Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Never Meant to Fall in Love with Sheepdogs

"I never meant to fall in love with baseball, but I did. I learned to realize that it does what all good sports should do: it creates the possibility of joy." ~ Colum McCann

As I sat and read the article in the New York Times; the title "What Baseball Does to the Soul", I realized the author had exactly captured eloquently all that I feel about sheepdogs.   Don't get me wrong....I love baseball; well until it is sleeting and the game is only in the top of the third. My love is fickle as I dream of going home to the fire and reading about the game the next day in the local newspaper.  But sheepdoggin', now that is love. It can be sleeting and I'll walk to the post with anticipation....no thoughts of home until the next group of sheep are exhausted. 

As I pull, what new folks might feel is, a never ending supply of dogs from my truck, I remember the day when I thought I could only have one....maybe two trial dogs at the most.  People poke fun at me saying that I seem to lean to a certain look in a dog....INDEED!  That way my hubby can't tell when I get a new one......nor the neighbors!  My son's girlfriends might think I am a crazy dog lady and they are probably right. 

In an effort to continue to learn and provide challenging opportunity for my dogs....I work for sheep.  My sheep work is leaner this year with the shepherds young dogs coming on, so I press forward looking for those in need of a helping gather.  When my new tractorless neighbors came over to inquire what they might do about their 3 acre, tall grass filled field that continues to grow...it took me about .2 seconds to present the plan I had been thinking of for the last three weeks. Today or tomorrow, a new gate will go in between our property and I'll begin mowing for them!  The sheep can't wait. 

Faded are the memories of what life was like before I bought my little slice of Heaven.  As I try to imagine what I would do without all things sheepdogs...I can't.  Instead I scour the property listings, put the word out, ponder leaving notes in mailboxes....all in an effort to find a place to live and keep sheep.

And now I prepare for a journey.....three weeks on the road.  The longest I have ever been away from home since college.  I'm texting a friend trying to figure out all the travel details for crossing the Rockies safely.  Another friend is going with me...I'm leaving the weather to her.   I'm packing and trying to not take too much but how can one know what to wear when the Colorado trials might be in snow and the Kentucky trial might be hot and humid?  The new trailer is ready to go.... celebrating maiden voyage.  Beds are all lined with temperpedic mattresses and I'm packing food into coolers. 

Most important is the dogs and all they might need.  Anything else forgotten can either be done without or purchased on the way.  My crook is tucked safely away and the girls are getting their tick and flea dosing tomorrow.  The list of things to do does not seem to be getting smaller but I leave the ranch in the care of good friends who are honing their skill of observation.

Really, I never meant to fall in love with sheepdogs.  And here I am....smitten by the lot of them. Ever thankful for the adventures and friends brought into my life all because of these sheepdogs.  They have most certainly created  the possibility of joy!

Seize the Day!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Snap Shots

Take a look at this picture and what do you actually see?  Three ladies all done up.

Assumptions can be made.....it is either an old photo, or a photo taken at one of those old time photo shoot galleries from the fair. The ladies can be sisters, or friends, or maybe this is just an add for a clothing line from a Sear and Roebucks catalog. 

The lady in the bottom of the picture is my great, great grandma.  The lady in the middle of the picture is my great, great grandpa's sister...or my great great aunt.  This picture was taken in the late 1800's in Medford, Oregon.  Those are all facts that are not changed by looking at the picture.  I can also tell you who each of their mother and fathers were, where they lived and went to school.

I can  tell stories that are based on fact, my great great grandma never married my great great grandfather and ended up dying shortly after she had her son, who was then raised by her parents.  Had she married, my last name would have been different.  The rest of her story is all fiction in my mind....different versions, some of which might have slices of reality to them...as I imagine what it was like to be unwed and pregnant in that day.  I've seen the records of her schooling, both her name and his name are listed with all their siblings in the registry; the only two families attending the small school house where the homesteads were.  Did she move to California to raise her son out of shame or did she move to meet up with her lover in hopes of marrying and making a family? What was the household like that she grew up in?  Did she sew and cook or did she prefer riding horses and helping with the chores outside?  Did she run away from a heavy handed home life or was she loved beyond measure? Does the truth lie somewhere in between? Someday I might just write out my version of her life...I look into her eyes and see if I can find some truth to add to the fiction I create. The picture, however, shows three ladies all done up.

