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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.

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