Mini Winter of Herding

Asher continues to be a fun little herding dog. I need to stop calling him little though, he’s all puppy in brain but size-wise he’s definitely looking more adult! We have achieved some reasonable communication on sheep and he has the basic understanding that he should balance them to me, flank either direction, stop and walk up – if I walk and change directions he will cover as necessary. So that’s really cool, we went from nothing to some basic understanding that this is a team effort. Navarre has yet to get that memo, so Asher already has one up on him.

We attempted one session of introducing the tiniest of outruns and that was a complete failure. While he’s very thoughtful and understands how to cover the sheep (to a certain extent) when I already have control of the sheep, he continues to have absolutely no idea how to gather the sheep in any sort of calm fashion. It’s run straight at them (well, maybe a LITTLE bit of a gather, but not in a helpful way) and scatter them in all directions every time. After the initial chaos he settles down and brings them to me, but that chaos is pretty predictable every time we start. So I don’t like practicing that behavior, which often also involves him ignoring my stay to race off like a maniac. But I have been informed to just ignore it and not make a big deal out of it, so I will. Asher is a good boy, he’ll figure it out in time.

I do need to decide how I’m using my rattle bottle, as Ian pointed out I’m using it both as ‘direction’ and ‘correction’, which I can see would be confusing. Asher obviously isn’t at all actually bothered by the sound, but it does seem to help him understand what I want. Or don’t want. So, yeah, need to figure out exactly what my rattle bottle is actually going to mean. I guess in my mind when I use it when he does things like slicing flanks and overrunning sheep, I AM giving him information – move out, slow down. So, hm. As I didn’t want to mess with that today at Ian’s, I just didn’t really use it – and he was definitely, uh, less controlled. Lots of racing/slicing flanks and things that I don’t care for. However, Ian is not a fan of correcting sliced/rushed flanks with puppies, but letting them figure out to get to balance, and then later on fixing how they get there. I may have PTSD from Navarre though, so I’m reluctant to let him practice that kind of thing.

Still, this was with Asher working Ian’s sheep out in the big field – what a good puppy! This group wasn’t super crazy though, and seemed very tolerant of my puppy and didn’t seem to have any big ambitions to go anywhere. So that helps.  Apparently my job is to run backwards, which is a lot to ask in mud with big boots on. Ian’s field is relatively flat, Heidi’s is most definitely not. But the point being is that Asher has to actually feel like he’s pushing the sheep past me before I can ask him to slow down and not push the sheep past me. If the sheep are just walking at their own speed and get past me, that has nothing to do with the dog. So first get Asher to learn to push … and then get him to slow down is our homework. Though really, the babydoll sheep at Heidi’s it’s ridiculously hard to get them OFF of you. For our one attempt at doing tiny outruns I had to actually get AWAY from the sheep, and it didn’t seem to matter how close I walked towards Asher, they wouldn’t get off my legs. So that probably didn’t help the issue, I suppose.

One thing I’m very careful with is Asher’s tendency to disconnect and just keep flanking away from the sheep. He’s always done it, so I don’t think it’s anything I taught, just how he’ll deal with stress, I think. So he doesn’t always do it, but with too much pressure he will. He actually didn’t do much of it today, just one REAL big disconnect when we started out and the sheep went everywhere and I think he was a bit overwhelmed.

Super happy with what he’s doing, having a lot of fun with him and he very much enjoys it. However, there are things he likes better. For instance, at Heidi’s I’d use ‘that’ll do’ when we were done with the session and then go play with dogs. Which Asher REALLY likes. So now when he hears ‘that’ll do’ he runs to a gate and stands there expectantly to go play with dogs, and it takes some coaxing to call him back. So I’ve started to use ‘with me’ instead when I need to call him off sheep, but don’t want to stop working completely. He is very happy to call off, which I find novel, but he enjoys it very much and doesn’t want to get back in the car afterwards. Dork. We have been enjoying our Mini Winter of Herding, I’m trying to think how many times he’s been on sheep this year – 5 or 6 times out of 10 days? Something like that. Plenty for a puppy. We will continue to play until Heidi moves, then we’ll go back to just sporadic practice until I can figure out another option.

As for Navarre, he’s had an issue the last two times he worked with Ian of NOT MOVING SHEEP. Which is just odd, it’s not something that has ever happened to him before. But he’s had sheep that basically turned around and said ‘no’, and Navarre didn’t know what to do about it. He just gets ‘stuck’ in a staring contest and Ian has to go all the way to him to get him ‘unstuck’. So Navarre doesn’t know how to move stubborn sheep, and he’s such a sweetheart I don’t think it really occurs to him that he could force the issue. Kind of weird I had never seen it before and now it’s happened twice. Not sure what that’s about.

Ian and Navarre did attempt the pronovice course with less sheep, but they were totally sedate, and things actually ended up being harder because of that. Herding is always a mystery. Ian said that Navarre needed to square his flanks because he would go too tight and push the sheep to run too much. Which was not news to ME, I’ve been attempting to get him to give some damn space to the sheep since he was a puppy. So they worked on that. Which is good, because the other day after I worked Asher I went ahead and gave Navarre a try, I was having so much fun with Asher I figured Navarre could come out and do some very basic stuff too. OMG – going to strangle him. And Navarre not only wouldn’t listen at all, he was now stressed and eating poo – Navarre and me are a TERRIBLE COMBO. I don’t know what it is, but we just cannot work sheep together, not for anything. So, yeah, maybe Ian is the only one that will ever run him. Who knows?

