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A September Weekend

This past weekend the little red dogs and I went to the Honey Creek Classic (ASCA) in Eastern Indiana. It was a great weekend full of seriously lovely people and lovely stock in a lovely place but I was pretty stressed out and didn’t enjoy myself much. Silly me. I just didn’t feel great and worse, didn’t prepare myself properly. My dogs could tell. Mesa was 100% sure I’d been taken by aliens.

We did earn some external rewards though and, as always, got a great lesson in training holes. For example, I could not for the life of me figure out why my dogs were having so much trouble penning. Not that they were having difficulty with the sheep, but more like they weren’t even recognizing what we were doing. It hit me like a brick while we were out on the field Sunday…I actually hadn’t trained this situation. How dare I take my poor dogs out in the stress of a trial (Me=Alien!) and ask them to string together tasks we’d never tried to string together? We’ve done lots of started courses, and they obviously recognize them. We have trained our separate skills well, but not strung ANY of them together with chutes or pens because I just don’t have a chute or pen available in an arena. We always work chutes or pens separately. So here we go doing the same old started course then I throw in a pen or an chute and blow sheep all over creation.

The duck runs on Sunday were back to back in the afternoon and Tess had an epiphany. Birds really suck her in and it can be very hard to get into her head (bird brain!) and work together when she locks in like that. She loved the ducks this weekend. I blew one run attempting to present myself as a possible working partner. It worked and the next one she was trying hard to work with me, a little too hard if that is possible. Her drive disappeared into a fetch, and we struggled putting the ducks through the gates. She wanted to fetch so bad. I wish I had video of those runs because I fear I was choosing places to stand and ‘help’ her that were negatively influencing the ducks. But then we turned to the pen…I was SO pleased with her pen. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but she started working her stock like I expected. She -knows- what a pen is. I am used to holding my side with my pressure and only really giving a few directions to help out. (Or asking her to hold her side while I shift them if the draw is that way.) She snapped into penning mode and I barely had to say a word. She took control of the stock and we put them in together with her covering her side beautifully. She kept herself back and patiently turned their little heads back & forth from the draws, much better than I could ever have directed, until they decided to move the direction she wanted. It’s a pen! W00t! Mesa also had an advanced sheep run where I was extremely pleased with her drive around the course. She made the transition from open to advanced very easily. But she’s also a veteran penner who knows her job so I was kind of sad about that. If I remember right, during one run she put them in and popped them right back out before I could shut the gate. Really Mesa?? Ok, forget the bobbles and focus on the good stuff!

Three biggest lessons learned: 1) Never ever let my mental work slip before a trial (duh). 2) I MUST get a camera that can video out across a field or arena to help myself improve. I’m throwing away money by not videoing our practices and work for review. 3) More carefully examine and plan our training sessions. We only get to practice once a week at best. They must all count.

Oh! and one more…If I ever want to learn to handle them, I absolutely have to find someway to work cattle more than once or twice a summer. Even if it’s without dogs.

Some external rewards: Tess earned her Open sheep title on the C course (which she thought was a blast). Mesa has a leg towards her Advanced sheep title and both dogs have legs towards Open duck titles. Tess won herself a really cute set of labeled bowls for three HIT Other Breed awards. Thank you HWASC!

June Clinic & May Cows

I went to another clinic with Kent Herbel this weekend. After the two trials we have been to (HWASC & SEMASA) I saw a clear problem with each dog that I wasn't effectively dealing with. I even had a hard time articulating it for Kent, but upon demonstration it they were pretty clear. I have (finally) gone beyond what I had previously experienced in teaching my dogs and was really screwing up Mesa's drive. Someone was taking pictures at the SEMASA trial and in each one, Mesa was looking at ME during her crossdrives. Ooops. I was looking at the sheep so I didn't realize the depth of her uncertainty. Tess's problem was that I had let her work closer and closer andcloserandcloser to her sheep to the point where she was loosing control of her sheep. She is so strong eyed that she can sneak in really close and I wasn't getting her back off effectively or consistently (my confusion, but she's not disturbing her sheep..ack help!) and she was developing a horrible habit very quickly. This weekend had the effect of a meditation retreat. My head has been twisted around and screwed back on right. I'm still trying to assimilate. It was AWESOME.


Below is the animated .gif Ed made for me (cause I don't know how to do that $^!t) from a series of photos Lori Herbel took of Mesa in Kansas. The little red dog with teeth:

Mesa turning a small herd of cattle in Kansas

Mesa Working Cattle

I have some pictures of Mesa working this past weekend! These are from Started Cattle at the HWASC spring ASCA stock trial.

