Sunday, May 31, 2015


I come from a long line of grudge holders; my Granny being the best one I know, next to my father but those are stories for another time.  I remember her frustration as a great grandchild of hers would not eat dinner but instead snuck out to the strawberry patch to feast on the abundant, sweet, red fruit from  Heaven.  My Granny spoke of that incident, with the ill behaved three year old, all the way to the end of her life....when the child was, at least, 20.  I did a few things in my life that really pissed Granny off good and long.  My Gramps would try to smooth her feathers but my Granny always held her ground....grudge included.


Snook was, and is, a serious grudge holder.  In fact, I believe her ability to hold a grudge surpasses my Granny's abilities.  Being a rescue dog, I have no idea what happened in Snook's formidable months but she came to me hating yelling (lesson 3)  and abhorring yelling men.  One of the first sheepdog trainers Snook and I went to was a yeller.  I'm not sure he realized how much he yelled, or that anyone, dog or person, perceived him as yelling....but Snook did.  She detested him and it got to the point where, if he ran before me at a trial, I would have to sit in the truck until he left the post to exhaust.  During my mad dash to the post, I would pray that the exhaust would go well, because if he yelled at his dog, Snook would go back to the truck.  I would bring her back out and attempt to run her, but she would never run well.  It was much like a thunder phobic dog, the thunder storm had passed but the tension in the air was palpable.

Snook did not like growling men either.  One of my friends was quiet as a church mouse but he could do a mean growl at his dog...and his student's dog for that matter.  He set sheep for a big trial that Snook and I participated in one year.  The sheep were tough to set with a huge draw back to the set out pens and a little less draw to the exhaust.  I sent Snook on a big, beautiful outrun, while my friend growled at his dog at the set.  Snook got to the top, stopped and radioed down to me that her big bad growling enemy was setting sheep.  I whistled her on to walk up.  She radioed back down that I did not understand the severity of the situation.  In typical Snook fashion, she gave me the doggie finger and kept coming around, all the way back to the post. She sat by my feet, looked up at me and pretty much told me to go get the sheep myself.  That was my last big field sheepdog trial with Snook.

I came to the conclusion that neither of us were having very much fun.  Possibly, I could have worked Snook through her fear or yelling and growling men.  Instead, I graduated Snook to "front seat ride along dog" and every now and then we would volunteer to exhaust.  I'd run her at my yearly arena trial, where I could be right there with her and the sheep were tame and light.  And there would be the occasional days I would leave her home; not enough room for the luggage and an extra dog on the longer weekend trips.

I think about my ability to hold a grudge and wonder about nature versus nurture.  Wether is has been genetically coded in my DNA strand or passed on by example, grudge holding has been one area I have been working on letting go.  I read inspiration that when I hold a grudge, the only person it hurts is me.  I also know my grudge can be based on a perspective; which may or may not be reality.

I ponder my training up of my dogs and see how there are days I hold a grudge in that realm of my life too.  The dog who used to be full of tension, that lingers in my mind as I train her and when I see her fall back into an old pattern, I can snap.  My mentor reminds me, she has changed and the slip can be dealt with in a more functional way if I can let go of my grudge against the old her.

All these Snook lessons tie together, applying to all aspects of my life.  Mindful what is here, right now and finding gratitude.  Though a grudge holder, I believe Snook does a great job of living in the here and now.  As she lays at my feet, I'm pretty sure she does not worry about the yelling, growling men of her past or wonder if there will be more in her future.  Although, to be very honest, I bet she would still be holding a grudge if we went to a trial and the yelling started.

The good news is, I still love her even through her imperfections....and that is freeing indeed.

Seize the Day!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lesson Three

I've wrestled with myself on what I should call this lesson: "no one likes a yeller" "who wants to work for mad?" "try a little self control, baybay!" I'm still struggling.....

This memory is etched into my mind and comes from the days when I had an all breed trainer teaching lessons at my slice of Heaven.  I would get to my place early and move the sheep around, dividing them into little groups and putting them in pens for the day's lessons.  After a few months of this...the sheep absolutely knew which day was terror Tuesday and they did not want any part of the moving and separating.  My 5 acre field feeds into a 300 foot long alley way where I had set up pens under the line of big shady trees.

It was lesson day, so I grabbed Snook to gather the field and that is where things started to go wrong.  The sheep did not want to move towards the gate feeding the alley and I was under the gun.  Lessons would start soon and I needed to be ready.  I was so frustrated and my voice began to show my feelings....clearly.  I heard my main gate rattle and looked up to see my husband had arrived, dropping off something I had forgotten before heading to work. Snook looked up and saw him too.  At that moment she decided she was done with me.  I was frustrated and yelling at her and she would just rather go home for the day.  She took off running, jumping five foot fences and climbing gates all the way up to my husbands car. She slipped through the open gate and loaded herself in through his open door.  Me, well I walked the walk of shame......covering 10 acres to go fetch my one and only work dog from my husband's rig.  He did not even have to ask what happened.

I was thankful for the gates and fields I had to walk through to get to my allowed me time to cool off and realize that if I were going to get anything done, I absolutely needed Snook.  I took a deep breath and grabbed a grain bucket as I headed back to the field to accomplish the tasks for the day ahead.  Nobody wants to work for anybody that yells and demeans and shames.


I think most of the time things went wrong with Snook, I could look at myself and see how it was my preconceived ideas of how "it should be done" that started the whole situation down a slippery slope of not getting anything done.  There is that one time a ewe went to take Snook out and I yelled at the sheep....that ended up poorly as Snook had no idea who I was yelling at and only knew I was mad.  I had to go to the truck and talk her out on that day as well.  Now some people will say they would never keep a "quitter and a sulker" but I am thankful today that Snook was both.  She taught me so much about self control, emotional control and looking in the mirror at me before I got mad at anyone else in the picture.

