Sunday, September 20, 2009

Meeker Classic 2009

I went to the Meeker Classic sheepdog trial last week, and it was just amazing seeing such talented dogs and skilled handling. The sheep were, as always, difficult and challenging and just plain uncooperative. Amanda Milliken and her 10-year-old Ethel made it look easy, though. Their winning run was incredible. Here are a few photos of the trial...

Faansie Basson's Jill

Jill brings the second set of sheep through the panels to join the first set

Derek Fisher's Jen

Bev Lambert's Hemp

Bev penning with Hemp

Reserve Champs Tommy Wilson and Sly at the pen

Red Oliver and Blaze

Libby Nieder's Lyn working at the international shed

Handlers watching the action

2009 Meeker Champs Amanda Milliken and Ethel show us how it's done

For more photos of the 2009 Meeker Classic, take a look here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Steamboat Stockdog Challenge 2009 report

The Steamboat Stockdog Challenge was a lot of fun. Some excellent dogs and handlers were there, and the range ewes were TOUGH! On the last day, the open course consisted of shedding off three of six sheep and then penning the remaining three, which proved to be quite a challenge! Only two teams completed the course, but most handlers enjoyed the challenge.

The open ranch class had a fairly long outrun (maybe 275-300 yards) and quite a long drive away. After our last run, I decided to retire Craig. He's 11, after all. He doesn't hear very well anymore and he has gotten to the same point on the course on his last four runs. He overheats easily (was wobbly again after his runs). And he just can't cover the sheep like he used to. He used to be lightning fast! I actually wish I'd ended his career on a stronger note and not waited until he really showed me he isn't up to it anymore, but I kept thinking he'd be okay until the end of the year. But he's ready now...seeing him unable to really cover the sheep this weekend (partly because I think he didn't hear my commands very well and partly because he is slowing down) is what cemented it for me. He knows when he isn't getting the job done and he deserves to not be put through that. He's taught me a lot over the past two years and will enjoy his time on the couch now...

Taz did a fantastic outrun on his first run. He ran nice and wide and did not need any redirects! Hooray! The judge, the inimitable Derek Fisher, actually scored his outrun better than Craig's—a first! His lift was decent and his fetch was a bit fast. As usual, we gained better control the closer we got to the post. Went around just fine and then had a bit of overflanking during the drive. When it went on too long for me to stand it, we retired. Derek said all Taz really needs is a better stop and we'd be fine. So that's my bad—I've known this for a little while, and I guess I really need to prioritize working on that a bit more.

That evening, I was walking my dogs with Cathy, Linda, and Lisbeth, and their dogs, and we heard gunshots being fired in the distance. Most of the dogs were fine, but Taz kept wanting to run away back to my truck. Every ten seconds or so, I had to tell him "that'll do" to keep him with me. But apparently that was too long a time frame, because I looked down after watching Linda's Fly playing with a toy to find Taz gone. No one had seen him take off. Unfortunately, none of us was wearing a whistle at the time either, so the four of us began calling him as loudly as we could. I raced back to my truck to see if he'd made it back there, and someone spotted him off to my right. Thank doG! I grabbed him and put all the dogs up. Yikes, that was scary!

So the next day, right before we were scheduled to run (we were the last team in the running order), what do we hear? Yup, gunshots. This was on top of the thunder that had been rumbling all day. Taz jumped on the end of his leash with every shot. I knew he'd lost his head completely , so why I didn't just scratch I'll never know. I guess I thought maybe once he saw the sheep he'd be okay.

He wasn't. I set him up and sent him to the right, and he took a couple of steps and stopped as though he'd been, well, shot. I gave him another command and he was off again, until he heard another shot and stopped short again. I went out with him to encourage him on to pick up the sheep, but he stopped several times, each time in response to a gunshot. I knew he was terrified, but I thought it was better to at least pick up the sheep before leaving the field. He did eventually get them, and he drove them back to the exhaust pen nicely, but OH MY GOD!!! After all that work on his outrun, I am so afraid it is ruined again now! What was I thinking running him under such conditions before his outrun was rock solid again? I am an idiot!

At least I am going to see Scott for a few lessons next week. Though I don't relish wasting any more lessons with him working on Taz's outrun, at least he can help me fix it again if need be. SIGH...With any luck, Taz will forget about that (or simply associate it with the shots and not generalize to all of his outruns) and be fine. We'll see.

I am bringing him to Meeker this afternoon and will try to exhaust with him over the weekend some to get him working again—hopefully that will help with damage control. I am excited to see some great dogs and handlers working at Meeker and will take pictures to post here next week :)

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few photos from the Steamboat trial to whet your appetites...

Dan Keeton's York

Larry Adams and Mirk shedding

Cathy Balliu's Dan

Nancy Penley's Hobbs

Melinda Brenimer's Finn

Emil Luedecke shedding with Spot

Mike Hanley's Streak

For more photos of the Steamboat Stockdog Challenge, take a look here.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Getting there...

I worked Taz last Sunday at Fran's with Larry and his dogs. I don't bring Craig to Fran's usually, as her barbado crosses are just awful about running and know the game all too well, and they can beat Craig. Craig works them well under some circumstances, but other times he either rides on their hips without covering or he just gives up and ignores my commands in favor of just guarding the draw, since he knows that's where they will turn toward and he may not be able to cover otherwise.

