A Well Rounded Dog

One thing I was expecting during our Winter of Herding was for Haku to hurt himself. Herding across uneven ground with stumps and holes and trenches – I was sure he was going to at least slice open a pad. But no, we managed to go through the entire break with no issues at all. Then we went to the park this week and he comes up lame – go figure.

Not entirely sure what the issue is, I want to say wrist. But he’s been wrapped in Back on Track paraphernalia for the last couple days, I found his old wrist wraps and everything. He does seem better, but the test will be when do some herding tomorrow whether it was just a tweak or something that is going to take longer to heal. So we shall see if we make it to the trial this weekend, I was really banking on fixing all our issues in two practices we have between now and then! Just hope he’s feeling back to 100%, poor little guy. Though he does look like a cute 80s dancer in his wrist wraps and jacket.

Set up some fun courses for classes this week based on the ISC class at Rose City, a lot of running. I’m out of practice! Dogs did great though, I’m happy with their skills when I cue them correctly. Our issues were just pretty much me, unfortunately. I always hate being the weak link. I will say we do not have a verbal turn away with me really far behind and they can’t see me.

I also have a new papillon I’ve been running in classes, and will theoretically run in some trials at some point. Fun little girl, and very secure, not at all worried about where her mum is, just happy to play with me. Lovely skills, nice independence so easy to run for the most part. SO different to run a tiny dog! If I ever ran across a small dog that spoke to me I’d definitely get another, but there is no particular breed out there that is calling my name to go actively look for one. A lot of advantages to a smaller dog though!

Some random video – see, we can still do agility!

Been practicing obedience recalls with Navarre, just in a surprise, random, one or two off kind of way. They are much improved in this sort of presentation. Going to enter a fun match in February to see if we’ve improved with them. They were our weak area at the last match. Also need to get some opportunities for group stays to make sure he doesn’t start sitting pretty again. He looks good though, and honestly seems to be enjoying obedience training. I think that’s about right, it takes about 4 years for a dog to be ready to compete in obedience. It’s not about the behaviors, but the mental pressure. Really happy how responsive and happy he’s become about the exercises. His pivot to heel is fricken adorable.

Love the age that Navarre is at, and fun that he has so many activities that enjoys and is pretty good at. Never had a dog that could do so many. Fenwick could DO all the activities – all the activities did not want Fenwick though. The barking kicked us out of his rally/obedience career, and Fenwick thought flyball was stupid, though we did it for many years. London did many things, and I’m glad we had his late in life obedience career – but he definitely found it stupid when he was younger, and herding was one of the hardest things for him and his pressure sensitivity. London loved agility, all other activities were extraneous in his mind, for the most part – though he probably would have been happy to keep flyball. Haku has done many things, but has not been particularly good at any of them, and just one activity at a time. Which is not a requirement to having fun! Navarre is my first dog that actually enjoys and can train in multiple activities without any big issues. It’s novel.

As to how far he’ll actually go in any of them, that’s another question. Assuming we actually trial enough, I’m sure he could do a lot in agility, nothing holding him back but the occasional running around jumps and a handler that is attempting to run him like he’s a tight turning dog (which he most definitely is not!). Obedience we shall see how he handles the environment, but I really do assume he’ll be a hell of a lot easier than the ever erratic Haku. And herding, well, the herding people really seem to think he could do well – if he had a good handler. Whether I will ever be that handler is a whole other question, but I have Haku to practice on before I attempt to ruin Navarre. We shall see. Just fun to have a dog that we can do all the things I’m interested in, with no particular issues that we have to overcome.

I guess the unfortunate part about having a dog like Navarre that is all stable, easy to train, easy to live with, gets along with everyone and has a lot of hobbies is that he may be setting unrealistic expectations for the next puppy. They don’t all come that way. Some dogs don’t want to do any activities, are not easy to live with, don’t deal well in public, hard to train and don’t get along like a giant floppy puppy with everyone. Heck, Navarre is even the world’s most perfect intact dog – he’s got all the benefits with none of the drawbacks. Well, assuming you don’t actually want sperm.

He’s going to be a hard act to follow, my Navarre. Yet, let’s us remember, I don’t care one bit that my other dogs are not as ‘well rounded’ as Navarre, I love them for who they are wouldn’t change a thing. Heck, Haku is totally my favorite, he’s terrible to train, the hardest to live with and kind of structural mess. Bring home the puppy you love and the rest will take care of itself. It’s only when you’re thinking about theoretical puppies is that we start getting all wrapped up in finding the perfect dog with all these mythical qualities. And then, sometimes, you get a Bright – who I would never have picked out in a million years, and I didn’t even like her as a puppy, and I adore that girl now beyond reason and I never expected her to do a damn thing. The perfect puppy will present themselves and it will all just feel right. But they damn well better be nice to my cats.

Cramming for the Trial

Not herding every day did not magically fix Haku’s latest issues, unfortunately. We did some shorter outruns on his first practice back, still too fast – then we argued about a down, after which the sheep are off in space so we tried to fix that. After that he wasn’t flanking when I asked, and then flanking when I didn’t ask on his drives and basically not being at all helpful. Some days it just seems so much harder than it needs to be, then, sometimes, magically he’ll sort of snap into a good dog and suddenly everything that was stupidly hard is now easy. But not nearly as much as I’d like.

Our homework continues to be getting Haku to ‘believe me’. Believe that I mean what I say, and also believe that if he does what I ask I know what I’m doing. At the moment, I just want a down at a far distance. I did introduce a stop whistle, he can do it in the agility arena. It’s not really the sound I was going for, but it’s what comes out. I can do better once I ‘warm up’, but I quickly found that trying to get the whistle in my mouth correctly and make the sound right away is a whole other issue. I figure it doesn’t matter, right now any sort of whistle and he lies down. Whether we get to other whistles is a challenge for another time. Next step, seeing I can get the same behavior around sheep. I’m guessing we’ll be starting over at that point.

Navarre continues to be a little show off, he continues to do well with Ian and the experienced herding people continue to be impressed with how much pressure he can handle. He only made it this far because of that fact, he’s definitely proven that this is what he’d rather be doing than anything else. And at least with Ian and Dave, he does look good and is being so thoughtful. Mostly.

We also did a bit of agility this week, some fun either/or exercises and backside of tunnel commitment. Now Bright is the most happy doing agility again, but Navarre enjoyed being back as well. Also worked a bit at getting back into some obedience practice, very pleased with Navarre, he looks good with it all. He even did some fast heeling without breaking out into a spastic gallop. A bit slow on his drop on recall, but that seems to be his down in general. That butt always wants to stay up … The premium for the April trials is already available, I think that will be his obedience debut – exciting!

I continue to try to cram for the herding trial next weekend with Haku, we’re sticking to Ranch and we definitely don’t need to be doing a trial at all right now, but, hey, life is short. Went out to Heidi’s to work on introducing the stop whistle on sheep with the baby doll sheep. We haven’t seen them for a while as we’ve spent all our time working in bigger fields this winter. The baby dolls have gained confidence! They were giving Haku the finger, stomping at him and then just splitting off in three directions. And this was probably Problem #1, as we had just a terrible practice all around. Of course, all I really wanted to do was introduce the damn whistle, but we couldn’t do ANYTHING.

Haku and I are definitely in a Phase at the moment, I’ve had almost 10 years of working with Haku – I know how he learns. Unfortunately, it’s rarely even remotely linear – and most definitely can’t be rushed. We are currently in the Haku Learning Phase: ‘Never Seen These Behaviors Before’ that happens after we introduce new things. Couldn’t move sheep, couldn’t do any flanks correctly, didn’t want to lie down, kept shutting the sheep down on his drive – it was just kind of a disaster. And this was not with any distance, this was mostly with me RIGHT THERE.

So, talked to Ian and part of it was that I WAS moving around too much, apparently. I was trying to ‘help’ by walking behind him as he was driving, by moving around to make things easier, to help move the sheep – Ian says I’m just annoying Haku and I need to stand still and let him do his job.

Meanwhile, Navarre continues to show off – he was doing such nice work with Ian! I feel a little better that he’s still shit with me though. We had our regular trainwreck check in session, where I immediately get tense, frantic and shrill. Shockingly, this does not transfer to good work. And I have to use totally different commands with Navarre now, which is not easy. I can’t just tell him, “Away”, as apparently I say it like two separate words. I need to say it like a have Scottish accent, “eh-wheee!” Which just makes me laugh every time I do it. And then, yeah, ‘Comebye’ is such a silly command, I’ll get used that someday. But not today, Navarre is still not my problem for a while.

