Tuesday, October 8, 2013

And the Journey begins! Nationals here we come!

And so, that fine day in September appeared and we picked up our rental uhaul van to pack and hit the road. Why the Uhaul?  I had decided that with 2 people and 8 dogs, plus our camping gear and everything else I wanted the security for the long trip (I would have needed to pull a trailer with my smaller van, and with 320,000 miles I worry about long trips). And the van we got was brand spanking new, even smelled new. By the time packing was done, we were stuffed, 8 crates, gear for camping, for showing, for trialing, food for an army (Shari can not help herself), cooking supplies, and off to Greeley, Colorado we headed; 8 dogs and 2 people. Yep to one of the areas devastated by unexpected flooding (and still somewhat affected). Fortunately the lovely show site, Island Grove Park had survived with no damage, or at least just lots of water.

That night we stopped to meet up with my friend Sally and her van of dogs, so we could continue the drive together.  Friday was a beautiful day for driving; the long haul up hill to Denver resulted in the impressive view of the Rockies, though somewhat smoggy (or maybe just too much water in the air?) Shari and I got our tent site set up (2 tents and an canopy), the show site scoped out. We arrived early enough to pick up our packets with all the important info we needed for the week. And I had a chance to visit with people, seeing friends and acquaintances from around the country (as well as all the other Aussies) is one of the fun parts of Nationals.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Summer of 2013 or preparation for ASCA Nationals.

I thought I should update my blog.  Much has happened since my last post: training, trialing, and Nationals. All fun, all good, but definitely an interesting journey with things that should be done, and perhaps some that should be avoided.

ASCA Nationals is definitely an adventure, one that hopefully starts months before the actual event, with entries, and training, and all the other preparations that are needed. It is a week (8 days) of ASCA competitions, 8 days of being surrounded with talented and beautiful Aussies and their hardworking owners and handlers. Between numerous preshows and trial, finals in all venues, and 3 days of Nationals stock and agility, it is a packed week. I am one of those foolhardy MVA (most versatile Aussie) competitors, where to qualify you have to earn a q in stock (sheep, ducks or cattle), in a companion event (tracking, agility, obedience, or rally) and participate in a scored conformation evaluation. Obviously the more you enter and the higher levels you participate in equate with higher combined scores. I also qualified and got to participate in cattle finals with Tommy

This year I choose to play MVA with all 3 of my dogs: Tommy, Lizzy and the baby, Dari. And I also ran my friend Sally’s talented girl Choca in stock. Now mind you, I do work sheep regularly with the dogs, I do chores, I graze sheep, the dogs are always there helping.  This daily work does have its benefits, the dogs understand working stock, they learn patience, and they understand it as a task.  The down side of my training (and limited trialing in the months before the Nationals) was that my dogs did not get the time on different stock; they did not have the familiarity with the courses that comes in handy. I also did not have the sharpness, the mental preparation, and the reminder of which direction is which that you really get through trialing.  A really good trial dog knows his job, knows the pattern, and anticipates where the stock should go.  We did work on the panels and the center obstacle some when we had our fun days at Mel’s.  I worked at teaching the dogs the task of the center pen- pulling the sheep off the fence and bringing them to the middle.  Part of the center pen is kicking out far enough to bring them straight to the center, part is rating and understanding the stock should be put in the pen or Y chute.  The better the dog understands the task (like loading a trailer) the easier it is for a handler.  I find part of the challenge is teaching the dog the off balance part of the center.  The stock should be pushed past the handler, something Lizzy finds very difficult to comprehend.  She defaults in bringing the stock to me. The other part of a trial arena she has a difficult time with (and always has) is pulling stock off a fence, getting between the stock and the fence.  The strange part of this, is she does fine in take pens.  Her cattle take pen was really quite nice!

Because I was also doing agility and rally I needed to prep for those also. I found trips to the barn a good time for rally practice.  I grabbed a handful of cat food and worked on sits to stands. For some reason both Lizzy and Dari choose down over sit or stand.  Not useful when doing formal heeling exercises… But that was what I had to work with.  I also had to set aside time for agility.  All 3 needed work on weaves. Well, Tommy and Lizzy needed work, Dari needed to learn how to weave. So we worked on simple courses as well as weaving and contacts.  I have most all the equipment in my agility field; I just need to spend the time working the dogs.  Fortunately I did find some time during the cool mornings, probably not enough, but we did work on remembering contact performance and working together as a team.

