Back Up Dancer

We had our first herding injury, not to Navarre or me, but to a sheep. I’m not sure when it happened, but a sheep broke its leg – I assume when Navarre was bringing them out of the trees. Navarre wasn’t doing anything inappropriate or dangerous, but it happened none-the-less, and it makes me very sad. I didn’t want to ask, but I assume sheep that break their legs don’t get little sheep casts.

I hate to think of anything I’m doing to be actually hurting another animal. And I realize it was probably just a freak thing, but it was hard to see that dangling leg. And I was trying to help bring the sheep all the way back down to the pens afterwards, but Navarre is NOT the dog I wanted anywhere near that sheep after that so I’m sure I was no help at all trying to stay 100 feet away at that point.

So that put a sad damper on my feelings about herding, as I really don’t want to hurt any sheep. I recognize that herding is about stock first and the dog second, but it’s been easy to focus on the dogs instead as my boys are so polite. They are perhaps too respectful – I definitely prefer that to any sort of gripping or chasing. Navarre will occasionally goose some sheep in a drive-by slice, but that’s about the worst thing either of them have ever done.  So I’ve just never worried about the safety of the sheep when herding, but shit happens, unfortunately. So a hard note to end on, though we did do a little more afterwards, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Now, before the broken sheep, things actually went fairly well. Sticking to the same plan, Ian works Navarre, then I do. Ian worked on introducing whistles again, where, apparently Navarre is not a Whistling Natural. I guess some dogs pick it up very quickly … Navarre is not one of those. Our whistle work at home didn’t appear to have done much either, though my whistles probably sound a lot different than Ian’s anyway. Still, no rush, I suppose, he’ll get them when he gets them. The thing about Navarre, we have all the time in the world.

Then Navarre and I did our clumsy herding thing, but I did actually feel much better in general – like we have a tiny start of working together. That often requires me to ask everything three times, but Navarre seemed to be giving me a bit of slack today and actually including me. A little. I tried to do my best, Navarre seems to kind of suck at holding a straight driving line these days, and that’s really hard to fix with him. Need to remember to lie him down before asking for a flank to fix his bad lines though, things can go badly … rather quickly. Not in a horrible ‘sheep everywhere’ kind of way, just in that he’ll just bring them back to me. So still too fast, too close – but nothing as ridiculous as last week. I will say a tiny bit of progress which made me feel a lot better. Someday we may be able to do this. Hopefully.

At one point Ian and I were talking and the sheep made a break for the trees, Navarre caught them once (incorrectly, instead of flanking out he just put on the power boosters to go faster to head them off). The second time they did it he probably would have caught them, but he really didn’t want to send on his come-bye side, so while we screwing around with that the sheep got into the trees. Then we finally got Navarre to go on the correct flank into the trees … and the guardian dogs chased him off – arrgh. Poor guy, we finally got him to believe we knew what we were talking about and he got told off by some big dogs for it. Anyway, so we finally get him into the trees, and it took a bit for him to figure out to gather them out of there – he just wasn’t sure how to handle all the obstacles, but finally got them … and the broken sheep. The trees are not my favorite place to be, that’s for sure.

We also went out and saw Dave this week, where Dave found him ‘exceptionally pushy’. Which was kind of funny, as watching I felt like Navarre’s been much pushier than this. Working with Heather makes Navarre REALLY cocky, apparently. Which is why I still want Ian and Dave to work with him, he’s got a big enough head around sheep as it is.

Navarre does seem to have a different response at Dave’s place vs Ian’s place, which I initially assumed was the difference between the two trainers – but I think it may have more to do with the sheep. At Ian’s it’s always a ‘herd’ of sheep, like 6-20, who are very much non-fetchy. While at Dave’s it’s almost always three sheep, which are not super fetchy, but I think more so than Ian’s. We seem to work a lot around fences at Dave’s, while we are almost always in the middle of a huge field at Ian’s – not as many strong draws and pressure. Ian’s is flat, Dave’s is on a hill. Anyway, the point being, I’ve been a little surprised at the different dog that shows up at each.

At Dave’s this week, Navarre driving was way better – but his outruns were worse, especially his come-bye side (which is true at Ian’s as well). I always feel at a loss to fix bad outruns, and Navarre is no exception. So he just kept coming in and eyeing up before he got to balance, not super helpful. After watching Dave sprint all the way up the hill to fix it several times, I’ve decided to ignore that one for now. Navarre is better at Ian’s, so that gives me hope that it will magically fix itself – or someone else will fix it. I’m not much into hill sprints.

Then it was my turn with Navarre, and I really do feel so much calmer with Navarre … relatively speaking. And mostly when we’re driving, not fetching – which is what I’m going to focus on at the moment. It’s actually surprisingly easy to change Navarre’s speed on his drive, and get his down. It gives me great hope that we’ll be able to do this without butting heads the entire time. Eventually. So, yeah, weirdly enough, I already feel much better about Navarre’s driving than Haku’s, and the REALLY weird part – I also feel like I have much more ability to get Navarre to down on his fetch than Haku. Go figure.