Still, today we learned that to get Navarre to listen to me I need to be calm and ask for everything with the right accent, in a calm, normal voice – unless I’m yelling, ‘hey!’, of course. Mostly it just feels like he’s rushing everything so I just want to yell, “CALM THE HELL DOWN!” Which is not a herding command, unfortunately. Maybe someday I’ll be a good enough handler for Navarre – but not today. Back to Haku, much more my speed.

Oh, and I let Bright come spectate at herding, so she would feel included. At one point where I thought Ian was going to work Navarre I ended up with Bright and Navarre in the arena with the sheep while we were working, with the assumption she would immediately slip out the gate as soon as she saw sheep coming for her. But New and Improved Bright actually just went in a down at my feet and got all in my way instead, not . Still, what improvement from the past 7 years – she used to just go cower by the fence and refuse to go anywhere near sheep. Bright is feeling braver recently, sometimes in a kind of annoying way – she’s getting nippy with other dogs when over excited and not listening and basically being really, really happy. Love my Brightness.

Finally this week, we dared to practice out in the big field at Mollala, and thankfully didn’t lose any sheep. In fact things went suspiciously well at first, with Haku taking his down whistle on his outruns right from the start, driving without turning the sheep, not running the sheep down the field – I was pleasantly surprised. Well, until that all ended and we turned into a total trainwreck. Continually crossed over every time I sent him, wouldn’t lie down, turned the sheep back to me on the drive and, eventually, didn’t even lift the sheep on his outrun. Hm.

So, yeah, I’m not imagining it – I have two herding dogs in Haku at the moment, the Good Haku and the Bad Haku .He can change from one to other basically in an instant, and I’m not sure why. Things that probably help, I was very calm and relaxed when we started, quiet, ready to fix things. At the end I was shouting, constantly fixing things, frustrated and not at all relaxed in any way. I can certainly imagine which Heather I’d rather work with. We were also working for a while, he may have gotten tired – though we have had it go other way, that he got better at the end of a session when he was ‘tired’. Certainly I think the more time sheep spend with Haku, the more time they have to realize that he’s a total pushover.

So today was equal parts encouraging and discouraging. It’s really fun when we’re working together and we can do things easily. It’s not at all fun when I feel like I have to stop and fix everything that Haku does. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of in-between at the moment.

So, yeah, we have two more practices between now and his trial next weekend – his ‘official’ graduation from our Winter of Herding. I’d like to be able to do what I know we can, which isn’t super great, but we’ve worked hard on it. There’s a good chance Good Haku may not show up for the trial though, so we’ll see. We will keep working on it, I’ll try to do better, which will hopefully help Haku to do better. All part of the journey.

Spring of Herding?

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty Four

I thought today would be the day we would finally have some bad weather, there was wind and rain forecast … but, no, it was a little breezy, but warm and dry in Scio. I continue to be deeply suspicious, there was some pouring sideways rain LATER, but not during herding. We remain pretty charmed in the weather department.

Haku and I were not quite on the same page today, but on the upside, his outruns have been, as I was told, ‘consistently better’ for the last two practices. Today he slowed down at the top without me having to get on his case, though I had still started up the field with the intention of fixing a mess. So that meant I had to get BACK to the post, which didn’t go well. And our driving was horrible, Haku keeps having issues moving grumpy sheep and then we lost them and he couldn’t move them again. This is getting to be a theme, poor guy.

So then we officially looked at penning, and I tried hard to absorb all the theoretical things I should do – which did not transfer super well to actuality. Damn sheep. We did better after we traded sheep though, but I think my idea of driving sheep ‘to the hinge in the gate’ is not what Ian’s idea is. And when sheep aren’t being cooperative and Haku is getting frustrated when they won’t move, it doesn’t go super well and I’m left in a constant state of wondering if I’m just giving bad handling info or he just needs me to go help him out. We did do it, twice, eventually. I will put that in the column of yet another thing in herding we can now do badly. I can hardly wait until we shed badly too.

I’m hoping to get some video on Saturday for our herding vacation ‘graduation’, which will end up being 26 days of herding over the last 4 weeks. It’s entirely possible we may just be a hot mess on Saturday, in which case it may not LOOK like we’ve made progress – but we definitely have. Maybe not CONSISTENTLY though. Once again, I have been assured that with a good handler Haku has lots of skills … just not necessarily with me. I will continue to work on it, and Haku will continue to be patient – it’s a good match.

Meanwhile, Navarre is just so fricken jazzed about herding these days. As usual, I have been assured that he has ‘a lot of talent’ and could do ‘very well’ with a good handler. As he’s just got me instead, and we talked about my goals for Navarre. I made it clear that I have no interest in trialing him at the moment, and I’d much rather spend our time and energy working on his skills for him to be easier for me to handle once Haku retires. I really am quite content to work with Haku, we are a good match for learning the ropes in herding. Navarre needs a better handler at this point. I am not that handler.

So Ian wants to work on Navarre learning trained skills rather than handling skills, at least, that was my interpretation. So instead of working on teaching him to respond to specific handling cues requiring the handler to actually, you know, say them correctly at the right time – teaching him to figure out how to fix his own lines, move the sheep without the handler’s help and be able to do a lot more independently. But it takes time and training, so if I had grand expectations of trialing him soon, it wouldn’t be the best approach. I thought having a dog that could cover my ass sounded like a grand idea, so we’ll see how that works this year. Navarre thinks it’s all great, that is one lover of sheep.

And, meanwhile, Bright is having to ride in the front seat what with me taking Navarre, Haku, Dove and Riot in the car – and she hates it so much. Funny how weird it is for dogs that always have been in crates in the back to suddenly realize they’re in a MOVING CAR. I’m hoping she’ll get used to it. So much drama.

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty Five

Back at Dave’s in the big field, Haku wasn’t listening – at all. It wasn’t even that far, but it was new ‘location’ in that we were in a new part of the field. Haku seems to really struggle to listen to me when we’re dealing with a new place. Wouldn’t lie down, wouldn’t flank, I’m screeching like a harpy and nothing is happening. And Dave has told me for however how long that I need to move up there physically and take the sheep from him and stop trying to fix it and ask twelve times, but at a certain distance both Haku and I just seem to fall apart. So, naturally, it took one repetition of running up the field at Haku to fix the issue. I’m a bad listener, he’s told me to this pretty much at every lesson.

Now, to be fair, Dave is a much faster runner than me, and didn’t seem to worry about falling in a hole or tripping on all the tiny little stumps all over the field like I did, he got there way before I did. Haku was shocked, then I arrived and Haku was like, “WTF?” And after that, yes, Haku was super careful – downed when asked at distance and did not rush the sheep. I’m not sure why I assumed it wouldn’t really make a difference, as by the time Haku actually noticed we were running up him he was WELL past the point that I actually asked for the down he didn’t give me – yet it seemed to make an impression anyway.

So, yeah, alas, it looks like I get run up the field – and apparently even if it takes me several minutes to get out there, it will still make a bigger different than yelling, “Hey!”. But the good news, it only took once. Unlike Navarre, who needs MUCH more running. Good thing I’m not the one training him. So that was pretty much our whole lesson, we never actually got to DO anything, but we got to fix some things. And hopefully can continue to work on them.

Navarre and Dave looked good, they’re still in the smaller field – less running! But Dave is not having to do as much, and Navarre is feeling more comfortable with driving. This herding vacation has really boosted is confidence, I think he kind of understands what the humans are wanting now, as opposed to just finding them out to ruin his fun.

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty Six

And our final day! Let it be said, twenty six days, almost continuous during the very heart of winter in the PNW – and not a bad weather day among them. Talk about an unusual winter! I feel bad for all my waterproof gear in the car, it has never been used. I was prepared to tough it out through it all, and now I feel like if it ever DOES actually rain on me when herding I’m going to be totally shocked and offended. It really does feel like the universe is trying it’s very best on many fronts to say, “Just do this, trust me.”

Today did not go super well, but, being herding, I was not totally shocked. I think all the dogs left on a better note than we started with, which is nice. When I look at the overall picture from a month ago to today, we have all made a lot of progress. I feel like I have a much better picture of what should be happening, which was definitely missing before. I don’t feel like a total noob, we have made baby steps towards knowing more about all the things that I don’t know.