We started out doing (what else?) some outruns perpendicular to the draw. We set it up so that I could work on Taz's come bye flank, which is by far his weaker side. He is tighter and much slicier on that side, and he's more likely to hesitate there as well. We did a couple at about 100 yards away, and he was not tight, but he was coming in flat. He kicked out a bit when I told him to get out, but not enough. So we shortened things up even further, and he was fine. Split the difference, and he was better, but still coming in a bit tight at the top. Since he was coming in tight, his fetches were also offline, and he wanted to wait and flank to keep the sheep away from the draw, rather than walk up to bring the sheep to me smoothly. All in all, not pretty. Then Larry suggested we switch our positions so that Larry was holding the sheep closest to the draw, and this made all the difference. Taz was still slicing in a tiny bit at the last minute, but he was much wider and much deeper than he had been. His lifts and fetches were much better as well. Larry said it was pretty clear Taz had been working the field (which he knows well), rather than the sheep. Once we switched things around, he worked less defensively and was much more responsive to me.

Buoyed by this, we then decided to try a longer (250-yard) outrun on the bye side. Well, he fell apart on this—not wanting to go, scalloping back, and then finally loping up to the sheep and not lifting them off Larry with much enthusiasm. Hmm. Too much, I suppose. I sent him on an away, just so he wouldn't spend all morning on one side, and he looked great once again—wide, deep, lifting his sheep correctly and generally feeling his sheep very well. No hesitation at all, even on the long outruns, and he looked like he was very comfortable. It is really strange how his outruns on the away side look so good and his come bye side do not. Larry wondered if something had happened to him to make him so nervous on that side, since there is such a big difference. I don't know though—Scott never mentioned that he was one-sided, so it must have been something that happened after Taz came home. But I have no idea what it could be...

We also worked a bit on driving around the course set up on Fran's field. Taz did really well at this, the best driving he's done with me yet! He wasn't taking my whistles consistently today, so I just talked to him. He read the sheep well and did not rush or overflank, as he had when we first brought out the sheep and had tried to drive them up the field to work on the outruns. Instead, he listened to me and did everything I asked :) It was fantastic! We were in control—the pace was nice, we made the panels, and we transitioned from drive to cross drive to fetch (third leg of drive) without overflanking. He was fabulous! I am very encouraged at this. Come bye flanks on a long outrun notwithstanding, I think Taz did pretty well today and we worked together nicely :)

I'll go out to Cathy's tomorrow for one last chance to practice a bit before the trial, and then we'll be on our way to beautiful Steamboat Springs. With any luck, Craig will hear everything I say and Taz will show everyone a bit more of what he can do!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Working the dogs – August 29, 2009

I went out to Cathy's to work a bit with Taz and Craig last weekend. (It's too hard to really write about everything as it all happened over the past month or two, so it looks like I'm going to skip ahead after all. C'est la vie!) In preparation for the trial this weekend, I'm trying to get Taz to take more of my whistles and Craig to take all of them. It was hot out, so we couldn't work for too long at a time. I did lots of close-in off balance flanks and stops with Craig, and by the end of our session, he did take them nearly all of the time when we were close in. He still wanted to blow off some commands when he was further away, but I think this is a hearing issue more than an obedience or comprehension issue. I have a hard time blowing my whistle loudly. I might look into getting one of those Master Blaster thingies...

With Taz I am trying to reintroduce the whistles Scott taught him slowly and without a ton of pressure. I asked for whistles when it made sense—when he was on balance, I'd blow a stop and then back it up with my voice. When he had to cover to the left, I blew a come bye. He responded pretty well, I'm happy to report. I worked on a few other things with Taz as well. First order of business was enforcing a stop. Elaine had worked with me on an exercise in a corner that would be good for working on this, but I didn't use it today. (I'll write about that another time. It's really something David Rogers showed a bunch of us at a clinic we attended a couple of weeks ago.) Instead, I just demanded a stop in a (hopefully) confident and certain tone. He always checked himself when I told him to lie down, but he usually didn't lie down until I growled it (which was the second or third time I asked for it). So I did a few circles, demanding a stop on balance until he took it the first time, and then asking for it when he was off balance. He did take it on the first time more often than when we started, but this is still a work in progress. Next time, I will do that exercise—it's much more effective.

We also worked on driving for a bit. Overall, he is feeling his sheep well, I think. These sheep were heavy and not wanting to stay together very much, and he did a nice job knowing when to push and when to use his eye to keep them moving together. His inside flanks looked better today, and he only wanted to come back to me a couple of times. Telling him to lie down got him to turn back on his sheep quickly. (We've been working on overcoming a new little hiccup, where he will sometimes come all the way back to me if I give him an inside flank to the come bye side. I wasn't sure how to stop it, as trying to put pressure on him was not getting him to stop. Turns out the simple suggestion of telling him to lie down and then immediately walk up on his sheep did the trick.) Not only is he immediately turning back to his sheep, he seems to be coming back toward me less often. Phew! Taz is still overflanking, but this is because he is not taking his stops right away. Of course, this means we did a lot of back and forth on the heavy ewes, but I do think once I get his stop snappier we'll be able to push forward easier.