Ended up feeling pretty good about Navarre and his unexpected change from backup dancer to main performer. Not what I had planned to do, but so far, so good – and it has been, mostly, fun. WAY more fun for Navarre though, he loves the sheep more than anything, he’s a different dog out there. Assuming Haku comes back next month, Navarre is going to be very put out.

We also plan to practice on Sunday. On the list is working on getting Navarre not to stop short when flanking and working on putting his walk up and stop whistles on sheep. It’s possible I could try his flank whistles as well, but I don’t think they sound very much like Ian’s. But they may never, so, hey. And driving, we can work on driving without getting in too much trouble. Hopefully.

I am a little less optimistic about Haku’s recovery time. We have been doing our heat and cold, stretching and assisi loops and keeping it chill this week. I decided to take him on our hike today, as they said that on-leash hiking would be fine. Haku thought it was kind of stupid, but still enjoyed the day. We kept it short and didn’t stay out too long, but he was limping by the time we were turning around and he was really off that afternoon. So that’s not a good sign. He continues to look the same, really. It hasn’t been that long, but not miraculous recovery so far.

The vet was not happy to hear that he couldn’t go for what was basically less than a one hour on leash hike before he started limping. Naturally, at his rehab appointment the day after he was doing none of that – and jumping around like a total spaz. She even tried putting him through some cavelettis to try and see where he was offloading, but he refused to walk through them, but did some very impressive serpentining and jumping. So back to taking it REALLY easy, he did his water treadmill and laser and we’ll back on … Monday? Assuming it doesn’t snow. Hoping to see Maddy this weekend as well.

While Navarre has been progressing in herding, I swear he’s regressing in agility. Bright has been good to pick up where we left off, but I swear everything I ask of Navarre we have to relearn it all over again. And here I thought he was a trained dog! Piff. Good thing we’re not trialing any time soon, I guess. He has a good time, as always, and got to run with his good friend Robert this week, who does a much better job at running than I do. So it’s all good. Right now I don’t have any plans to enter any agility trials until maybe April, which means we’ll have had about 6 months off trialing at that point. Which I was thinking was the longest break we’ve had from trialing, but this is actually not my first long break, I go through phases. Agility will have its day again, hopefully once Haku is ‘fixed’ and he’s not taking all my money.

Rehab

Perhaps because of worrying about Haku and the grand scheme of things, I just could not get into the obedience match over the weekend. I really had to force myself to go, and when I got there and saw we’d have to wait hours, I tried to stay – but couldn’t. Even bringing Navarre in and heeling around the rings we were just being goofy and not at all doing any sort of real work. Navarre was very cute and it was fun to visit with some seldom seen obedience folks, but we were not in the right frame of mind to do any good anyway, so we went home. I imagine we’ll get more serious about it all when the trial is closer, but I guess we’re going in cold – we’ll see how he does at the trial. I think he can do it. Probably. It will be a surprise! Really should work on some stays though, so silly to NQ because he starts throwing sit-pretty during the long sit.

After Haku’s laser treatment over the weekend he came home and his wrists were cracking super loudly – which was really freaky. Haku seems about the same movement-wise, and he’s still somewhat creaky, but not as much. Without toys he’s spending all his time stalking cats – they’re already pretty tired of it. Yeah, going to be a long month. But stalking cats is low impact, so, hey. REALLY hard to leave Haku at behind every day, his little face as the other dogs get to go and he doesn’t – ouch. Have I mentioned it’s going to be a long month?

Got a nice write up from Haku’s initial rehab appointment, I thought it was very thorough and well done, and a nice plan of attack and what they want to fix and how they plan to do that. We have some rehab homework for at home, and heating and icing and stretching and weight shifting. It gives Haku something to do. I haven’t noticed any big difference with any of his supplements so far, nor have I noticed any particular changes in personality on the CBD oil. It has not been that long though. I imagine (and hope, actually, as all of this is too expensive to maintain in the long term) most things we will phase out. Still waiting to start him on the ‘joint food’ and the elk velvet.

We’ve been back for our first rehab appointment, I was not very optimistic for the underwater treadmill. I had forgotten Mr. Mincy Feet, Haku has never been good on treadmills, we used to try at Bobbie’s and he moved with tiny mincing steps no matter what we did. Fortunately, while he started off like a dork at first, he did finally relax and walk fairly normally. I think it’s hard to mince when walking underwater. He was a little nervous about it, but once he got into his groove and got to carry a toy he felt better. I think he’ll learn to very much enjoy it over the next month, especially as he’s not getting much action otherwise. No loud cracking in his joints after his second laser treatment. We’ve also started using the Asssi Loop at home, which, hey, no idea if it’s doing anything. We are giving this a full go though, Haku really needs to be able to stay active, way more than my other dogs. Maybe at some point he will chill out … but not yet.

I was walking Navarre around the farm store and I suddenly noticed how BIG he’s gotten, I think just seeing him in an unusual setting. He’s one substantial dog, and I think he’s finally grown into his manly intactness. He’s got a huge chest with a big man mane and big manly head. He’s long and big boned and just SUBSTANTIAL. Thank god he doesn’t have a lot of coat, he would seem the size of a house. My little puppy is grown up and all manly. Manly LOOKING anyway, he’s still a giant puppy at heart. Hard to believe he’s almost 4, just imagine how much more mass he’ll have by seven. Oh my.