So definitely worthwhile, and it helped jumpstart me into committing to doing a lot more this year. Haku is reaching the double digits this summer, but continues to look strong and healthy. My hope at this point is to have at least another year with him, hopefully more, but I think a year is a reasonable goal right now. At least with the farther distances. As long as his hearing stays good, I think smaller arena trials are still a good option if the bigger distances get too much for him.

As for Navarre, I have informed Dave and Ian that they have a year to train him.  While they both have very different approaches, they seem to complement each other – and Navarre works well for both them. He’s made huge strides just in this month, and that’s with getting way less days and time he’s actually been on sheep. Having someone experienced work your dog makes things go WAY faster! But I don’t need another dog right now, and I don’t want to deal with two dogs in herding right now. I want to feel more confident in what I’m supposed to be doing, and Haku is the perfect partner for me to learn with.

So, yeah, I do feel like there are a lot of things that continue to point me in the direction of herding, so I will continue. I do find it fun … parts of it. Other things are very unnatural for me, and I’m thankful my dogs don’t seem to mind.

As for the specifics today, both of my dogs started out as total goobers. I had hopes of getting some video of Haku, but, oh, such a disaster. We did go through a phase before where Haku was quite certain he knew better than me in herding, and I’m not saying he’s wrong, but it doesn’t work if he chooses to ignore me when he thinks I’m wrong … even if I am. So, yeah, a month of herding has really increased Haku’s confidence with sheep … less so with my handling, apparently. So, yes, it’s clear that we need to go back to stopping and just working on making sure we are both on the same page, no matter what the sheep are doing. And that involves running across the field, and letting sheep escape and just being consistent.

Which went back to Ian’s Five C’s, which I found amusing from the OMD 3 Cs, but they are different:

  1. Calm
  2. Confident
  3. Consistent
  4. Commanding
  5. Correct

I think that was it, ‘confident’ may not be correct, I have a terrible memory. But the ones that stuck out to me the most were ‘calm’, ‘consistent’ and ‘correct’. Which I think our biggest issues at the moment. I tend to not be correct, which makes me inconsistent, which means so is my dog and then I’m not at all calm trying to fix that mess! Hard to be correct when you don’t know the right answer though, that’s a tough one. I CAN be consistent though, and make sure Haku believes what I ask, even if it causes us to lose the sheep.

Now me, as a good little dog trainer, want to set this up with small exercises where I can focus on the specific issues and set Haku up for success. Ian is like, “You’re going to fix it while you do it.” Heh. Herding people do things differently. But, funny enough, when we came out again and did the whole pro-novice course and I was ready to fix shit – things went a lot better, and I didn’t need to fix things, at least, not what I was planning to. Go figure. Of course, ‘better’ is a relative term, I was thrilled that Haku did come in softer on his outrun, and sheep were considerably slower on the fetch! I had lead out ready to run up the field and was so shocked. Ian was less impressed, as apparently while the sheep were moving much slower than before … that’s a relative term.

When I had a dog working with me, things are a hell of a lot easier. I still struggle quite a bit about driving in terms of ‘Should I flank? Is that too much? Not enough? Damn, too much! Back the other way, but not too much – crap – where are those two sheep going?’ I have been accused of taking WAY TOO LONG to give my dog information, which means he’s not moving and then loses the sheep. It’s very true, driving is not the time for a lot of internal struggle – Haku, especially, needs to keep moving, even if it’s wrong. However, on Thursday he was TOO CLOSE to the sheep. Today I attempted to make sure he stayed back … and we lose the sheep. Hrrumph.

Still, we did our drives, got MOST of the sheep in drive panels and, shockingly, ALL the sheep in the crossdrive. And I had zero clue where they were in space. I did know that previously this week I was ridiculously offline and given the hint of heading for the handy bucket to know where to shoot for. Hopefully all cross drives will have handy buckets in the field in the future. And, maybe just to make me feel better, we penned the sheep perfectly. And maybe these sheep just wanted to go in there anyway, but I’ll take it.

So, better than our first disaster attempt, but I do feel LESS prepared for the infamous Feb trial now than ever. And if it weren’t Haku I’d be in no rush to enter as we’re clearly not ready, but Ian continues to think we should do it. Ian is always optimistic that things will just work out. If we wait until we’re ready we may lose our chance. I’m just going to try to fix everything before the trial. We at least can theoretically do the pieces, but we definitely need to work our communication before now and then. My goal continues to be to do a little better than we did before, right now I feel WORSE, so we have work to do.

Herding homework:

  • Come to hand with distraction for shedding (eventually)
  • Lie down cue on whistle
  • Consistent lie down at extreme distance when he’s committed to sheep
  • Stay calm, consistent and correct (don’t try to fix issues that come from Haku not responding when I asked, don’t try to fix issues that come from Haku responding when I DID ask)

As for Navarre, he was VERY excited when he got there and was just running around like a total goober. He got ejected. After a while he got another attempt and was much more focused and remarkably calm. Ian started working on teaching Navarre fix his own messes. Basically the theme today was ‘keep your sheep together’, so not many actual cues, just getting Navarre to understand the concept that it’s his job to keep the sheep together in a variety of situations. Navarre was probably much calmer because he had to figure out what Ian wanted, he had his brain on – and there were a couple of these sheep that did have their own agenda. I continue to be surprised how thoughtful Navarre can be on sheep compared to what he was like even six months ago. Maybe not all the time, but he can be thoughtful when he wants to be. And I think he was getting the concept, he’s a good boy. Sometimes.

So ends our herding vacation, but not our herding adventure. I still have plans for much more access to sheep this year, and some specific goals and progress I want to make. We’ve come too far to let it go to waste, I want to figure this out.

____________________________

Back to agility this week! I’ve been getting back into my agility mindset, I always think breaks are good for me and for the dogs. While I don’t have any particular competition goals with the dogs this year, I still am very much looking forward to running them again in practice. Navarre will be four this year, but the wise choice I think is to wait for any bigger goals with him when he’s 5 or 6. He continues to mature and I think by that point we’ll be a pretty good, consistent team. So maybe WTT, or the UKI Open or something fun in 2020/2021.

As for Bright, contemplating putting her down to 16 in AKC as well, we will not be going to any more big competitions, and 16 is just really easy for her. I think she’s fine at 20 too, but agility has never been about jump height to me – and lower is just faster. As I still haven’t decided when we’ll be returning to trialing, I don’t have to worry about it just yet. Maybe one more year at 20, I’m not sure. She’ll be 8 this summer.

Still plan to debut Navarre in obedience in April, we have done zero obedience practice over the break. It would be fun to get a practice group together, it’s something I’ve considered as I have enough agility friends that enjoy dabbling in obedience that it might be a fun thing to set up. Finding time during the week is the tricky part. Ian said obedience would be good for Navarre, “He needs to learn that sometimes he has to do things he doesn’t want to do.” Ha! I spent four years working on making obedience something he DOES want to do. Hopefully. We shall see, April is right around the corner. Once I see what he does at the trial will show me if it’s something we’ll continue to put energy into. Still, we’ve put enough into it I feel like we should at least get his novice title! I think he has the potential to go farther, but only if it’s something he’s enjoying.

Very much enjoying watching Riot this week, such a sweet, SWEET puppy. I thought I knew sweet, but Riot is ridiculously cuddly. Just a happy, fun, solid little puppy – nothing seems to phase him. Taught him to stay in like 2 minutes out in the forest, he was a great little hiker and checked in constantly. The crazy part was when he found a huge pile of horse shit and was just bolting it down I tried to call him off and he was oblivious. So I went and physically moved him off of it – he was DEVASTATED. He went and ran under a bush and refused to come out. OMG, he’s such a sensitive little princess. I had to sit there and convince him that all was forgiven before he would come to me again. Good lord. I had actually corrected him for jumping on a cat at home and he didn’t seem to take that personal, but being removed from a pile of horse shit and his world came crashing down. Definitely a softer dog than I’m used to, and not at all what I expected from one of Ian’s dogs.

I really do like him a lot though, and I think he’s tipped my preference that we’re getting another boy when the time comes. Bright doesn’t like him as much the girl puppies, but she tolerates him just fine, and Navarre seems to genuinely like him – much more than the girl puppies. Could be an individual personality thing, but boy dogs are just SO much easier.

But the nice part about all the herding is that I feel like we have more than enough to keep all three dogs busy this year. I really don’t want to get another puppy, especially if I think they’re going to do herding. I’ve already got a spare herding dog I’m going to need to learn to run at some point – I don’t need yet another herding project I’m not ready for. Haku will continue to get his time until he tells me he’s ready to retire.