Much work and training, and this had to fit around my schedule of judging stock trials, visiting family, doing clinics in Nashville and of course that 4 letter word of work. Needless to say, I had a busy summer, fortunately doing what I love.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tom Sawyer and loading the sheep

I thought I would share my adventure of the day…
I called my friend Karen as I was driving to Nashville.  This is a herding clinic weekend, and my sheep were at Nancy’s needing to be picked up, I had the brilliant idea of asking Karen if she and her Aussie, Motley would like to meet us at Nancy’s to load these 4 sheep(yearlings) in the crates on my trailer. Karen thought it would be fun as Motley was getting a little stir crazy, not getting to run around the backyard because of all the rain. I suggested that I would call when stopped for gas 15 minutes before getting there.

I called upon arrival at the Shell Gas Station/Dunkin Donuts, and Karen asked “is it raining?” “No, not here”. “Its pouring here” (closer to Nancy’s, and feared as I did see the very dark sky ahead).  “I’ll call you when I leave the gas station.” And as I left the gas station it started to drizzle.  I called Karen to let her know that I was on my way.  She was not sure about this (mis)adventure, however in true Tom Sawyer fashion, I convinced her that whitewashing the fence (AKA catching sheep) would be a grand time.

Which it was. We had the great idea to back the trailer up to the small personnel gate, and opened the sheep crates so they could be put in. I brought young Dari in as backup and Karen sent Motley to get the sheep. (this field is probably 150 x 150 feet) As Mot was bringing them to her in the corner, I had an even better idea, have the sheep load themselves on the trailer, and into the 2 crates! I explained it to Karen. They (Karen and Mot) tried, but every time the sheep got close, those sneaky PIA would get away. Motley would shift the wrong way, or Karen would stop him at the wrong place. They would have gotten it with time, but I heard thunder. And so, I sent the ever impatient young Dari to go help. Dari brought the sheep, and stopped when asked. Just a step or two too far to the left. Karen stopped Motley. I looked to see where he was, and he was behind me and a bit further away from the trailer. It was perfect to stop the sheep from running. Now to get them to jump on the trailer (really had one chance for this plan to work, as sheep are really not that forgiving). Would Dari take that “Away” flank (with just a verbal)? Would Karen and Mot hold their positions? Would the sheep jump up on the trailer and go in the crates? (they had done this a month ago). I asked Dari, she took the step, the sheep shifted, I asked her to walk, and she eased. They jumped on the trailer, 2 went in one crate, one in the other, and the forth I pushed into the ½ full crate. A plan that fell in place! We got the crates secured, the tarps tied, the dogs in crates, and the gate re-bungeed, and then it started pouring. Timing! And I appreciated all 3 of my helpers in this little adventure!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

About training

And just because I am in the mood to post, I started writing this yesterday morning

As I sit here grazing sheep, I think I will write my thoughts from the earlier training sessions this morning. I started my day working 5 very different dogs (thought they all are related) ranging from 1 year to 5 years in agility.

These dogs remind me that no two dogs or people learn equally from the same methods, or at the same time. Different things are perceived as corrections, and all respond to various rewards differently.  And by corrections, I would refer to anything a particular dog would react to as a negative.  Could be as simple as withholding a treat, a look, repetition, a verbal.  Now, I feel these are part of training, up to the point that they start to shut a dog down. This threshold obviously varies quite a bit.

For example, the 2 dogs who are helping me as I graze sheep. On stock, Dari (the younger) responds very well to verbal corrections, while my corrections to Dari hurt Tommy’s feelings and worry him… Which makes me realize that I need at times to work dogs individually.

When I started playing with Dari on agility equipment, she had a strong aversion to the movement of the puppy teeter board. Instead of forcing the issue, I just did other things with her, then one day had her out in the agility field while working with Tommy. She followed him over all the equipment and did the teeter. Its amazing when not training can help with such progress. She needed more confidence, which is coming with maturity.