When I attend a clinic or a trial, as each dog heads out for the day, I feel much like I do when I look at this picture.  I can actually see the dog and what makes up it's physical characteristics.   There are facts: who the parents are, how old the dog is, who owns the dog.  As the dog works, I can start to puzzle some of the story together...but at the end of the day, speculation, perspective, mixed with some personal bias have changed the reality of the real truthful snap shot of the dog.  While some see style and finesse, others might say the come-forward has been taken out of the dog.  There might be talk that a trainer is "too mechanical" while others esteem the same trainer for having what it takes to save a much needed point. 

I'm working on seeing young dogs at clinics and trials as snap shots.  Looking closely at what the dog exhibiting for the day and how is the clinician or handler working with the dog to help it become the best it can be. Knowing tomorrow's snap shot might look radically different, take the dog one snap shot at a time.  Recently I attended a "starting a young dog" clinic and it was fun to use the muscles I have been working on strengthening.  The clinician did not get over-excited nor concerned about anything that any of the young dogs did.  He talked about putting a young dog away and letting them grow up if the dog did certain things. He also commented on traits he liked to see as a young dog started sorting things out on the sheep.  He never made a proclamation that a dog was going to be a top open dog or a dud with this one go on sheep. 

Looking at dogs, both others and mine, as snap shot pictures is helping me to keep focused on the day.  I've been lifting weights with my observation muscles, trying to develop strong, healthy, and precise assessments.   I'm finding that extrapolating, as with the pictures of my family, may or may not be accurate especially when others are inserting conjectures.  I do see the value that comes from experience with a certain line of dog and enjoy discussions with those I respect while learning from them.  I'm also trying to remember that the dog in the snap shot is an individual and I need to look to the day for training.  I guess it is like "living in the moment"...dealing with "what is": the snap shot.

I'm getting ready to hit the road, attending three trials as I head to the Bluegrass and back.  It's new territory to me and the run order is filled with handlers I don't know.  I'm going to try and take advantage of being able to step back and look at the snap shots of each dog for the day.  I'm hoping to take notes off the running orders so that when I get home, I can look back and remember.  It will be fun to see how each dog of interest progresses as we head to the finals in October. 

I'm not sure I have done a good job with this blog post.  It has taken me a month to write!  I feel like I have dummed down something that I am disciplining myself to achieve with my assessing eyes.  When I bring my dog out, I feel like I am showing the world a photo album. All the snap shots, big events and daily slice of life's,  coming together...and what people see is just the snap shot of the day.  Snap shots......just that!

Seize the Day!!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Time & Distance

I am not sure I have had a dog with the presence that Dot has.  Maybe Bella, but I don't remember this phase as her tension release was a grip and that consumed me. I'm also wondering out loud about Dot's presence and the fact she needs to be off her sheep to settle everything.  Being close to the sheep, she creates a lot of tension in them while this creates more tension in her and so we have the cause and effect creating more cause.  She is looking good in the comfort of her own home; fields she knows and sheep she has seen before.  Even when I mix it up with lambs or katahdins, she is adjusting and sorting.

I worked Dot at a friend's place yesterday; fresh sheep, new field.  Needless to say, Dot was too close to the sheep.  He suggested I try laying her down, but with her distance from the sheep wrong...I could not.  I felt like she was trying to be good, but  the reaction she was causing in the sheep was making her reactionary and so I called her off and we called it a day. Now there was a lot I loved about her little session on the sheep but my thoughts drift to presence, distance and time. After a brief chat about the amount of presence Dot appears to have, we both agreed, what might be a good distance for some dogs was way too close for Dot; at least for today.  The discussion, post go on sheep, was about the two ways to get distance. 1) lay the dog down and drift the sheep to show the dog the correct distance or 2) opening the dog up with pressure to get the proper distance with an open flank. 

I am preferring the third way with Dot: Time.  A really good dog trainer friend of mine has talked endless hours with me about "latent learning".  My version of latent learning is that while on sheep the dog might not change or show learning and adjust, but after putting the dog away it demonstrates what it learned and sorted the next time out.  Maybe this is not the best of definitions but it is how I see it.  To my knowledge, I have not experienced latent learning to its fullest......until Dot. 

