Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sorting Chapter 2

After attempting to drive the mob of lambs with Dot, I realized we were missing some understanding between the two of us.  Sustained push in my "right there" command was not happening, at least not with any authority.  One half of a side step by Dot had lambs rolling over to have a look, sorting her out and seeing if she meant anything.  I put a long line on her to help her understand staying in the pressure and we got the job done. Sorting out the experience on the way home had me wondering, was it the difficulty of lambs, the lack of understanding push on a bigger mob, the mixed flock of lambs included bummers and of course lambs are curious regardless of their upbringing.

The past few weeks, I've been mixing things up at my place; giving Dot different groups of sheep to see how she fairs.  Interesting note, at home, some of the lambs give her trouble too.  There are days where she looks great, has understanding and is becoming a valuable chore dog.  I keep working on my corrections, trying to stay calm and supportive with them.  We are both works in progress.

When I got a call to help with tagging, I felt like I was headed to Disneyland again...well without the crowd that is!  The morning started early with Bella gathering the field.  She has not worked for a few weeks and as I got to the back of the flock to begin the push to the barns, Bella, always the head hunter, got away from me.  There are times I wish I could sit with her and have a morning cup of coffee and explain the day.  "Bella, today we are bringing a flock of yearlings from a big field to the barn to be tagged.  When they are headed to the barn, they are not getting away, they will be going where they are supposed to go, even though I'm on a quad behind them.  Got it?"  Bella cracks me up, and it's easy enough to get a hold of her and bring her back to the job at's great practice for me to laugh and enjoy my dog in her imperfections.  I'm getting better!

Once the sheep were penned, I planned on spending the day feeding the alleys to the shearers tagging.  A dog really is not needed for this task and it's a great way to get fitbit steps and use muscles I've not worked in a while wrangling backwards sheep and attempting to lift and open heavy gates.  My shepherd friend suggested it would be a good job for Dot.  I jumped at the offer and thus began the sorting of Dot and holding pressure part 2; another opportunity to show her what she can do.

I'm not sure why all the fellows laughed when I pulled Dot out of the truck.  The sheep boss said, "Oh she's pretty!" chuckle chuckle.  Perhaps it was all the super clean white and beautiful thick coat ...I dont' know.

In the beginning, it was tough going.....I had to get a little help from my friends to get the final push of the last 100 ewes into the third waiting area. I just could not get Dot to hold the push on the more confident ewes and the pen was to big for me to cover my end and help her with her side.   After the holding areas were filled,  Dot and I moved into the sweep pen, and the work began....up close and personal, I was able to send Dot to push and move over to help her if she got a little lost in the job.  As the day unfolded, I saw Dot begin to understand and become more and more confident in her job.  It was not perfect, we had things go wrong but more went right and, together we were able to get the job done.  By the middle of the day, Dot was working for anybody filling the chutes.

I'm looking forward to working Dot at home to see what she processed during her day of pen work.  If nothing else, I learned that Dot can get it done and is trusting in our relationship.  I really don't care if Dot ever makes it to the trail field, but I would love to see her be comfortable in the real work.  She has come so far, and every time we go out, I see her growing and learning and becoming more confident.  Where Bella is an onion, Dot is a Rubix's Cube....moving little pieces to get the colors right with each turn affecting the end result. There are times it feels like we go backwards to get the colors aligned but the big picture is still where we are headed.  And so, we continue the sorting, Miss Dot and me.

Seize the Day!!!

Friday, January 9, 2015


Winter has been good to me so far.  I'm not lambing this year and, right about now, I believe I can say that firmly.  In years gone bye, I've proclaimed "I'm NOT lambing" and then I've weakened my resolve, or had a ram sneak in amongst the ewes.....and I end up with cute baby lambs racing and bouncing all over the fields in spring.  My friends laugh!

I also closed the ranch for winter, though we have not been terribly wet, I like to keep the fields in good condition and give the ranch a much needed break of "off time".  For me, though, I love's the time where I get to answer the calls for "real work"; traipsing around the valley working and sorting with my girls.

This year, Dot and I have enough strength in our relationship  that I feel comfortable putting her on the Sheep Boss' flocks.  She is settling down and finding some tension free method; especially when I don't fall into getting mad at her.  Oh the "Getting Mad at Dot, Knee Jerk reaction" that never, ever works!!!! As I've trained up Miss Dot, I know a few things....1) she HATES pressure from me 2) she really wants to please me 3) she has a bit of "mental unplug" in her that is going away with age, training and patience from me  4) when I get mad...she just tried harder...but she tries harder doing what she is doing and it goes very, very wrong.  Dottie Jean is the PERFECT MIRROR...when she is wrong, or falls apart....if I am supportive with my corrections and remain calm....she figures it out and is a very nice dog.  When she is wrong, or falls apart....if I get mad, or harsh with my correction....she falls apart and it goes very south.

Some of my flock work has me driving lambs across a huge field to graze portions where they don't want to visit.  I've not quite figured out exactly why these lambs don't want to graze the lush grass on the "other side" of the field....maybe because we are still growing grass here in the valley and they prefer the tender shoots of newly grown blades, maybe because they are lambs and they like the comfort and routine of being in the same place, maybe the grass on that side of the field is bitter from runoff; whatever it is, they don't like going there.  I've always known that working lambs is one of the hardest things I can do with my dogs. There is hardly a leader amongst the flock and they stand, not moving off the dog and then...bam..... take off running as if the devil himself were hot after each of their wooly souls.  For a successful drive, taking these lambs into the pressure of where they are not wanting to go, it takes a dog that will push and sustain push, but then cover the sides without over doing it to keep that forward motion.

Dot has never seen nor done anything like the work of moving a little mob of lambs.  She is very comfortable with sheep that will move off of her but has not developed a method for sheep that require sustained push.  Like most young dogs, she will push but does not stay in the pressure of the push to get "commitment" from the sheep.  Instead she will slide off to catch the sides, which stops the motion and makes getting them going again harder and harder each time they stop. She is also not sure what to do with the lambs that just won't move as she walks in, and finds herself uncomfortable in the closeness that can result.   I love the days where I have hours on end to get the job schedule pressure, instead the offering of giving time to allow Dot to learn.  With the days of real work, Dot is gaining understanding of our job, my words, what is required to complete the task at hand.  There are times where I struggle holding her in the pressure of, what looks to be, the lambs that are becoming the flock leaders.  On my long drive home from my winter field of dreams, I think about all the things I can do to help Dot gain more confidence and understanding.  Ideas include, counter flanking her when she flanks off, holding her in the pressure with a long line, moving in with her and creating the forward motion in the lambs who are not being cooperative, moving myself ahead and turning the task into a fetch vs. a drive, putting a more experienced dog in the mix and driving brace.  Of course the more I do the job, the better Dot understands, the more comfortable the lambs are driving to the fresh grass, the easier the job gets.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Dot is sorting; as am I.  I find myself falling back into "madness"; then things go to crap and I see how being mad does not serve anything with good end results.  I'm staring to see my faults sooner, letting go quicker, getting back to what the dog needs from me and we get the job done.  I'm working on letting go of the idea of "perfect work" to embrace the process of becoming a team.  True enough, there are days where I'm not in the mood for patience, the clock presses me for the day, and I grab an experienced dog to allow the push across the field to be a different experience.  Other days, I give Dot a break from push and work her at home on lighter, familiar sheep where she becomes shiny and we both celebrate the end results of her "real work" learnings and her blooming confidence. Good friends often listen to my sorting all the while reminding is about the journey and not so much about the destination.  Sorting is a good thing.....

Seize the Day!!!