Puppysitting

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty One

Another gorgeous day, practice in Molalla. We worked on our homework, flanking contrary to body language, trying to put a cue to adding distance on his flanks, slowing down on his lift, driving with precision and lying down on his fetch. It all went pretty well, I don’t think it necessarily addressed our biggest issue, which is his outrun. But we gave it a try. We also looked briefly at a shedding exercise, but I wasn’t entirely sure I was doing it correctly. Shedding is on the list for after the February trial.

Last week of herding vacation, we will all miss it, I think.

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty Two

Down in Scio, outruns for Haku, pro-novice distance. The good news, he looks much better going out, still tight on the top but he recognizes this distance and is pretty confident with it, no problem finding sheep out there now. The bad news, zero response to anything I shout once he gets out there, so way too fast and then just following running sheep down the field until he gets to about 100 yards from me, then he’s like, “Oh hi!”. Some options to fix this included using a 4-wheeler that I could zoom up and fix the issue when he doesn’t respond (ha!) and moving quickly up field after I send him so I can be closer to fix the issue once he gets up there, which is probably a more realistic option.

I did eventually get some response by ‘cheating’ and starting to ask for a down before he had even got behind the sheep. The good news, he did lie down, but I had been walking up the field while he was getting up there and he did get in trouble the last attempt for complete lack of response – so he was more receptive. So we have been given the green light to teach a stop whistle. I am not feeling overly optimistic about the whistle thing, I am not a musical person. But, once again, the whole herding thing in general most definitely doesn’t play to my strengths, so hey. The stop whistle also sounds the easiest to do. As I haven’t touched my whistle in months, that seems like a good thing.

Progression of introduction should start by asking for a lie down and then whistle to introduce it, then whistle and hard ‘LIE DOWN’. The theory being when they hear the whistle they want to lie down before getting the hard verbal. I’m pretty sure we can pair it in a nicer way though.

Not entirely sure where I’m going to train this – in the house, I guess? Maybe in the field? I’ll start by trying to find my whistle and seeing if I can remember how to work it …  Might also be time to practice in the big field and see if we can work on this on our own.

I worked with Navarre today, I take back everything I said about him always bringing back all the sheep. However, for whatever reason he actually DOES slow down on his outruns when approaching the sheep, which is so much nicer than Haku. But sheep split for Navarre, which they don’t for Haku, so I’m not sure what it is he’s doing that’s incorrect but we kept ending up with two groups and a ram with his own agenda. We can usually do like 2 minutes of things at the start that aren’t a total train wreck before Navarre decides that I obviously don’t know what I’m doing and just starts running me over with sheep again. Then I just get really frustrated. Ian says I’m being way too unfair to him and that I’m way more patient with Haku – and I totally agree. I also think Haku is trying to work with me and Navarre is not. Then we talked about how I need to be sharper with my corrections with Navarre, which is all I ever feel like I do with him, so I think I’m trying to keep calm and unemotional. But I apparently need to be more sharp with my corrections to get him to notice. Ah, more on the fine art of yelling ‘hey!’ at your dog. Herding is very amusing.

So, yeah, Navarre does a lot better with Ian and Dave, for the obvious reason that they actually know what they’re doing. They both seem to think he’s trying hard, and I do agree, Navarre would rather be doing this than anything else. However, I feel quite justified and letting the experts deal with Navarre while Haku can still do it. They are more enthusiastic about it than I am.

Navarre was extra naughty today, he was doing some ignoring of Ian and running off to catch sheep that he clearly thought were getting away, refusing to lie down and basically feeling like he knows better than anyone around here what needs to happen with the sheep. Him and Dove are similar in that way, they are quite certain they’re correct.

I did actually work Dove a little today, which I have never done before. Not entirely sure why Ian thought this would be helpful, but I found Dove way more relaxing to work with than Navarre. Well, other than the occasional busting up of sheep, which she is quite confident is part of the process.

Winter of Herding: Day Twenty Three

It’s still not pretty or correct, and certainly not when I actually ask him to, but Haku is doing better with his downs at extreme distances. At least he’s eventually responding, anyway. So, progress of a sort. Our driving was pretty terrible though. The blame has been put squarely on me. Hopefully I will improve with time, but Haku is patient in the meantime and enjoying himself.

I had a hard time knowing how to help Haku with a sheep that kept turning and facing him. I thought I was having Haku lie down as soon as he turned the sheep, but apparently not at all soon enough or long enough for Haku not to annoy the sheep again when he got back up again. In my defense, Haku would turn the sheep, I would lie him down … and the sheep would just stand there grazing, I wasn’t sure what to do. I like it when sheep move, though I also screwed up when I would lie Haku down to try to figure out where the sheep were in space so I could do the cross drive correctly – which was also incorrect, he needed to keep moving. Always something new to learn, and today we did not do things correctly.

Navarre and Ian looked really good! Navarre was probably just thankful I wasn’t working him. Ian didn’t need to get on his case very much at all. Relatively speaking. He was being all surprisingly cooperative. And Navarre continues to do things that I have no idea where he learned them, like his outrun is all crazy long and he’s way better at not cutting in on top than Haku. And he was driving and actually lying down when asked and looking all kind of professional – and VERY proud of himself. This herding vacation was not about him at all, but he has very much benefited. I still have no intentions of actually working him until Haku has had his time in the spotlight, so Navarre can continue to play with all the good handlers. Haku is stuck with me, but I don’t think he minds. Navarre finds my inexperience frustrating, Haku doesn’t – because he’s perfect, of course.

At the end after Navarre moved the sheep into the exhaust he didn’t want to leave them there though, I’m not sure where this new found obsession with not leaving sheep behind came from. While he will normally call off sheep without an issue, if he thinks sheep are being left behind irresponsibly he will blow off Ian like there is no tomorrow to go take care of it. And while he can be pushy, he’s not normally completely disobedient and refuse to come unless it’s in those situations. Ah, herding, teaching my dog all sorts of good habits. Still, herding makes Navarre enormously happy, I’m glad he gets to play – and I don’t care if he ever does anything with herding, it’s worth it to see him do what makes him happiest.

Four days of herding left, the dogs actually have a day off tomorrow. Ian said the dogs were going to be upset when it was over, especially Navarre. And, sadly, it’s true – while this is all for Haku, I think Navarre is the one that actually loves it the most.

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Hey, look, a puppy! We have an adorable visitor this week, a herding bred border collie puppy, 9 weeks. I think he’s going to Nevada? Something like that. Really nice little puppy, so very sweet, cuddly and playful. No bad traits at this point, just seems like a nice boy. Bright thinks he needs SO MUCH DISCIPLINE. Not sure why, he doesn’t seem too forward or pushy, but Bright is usually right about these things. Haku tries to ignore him and Navarre thinks he’s okay, but doesn’t like any puppy fussing or possible drama. Luckily puppy is not much into drama, so that’s worked out okay.

I imagine he’ll get more plucky as the week goes on and he gets more comfortable, but for now he’s an easy addition – even slept through the night on the bed. We’ve done just a little training, he’s got a wave now and we’ve done a little bit with hand touches, downs, relax and spin. And rewarding anything cute, of course. He’s just starting to connect his behavior with the rewards, but hasn’t quite got the concept yet. He’s a people focused little thing though, lots of eye contact and wanting pets. I like him, he gets my approval despite being red. I’m no colorist.

Hey, Look, Herding!

Winter of Herding: Day Eighteen

We’re winding down our herding adventure, I’ll have to start thinking about a long term plan for, uh, continuing education. There’s a slight chance I may not know everything there is to know about herding by the end of next week. However, I do feel way more confident with what we can do. I will miss working every day, I really enjoy doing something new. I like being bad at things, pretty much anything you do makes you feel accomplished! It is very true though, when attempting to get better at something, simply doing more of it is a good place to start – this has definitely been well worth the effort.

Down in Scio, started out seeing if Haku could do the full pro-novice outrun and … not so much. He was confident on the distance part, but then came in tight and then did a weird cross over thing right in front the sheep. As I’m so fricken far away I feel like I can only stand there and watch in amazement as to what weird things he’s going to attempt to do at that point. For some reason Ian seemed to think I should have actually helped him instead of just silently watching. Shocking thought, but it’s so far away – I have no faith he can hear me at that distance at all, I feel like he’s out of my range and on his own. Neither Haku or I are comfortable with that level of distance at this point.

