Brian bought her some time ago but she lives with a friend of his, and Brian suspects she’s there to stay. It works out because his friend only lives 5 minutes away from him so he can train her easily.  

Same as last week, I split training between Rodeo and Peg, taking turns tying them to the fence in the shade. We began with some outrun work with Rodeo.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Training with Peg

Today was the first day training with Caroline’s dog Peg. I met Caroline and Peg a couple of weeks ago when Brian was working with Peg in advance of entering her in the Highland Games trial. She’s a 5-year old, mostly black border collie with light brown eyes.

After a quick lunch at Rudy’s Pizza, I met Caroline in Bellingham and picked up Peg for the drive to Smoky Point. Happily, she and Rodeo got on well in the back seat of the car – she sat quietly while he lunged from one side of the car to the other at passing cars and signposts.

I split time at the lesson with both dogs, switching from one to the other. I started with a short sting with Peg in the round pen just to make sure that she’d work with me. She was a little tight at the top, but not bad, and we quickly went into the open field.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Roy and Rodeo, a Study in Opposites

Today we had a menagerie. My friend Mike wanted to come along and watch, so we carpooled from Bellingham. Sonya met us in Burlington with her dog Roy, and we drove the rest of the way to Smoky Point with Sonya in the backseat between the two dogs. She and I had decided to do a double lesson.

We had a two-hour lesson, splitting time between Sonya working with Roy and me working with Rodeo.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A birthday

Happy Birthday to Diane Pagel's Tess, a grand old sheepdog. She looked good this weekend at the Highland Games. She turned 12 today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Highland Games trial

On Saturday, Ivy and I loaded Rodeo into the car and drove to Mount Vernon for this year’s Highland Games. There’s always great food, music, culture, and sporting events (and beer!), but I was really there for the arena-style sheepherding trial that they hold every year.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

a Holy S#@%! Moment

I went on a Friday this week both to get a second lesson in, and to watch Andy and his dog Sookie, who were having an 11 am lesson. They were working in the upper portion of the split field. Brian and Andy were standing with dogs at the southern end of the field, in the shade provided some second-growth trees.

It was a very hot day, in the mid to upper 80s, and the sun was directly overhead, beating down on handlers, dogs, and sheep. To keep everyone safe, we worked in short segments, retreated to the shade, dunked dogs in the nearby water trough, and rotated the sheep.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Questions... and an answer

At this week's lesson, we started talking about how Rodeo was progressing and I asked Brian how long it might take to be able to run in open. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and I said, “In a year?” He hemmed and hawed some more and made it clear he didn’t think so. 

“He’s got some question marks about him,” he said.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Doubling Down

Back in March, we attended a handler’s clinic with Jack Knox in Arlington. Jack is a stocky, straight-talking Scotsman with short hair and a good sense of humor. He says things like “The dog no wants to do that,” and “You nae goin’ get it done tha’ way.”

He’s also one of the great handlers in the sport, and Brian and Dirk are sort of philosophical disciples of him. Jack focuses on getting the dog to think for himself.

He made it clear that he believes in tough love. “I don’t believe in praise,” he said several times. “Praise never made anyone better. It’s criticism.” He also looks for what’s wrong in a dog, not what’s right. When he sees what’s wrong, he works to correct it. He also believes in giving the dog freedom after a correction. Give him the correction (which could be a down), and then let him go. Don’t walk towards him or put pressure on him. Back away and give him the sheep and the freedom to make the next move.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Donald McCaig quote

Read this recently on the BC Boards:

"There is no more off-leash reliable, calm, sophisticated, go-with-you-anywhere dog than a trained sheepdog."  -- Donald McCaig

This more or less perfectly describes Rodeo.

I've always referred to Rodeo as half border collie, half lab, because when there's no work to be done or no place to go, he lies down quietly and is as calm as you could ask for. And as Donald McCaig put it, he's a go-with-you-anywhere dog if ever there was one. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Andy and Suki

Last week I received a call from a local sheepdog enthusiast named Andy. He has land and some sheep in nearby Custer and wanted to connect to other local sheepherding enthusiasts.

Yesterday I drove out to meet him and see his place. He has a very sweet, 1 ½ year old, smooth-coated border collie named Suki that he bought 6 months ago from a breeder in Portland. Her line traces to dogs from Patrick Shannahan, who is a very well-known handler and trainer.

Andy has a beautiful set-up. The back porch of his rambler looks out over the sheep pens. Beyond the pens, a river traces its way along the edge of the property, marked by cattails, willows, and thick shrubs. Beyond it are more pastures and farm buildings.

We sat for awhile on the porch, with Suki splitting time between us, seeking attention wherever she could, while Rodeo spent most of the time lying at my feet. Andy moved to the area a year ago from Arizona, where he had a 1,400 acre ranch and the nearest town was 30 miles away.

Andy’s very relaxed and friendly, and obviously extremely knowledgeable. He’s also begun working with Brian, so it will be fun to compare notes and do some training together. His sheep are katahdins and they’re extremely light, meaning that they turn and move away from a dog pretty much as soon as they see it. In time, with more training, they’ll become ‘dog broke’ and less flighty. 

a poem

Away to Me
-by Jim Kling


The dog, hitherto poised at my side
Sprints away against the clock.
The tall grass confounds,
A low spot blocks his view,
But somewhere out there he knows
The sheep are waiting.

He spots them, lined up in a row,
Heads bowed forward,

Away, once more, he arcs out gracefully,
Head aligned with body in one seemless form,
Legs pumping, ears pricked, his eyes glued to the sheep.

They watch him, too, warily,
He’s behind them
And grudgingly they turn towards me.

They trot.
He follows, head low, intent
Ready to push a straggler
Or turn a wandering ewe.

“Steady,” I call, as the sheep come near.
They settle at my feet, browsing,
Content as the dog who watches them now.
The dog who brought them here,
To me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ruminations on the Outrun

At this week’s lesson, I expressed concern to Brian about Rodeo’s outrun. In each of the three competitive runs we’ve done, the sheep had drifted off line and we couldn’t complete a straight fetch. In at least one case, I know they drifted because Rodeo had come in too tight on his outrun.

But Brian wasn’t concerned. He noted that Rodeo is very thoughtful on his outruns, and he’s right. When he takes off in an arc, Rodeo will frequently adjust and kick out wider on his own, without any command from me. He watches the sheep and understands of his own volition that he needs to kick out wider to avoid upsetting them. He still doesn’t always go out wide enough, but the fact that he’s doing it at all suggests that he’ll improve on his own over time, learning to go wider and wider as necessary.

Seattle Times article

The Seattle Times recently published an interesting article about pay and living conditions among sheepherders, most of whom are guest workers.