Navarre is easier to train than Haku … away from sheep. He can now lie down and walk up with whistles, on toys anyway. Now how much that will transfer to sheep, that’s another question. And I definitely like the brass whistle, feeling much better with it. Navarre finds whistle toy games to be super fun. I still suck at the away whistle, but maybe not quite as badly as I used to. Navarre thinks playing whistles is SUPER FUN. At least, away from sheep.

We did a little agility this week, Bright is so easy at this point, she is just so bendable and effortless – Navarre, omg, things always seem way harder than they need to be. We did a refresher of lines of threadles and pushes – we haven’t done those for a while and we’re definitely rusty. Bright is better at them, but Navarre is slower through them, therefore easier! Points to Navarre though, I was refreshing some contacts – Bright has zero criteria with her running dogwalk these days, no attempt to even hit at all. Navarre continues perfect, however. We’ll definitely be training my next dog right from the beginning, that’s for sure.

Week Two of Herding Navarre this week, at least, with me handling – we’ll see how it goes. Better, I hope.

Broken

Well, it’s official, Haku is broken. Our week long rest actually seemed to make things worse rather than better. It’s not like he’s three legged or anything, but it’s now been three weeks and there has been no improvement at all. I’m a big fan of waiting to see if it gets better on its own – but it’s now official, he’s broken. So we’re off to either, a) Fix him or, b) Figure out if this is just an effect of age. It’s possible it may just be arthritis.

We went down to a rehab place in Salem I haven’t been before, who gets big points for actually being able to get us in without having to wait months for an appointment. I liked the folks there, as did Haku, they were very good with him. He got a thorough once over and, as always, they were amazed at the complete lack of flexion in his wrists. Which, once again, is probably the source of the problem. Basically he does have quite a bit of arthritis going on his wrists, which means he’s compensating with his shoulders, which means he’s THEN compensating with his rear as well. So basically three out of four legs were sore, which is not a good ratio.

The good news, they didn’t find anything seriously wrong, any more than what has been an ongoing issue throughout his life. It’s just finding a way to help make him more comfortable and solve the inflammation he has going on at the moment.

  • So, first, he’s now on adequan shots – which I now remember I did actually do with London when he got older as well. I was never actually able to tell if they did anything though. From asking around, a lot of folks find that to be one of the best things you do with an older dog.
  • Second, he’s on rest for a month – no pouncing, running or jumping in any way (which is really the only way he ever MOVES, unfortunately). However, he CAN come for hikes and walks on leash, so at least that’s something. The hard part, I have to put up all the toys around here so he can’t obsessively pounce at them.
  • Third, laser twice a week for a month – we’ve had good luck with that and his wrists and shoulders in the past.
  • Fourth, water treadmill, which we did today and he did NOT like. We’ve done it in the past, but he’ll need to be retrained
  • Fifth, Maddy is going to come work on him – they don’t do body work at the rehab place. If we get a chance, we’ll see about getting in for chiro work if we can as well
  • Sixth, we have added many supplements to his diet, which may or may not make a difference. Currently he’s on Synovi4, CBD oil and 1-TDC. The rehab vet recommended adding elk antler velvet, which is one I’d never heard of. She also said she had seen surprisingly good results with feeding Purina vet joint formula, which I think may try with all the crazy DCM stuff that is going around anyway (my dogs haven’t been grain free diets for years, but it’s still concerning)
  • Seventh, we have his Back on Track coat and wrist wraps, and I’ll see if I want to try another woo-woo thing the rehab vet said people and dogs have had good results with, the Assisi Loop: https://assisianimalhealth.com/technology/ It’s really expensive, but then, so is all the rest of this.

So I feel like I know what is going on, I have a plan of attack to do everything I can to make him better/more comfortable. I know there is no ‘cure’ for his poor structure, it will continue to be an issue for the rest of his life. The goal is to make him as comfortable as possible and to try to make sure he can stay active as long as he can. The vet most definitely doesn’t want him to do less, unless it was things like agility or anything with jumping, but felt herding was a really good choice for his issues. Right now, sacrificing a month to get him back in action seems like a very mild trade off. However, he really is the worst dog to have on restriction, so we’re going to try our best to make this month off count and do everything we can to get him back on his feet.

I did enter Haku in a herding clinic in April, I REALLY want to work with him and not Navarre! Navarre is VERY READY to take over though. The backup dog is having his moment in the spotlight. Hopefully temporarily.

I did let Haku do some shedding practice this week, with the assumption that it would be lower impact and it was his last hurrah for a while. It did not end up being super low impact, as we, uh, are not very good at it. We were attempting to move sheep laterally through a path of cones and string out the group. We certainly did lots of unintentional shedding, I seem to be a natural at getting sheep going everywhere. That wasn’t actually the point of the exercise though, so I don’t think it counts. It was fun though, and Haku was SO HAPPY. And not at all off when he’s in action. Just when we’d gotten our groove down, so bummed to have to stop working with him. Alas. I’m hopeful that he’ll get to return though.