So we went back to the smaller arena and worked on teaching Haku a cue to increase distance from the sheep, so I could, theoretically, shout it at him from an extreme distance. So that’s something we can work on in practice.

Ian worked with Navarre on ‘obedience’ in the big field, you know, actually listening when he’s asked to do something. Navarre had other things in mind, there was much discussion. Afterwards I lamented how Navarre was such a good boy in all other aspects of his life and not at all pushy and contrary any other place but around sheep. Ian says that dogs with a lot of ‘natural talent’ don’t want to listen because they think they know better because their instincts are so strong. Navarre has yet to impress me with his ‘natural talent’, but I look forward to seeing it. Someday.

In other news, near record breaking high temperatures – what a January!

Winter of Herding: Day Nineteen

Molalla today out in the big field – we didn’t lose any sheep! Though, to be fair, they just wanted to run back towards the fenced corner anyway, so it wasn’t really ever a danger. Had a much harder time getting them to move INTO the field, they were squirrely sheep.

As usual, we had a hard time getting started, I think with new sheep Haku needs to get a feel for them and in a new place I need time to figure out my flanks and where the sheep want to go – and it seems to be a pretty big mess until we get that all figured out. I can’t say we did that great even after that, but once we did get the sheep moving he was working well away from me, trying hard, lying down far away and usually taking the right flanks. Even occasionally fixing his drive lines!

We only tried a couple outruns as just driving the damn sheep out there took so much time. The outruns weren’t great, he’s really cutting in these days, but he would lie down at least. I felt connected, the skill just wasn’t there – with either of us. I also found it very funny when Dave is like, ‘just keep working your dog while I tell you about this abstract herding concept’. Seriously? I have absolutely no recollection of what he said, I certainly can’t do both at the same time. My mind was not super focused today anyway, so it’s all good.

Navarre and Dave did better this week, Dave didn’t have to do hardly any sprinting through the sheep to get Navarre to listen. He did some longer distance driving and was basically behaving himself. And, once again, Navarre is so popular with herding people, it cracks me up how he always gets all the praise when in my eyes he’s almost 4 and still can’t do anything useful. Today he was called ‘pushy but not chargy’, which is apparently a good thing. I will say in the realm of issues your dog can have in herding, I’d rather have too pushy than getting ‘stuck’ all the time, and Haku not standing up to sheep is super unhelpful. I’ve also done herding with a ‘quitter’, and I won’t do that again – so I get how pushy can be helpful compared to the opposite issues. Assuming you know how to deal with it, which I really am not good with. Still, poor Haku, he never gets compliments – it’s good thing he has good self esteem and I think he can do no wrong.

Winter of Herding – Day Twenty

Down in Scio, another thing Haku has no concept of – watching the handler to tell him where the sheep are. We’ve just never worked in big enough fields that he doesn’t immediately see them, so he doesn’t have a concept. He, very rightly, keeps looking for them in places they’ve been before out in the big field. So we had to walk ALL the way up the field, as the sheep ran into the trees while I was trying to get him looking in the right direction. So the first time he’s had to get them out of the trees – he kept leaving some behind (admittedly, there were a lot in there!). It’s sad how well he knows his ‘look back’ cue, he’s done a lot of leaving sheep behind in his life. Then we drove them all the way down the field, which is definitely going better.

Finally, we did a pro-novice run! His outrun wasn’t terrible, still tight on top so the sheep were offline, but we fixed it and did our post turn and drive and, this is huge, actually got all the sheep (and there were a lot of them – maybe 10?) through the panels – the first time! And then we did our cross drive, which was really hard for me to tell where they were in space and if they were off line – and we got our panels again, holy crap! And then Ian is like, “Go to the pen!” And I’m like, “What?” We’ve never penned anything before, and it showed – but we got all but one in, which I’m totally calling a success (herding people are so concerned with getting ALL the sheep – pish, what’s one or two extra?).

So, yeah, there is probably a much more logical, progressive way to go about this whole herding thing, rather than just sort of taking a flying leap at things – but it’s kind of fun to do it this way with Haku. We have no grand expectations, he’s having a great time, he manages to make me look good.

One issue we had both today and yesterday was him not taking flank cues when he’s close to me if he thinks it’s being contradicted by motion or body position. So we had a chance to work on that today as well, getting him to now ignore my body language and go on the verbal. With arms out like I was when I was penning was the most difficult. We’ll continue to look at that, but he definitely seemed to catch on with a little work.

Overall, not a bad day for Haku – he continues to impress me what he’s able to do even though I feel like we missed many, many steps along the way. And he thinks it’s just awesome. Ian seems to think we need to enter Pro-Novice for the February trial. I’m thinking maybe we should be able to do Ranch first …

Navarre and Ian also had some good stuff … for a while. I was super impressed when Ian sent Navarre on outrun at pro novice distance and Navarre ALMOST did it! When did he learn how to do that? Well, clearly he didn’t as he cut in at the top, but he just went out like it was something he did every day, totally confident. But when Ian told him to lie down from back at the post when he cut in, Navarre actually DID IT. Dude, totally impressed. And they did some driving with the big group of sheep, some of which looked good. Then, after a bit, Navarre stopped listening and got scolded and taken off the field. I don’t think he cares much about scolding, but I do think losing the sheep will make an impression on him. Well, we’ll find out, anyway. Once again, it always seems like we’re skipping steps here, but Navarre seems to know what he’s doing anyway. Kind of like magic.

I also have a tentative schedule for continuing herding. I do feel like we have some nice momentum going and I don’t want to lose that, so we’re going to squeeze in some lessons with Ian into our normal herding schedule once I go back to teaching. Our agility is going to suffer to pay for it, but, once again, my time is limited with Haku, we need to use it while he still can.

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In other news, no puppy raising for me this winter – I ended up not being needed for the herding bred litter. Which is a shame, as I do enjoy playing with puppies and would have been interesting to work with a dog from lines I don’t know anything about. May do it for another litter in the Spring, half sibling to Navarre.

Navarre is coming up on 4, so this year I am starting to look at potential upcoming litters in the next couple years. There is a repeat breeding of a litter I really liked the end of the year that I’m interested in, related to Bright and Haku, so will see what happens there. May not pan out though. And we’ll see how the whole herding thing goes this year, that breeding I’m looking at is very much a sport breeding – if I really want to do herding with my next dog, I might want to look at herding litters. Dove is going to be bred this Spring, maybe to a herding dog, so that’s something to watch to see how that litter turns out as well.

I would like to have it all, a nice moving dog with a solid sensible temperament that gets along well with other dogs, easy to live with, flexible, athletic, good jumper, sweet, cuddly, not too big, no epilepsy, fun, happy and with natural herding talent. No sharp, snarky, sissy, reactive, fearful, clingy, spun dogs.  Not so much to ask, right? But I suppose, much like with Navarre, I’ll know it when I see it. There are a lot of nice dogs and litters out there, but they just don’t speak to me. I’m very picky, but in no rush – I really like my mix of dogs I have right now, we don’t need a puppy at all. But, eventually, yes, we will become a four dog household. I even have a name, I think. Just need to find the dog to match the name.

Making Progress

We had a visitor over the weekend, an 8 month old border collie who we had met briefly when he was younger. Super sweet boy, and so easy to have around – all 8 month old puppies should take note! He did great with the dogs and the cats, was just a perfect houseguest and slept curled up right next to me at night. Yet, still, Navarre was kind of a dick to him sometimes. Now, this is an intact 8 month old, and Navarre did play with him, but he got grumpy also (and not because of anything puppy was doing). Navarre is not often grumpy, so it was interesting to see.

I was thinking that Navarre might prefer a boy for our next dog, but even with this super, super nice boy Navarre was posturing. So, hm. Bright likes all these girl puppies and Navarre might prefer that as well. Now, he hasn’t been a huge fan of the girl puppies – but I never worry about him with girl dogs. I think Navarre just wants to be the puppy forever. Sorry bud, you’re almost 4, your puppy days are almost over. The Magic Age is almost here!

I would prefer to keep Navarre intact if I can, I like the support hormones give boy dogs. And, hey, he’s sterile – never have to worry even if I do have an intact girl around! Living with that might be a whole other story though. Oh, and Bright liked our houseguest, and was playing with him by the time he left. Haku ignored him, but had no issue with him.  Haku probably would prefer a girl as well. And Bright, well, it’s hard to say but at least with border collies she seems partial to the girl pups. Though Bright gets more puppy-like herself the older she gets.