Another interesting Dot phenomenon is that, at this time, when I put pressure on her, she puts pressure back; speeding up and trying to beat it. That is not exactly what I want to do when she is creating tension in the sheep and all the side effects from that.  Also, a trainer friend has told me that it is hard to lay a young, inexperienced dog down when their distance is wrong.  I fight myself minute by minute wanting understanding for distance and not creating a "lie down war". I've had enough warring to last a life time...and paid for far too many "lie down" lessons to not be able to get one myself.  I'm sorting being fair with this young dog, three months new to me, not forcing a lie down or taking a stand just yet on "do what I say darn you".  I'll earn that right down the road....until then I don't want to ask until I know the distance is right and I will get lie down.  The real issue is the distance.....at least for now.....and then I can see if there is a lie down issue.  Or so I hope.

So time it is.....time and miles and time and miles.  I've said that before...and had it said to me so many times its become mine with no care of plagiarism.  Those words do not bother me as they did the first time I heard them.  Now I see that the dog will tell me what the day should bring: if I'm willing that is. "There is a time to plant...and a time to sow."  Time.

Oh how I love the gift of starting a new dog.....so much good over-thinking!

Seize the Day!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gyp is a Lot Like Me

Spring has sprung here in the valley; don't like the weather?  Wait an hour and you'll get something different.  Yesterday we had hail, rain, wind, and a sprinkling of sunshine....today, I would like an extra scoop of the sun please, hold the wind, hail, and rain.

I've started my annual trek to the neighbors....driving the moms and babies down a 1/4 mile long lane to graze all day long , then turn around and drive them home to their protector for the night.  I'm not sure if I took llama Penny down to the neighbors with the sheep, that I could ever get her back.  It is a paradise down there....grass so tall that when the lambs lay down, all you see are ear tops.  Each trip, a different dog is designated chore dog.  This year, I have three to pick from....each bringing their own strengths to the job.  Me, I am still working at developing a strong set of observation muscles, so I watch intently.  I watch the dog's method, the sheep's response, the effectiveness of the application, and asses if there might be a way for me to functionally help the dog be the all time best she can be. 

Yesterday my vanilla ice cream Gyp was dog of the drive home.  She, with her quiet style, just got the job done.  I watched as she sorted who needed the push and who she could just leave alone; knowing those ewes and babies would come along if the leaders kept to the task.  The group of 35 being held together, no stringing out laterally, and all moving along at a nice pace. Gyp working, deep in thought, not a lick of tension but certainly a good method, while I said little. The ewe that can turn on Nell's intense eye, calmly moves off Gyp with no issue. My Gyp, indeed she just gets the job done.

I showed Gyp to a good friend a few months ago. He asked me what I thought.....I confessed, I really like her but don't know what to think. She is so different from any dog I have ever owned.  At a recent lesson, I was cross driving with her.  I told my clinician, "it does not look like she really has them" but of course when I flanked her, the sheep changed their line proving Gyp was in charge.  She is a mysterious fascination to me.  I study runs of dogs I feel are "Gyp like".  I talk to handlers that run dogs like her.  I work her and watch intently......I've give her as much real work as I can. I'm up for the task of learning about Gyp.  All the while, Gyp is teaching me so much about myself!

I was listening to an interview with Sally Hogshead this morning.  Her message was about being ourselves to the fullest and best the self can be. Instead of changing ourselves to "fit", she encourages us to nurture and grow our strengths.  "We want so much to be liked that we boil ourselves down to this grey watery mush." Indeed, Margaret Thatcher said something very similar years ago, "If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing." -- May 3, 1989, commenting on her 10th anniversary as prime minister

Here life imitates sheepdogs.....my Gyp is special in her own right.  If I tried to make her something she is not, attempt to change her so other's will like her,  the shame would be on me.  My job is to help her become all that she can be, with her own style and method.  My job is to learn to run her, as a mentor told me, "she has a lot to teach you, if you are willing to except the challenge."   No grey watery mush that can achieve nothing....instead a beautiful working border collie that might not take critic's breath away but can do a day's work.  Now that I think on it, Gyp really is not vanilla ice cream....she is more Heath Bar ice cream.  Not everyone is going to love her, but those who do will really love her!