Bug and Rango (my youngest) are 1 month apart in age. Rango turns a year old tomorrow (June 28). To say that they are different would be an understatement. Though both are very happy and bouncy. Bug in many ways is easier, willing to experiment, works well offering behaviors for the  clicker, food motivated, responds easily to pressure on stock.  Though she does not have the play drive I would like, I think it would be easy to build.
Rango is much more sensitive. His default when unsure is to come for attention, stand and wiggle.  However he is rather fearless, with no concern about the rocker board, even learning to balance it! He loves affection, and is driven to play ball. Food is not so much of a draw when he gets tired.  He also is very pressure sensitive on stock, and like his mother, wants to control those heads. Being a goofy male  (and Lizzy’s pup) I am expecting a slow maturing boy. Patience I say…

Tommy is watching the sheep while I type, making sure they do not go out of bounds.  It is fascinating to watch dogs learn the job of tending, the willingness of some to take initiative and “fix” the sheep, others just become anxious until given permission. The patience learned while grazing is invaluable.  Stock handling does not mean constant motion, running around, or even information as to what to do.

I have been taking Tommy, Dari, and Lin with me to do chores in the morning. One thing I ask them to do (and correct them when they do not) is watch the gates when I put the grain down for the sheep.  Dari places herself in a down front of the gate, with a “you better not come here look,” normally Tommy just stands and stares.  This morning all 3 were lying down, blocking the sheep, until I put the grain down, and asked them to “get around.”

musings from this morning

Musings from this morning...

Life on the farm
Watching lambs frolicking, the wonders of new life, the attentiveness of the momma ewes, the baby ducklings hatching, peaceful grazing/tending of the sheep, the routine of the daily chores, all are part of the pleasure of the farm.  Having the space to let the dogs run, the stock to tr on, the room for agility equipment are bonuses.  Of course there is the dark side, the work, chores when it is nasty outside, sick livestock, those hard decisions, the predators, work to do, things to fix.

I appreciate the good of it all, and am grateful for this being my life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I have not written here since december.  Much too long of a break.
Thought I should update as I sit here in my front grazing sheep with Tommy and Dari. Without a fence, the dogs become the perimeter control.  Always good for the dogs as they learn patience, as well as working on their off balance flanks, outruns, and just general work.  I like it when the dog starts moving without direction when the sheep start to go places they do not belong. I also like it when the dogs will take flanks and commands without me having to get up from my chair!

And so, in the last 6 months what have we done? To much traveling between judging agility and stock (I am now an ASCA stockdog judge), my clinics in Nashville and trialling. Though ASCA trials are my preference, I did compete at the AKC Aussie Nationals herding trials, with Tommy in Advanced course A sheep (we qualified 1of our 2 tries) and my friend Sally's girl Choca in started sheep and ducks (A and B). Choca q-ed both duck runs (great ducks) and one sheep run (pretty dogwise sheep). Tommy also finished his AHBA herding championship!  Baby Dari (who turned 2 the end of March) also had a good spring, earning her started sheep, duck and cattle titles with several really nice runs, and then turning around and earning her AHBA level 3 ranch dog sheep title. But enough of the bragging.

Training wise, I have been slacking.  I need to get up early, so I can work all the dogs.  Tommy needs mileage driving, and confidence, and mileage.  He really is a good dog to work with, as he tries to please.  He also has such nice outruns, and is good about gathering stock even out of sight.  Its the driving that holds us back.
As I entered Lizzy in Nationals, I have to "knock the rust" off of her, and work on everything with her. We need to become a team.  Pieces and parts are there, and she really is a talented dog, however the months without training have allowed her to become sloppy, and forget flanks. So lots of driving and off balance work are needed, as well as chore work. Lizzy did make me proud in the cattle farm trial when she decided to hit a heel! We were loading the cattle in a trailer.
Dari is coming along nicely.  She has no qualms about driving stock away. We do need better off balance flanks, for driving, for penning, and for grazing. She is a pushy little girl who does like to bite. She is also very quick.  The wonderful thing, verbal corrections are working well on stopping her cutting in on outruns. They keep getting better and more consistent. She really is a fun girl.
My little Bug is also making me proud.  She works nicely off stock and will balance nicely (well, one side she tends to overflank). We usually work in smaller areas as she will bite if given too much freedom. At this point, lots of turns, stops backed up to the fence, and I'm starting to use flanks.
Rango is also going to be a good little stockdog, once we get this teamwork thing figured out.  He seems to be going through a phase where he would be happy holding them in a corner. Like Bug, he also is bad about biting. He does have a lovely rate, and loves to control the heads. And I certainly do not want to loose appropriate bite, just keep him from having opportunities to grab unnecessarily.

That would be all for now. If I can get the video's posted on U-tube of Bug and Rango from the beginning of the month, and find the link from January, I will post them.