As for me, our houseguest was super sweet, super fun and super easy to live with – but going back to three dogs is nice, I must say. Puppies are fun to think about, but a lifelong commitment, well, that’s another story. We’re doing well with three, I must admit.

Winter of Herding: Day Fifteen

Back to practice in Molalla, and I continue to find it funny how lovely the weather is. We had a huge wind storm the night before, and it was raining all the way there – and then the sun came out and it was glorious, just me and Haku and the sheep. The universe continues to shine on my herding adventure.

Focus was on lying down on outruns – and where it started to fall apart. Close up, no problem. Mid-way, he was okay in the 10-2 range, had to correct to get him to lie down once he got past that point – but he would (though clearly thought I was just getting in the way of his job). Far away, he could do until about 6 and 9, and then pretty much no response. Getting him to lie down once he was behind the sheep was really hard at all levels, and non-existent far away.  I think I have decided what our first whistle will be, and that’s a lie down. Need to decide what sound I want to use and get on it. I will no longer have the ‘well, maybe he can’t hear me’ excuse going on.

He did better at the beginning of the session, and his response degraded as we went on. I would definitely say this is not his favorite behavior. Still, a good practice overall and one we clearly need to focus more on. I was really happy with his other stuff, he is getting better at driving all the time and I don’t feel like I have to fix him much at all compared to what I did a couple weeks ago.

Oh, and could not get him to line up next to me for nothing. Hm.

Winter of Herding: Day Sixteen

Today lets give Navarre some props, he has been voted (by Ian) as the most trainable of the three dogs I had today. And I’m going to give that to him, Navarre really is a good boy and he IS very trainable. Now, I consider on sheep to be where he is the LEAST trainable, but as I wasn’t the one working with him today, I’ll let Ian make that judgement.

Navarre got to head out to the big field again, after his rather short first exposure to it last time where he promptly lost the sheep. Navarre doesn’t have much experience with sheep that can escape, so he seemed very perplexed by this. Today the sheep we had were really flighty, I tried to warn Ian that Navarre was probably not going to catch escaping sheep as that’s never been his job. Ian is more of a ‘throw them in and see what happens’ kind of guy though, and he’s always quite confident the dogs can do it, so off they went. And Navarre proved me wrong, he can actually keep control of sheep, even when they are quite determined to escape. Go figure.

It was fun to watch, Navarre has never worked with sheep like that or in a field that big or when he would end up so far away from the handler and basically have to figure things out on his own. He was such a good boy though, he was trying really hard. At one point the sheep ALMOST made it back into the pen (they jump the fence), he stopped most of them but not quite all of them. He wasn’t sure what to do, and Ian was WAY across the field, so he’s looking at the sheep he has and over at the sheep still heading to the pen and then went to go collect the escapees. He lost two over the fence at that point though, and then he kind of stopped and looked back at the other sheep, the sheep he’d now stopped and made the decision to try to find a way into the pen to get back the sheep that jumped! And not in a crazy way at all, he was just sort of problem solving, occasionally looking over at Ian to see what he should do, realizing he had to figure out for himself. He eventually brought back all the sheep he could. What a GOOD boy! Let’s just say Haku never worries about making sure he’s got all the sheep. Dove and apparently Navarre are very concerned about ALL the sheep. Very different than Haku – love that boy, but not a deep thinker.

So Navarre was actually being somewhat useful today, and not being a dork. And is also apparently the only dog that doesn’t have a screwed up outrun. Dove and Haku are too wide at the bottom (or their pear is the wrong way). I guess I never really thought about Haku being too wide, nor do I ever remember actually ever teaching him an outrun, so I’m not taking responsibility for that one. That’s just something I think he always did on his own. It’s also very hard to fix, apparently. It doesn’t particularly matter in smaller areas, so this is news to all of us, including Haku, I think – since bigger fields are still all new to us.

So all we can do is ignore the bottom and try to fix the top – but that’s basically number one on our list at the moment anyway. So Haku and I just did outruns today, and worked on yelling ‘hey’ at the top. Herding makes me laugh, but he was getting the idea – slow the hell down when you are coming up on sheep. It needs a lot more work. He certainly wasn’t offering it on his own, but he was doing better once he recognized what we were working on.

Ian was not a fan of my lie down method, says it’s more of a bandaid and we should just fix the problem. Still, Haku did MUCH better at lying down at a distance – and I think it was a good primer for today in responding on his farther outruns. He’s starting to realize he can listen when I’m far away. One step at a time.

Ian also seems to think Navarre will be ready to run in the February trial. You know, in like three weeks. I told Ian he’d better get training then.

And the weather was lovely, of course – downright balmy!

Winter of Herding: Day Seventeen

Back to Scio, I’m getting quite familiar with the drive. Still, the idea of getting up to drive out there and frolic in the mud with sheep continues to appeal. Less flighty, more tired sheep today. Haku did remember what we worked on yesterday, especially with sheep that were less exciting. He CAN slow down when coming in on sheep! Well, when he’s reminded, anyway.

That wasn’t what we were working on though, today was fixing him from coming in too soon on his outrun and lengthening him out to pro-novice distance. There was a lot of lying him down at a distance (hurrah for working on that this week!) and me walking up the field (and then back). By the end he was doing some self correction if he came in too early. It was hard for me to tell when he was coming in early though, so not something I can work on by myself. And, yes, he has now done a pro-novice outrun. You know, with practice.

What was interesting as when we did start to get farther back he kept wanting to cross over when I sent him, which he’s never done before. I also felt he didn’t necessarily see the sheep either, even though they were in the exact same place they had before. He kind of went out much more hesitantly. It’s possible he doesn’t see them, or maybe it was just being that it was farther than he’d gone before. He thought this was GREAT fun though, and good for him for lying down on his outruns when asked when he was far, far away. Such a happy boy.

I worked Navarre in the big field today, which was kind of comically bad. Navarre just gets me worked up into a frenzy – for god’s sake SLOW DOWN AND BACK OFF. I also refuse to blame this on agility, Navarre isn’t at all like this in agility, and is, in fact, fairly sedate in agility overall very responsive (and too WIDE, not close!). Ian says on Thursday we’ll be working on pace. Because I haven’t attempted to fix that problem AT ALL in the last 3 years …

Still, it was interesting before we went into the field Navarre spotted the sheep way across the field sort of hidden next to a fence. He located them immediately with no issues, Haku does not seem to be able to do the same thing. Navarre even gathered them up without causing a ruckus and didn’t let any escape. He’d also win the ‘fastest walk up’ award, and the ‘Navarre, I SAID LIE DOWN’ hall of fame award. Gah, he just gets me so frazzled. Maybe when he’s nine he’ll be relaxing to herd with too.

So ends our streak of 15 days straight of practice. Admittedly, it’s not a LOT of practice, it ends up being like 30 minutes a day. But Haku’s brain is done at that point anyway. It has been enormously helpful, super glad I decided to do this. We’ll have a day off and then back at it on Thursday.

USBCHA Debut

Well, we did it – it wasn’t impressive, certainly not pretty, we didn’t even keep all the sheep – but we went to our first herding trial. I was actually really happy with what we did. Haku did not get obsessed with the sheep that went to the exhaust (something he’s never seen before), he had a lovely outrun, lifted off the set-up crew without any weirdness, and really responded to everything I asked. The issues we had were not at all unexpected. I just tried to focus on staying connected with Haku and not feeling rushed or out of control even if the sheep were, uh, not in control.

Basically he just was too fast on his lift, so we lost sheep … in separate directions. And then it was a hot mess of sheep everywhere, including one troublemaker that was clearly not a team player. So I left the troublemaker on her own, and then awkwardly squished the remaining three back together with some very not pretty running back and forth, but then we did actually get a turn around the post and a did a little drive. We didn’t quite make the panels, but my goal was ‘approximate’ and we did that. You know, approximately all the sheep, approximately a drive, approximate panels – it’s kind of our thing.

So, not pretty, but, honestly, we did pretty much exactly what we’re capable of doing at the moment. More importantly, I felt actually pretty good about our communication – not actually doing the course, but feeling like we were still doing our thing together. Haku was trying really hard, he did some nice things as we tried to fix our mess. I can’t ask for more than that, he really was listening and responding – didn’t seemed stressed or frantic. It was a start, and we can both get better.