Gyp is a lot like me.......

Seize the Day!

Friday, April 5, 2013

When the PUC Hits the Fan.....

A friend and I were chatting yesterday and he said the darnedest thing.....he always says the darnedest things but this one was even better.  I wish I would have thought of it.  I toyed with plagiarism......anyway he told me "when the PUC hits the fan, have the ability to insert the "F:........(my mind instantly went to rhyming and the bought of Tourette's I fall victim to on occasion) .....Flexibility.  Oh yes, flexibility......the ability to do backbends and splits whilst standing at the post all the while running that dog that won't take that FREAKING FLEXIBLE lie down!  Got It. 

I also believe the more PUC.....the less ass-kickings; mine and the dogs.  I still remember that one Sunday run; a young dog with a look back but not to the extent of the day's challenge.  The handler left the post after a few assisted attempts to get the dog back onto that second packet of sheep.....knowing there was more work to be done and not a lick of disappointment in the day and accomplishments of the week.  While other handlers might have stayed out there longer, I am always  filled with awe at those glimpses into relationship, understanding, egoless decisions not based on the competition at hand for the day.  Knowing just a little more PUC and the next time, the outcome will be different!!

Interesting today over at Huffington Post, Phyllis Sue talks about life at 90 (which is the new 20 btw!)  She writes, "I have realized, that anything is possible, if you like who you are and what you do. Yes, anything is possible and even probable."

"Life in itself is a challenge and you can either, accept it and take action, or you can sit and do nothing. My advice is there is only one winner: accept the challenge, take action and get on with your life no matter what age."

"One Winner"...now that is a whole life time of over-thinking and application.  I was just reminded of one of my favorite quotes..."just when you think you have this all figured out; go to another sheepdog trial".  Indeed the winning of the real winners is the journey of life. Sometimes leaving the post is not "losing" and other times, staying out there is!  Tattoo that somewhere where I will see it and sing to me The Gambler.

When you read the whole article it confirms what the Brain experts are saying.....Continual Learning and Action are the key to keeping the brain functioning at full capacity into the new 20's and beyond.  When it comes to working sheepdogs....one is always learning.  Just when I think I have it all figured out (which I never have btw), a new dog comes into my life........ or a new friend with a new set of eyes.......or some new sheep.......and I see in vivid Technicolor just how much I really don't know. 

"I admit, I'm driven but I'm driven by desire and that's the formula. Desire is so powerful, like you are propelled as if from a canon. Desire to me is the driving force, but action is the result."

Driven, Desire, Action, Continual Learning......sounds like there is life to be lived...all the while doing back bends and the splits!

Seize the Day!!!!!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's All About Me.

I worked dogs with a couple of friends yesterday.....I've been breaking things down and applying the thesis to all the girls; each at their level of training. So when things go "not as planned"....I'm looking first to me.

1) Preparation: Have I put in the time training?  I'm not even thinking recent time....I'm thinking "time over the dogs life".  I still sit in amazement as Jack Knox came out of the hottest, driest drought Missouri has seen in a long time last summer; one that had temps in the 80's in the middle of the night and leaving him unable to "train" because the weather was stressing the stock.  He left that and went to win Soldier Hollow. 

2) Understanding:  Does my dog understand what I am asking? I also have to ask myself if I understand as well.  My look-back is one I am working on better understanding now that I see that it can also mean "let go of these, please".  I love the fact that some of the understanding is just "in the dog" and it comes out through experiences, both mistakes and successes.  On the other hand, I think when I started asking Dot to lie down on stock, I saw her response and realized that it might be good to put a nice, happy, quickly offered lie down on her off of stock first. 

3) Consistency:  Am I consistent with my criteria for what I am asking? This question always goes back to the many "stop" lessons I have paid for and taken.  I enjoy breaking down the definition of some of my words (and whistles) and then seeing if I use them like I mean them.   Half and full flanks come to mind as well as blather that slips out on occasion. I need to consistently nip that blather nonsense!

When things aren't going as planned....I will remember PUC.  Indeed......and "no more rhymes, I mean it!"

Off to band a few lamb tails......as they say, "no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need any"

Seize the Day!!!!