I believe these are a couple pictures from each day. Saturday I was wearing my big brown coat and freezing and I don't remember the sun coming out!

Both days started with a take pen. Mesa had to go into the pen holding the 5 steers and bring them out:

Driving the group up along the fence:

This steer really wants to back to the take pen:

Here is a series of Mesa grouping and turning them through a panel:

–>Photos by Sheila Price (THANK YOU AGAIN SHEILA!)<–

My goal in entering started cattle again was to give Mesa more experience and keep rebuilding her confidence. Well, we had a fantastic run on Saturday, very confident and really decisive in controling them. She was brave and awesome. Not an exceptionally smooth run, very much started level, but it was exhilarating.

Bob the Kelpie

In Australia they have sheepdog kid’s songs:

Bob the Kelpie

I ♥ Bob. 🙂

Sunday Double Feature

Sunday was an amazingly adventurous day for us, these days. It featured Mesa’s & my first herding trial in 3 years, and Tess’s first ever. That was the main plot, but there were some fun side stories too.

I originally entered on Saturday only. Then I needed to move it to Sunday so I could work Saturday. The calendar I looked at to plan this did not feature the change to DST. I, being older than some, am still in the we-do-that-in-the-spring groove and it never entered my mind until someone mentioned the time change midweek. To make the handler’s meeting south of St. Louis, I have to get up and leave at 4am. I’ve done it before, mildly painful but it works. Except when 4am is now 3am. And your alarm, set for 3am, autochanges at midnight so now 3am is 2am. Follow that?

Purina Farms is a decent venue with much improved stock. The ASCA club organizing this trial (GASC) is very friendly and organized. I was a little star-struck by the participants who featured a mind blowing (for my ‘little hat’ mind) accumulation of ‘famous’ names and people from all over the midwest seeking finals points for the Nationals in Colorado this year.

The weather featured water. It came out of the sky in buckets all day. I do not mean “it rained”…I mean full-on drenching buckets. You could almost hear the little gortex gasps as everyone’s rain gear started to give out after a few hours. It only let up for lunch and the afternoon awards. It rained so hard for so long that all I could do was laugh while slogging through the swampy fields, literally fording the overflowing torrent that is usually a covered creek crossing between the fields and parking lot, or trying not to loose a boot and stay upright in the inevitable overtheankle goop in the arenas. But it actually was workable and could have been SO much worse. It wasn’t cold and windy!

I was there to work on ME and give the dogs a successful trial (re)intro. And I did that with good success. There were times, once with each dog, where I lost touch with my goal. But I think I recovered and learned although I sacrificed a run (and really confused a judge) to do it. The problems weren’t things that would have kept us from qualifying, and my screwup with Tess had no effect on our score, just our handling, and will definitely cause need to be very careful in our next trial to avoid it becoming a real problem. Incidentally both dogs earned titles and brought home red and blue ribbons. Tess even got High Scoring Started in the afternoon. What fun to come home with baubles and titles!

Salsa Dog

Someone please tell Joe to stop stealing little plastic cups of salsa (from Huaraches Moroleon) off the counter when I leave the room. I know they’re good. That’s why -I- want to eat them.

Fall Update

Big story of the summer was our recent horrible experience with apparently Frontline resistant fleas(???).
Joe has been a scratchy mess since sometime in July. Joe looked like he had a Mesa-like allergy…chewing on his legs, etc. I could not find any physical evidence of fleas. Then there was the occasional scratches from Elli, Tess shaking her head…still no (physical) sign of fleas. Must have been just a couple of persistent buggers(?) until the problem bloomed mid August. I give my dogs their preventatives on the first of the month. We did an emergency switch to Trifexis mid-month, which worked beautifully. I’ve never heard of the stuff. It makes me horribly nervous giving my dogs something internally that’s brand new and kills all the live fleas within 12hrs, but…it’s what the vet had and it worked. Now I have 3 months worth of Frontline for 5 dogs, and can’t use it. Worse and worse, we exported the fleas to my Dad’s indoor cats before I knew we had a problem and his vet gave them Frontline…which didn’t work…now they really have a problem.

Elli: This dog is not going to work stock. She is just way too soft. She obviously has the instinct, and some very appropriate and beautiful instinct at that, and presence, but no drive. If she perceives the SLIGHTEST pressure she thinks she’s wrong/in trouble and leaves. Useless. She is however obviously here to teach me how to deal with difficult/reactive dogs, read dogs better, and learn to be exquisitely sensitive & precise in my training. And she’s the most devoted dog I’ve ever had. And I thought Mesa was all about me!