I thought it was fun, I can see why people enjoy it. Can’t imagine trialing all the time, you think agility has a lot of sitting around, that’s nothing on herding. Maybe you just need a lot of dogs. However, I ended up watching all afternoon, got to see end of the Open runs, Nursery and Pro-Novice runs. And it was very helpful, and much more interesting and relevant than the last trial I watched last summer.

Some things of note include the fact that sometimes you just get sheep that don’t stick together, that have troublemakers that want to do their own thing. You can wait all day to run and instead deal with difficult sheep the whole time. I think the really good handlers are better at handling that kind of situation, but a lot of folks aren’t. Even good handlers can really have a hard time keeping a good drive line. I feel much better about my driving now. Not actually hitting the panels is very normal. The maltese cross seems like a really silly obstacle to have in Open – how is this relevant to the real world? Who would set up a sheep chute with multiple directions that you don’t want the sheep to go? The majority of sheep people have an accent of some sort. I can’t explain that.

I wanted to listen to whistles and see what people used. There was certainly a variety, and some people were very sparing on whistles, and some people used them almost constantly. Both types COULD do very well … but didn’t always. Dogs and people are bad at flanks too. Almost all the dogs took flanks incorrectly. Border collies all get along. You can hear when a handler is not confident with what they’re asking. If you find yourself shouting continuously, it’s probably best to just stop the run – it’s not going to get better. Sometimes runs go really, really wrong. Sometimes sheep just won’t move for any dog, humans have to come physically pick up the sheep and move them. Tiny white sheep are the biggest troublemakers.

I knew we weren’t ready, so that made it more relaxing, I think – I was just hoping not to have a total disaster. This gave me some very concrete skills to work on in the next month to see if we can do it a little better next time – though, admittedly, nothing that I didn’t already know about. Planning to enter the trial in February and see if we can improve, Haku continues to think this is just amazing good times. I’m very lucky to have a dog with such endless enthusiasm for everything we do!

Whoops, I Entered a Trial

Winter of Herding: Day Nine

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Another lovely day – crazy! Back down in Scio and talked about our really poor performance with any sort of specific herding task. We went to the small field and looked at approximate herding at a distance, which first Ian tried with Haku – but Haku did not feel like listening to Ian really at all. However, he did pretty well with me … you know, approximately. It was clear that a big part of issue was Haku just not responding to commands when I asked, and that I was not only anticipating that, but kind of accepting it and trying to compensate for it. Then back out to the big field and worked on a few things.

First, no shouting – which is just a natural thing to do when your dog is far away. Haku can tell when I’m not confident he’s going to respond when I start getting loud with my commands, and I am very much not confident he’s going to respond at a distance – shouting doesn’t help. Second, don’t shout his name before giving cues … you know, to make sure he’s listening. Three, fix it earlier – MUCH earlier. I am often aware that things aren’t going well, but accept ‘kind of’ because I don’t want to argue and it’s KIND of what I wanted. Four, I need to fix it immediately if I cue something and he doesn’t respond – NOW I can yell, but not the command, just the interruption … and then go back to normal voice. Five, lie him down before flanking, always, at this point to help him be successful. The fine art of yelling ‘hey!’ at my dog – I find it amusing.

So all this helped, I don’t like shouting – this was much more relaxing for me. Hard not to get into a frantic shouting mode though, especially when he’s at a distance and we were RIGHT at the gates and he chooses to ignore me and bring me the sheep instead – ARRGH. It all made a big difference though, so I think with practice we can start getting more precise.

Then as we were leaving I was talking about how I was planning to come watch the USBCHA trial they were having this weekend and Ian said that I might as well enter Haku if I’m going to be there. Which seems very foolish indeed, there is just about nothing I feel confident about with Haku and herding at this point. The goal was to maybe try a trial in February, after our practice this month – but I also did not expect to be feeling confident at that point either, so, hey – why not? I have been assured that no one really expects to do anything in this class, and most people are just going to leave the post and go help their dogs anyway. So a good dry run of seeing how a trial works and I’m just calling it a little practice, rather than a competition. The hope is that we can do a little something, and hopefully next trial do a little something more. This will involve a fetch, lift, turn around the post, drive and hold. All things we can, sort of, do. You know, approximately.

As for Navarre, he continues to like Ian and seems to be figuring out inside flanks. They worked twice briefly and after a break Navarre did much better. This month is not about him at all, but I’m really glad that he’s been getting to have some time as well – some days I think he may actually figure this herding thing out. But lying down … not so much, he’ll stop (you know, eventually), maybe even bow, but definitely not one of Nature’s Downers.

Winter of Herding: Day Ten

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Oh good lord, this did not go well today. Back in Scio and I had been thinking about all the things I wanted to try, but it ended up we got a ram that had Haku’s number and all I got to do was try to help Haku move that damn sheep. Poor Haku, he sees a sheep coming for him and he is just getting out of the way. Not a powerful dog, my Haku, he will not be moving any sheep that challenges him. Even cute little shetland sheep. So that was frustrating, and Haku is just the sweetest soul.

We wanted to work on lifting off another person and dog, as Haku hasn’t seen much of that. Besides the ram issue, Haku was just cutting in weirdly with the person there, and, of course, the farther away I am the more I’m just at a loss how to help him. So not a lot of success with lifting off another team, and we tried doing this with Dove and Ian later on … which did not go well either, for either party. He COULD do it, but was not at all on balance to me, and then we had to go catch the sheep. Those little sheep can RUN.

We did work on some driving, but with me RIGHT there to move that stupid ram. And I tired my best not to shout no matter what catastrophe was going on, and I felt like we had a 60% success rate on Haku doing the correct flanks. So, yeah, not feeling AT ALL better about this weekend. Tomorrow is another day, right?

Navarre did pretty good with Ian though – more pushy, but with a little help he’s starting to get this inside flank thing. Pretty much terrible at actually knowing his flanks on cue, which is not something we’ve ever worked on – and it shows. His driving is getting more confident, much less going back in question to Ian. And, OMG, so excited. I have made two very happy border collies with my little herding adventure this winter, and, if nothing else, that makes it worth it. Bright thinks this whole plan is STUPID. She’ll get to go back to agility in February …

Winter of Herding: Day Eleven

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Up to Brigands, I had things to do up north anyway and it was a ‘new’ location for this particular adventure, though Haku has been there before. We just did a little lesson with Dave, Navarre was pretty pissed when he didn’t get a turn – poor guy. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to write, “Herding today, it went well.” And I won’t be saying that today either. Maybe someday?

Different sheep, new location, Haku started off just wanting to bring me the sheep when we started with what should have been a relatively simple exercise of driving the sheep to the gate. These sheep were not much into moving, and Haku was not much into listening – and, boy, is it discouraging when right off the bat you can’t do something that should be simple. Sigh.

So, we finally moved the sheep down to the bigger field and worked mostly on driving. It was nice that these sheep weren’t trying to bolt to hills, but I think both Haku and I needed to readjust to heavier sheep. We did, eventually, have some vaguely straight drives through some cones. Haku IS better at driving, especially at the farther distances, than he used to be. He’s much more confident with further outruns too, but we still have issues coming in too fast. We’re just going to keep moving forward, one of these days it will come together … right?

I think the lesson here is that in new locations and with new sheep, Haku REALLY doesn’t trust I know what I’m doing – and defaults to just bringing them to me until he gets a better feel for them. So, good to know. And thankfully we have been practicing in the field where the trial is this weekend, so that should hopefully help us. A little.

And we still have two more days until the trial, plenty of time to fix … everything!

Winter of Herding: Day Twelve

Getting close to the halfway mark, I’m pleased that I have been able to squeeze in as much as I have during the break so far. It’s been a fun herding vacation, though I’m not getting a whole lot done otherwise. Traveling there and back ends up taking way more of my day than I had anticipated, and when you’re doing that every day, I seem way busier than I actually am to take care of everything else I have on my list for break.

But herding has been really interesting, different and certainly challenging. It’s very helpful to be working with a dog that I don’t worry about ‘ruining’ or getting it right at all. Haku is enthusiastic and thinks it’s awesome pretty much no matter what we do, no matter how frustrated I get, how much shouting there is or confusing handling – he is in his happy place. He most definitely doesn’t feel the need for a break. He’s going to be sadly disappointed it’s not all about Haku when I return to classes in a couple weeks.