Life lesson #3 is one that I keep learning over and over, to varying degrees with each of my dogs.  Thankfully I am getting better and seeing my part in a frustrating moment quicker....not always before it comes out in my voice or mannerisms but quicker.  As I struggle with this life lesson it reminds me to give my dogs patience and they work through theirs.

Seize the Day!!

Monday, May 25, 2015

More Lessons

Last night, for the first time, I carried Snook up the stairs to sleep on her bed next to mine.  She had made it about a quarter of the way up before her back end gave out and she could not figure out how to get anywhere else.  She waited for me, patiently and with no complaint.  I laid on her bed with her, remembering.......


I might have learned this lesson with Snook although ever new-to-me dogs reinforce this; deepens and mellows the idea of taking time like a good Scotch or Bourbon.  Me, the ever perfectionist, coming from the world of agility where practicing wrong makes for wrong muscle memory.  I've always been that trainer who wants to "fix" every wrong which allows no room for the dog to figure it out.

I'm decluttering my house right now, which is taking forever because I stumble upon old pictures, old score sheets, notes taken from clinics gone bye.  Jack Knox once told me, "just because Nell is wrong does not mean what she is doing is bad."  Poor Snook lived her life being cleaned up and, well, basically told what to do by someone who was not as well qualified to read the sheep as she was.  Back in my Snook training days, I never thought about sheep or the difference in sheep at each trail.  i never thought much about terrain or grass or set out people and their dogs, or even horses for that matter.  I did not realize what experience brought to the relationship or how confidence on the trial field could be cultivated with help and partnership and trust.  Giving all things time.....allows for learning.

As I laid with my Snook last night, stroking her thick old dog coat and whispering in her ear, I thanked her for this lesson of "giving time".  I used to wonder how much better Snook could have been had she not been my first dog sacrificial lamb:  the dog I made so many mistakes with.  Today I know that there is always a first dog.....and I'm grateful mine was Snook.

Snook's first AHBA trial 2005
Seize the Day!!!!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Teacher, My First Dog

My Snook dog is getting old.  Her body is wasting and she does not get around like she used to.  Some days I have to give her a boost to get her back legs under her so she can get around.  I know I am living out her last days and I pray I'll know when she is ready. I'm finding creative ways to spend quality time with my best friend.

As I think over the past 12 years, I've begun to make a list of all that she has taught me.  She was my first border collie; one I trained from start to finish...all the good points and mistakes are mine.  She came into my life from a lady who rescued border collies.  The big rescues not willing to let me adopt any of their dogs because I had Jack Russell Terriers and I was assured that was not a good mix.  I was looking for a border collie to run in agility for my eldest son as my youngest son had been given one from a good friend.  I drove the 6+ hours to George, Washington and when I met Snook, I knew I was taking her home.

10 months old, long legged, lanky red dog; I had no idea how she would change me life.  Her story goes: a farmer had taken her and she kept running away from home.  She was sent back to the breeder, who was sick, and so Snook was relinquished into rescue.  She came to me afraid of men, afraid of loud noises, afraid yelling, afraid to pee or pooh anywhere but my back yard.  My dreams for her to be a high drive, kick ass agility dog slowly melted as the teeter bang sent her into frenzied panic all the while she could not remember where her feet where and she tumbled off the dog walk.


After months of frustration working with different agility trainers to see if I could work through her fear issues and make her love agility, I called a dog behaviorist.  She told me something along the lines of, "You have an agenda for you dog that might not be your dog's agenda."  I hung up wondering what that could mean......Snook has an agenda?  A few of my friends suggested I take her out to a local sheep farm and have the trainer put her on sheep.  Maybe tapping into her instinctual side would help her with her fears.  I was still nursing my agenda as I headed out to the sheep lesson; get Snook over her fears and into the agility ring....where we would be kick ass and awesome.

I made my sheep appointment and drove 45 minutes to the sheep ranch nervous and anxious but hopeful.  That one day with Snook in the round pen and a bunch of sheep changed my life.  Her first turn in, she would not work for the instructor so I had to take her in and she would barely follow me around. She was so afraid of the unfamiliar.  My next time in, the instructor told me to chase the sheep around myself....and bam.....that little smallest of small lights ignited into a small flame and Snook was bending around to bring me sheep.  I left my lesson knowing I have found something amazing.

Over the coming years, Snook and I dabbled in agility...she loved tunnels and jumpers with me running to try and keep up with her.  But her days on sheep were what she lived for.  She had found what she was passionate about and was sharing that passion with me. Her fears faded and our relationship grew stronger.

I think about what growing up was like for me......square peg trying to squeeze into round holes.  I tried ballet as a young girl, then gymnastics....I too fell off the balance beam like my long legged, big boned, red dog's dog walk attempts.   I was not talented and gifted at piano nor painting.  I've spent a life time finding my passions and even then I work at letting go of expectation.  I run but I am not fast.  I've been raised and possibly genetically coded to believe that when I do anything, I want to do it well.  My years have taught me that "well" is defined as my best and not compared to others.  I arm wrestle with is so hard to no compare: runs, dogs, scores, times, sizes, styles.  I make conscious efforts to let go of comparison regularly.

Life lesson my passion.....get caught up in experiencing each and every step of living a passionate life; m best passionate life.  I remind myself of this daily, hourly, minutely, hoping that one day it will be my muscle memory.

Seize the Day!