Hard to imagine life without animals around, I have been feeling exceptionally emotional about my crew lately. I’m very lucky to have such wonderful cats and dogs that get along so well with both their own species and with each other. This is certainly not always the case, and I don’t want to take it for granted. They have all have had their issues, but I can’t imagine life without any of them. I am very lucky to live with such an amazing group of creatures. I’m also very thankful everyone is healthy and sound, I know that can change in an instant.

Just … thankful, I recognize how fortunate I am in many ways. I love what I do and being around other people that enjoy their animals as much as I do. Agility is about bringing joy to dogs and handlers, and it’s hard to think of a better way to spend the day. I enjoy obedience and herding, but the heart of those sports isn’t just joy and play like agility – there is nothing like it.

But the next month belongs to herding – well, to Haku really. His Christmas gift, and really what I think he would like more than anything, and he’s still young enough to do it. He’s a different dog these days than the sensitive little worrywart he was when he was younger. He never gets upset with herding, never wants to quit, never worries, and always smiles. It makes me enormously happy to see him this way. The goal is to get to sheep at least 4-5 times a week for the next four weeks. We’re going to give it our best shot, trying to be focused, consistent and with a theoretical goal of attempting some low level USBCHA herding trials next year. I don’t care if doesn’t happen, we will have fun with the journey.

Day One of the Winter of Herding – we had our lesson with Dave. The universe continues to favor my pursuit of herding, another lovely day. I realize this will not always be the case this winter, but, good god I’ve lucked out when it comes to herding and weather this year – summer and winter. We went to a new field today, where Haku could not see the sheep. As expected, he didn’t get this concept of trying to find sheep that he doesn’t know are there. But once he DID finally find them he had no problem sending blind when he an idea where they were. I think with practice he’ll get the concept that when I send there really WILL be sheep out there if he just trusts me. Practice, we just need practice. And he was SO HAPPY, he just loves outruns. Now, getting him not to run me over with sheep when he was bringing them back from such a distance was a whole other issue, but one thing at a time. He is doing so much better at pushing sheep these days, and much longer outruns in this situation – I think having fences helps a lot, he’s really used to them.

Winter of Herding Day Two was with Ian today, where, perhaps not shockingly, we got to work on not running me over with sheep. Which Haku did remember, finally. He struggled quite a bit in the big arena, he couldn’t find the sheep to start with, so Ian had his dog bring them down so Haku could see them. And even looking RIGHT AT the sheep, Haku lost them again just going on his outrun. Then we argued about running the sheep, so we lost the sheep, and then Haku thought that bringing back just ONE sheep was perfectly okay. It went on like this for a while. So we ended with just doing walkabouts with these different sheep and getting Haku to actually THINK about what he needed to do differently, rather than just running around like a maniac.

So, one step at a time. And despite the fact that the extent of my lesson was pretty much ‘how to yell at your dog more effectively’, Haku thought it was FABULOUS.  I can’t imagine an activity other than herding that this approach would work with. My takeaway from today, be much more proactive with making sure Haku is respecting his sheep and reading his sheep – that’s his job, not mine.

Meanwhile, Navarre continues to try to figure out this herding thing with Dave, and he finds it actually more exciting when when Ian yells at him. Despite a lot of pressure and often being wrong, he never shows the slightest sign that he would rather be doing anything else. So, hey, he can keep doing it. And probably at some point he’ll go spend some time with Dave, where, god willing, he’ll actually learn the basics and I’ll find it pleasant to work with him. He never has to be good, but I don’t like arguing the whole time. I’d like to think that I’ll get to use some of this herding stuff on him someday. We’ll see. Maybe my next dog …

I am continuing to firm up herding plans for the break, including multiple locations, some lessons, some practice and a hell of a lot of driving to get everywhere. After Christmas I am tentatively looking at some sort of sheep for seven days straight, if everything pans out. And I have other options I haven’t looked into yet. I plan to be thoroughly tired of sheep, mud, rain, cold and yelling by the end January. Surely if you do something for a month straight you have to get better at it, right?