Today we had our dry run for our dry run at the trial this weekend. I tried to get as much information about how the trial would run, what we needed to do, when we needed to get ready, when we went out, when we started, what everything would look like, what we should look for – and, most importantly, what to do when things go really wrong. My goal is to give it our best shot, aim to get through the pieces in an approximate way, leave the post if my dog seems at all in trouble and try not to make too much of a mess of things. I have no ambitions for a score at this point, but I’m hopeful that sometime this year we will be able to get through it all somewhat smoothly. That day is not likely to be Saturday. That’s okay though, we’re just going to keep moving forward and see how much we can progress.

So our first practice run went … okay. Not GOOD, of course, that never happens, but it wasn’t a total disaster. As expected our first go he just can’t seem to lift the sheep gently, and those sheep are ready to RUN to their friends – so, yeah, no way in hell was he getting the first panels. I was happy to catch those sheep and bring them pretty nicely around the post, and we had some drunk driving going on, but some nice parts too. And, once again, nothing that was ridiculous. And the hold seemed fairly simple. Apparently I’m allowed to tell the sheep to ‘stay’, which I found amusing. Ian proclaimed it a good ranch run (where expectations are very, very low), so I’ll take it.

And our second run we actually got some sheep through the panels on the fetch – 3 out of 4! Then it kind of went to hell, catching those damn sheep. I’d love for my dog to be calm and thoughtful on his fetch, but unless he’s full out running to stop those little bastards from escaping, he’s not going to hold onto them – and they’re DETERMINED to get down field. And then our post turn was a mess, but some okay driving. We’ve definitely improved on driving the last couple weeks.

So our biggest weakness at the moment is that I have absolutely no control when he’s lifting sheep at that distance. He just learned how to do that the last couple weeks, obviously, with the bigger fields. He’s definitely got the distance now, very confident with his outruns, but he doesn’t have control at a distance yet. The good news, they aren’t using these sheep that are constantly trying to escape for the trial this weekend, they’re using different sheep, who will want to escape to a totally different side of the field. And hopefully not in such a vigorous fashion. I’m not going to fix our lift problem by Saturday though, so he’s pretty much on his own as I can’t really help him at all. BRING ME THE SHEEP, HAKU. Gently.

And Navarre got his little time at the end, and I worked him this time – I haven’t worked Navarre for a while. Apparently I now need to switch cues, as Ian uses Comebye and I use Go-bye. So Haku gets to stick with Go-Bye, Navarre is Comebye – because that’s not confusing AT ALL. But it was true, he did respond better to comebye, which I still think is not a good verbal, but dogs are smart, they’ll figure out. So now I can’t use COME, I have to use HERE. Ah, herding.

So, the bad news, Navarre still sucks at the whole ‘walking with sheep’ thing. The good news, Ian says there no reason he needs to do that exercise, and he should only be fetching and driving without me moving at all. So, hey, apparently we get a free pass at sucking at an exercise we haven’t be able to do for years. Ian said that he already knows how to fetch, so there is no reason for him to do the whole walking with sheep exercise.

So, just looking at fetching and driving, he’s actually doing pretty well. I thought he was ridiculously close to the sheep both fetching and driving, but Ian said he was fine as the sheep weren’t running or spreading out – so apparently being 2 inches off the damn sheep was working just fine for him. So, once again, apparently that whole trying to get him to have distance from sheep thing for years was wasted effort. Ian then tried to take Navarre out to the big field to show that with more flighty sheep Navarre wouldn’t be that close – and Navarre promptly lost the sheep out the gate. Whoops. Being responsible for catching sheep has never been his job, I think.

Still, was kind of fun to run Navarre today. Despite still feeling like we were battling the same old issues, when given the go ahead to just let him get that close to the sheep he COULD move them pretty damn well. Navarre really likes driving! Now Navarre, he will get to do things when he’s ready – none of this rushing through the process like with Haku. Sorry Navarre, you have to actually do things correctly.

Winter of Herding: Day Thirteen

One last practice before the trial, and another uncommonly warm January day. I keep thinking we’ll finally get our Portland Winter, but it’s no where to be seen this year. We still have a couple more weeks that I consider ‘winter’, so we’ll see.

Things went suspiciously well for Haku and I today … very suspiciously indeed. To be fair, I had already decided I was going to just ignore his outrun and lift, as that’s clearly something we need to work on, but isn’t going to be fixed by tomorrow. Much more relaxing to just wait until he gets in ‘range’ and slow him down then. Then, once again, we weren’t GOOD, but it wasn’t hard today. Haku was responding to cues when I gave them, I wasn’t ridiculously early or late, we just got to … move sheep. In a mostly calm and relaxed way. We stopped while we were ahead after doing several fairly nice drives and holds with some fairly flighty sheep. So, yeah, that’s a nice way to practice right before a trial. And tomorrow … our first trial. It’s at the very end of the trial, I have very low expectations, I think we can do the things in a very rough sense – maybe some of it will go well, probably some of it won’t. It’s all good, love my little guy. Winter of Herding for the win.

As for Navarre, he worked with Dave today and it was interesting that he was less responsive than he was when I worked him yesterday. Definitely not lying down, and Dave was sprinting across the field to make it happen. I actually felt fairly good about Navarre’s lie downs the day before, so I was bit surprised Navarre was being SO oblivious.

Thinking about it more, Navarre’s much more relaxed at Ian’s than with Dave, but they are working on the same behaviors – but with two very different types of pressure. Dave is very quiet and uses physical pressure and moving into the dog, Ian uses verbal pressure and doesn’t move much at all, for the most part. As to why Navarre may feel more comfortable with verbal rather physical pressure, I would say I don’t use physical pressure in training much at all – never have. I talk to my dogs, they understand verbal pressure a lot more than physical pressure.

So Navarre definitely got more responsive with his downs by the end of the session, and he most definitely was not lying down at all in the beginning. However, you could see mentally that it was a lot of pressure that he doesn’t feel at Ian’s. Now I’m curious if I worked him at Dave’s what kind of response I would get. I haven’t worked him there in a long time, and he’s come a long way since then.

We did end at looking at some shedding, as unfortunately I think I’m going to have to learn it. I hear it can be ‘really fun’. It doesn’t LOOK fun, but you never know unless you try. So we talked about recall cues, and I feel for a shed a ‘come to hand’ cue seems really, well, handy. Navarre has a fairly good come to hand cue, as we’ve worked on it quite a bit. I did try it out a little in with the sheep, and it was hard for him, but he could do it. So I think once my herding vacation is over one of my skills I can work on with both dogs is coming to hand in the face of distractions. I can’t really use ‘come’ anymore as a recall cue, at least in herding, as that means something totally different. ‘Here’ is really general too. So step number one before we start looking at the world of shedding, proofing a come to hand cue.

But first, a real trial! I never thought I’d see the day, it’s fun doing something new!

Mr. Jonathon Brisbee 5/29/01 – 1/2/19

Bruce emailed me that he had to put Brisbee down today, struggling with dementia and mobility. He was 17.5, he would have turned 18 in May. It’s not unexpected, but it’s hard to think of him, and all the old crew, are gone now. Poco, Fenwick and Brisbee were a force to be reckoned with, back in the day. They all taught me so much, we went through so much together – and Brisbee was especially challenging. So very smart, and so very, very worried about the world. No other dog taught me more about working with a fearful, stress filled dog.

Brisbee had his happy side though, he LOVED to run – not with any of the other dogs, or to chase a toy, just by himself … just running for no reason other than the love of it. That’s when I feel he was the most happy, and I’m so glad he got to stay on the property that and continue to be active in a place he knew. Even before the divorce he was having issues with dementia and neurological problems, it was important he felt comfortable. Though Brisbee just loved his comfort in general, that boy loved the softer things in life, and he was a perfect companion for Bruce – he was happy to just lay around all day until it was time to go for a run.

Brisbee’s agility career was not so much about agility as it was building confidence. I never cared about him qualifying, but enjoying the process – and there was certainly a lot of highs and lows with Brisbee. I think it helped him learn to cope better with the world, that it wasn’t so scary and that he could be brave and adventurous. He was really fun to run … when everything was going well. Agility was not a huge part of his life, but he came a LONG way.

He was such a part of my life for so long, they all were – I will also think of those three as a group, and I hope they are happy together now. End of an era, three exceptional dogs with exceptionally long lifespans. I was lucky to have them as long as they did, and I’m sure they had a wonderful life with Bruce after the divorce. I miss them, they very much shaped where I am today and they were such incredibly good friends and companions. I very much miss them all.