As for Navarre, it’s been all about him with herding this week – and I swear I think he knew his time had come. Right from the start it was obvious he was in full Pushy Navarre Mode. Ian could not get Navarre to lie down without his butt in the air, Navarre was just go-go-go. Ian introduced him to whistles and some shedding. Navarre most definitely does NOT have square flanks, nor was he at all interested in staying in a down when requested – so shedding intro did not go super well.

Then it was my turn, as without a Haku, it’s time for me to actually work with Navarre for real. This was the first time I had worked with Navarre with the mindset that we needed to actually be able to do this. It didn’t really help necessarily, but it was a different feel. When I assumed I’d have another year to focus on Haku, I wasn’t really ‘trying’ to do well with Navarre – he was someone else’s problem. So at least until Haku is better, Navarre is now my problem. Which, once again, made no real difference in the outcome. OMG, SO PUSHY.  I just felt like I was correcting everything he did because everything he did was scattering sheep because he was too damn close and too damn fast. And forget lying down, I only got a bow if I were lucky when I asked the third time.

Still, the funny part is that he CAN do so much more than he used to. He’s got outruns and inside flanks and driving and all sorts of things I never thought he could do. Yet, still somehow just as obnoxious as always. So we’re definitely not a team, and he very much thinks I don’t know what I’m doing. Ian seems to find his cocky self esteem on sheep endearing – me, not so much.

So the issues were pretty much the same, Ian is like, “You have to fix these things before they turn into a train wreck, your timing is really late.” And I’m like, “I KNOW it’s going wrong way before it does, but that doesn’t help when he’s not fucking listening!” We will get better, I’m sure. And now that Navarre’s filling in, maybe I will get better at handling – as you don’t have time to be uncertain or slow with Navarre, you’d better be correct and quick or it’s sheep everywhere.

We also had a lesson with Dave this week, we weren’t sure if Navarre was up for the full lesson, as he’s never done that before. Gave him to Dave first, as I was pretty darn sure with the ridiculousness from our last practice that he was going to need some serious reminders on backing off. And, oh, did he ever. But the good news, he did finally settle down and they went out into the big field and did some nice work. Navarre is surprisingly tentative about more long distance driving there than at Ian’s, for whatever reason.

After being reminded that herding was a team sport, it was my turn with Navarre again – and I really did not want to yell and get frustrated. My questions were about what I need to do when he doesn’t listen and things go badly, as I know they most definitely will. However, Navarre actually has some nice skills on sheep these days, helpfully trained by people far more experienced than me. For me, attempting to handle him it’s not about teaching Navarre what to do, it’s getting him to actually respond when I ask so we don’t devolve into a giant argument.

With that in mind, my second attempt to ACTUALLY run Navarre went much better. There was still lots of taking the sheep from Navarre, but I felt more like we were out there together. Somewhat. So much better than our previous attempt, I’m much more optimistic that we’ll eventually get our shit together. This time at least, we could do some things.

So my current goal is to get Navarre ready to go to the herding clinic if Haku isn’t going to be able to (and even if he is, it would be nice to be able to split the time, Haku isn’t young!). I’m still going to split lessons with both Ian and Dave where they will still work with Navarre, and then I will afterwards. Of everything I’ve done in herding, I’ve found watching someone else work my dogs is the most helpful way for me to learn. And that way Navarre actually gets to learn something, as opposed to with me, I’m just trying to learn to handle Navarre, not teach him a damn thing. So far, Navarre very much approves of this plan and is having no problem at all stepping up for more. He really, really, really likes sheep. A ridiculous amount.

I’ve also been continuing to work on replicating whistles at home, I’m feeling better about mine after getting some clarification from Ian. I may be able to do these. At least, an approximation. I do definitely like the brass whistle best. I introduced Navarre to his stop whistle this week, he caught on quickly like Haku did. When it’s the FIRST whistle, that is the easiest, that’s for sure. I’ve tried adding another with Haku, but when he hears any whistle he just lies down, no matter what the sound – hard to train more with the whistles off of sheep. Anne made me a fancy lanyard for my whistle, so now I feel very official and will stop losing it … hopefully. May be a good idea to get a stock stick with Navarre – I don’t usually use one, but with Navarre … well, yeah, I need EMPHASIS a lot.

Randomly, as I have been keeping track, with our Winter of Herding we have now been on sheep 35 times in the last two months. In March we will change to the Spring of Herding, which won’t have nearly as much sheep action.

As for agility, I actually ran other people’s dogs a lot more than my own this week, which is fun. Every dog is so different! Dogs just love agility, it makes me happy. And Navarre got to run with his good friend Robert in class, who really RUNS and makes Navarre so very happy.

Worked a little on Navarre with obedience, his recall is so much better than it used to be! In practice, anyway, we’ll see how he does at the match this weekend. He was forging a lot in heeling, we haven’t been practicing. I am feeling optimistic that the run throughs will go well, despite the fact that we haven’t practiced any of the Open exercises as well. April is right around the corner.

Especially with the unexpected Haku Rehab Expenses, we will not be doing any agility trialing for a while – but we’ll still get lots of agility in.

Incoming Puppies?

