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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!

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