Tess: Wow…are we having fun. This dog can work. We’ve been focusing mainly on developing our outrun. We’re working in the big field most of the time now, varying the type of sheep (steady to really light). We’re fetching all over, teaching her ‘there’, perfecting flank commands, etc. I am her Provider of Sheep and worshiped accordingly.

Mesa: She’s doing fantastic with her stock work too. I am working on re-teaching her smooth and calm take-pens in all situations. Her outrun is back. She can work in large fields again. We’re putting some precision in our driving….holding the line, maneuvering around obstacles, turning for a cross drive. She and I are working well enough as a team now, that I am able to focus more on being a better stock handler. At home she’s become very helpful with the ducks. It’s much easier to put them up with her now than without. Other than her work, which she loves, she has had an awful summer. Her allergy problem is back with a vengeance. She’s been miserable, scruffy, and on Benedryl most of the time. I’ve found ways to support her nutritionally, which has allowed her to keep working, but not fix it. She and I are taking a long trip to see a recommended holistic vet.

Joe: Poor ol’ Joe has got the short end of the stick this season. I didn’t take him herding while we suffered through all the heat. There was barely enough cooler hours to work the more accomplished dogs. He hasn’t done any tracking (TOO HOT!) and no obedience. He just gets lots of love. And it turns out Joe has an extreme flea allergy. His fur is growing back. : (

Me: I’m finally learning to train a stock dog. I’m playing around learning to use a shepherd’s whistle. Tess is going to need it. I finally got the opportunity to attend a Brenda Aloff seminar. (Holy Cow was that cool!) I am juggling a near-full load of Ag/Equine classes at the community college, work, and dogs…oh yah, and family. I should be doing homework right now, or exercising dogs, not blog posting. See ya!

Summer Reading

There are some excellent training posts popping up this week. It doesn’t matter what your sport is….the thoughts are still valid. Brain food while you’re stuck indoors:

1) 1100 Miles Home
“The dog is NOT being ‘bad’, it’s just over it’s head. I did not do my job of preparing my dog well enough. My bad.”

2) The Possibilities in Dog Training
“The better you are at controlling reinforcement, the less you will need punishment in training.”

3) Proper Mental Training

“I LOVE when the dog asks ” Is THIS what you want”? I can’t sculpt or paint. Taking a active, silly dog and making him a well-oiled tool is the closest I get to ART! As the dogs learn, they achieve confidence and they LIKE it. The want our approval and they want to work sheep. The better they obey, the more sheep they get and they figure that out! This is the groundwork for the “team” you and your dog become.”

(One comment on something the author says in this post: I believe that if I am doing a necessary part of training and I find it “boring”, then I need a mental adjustment…I need to “find the joy.” It may take extra creativity, but I believe I can make any training reinforcing for my dog if I think about it hard enough. If it’s something I really need to do to progress, then the progress is my reinforcement, no?)

In other words, be diligent & creative in your training, communicate with your dog, learn to use and control reinforcement to build/change behavior, and try to behave like an adult.

You get the dog you trained

I got to thinking about that last post….I’m not sure how that ‘explanation’ of our last trial sounds to someone outside my own head. I don’t have time to expand/expound, but I probably ought to be explicit:
It’s not her fault. I hope I didn’t sound like I was getting down on Mesa. I completely own any confusion, disappointment, annoyance, or exasperation that might have been felt. I have the dog I trained.

In my defense, Mesa is my very first working dog. The very first APDT rally trial I ever did with her was the very first time I ever competed in anything, ever. And, herding is a sport that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. (This statement includes my college & graduate degrees in physics and mathematics.) ALL the retraining and advanced work we do is built on a foundation made mostly of mistakes, confusion, misunderstanding, and experimentation while I learned/am learning. And it’s just really showing that now we are working at a level where partnership: trust and understanding, are absolutely necessary. Mesa is a truly awesome dog who has learned to work in spite of me. Now we are in the middle of a long haul…re-learning to work together.

My little red dog has stuck with me through thick and thin, has taught me most of what I know about training & competing with dogs, and still loves to work with me.

Best. Dog. Ever.