Exciting puppy news, Navarre’s sister Dove is currently having a hot date with adorable tri boy in Idaho. Fingers crossed for puppies to play with in April! I think they’re going to be really nice puppies, assuming they come to exist. The plan is to see how this litter turns out, and if they are awesome, try for a repeat breeding in the future.

The sire actually goes back to Beanweenie above, who I puppyraised many years ago and was just the sweetest puppy – he is the reason I have Haku. Now Haku isn’t actually related to the sire of these puppies, but this dog’s grandfather was Bean’s father (and Bean’s mother is Haku’s mother). Anyway, so there is a random connection, and Rooster is a super nice dog, nice lines, lovely temperament, lovely jumper, lovely herding dog, great family dog – I’m excited to see what they produce. Hopefully. Don’t want to count the puppies before they’re born, I suppose.

I do very much want some of the puppies to stay local though, so if you’re looking for a border collie, I’d definitely recommend them. I think they’ll be nice dogs to live with, not neurotic or weird, friendly, happy and fun. I think they’ll be good agility dogs, and possibly good herding dogs too – which is a bonus.

Bonnie’s Rooster, one talented hopeful baby daddy (around 21 inches and 42lbs):

And Dovey, of course (around 19.5 inches and 35lbs):

So fingers crossed everything goes smoothly and puppies in a couple months!

Been kind of enjoying not going to agility trials for the past few months, though that wasn’t really the original plan. Sometimes I see some fun courses, but there is a whole lot of not very interesting stuff that costs a lot and requires a lot of travel and traffic. I don’t want to enter UKI as they can have just terrible courses, and USDAA is few and far between and the day filled with games I have no interest in.

So, meh, there just isn’t a venue out there that really calls my name to spend a bunch of money. Certainly no venues at all that actually reward people to push and do their best, it’s just collecting qualifiers for this or that, and I don’t want to have to spend all year going to trials so I can finally COMPETE at one trial a year I have to drive halfway across the country for. I love agility, I love to train it, I don’t feel like there is a venue out there that really makes me really want to enter it for the price.

UKI just added some new rules and regulations. Everyone is very excited about ‘fix and go’, which is fine. I don’t really need a trial to train my dogs, I can do that much cheaper at home. AKC is starting to refine their next batch of changes. There were some odd ones that I don’t understand the purpose of, like changing 6 weaves to 12 in novice. Is that really the place in agility we need to make things HARDER? Would be nice to get rid of the table, and, yes, of course bitches in heat should be allowed at the very least at major events. I like the concept of getting rid of spread jumps in preferred, but, yeah, that is a major time waster throughout the day taking them out and back. I’d be okay with just getting rid of spreads completely, but I don’t see that happening.

I didn’t see anything in either venue about actually having some concept where we encourage teams to actually push and try their best, and I didn’t expect it. Agility seems kind of stagnant in america, no reason for people to be faster or better handlers, just qualify and there you go. Faster dogs qualify less, so why bother to try to be faster or a better handler? There is absolutely no benefit whatsoever to ‘winning’. Just get through things and you’ll be much more successful. Yet I like that everyone is encouraged to play in the US, that is the very heart of agility for me, as long as you and your dog are having a good time together, it’s all good.

So no big agility plans this year, maybe the UKI ‘cup’ that Daisy putting on in the summer. I assume that will have fun courses, and feel like a real competition. Maybe a USDAA trial in March and a random AKC trial here and there. Maybe next year we’ll give 24 a try with Navarre, but this year, just chillin.

I am looking at some herding workshops, clinics and, yes, possibly even USBCHA trials where I’d have to actually (gasp!) travel. As I haven’t seen much locally, and we ARE on a time crunch here. So maybe going up to Fido’s or Packleader at some point, but I’d love to get Haku some experience on the fields there so we’d have a better chance of being successful. Maybe go out to eastern Oregon or Idaho as well for some clinics as well. We shall see, I’m open to seeing what we can learn this year. And still planning on Navarre’s obedience debut in April, we have a fun match this weekend to give a full run through and see what needs to be fixed.

It needs to stop fake snowing though, I cancelled all my herding plans over the weekend and ended up with just about ZERO snow. Hmph. I practiced my whistles, which may be a tiny bit better, but still are not even remotely good. Let’s just say if I were choosing herding whistles, they would probably not be Ian’s – mine would be much simpler. One step at a time. I now own three whistles (plastic, metal and brass) they all sound different and have easy and hard things about them – which isn’t super helpful.

Haku STILL seems periodically off to me in the front though, even though I’ve been leaving him at home when I take the dogs out and stretching him twice a day. So that’s annoying. He’s had the occasional front end lameness throughout his life, and usually rest will do it – if he’s REALLY broken I’m going to be very upset. Giving it more time though, it’s nothing huge, he certainly doesn’t think he’s broken – and he’s awful pissed at being left behind. He’s on the CBD oil and new supplements now, so we’ll see if they help as well.

Snow!

Oregon snow is such a tease, they will build it up and dangle it as a possibility, but often nothing comes of it. We did finally get some snow this week though – and there is supposed to be a bigger storm next week! So winter came late this year – just so I could have my Winter of Herding, I imagine.

It cracks me up how a dusting of snow can completely shut down the Portland area, but it is killer to drive on. It was lovely snow once it finally arrived though, Oregon snow is beautiful – even though I never got to actually see it fall, I enjoyed the winter wonderland I woke up to. Cold too, down in the low 20s, not used to this kind of weather, it’s been so warm. And more snow on the way! It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a real February snow storm.

With Haku’s latest issue, I did decide it was time to try some more potent joint supplements and see if that helps him out. Especially in his wrists, he just has no shock absorption at all, so I imagine he has arthritis in his wrists and toes. The logical thing to do would be to try one supplement at a time, but as I got a variety of suggestions, many of which have very different ingredients, we’re going to try a few different things. I did order Haku his own CBD oil, which I figure even if it does nothing for any aches and pains can only help chill him out, right? Then a couple different joint supplements as well. He’s on some generic stuff right now, and has been most of his life, but I think it’s time to get something stronger. Then I figure as the things run out, I’ll see if I notice a difference towards the worse, which would encourage me to buy them again. But we’ll have several months to try out his new drugs. Or snake oil, whichever they may be.

While we’ve been off this week because of the snow and cold we worked on our come to hand cue for shedding. Navarre is very good, because we’ve worked on his so much – Haku still can confuse it for other behaviors. They both did very good at pushing in-between two other dogs to come through to hand when asked – just trying to create some artificial pressure to come through. They both could do it with exciting toys strewn about as well. So, at least we can say we have worked on a recall cue that means come in to me.

We did our first shedding lesson with Ian in the very arctic morning hours, it was a frosty foggy icy wonderland. Much like most things in herding, I don’t really understand it. But apparently now is the time that Haku needs square flanks, but really shouldn’t do them otherwise. How he’s supposed to know the difference is by me being close. How I’m supposed to tell him that, well, not entirely sure, but he did okay for not knowing these new rules. Our issue was his little steps towards me he’d make when he’d lie down or I would ask for a flank, didn’t take much and sheep were bending around me.

We were able to do some keeping the sheep between us while we walked sideways, we created gaps, his flanks were square-r, I have a vague idea of what should be happening. We did not attempt any actual shedding, just working on getting Haku to move correctly to stop the sheep and split the sheep. Something we can practice. Apparently I should have 20 sheep to practice this with. I don’t have 20 sheep. Haku was VERY happy to work and trying really hard, as all of this was close stuff I think we both felt more relaxed, even though it was new.

Navarre and Ian continue to move along, Navarre takes it all very seriously and tries to be correct (for Dave and Ian, anyway). He doesn’t quite believe in the world of inside flanks yet, so that takes some convincing, especially at a distance. Today he was pulling to the left for all his drives, for some reason, so there needed to be a lot of inside flank corrections to his path. He did some nice outruns though, I continue to be amazed how much distance he’ll give the sheep now. Sometimes, at least.

New project, I have to see if I can replicate Ian’s whistles. If Ian is going to teach them to Navarre, they need to be something I can do as well. This may take a while. I should have taken more music classes as a child. Herding gives you things to work on that I most definitely would not have otherwise. I ordered another whistle, but I don’t think that’s going to be the magic solution. And I swear a lot of the whistle commands sound alike to me. Dogs are pretty amazing for figuring it out. Or they have much better hearing for tones than I do.

In the meantime, more snow is coming! I’d love to go the forest when it’s snowing, but, alas, I’m not that brave and my car is not meant for snow or ice. Maybe we can think of other creative things to do in the snow locally, as I think we’re going to have more time on our hands if we get even more snow next week.

Ranch Champion!

We did it! We got all the way around the course and got our first herding score today. It didn’t feel out of control, we didn’t lose any sheep, I barely had to yell at all – it felt good! It wasn’t super precise, but that’s not our strength in any sport, that’s for sure. It was very FAST, or, at least, it felt like it. I didn’t have anyone video, which I really should try and do because I weirdly have had very little recollection of the two trial runs we’ve had. I usually have a very good short term memory, so something about herding trials blocks it out for me.

The weather, once again, cooperated – which continues to amuse me. The universe is really shining on herding for me and Haku. I’m glad we did our dry run trial back in January, it’s nice to know how everything works and what to expect. I enjoyed watching for a couple hours beforehand, it always makes me feel better to see much more experienced people having the same issues I have, and it’s very helpful to see how things SHOULD be done too (and how to fix things). Obviously being able to practice on the exact same set-up is also a huge advantage, I imagine things would not have gone as well if we would have tried at a brand new location. Haku knew what to expect, I knew what to expect – the question was which Haku was going to show up for the trial.

So, yeah, thankfully Good Haku decided to make an appearance – possibly because he desperate for action after being on lock down all week. Once again, I honestly don’t really remember the details, which I find crazy. We weren’t out there for long. Outrun was okay, he at least slowed down on his lift with my whistle (but did not lie down), no problem working with the set up crew and then … shit, I don’t remember. Did we get some sheep through the fetch panels? I want to say we got some, but it’s crazy that I don’t remember. It definitely went better than last time, he was still fast but not frantic and sheep were not scattering. I tried another whistle about half way and he didn’t respond, which is when I yelled to get the down (which he did). Then that put us a little off for our turn around the post though, so that was way wide, but we went into our drive pretty straight. My goal was to keep Haku moving, so I did not ask him to lie down at all on the drive. That I remember. So it was a little wobbly, but we got through the drive panels and our turn was good and our hold was real quick – and I’m like, “That’s it?”