Heat & Tess JHDs

Getting behind with the blog again. It’s has fallen by the wayside while I concentrate on exercising & training the dogs in this heat, kids, earning money so I can keep herding… Extreme summer weather entails a lifestyle change that is very difficult for me. I adore getting up very early in the morning, BUT I’m just not a get-up-and-go morning person. I get up, stumble around, try to pour a cup of coffee without spilling it while my eyes relearn how to focus. My M.O. is to feed the dogs & curl up on the couch with a book while my brain re-formats. This is not conducive to grabbing dogs and getting out to some big space where we can run, play, and lose a few ya-ya’s before it gets hot enough to kill.

Mesa is a marvel. She adjusts to heat, increased work, etc with the most remarkable stamina. Joe, on the other hand, grew out of a serious heat sensitivity around age three. [I wasn’t paying close enough attention to tell if being neutered at around that age had anything to do with it, but I wonder.] Before that he was very much like Elli is now: active to the point of insanity (when active, she also lays around like any old dog) and just being in 70ºF makes her pant. Because Joe grew out of it, I hope she eventually will too. Elli has a hopelessly thick coat that has so far refused to really let go for the summer. The other dogs are nearing the end of their coat blow…Joe is almost naked…but poor Elli’s big shed is (hopefully) just beginning and she needs a dedicated fan on bad days. [Even now I can hear her panting while she naps near me (always near me) under the ceiling fan.] Actually, both young dogs are quite heat sensitive. I’m carefully following a deliberate plan to build Tess’s heat tolerance so she can work for a reasonable length of time.

Tess earned a JHDs at Shannon Wolfe‘s AHBA ‘Hoofstock’ trial in June. The second day of the test I was even able to have her put the sheep through the panels without me. The ease of it really underscored for me how far I have come in the 5 years I’ve been learning with Mesa and how much it matters that Tess is not only hard-wired so differently, but has a clean working history. Tess turned 18 months old a couple days ago. She’s been training formally (as many weekends as possible) since she was just under a year old. With a lot of help from Mary Lou Hayden, I’ve managed to keep her moving forward, building on her instincts in a very positive way. So far it’s been a matter of making sure she keeps doing what she does…not developing bad habits, labeling her flanks, stops, etc so I can ask for what she already does when I need it, and building & perfecting her outrun, lift, & fetch. But most of all, retraining me out of my bad habits. [I got curious while writing just now & went back through our journal…from Oct 2010 to the JHD test, Tess had 16 days of training and 2 clinic weekends.]

Mesa was in that trial too. I entered her well below her current level of competence because neither of us have trialed or really worked off-farm in over a year. Good thing too. I expected a performance well below what we are usually capable of, but not as low as we went. It started with a take pen where mediocrity would have been a step up. She was uppity as stink and pushing to take the sheep to Florida. We had a continual argument the whole way around the field over who was directing the show and what we should be doing. I was very very unhappy with our work. Strangely enough, we actually placed 1st. The next day, I dropped the whole idea of trialing. I trained the whole way around the field. The lesson plan was you-are-not-working-the-sheep-unless-you-listen-to-me. That kind of work on the field does not give you a Q. Partly this was driven by my dismay at our previous day’s performance, partly by the knowledge that we have a long history now of doing brilliantly the first day, then crap the second. If it was crap the first day, where were we going???

Our gather was crap and she blew the sheep right past me from the lift, so I downed her (finishing the job of loosing the sheep), got my s**t together (or tried to) and made her do it again, right, so we went on. I didn’t nit-pick for perfection or argue with her as long as she was thinking, reasonably rating, and generally taking my cue. We lost our sheep several times when I shut down booger behavior. We attempted each obstacle, but not necessarily legal “attempts”. I tried to be calm about it…not react with my disapproval and disappointment…but didn’t quite reach it. I wish I’d had a handler working on my attitude. We missed the ‘drive’ panels, but got a nice fetch to them and a calm turn. We did have a short argument at the panels in the back corner, but she finally put them through and I didn’t let her cover the exit (because that was the argument) like that was the whole idea. We attempted the pen (which we did with little effort the first day), but she lost them around the side twice. I suspected I was not helping at all because my annoyance was getting in the way, so I called her off, closed the pen & moved on. You should have seen the surprise on her face. She did a really nice hold while I walked down the the exhaust. Not a good trial run, but I believe I made my point. She has all the skills to do the course easily at the middle level and almost advanced. What we are missing is trust. Now I know what we need to work on, which is what trial are best at pointing out. It was very hard because I wasn’t ready for some of the crap she pulled (no longer used to it!) and I should have been on my toes, not getting pissed off. I actually think that day worked although I’m sure a more experienced handler would have had a beter idea. It would have been interesting to have another trial day to see how that day affected us. It’s hard to tell at home since she doesn’t act like that here anyway.