Super happy that I felt like we were out there together, we did the best we could and it felt really good to actually get through it. I know Haku could do it, but this was a test for me to see if I could – it was nice to feel like this was something we could do together. Really helped that Haku wasn’t freestyling, so I could stay calm and relaxed – those two probably go hand in hand.

And we even won the class, which, okay, it’s the baby dog class – but that’s where we are, and I’m proud we could do it. Our first score together: 51. So we have a mug that proclaims Haku is a ‘Ranch Champion’, which I felt seemed a little exaggerating the achievement, but we’re going to take it anyway. And there is also the very real possibility that maybe we won’t get a lot of other trialing opportunities, so we’re going to celebrate every one like it’s our last. I’m perfectly happy to say we trained to the point where we could get through a trial, that’s not a bad place to get to.

We do have further goals, though no trials in the near future. I think Ian said the next local trial wasn’t until May or something. So the goal is to train to feel confident we can do some higher level stuff by then, and to train Haku how to shed for his AKC herding career with Carol as well. She is planning to take him up north in April, so we have a couple months to work on that. Hopefully. I like training, and now that we’re back to our erratic practice schedule, that doesn’t really give us a lot of opportunities to practice between now and then. So no slacking off now, we have goals.

Knock on wood, Haku looked sound today and looks sound tonight. He hasn’t done anything since mid-week, and the actual herding run WAS pretty short. Hopefully he’s back to 100% in no time, if not already. I know he had a good time today, though he thought that wasn’t nearly enough herding for him.

And Navarre was pissed waiting in the car at the trial, poor guy. It has not been an action packed week for dogs with Haku being out of commission, unfortunately. Hopefully next week we get back into our groove. Assuming we’re not snowed in – ha!

What Would I Do Differently?

I continue to be very happy with Justine’s handling system in agility. Weird that I became a ‘system’ girl, but there you go. It works for me and I think trained skills are hugely beneficial to my students, even if they don’t train the more complex threadle/backside skills. I really admire some other handling styles, I love watching Jenny Damm and similar styles – I admire it, but find it too hard for me to get the timing right. For me, the trained cues make more sense, but I always love agility done well, no matter what style.

I believe I’ve taken every online class Justine has offered through the years. We have done every skill drill she has offered. It taught me so much about handling and about what each specific dog needed. It’s challenging in a really fun way, though, admittedly, not really useful at all. American style agility doesn’t really have a need for the more international skills.

Justine’s most recent class was ‘Tryout Prep’, basically following along with her preparation to get ready to try out for some sort of overseas world team event. They seem to have more events of that nature up there in Canada, or maybe it just seems like it. I have not gone through all the exercises she presented in the first class yet, there were A LOT! It does make me wistful though, I love the idea of actually getting ready to go to a big event that you need a lot of advanced skills for – what fun! We do have FCI tryouts here, that’s pretty much as far as you can go in agility in the US. Maybe UKI nationals? You know, that never moves out of Florida – the farthest state from Oregon possible. I have zero interest in flying my dog to europe, or even across the country. So, yeah, not super motivated to actually be prepared to ‘prep’ for anything. Good thing I still like agility for agility.

Did just a short bit of herding with Haku to test him out, he did okay, but still looked a little off in front after. So he’s been continuing to rest, but I’m hopeful he’ll get to play at the trial this weekend. Well, mostly it’s me that wants to play, as it’s our last local trial until May – unless I want to travel. Safe to say, I don’t want to travel. We’ll still have plenty of herding practice though, so I can always just assume by May we’ll just be fricken awesome. As for this trial … well, maybe a little less awesome. I’m hoping we can get around the course, we CAN do it, but maybe it won’t happen – maybe the sheep won’t cooperate, maybe Haku will blow through everything, maybe we’ll lose sheep. We shall see.

Navarre got to fill in for Haku today with Dave, which doesn’t work super well. Navarre doesn’t have much mental stamina, so we we didn’t go very long. I don’t think it’s a physical stamina issue, as that’s never been a problem in general, but mental work like that kind of blows is brain. The good news, he is trying VERY HARD to take the handler into consideration these days. And you can tell sometimes he thinks the commands are stupid and I swear I can see him rolling his eyes before he very reluctantly goes into a down when he clearly feels he already knew what needed to be done. But he’s doing it, and not just completely blowing off the handler. A whole new world.

This was Navarre’s first time in the big field at Dave’s, which is still a much smaller field than Ian’s, so, as expected, it wasn’t an issue. He didn’t lose any sheep, though he was, as Dave said, using an excessive amount of eye for just about everything, for whatever reason. He was much more responsive than he was earlier in the week though. He did some driving, where he’s getting very confident with that with distance. He wasn’t doing great with his outruns, at least, how Dave would like to see them. I could be wrong, as I often am in the world of herding, but I think that’s one place that Ian and Dave differ, how they want outruns to look like. Navarre is very good at gently turning sheep without having to go way out to do it, it seems much more efficient than Haku.

Dave’s theory in why Navarre is way pushier for me in herding is because we do play training in all other aspects of his life. Can’t really deny this, it is how I prefer to train my dogs and has given me very reliable behaviors in everything else we do. Yes, I certainly have a lot of party in my training, and maybe that does influence how Navarre reacts when working with me. Dave was talking about how he doesn’t care if dogs like him, as he said, he can always use ‘stockholm syndrome’ to get that. Ah, herding. Definitely a different world. And kind of creepy.

However, I don’t use play training to get my dogs to like me – I use it because I want a dog that is actively involved in the training process, and is pushing me to play/work. I find it way more effective and easy to train a dog that actively wants to be part of the process, the behaviors I’m training will be hell of a lot of stronger if the dog chooses to work rather than me forcing or bribing them to.

I think herding trainers never have to worry about actively involving their dogs because they only keep dogs that are so highly driven for sheep that they won’t turn off of them no matter how much pressure and negatives are used. Navarre might have been tired, he may have been lying in the water while we talked, but he never, ever took his eyes off the sheep and waiting for an opportunity to get back to it. Herding people like Navarre a lot.

I don’t know enough about herding to reinvent the wheel here, but I’m definitely not sold on the concept that dogs need this much pressure to learn herding correctly. I have had no end of old school obedience people tell me there is no way around it, you must make sure your dog knows they don’t have a choice but to bring back the dumbbell on the retrieve or they will one day decide they’re not going to do it. Many people have told me this and similar firmly held beliefs on training obedience. They say maybe you can train positively for agility, but for obedience, you MUST teach your dog that they HAVE to do it. And I don’t agree, I don’t care what breed you’re training, living beings will work better if they choose to, rather than forced to. Is herding really that different? Hard to say, I’m going to continue to follow the advice of people that know a lot more than me on the subject, but I have an open mind. About a lot of things.

So the question would be, when I do get another dog – would I change how I raise them? I don’t see the benefit. Herding, much like everything else I do with my dogs, is something we do for fun. And sometimes it’s also challenging and frustrating – but most things worth doing are. Assuming my next dog does herding, I hope to have a much broader picture of what the end game is supposed to look like and the steps to get there. With that in mind, I would certainly hope I will be a better trainer for my next dog – in all things. However, life rarely goes according to plan – dogs are all individuals, and that’s what you can’t really understand until that particular dog is in front of you.

Just randomly thinking about it, what would I do differently with my next dog? Every dog teaches me so much, and hindsight is always an issue.

Things I would do different with my next dog:

  • Insurance?: I’m still up in the air on this one, probably only because I haven’t had a major issue in many years. I’m probably due a blown knee or something crazy. But is it worth paying the insurance, or just saving up? And, of course, as soon as I got insurance for the puppy one of the adult dogs will have something horribly expensive come up.
  • Come to Hand: For agility, Navarre has taught me the value of this one – our bypass is good, but a good come to hand really is … handy
  • Multiple Threadle Cues: While I don’t want to end up with ten thousand verbal cues, I think my dogs get confused with threadle vs threadle rears enough that this would be worthwhile
  • Reward From Hand: I don’t know what it is, but I have such a hard time doing this. Not that rewarding ahead is bad, but having a dog that actually chases you is actually a good thing
  • Value for the Manners Minder: It does make training contacts easier, and it was a huge pain that I had to use it as a no-reward marker for Navarre. Teaching this to a puppy would much easier. Assuming the puppy likes food …
  • Platform and Mat Sends: I’ve been teaching these in my foundation classes these days and they are so much fun for baby dogs to put together sequences with these and tunnels. I like them a lot more than wraps for teaching foundation handling

Things I would do the same:

  • Body Awareness: I did a ton more body awareness with Navarre than my previous dogs and it shows, he is crazy good at knowing where his body is and moving each part individually. So easy to work on conditioning and strengthening
  • Hold Positions: Again, Navarre was the first dog I really focused on holding whatever position he was in – so super helpful!
  • Justine Handling: I like it, it works, we’ll stick with it for new puppy and agility
  • Running Contacts: Once you go running, you just can’t go back – though I do actually like having both
  • Hugging: I really feel this has helped my dogs learn to deal in a positive way with other dogs in their space, I will now teach all my dogs from the start about hugging and being hugged – and that it’s a good thing
  • Swimming: I love me a swimming dog – as a puppy is the time to teach it
  • Obedience: I do like having these behaviors, even if I never use them – and puppyhood is a good time to teach the basics of all the exercises

Well, and there are a lot of things I would do the same – most of the things! But what I have learned by having the opportunity to do a lot of puppy raising, just let the dog tell you when they’re ready. You can have all the plans in the world, but just enjoy the ride and let your dog discover the world as you go along. You’ll get there eventually. I don’t really have anything I would change OR do different with herding and my next dog, assuming they even do herding – I just don’t have enough of a frame of reference to say.

In the meantime, tomorrow is our OFFICIAL herding trial debut (our previous was just our ‘dry run’) – I wish I felt more positive about it, but we still get points for trying in my book. Old herding dog with limited time for the win! Actually being prepared is for sissies.