As for Haku, he did have quite the herding adventure last week with Dave. We went out to work him in the small arena, as I didn’t want to do any big outruns with him. And we get out there and, ziiip, the sheep run out a gate Dave forget to close into the big field and started to make a run for it. Haku valiantly ran out to catch them, and finally, quite far away, he turned them … and then lost them. Possibly because he didn’t know where I was at that point. So then he turns to go get them and he disappears over the hill. And he obviously couldn’t hear me, but I figured he’d be back. But he didn’t come back, so we started walking out to go find him – and kept walking and walking. I don’t know how long he was gone, but eventually here he comes from a completely different direction, bringing me a herd of goats. So, yeah, I don’t know what he was doing out there, but he had a good time. He was, however, pretty sore for a couple days after that.

Adjusting some plans for 2020, the big focus since back in October was looking to find some property to move to. I really liked the idea, I think it’s a good move to eventually have my own arena, and I think both me and the dogs are ready for rural life again. However, as I’m not fabulously rich, my options have been somewhat limited. I have been optimistic that something will come along, and was hopeful that during the winter and holiday season I might be able to sneak in and grab a property without too much competition. I’m in no particular hurry to make the move, but have been ready to go ahead and make the major life change since I decided that this is what I wanted to do.

Made a lot of big angsty decisions about location and possible implications on the future, but after my third offer that has gone nowhere, I’m recognizing that this isn’t going to be as straightforward as I had hoped. And it’s frustrating and disappointing to go ahead and make the huge decision to make an offer, and then have nothing come of it. I don’t like that feeling, and I think it’s because I did have unrealistic expectations that it would be a relatively simple process. I’m not just buying a house, it will eventually be my business as well, there is a lot going into each decision.

Going put the whole process on the back burner, I was trying to power ahead with the changes – but this is all pretty much out of my control, so I need to treat it as such. It’s hard for me, I like to be in control of things and actively working towards things once I’ve made that decision – but no point putting all this energy into something I really can’t influence at all. Also need to look at other locations as well, but for now I recognize that it’s just not something I can actively plan for. It’s a move that will hopefully happen in the next couple years, but I’m in no particular rush so I need to just relax. I do like where I live now and we are happy here – what is the expression, something like ‘want is the source of suffering’? Something like that, and it’s true. When we are focusing on what we don’t have, we lose the joy in what we already possess. I do like my life we have set up in Hubbard, while I think moving to property is a good next move for us, that is no reason to lose sight that we have a wonderful life here already, and don’t need anything else to make us happy.

2020!

Good lord, I can’t believe we’re now living in 2020. I remember how crazy it was when was 1999, something that seemed insanely far in the future when I was a child. And as a child 2020 was so far in the future you might as well be talking about sci-fi at that point. And in some ways it crazy how much life has changed since 2000, I feel so thankful that I lived through that amazing transition time of ‘before the internet’ and ‘after the internet’. I love the internet, it’s amazing and magical to have all the world’s information just out there for you at an instant (well, if you can find it!). To be able to communicate so easily with people all over the world, it’s still just mindblowing. But I’m also glad I got to have my childhood before the world of social media, I can’t even imagine growing up with that sort of rampant hatred and negativity that people so easily throw around on the internet that they would never do to someone’s face – and children are just evil. I feel like I was last generation that got to HAVE a childhood, where you left the house in the morning and came back at night and just got to ‘be a kid’ as they say. I also think this will be last really cool sounding date milestone of my lifetime, so I guess now is the time to live it up.

I love the new year, I am an optimist at heart, and there is so much possibility at the beginnings of everything. I love the beginnings of books, puppies and starting new things. I am not a destination person though, I have very limited interest in ‘finishing’ things, I don’t care about the result, but I love the journey. So we shall see what 2020 brings into life.

So far I am really so impressed with my puppy, he is just so much fun to work with – too fun! He just loves agility and it picks it up so quickly, we went from doing almost nothing to do these actual sequences in just a few weeks. And he really doesn’t need to be doing it yet, as much fun as it is he needs to grow up more. So it’s good we finished up teaching agility for now, as we had way too much fun introducing all sorts of skills this week with some small sequences. Time to take a break though and come back to it when he’s a little older.

Some of the sequences we progressed up to this week:

The question is what can I do with this puppy that very much NEEDS mental work, but he’s just not old enough to do much yet? He has lots of tricks, still needs some work on his conditioning exercises. We have done very little obedience, I think that would be a good focus for the next few months. Some things to work on off the top of my head:

  • Heeling
  • Fronts
  • Finishes
  • Go Outs
  • Scent Articles
  • Glove Retrieves
  • Dumbell Retrieves
  • Drop on Recall
  • Stand for Exam
  • Fitness bone/donut balance
  • Position changes with front feet platform
  • Individual back leg lifts
  • Side legs
  • Side stepping
  • Roll a peanut
  • Deliver the damn squeaky toy to my hand
  • Proofing agility flatwork exercises with distractions
  • Running contact flatwork training

Then there is the question, is he old enough to progress with sheep, or does he need to grow up more there? I don’t want to push him too hard or overface him when he’s too young. But herding is pretty low impact, so at least physically I don’t think it’s inappropriate for his age. So contemplating whether I want to attempt to get some training progress on him this winter in herding or just wait until he’s older. I have no need to push for more from other than the fact that I have TIME at the moment. And, yes, he needs something to do.

I did look into a possible baby dog agility seminar with him in February (he’d be 10 months), but it’s an international handler and I don’t plan to introduce ‘backsides’ and things of that nature until he’s older. So I don’t know if it would really be appropriate for him. I do need to actually work him around other dogs (well, other than my own!) at some point. An obedience class would be a nice option, but that’s a unicorn that’s not likely to happen. Ah, teenage dog purgatory.

As for the other dogs, Navarre has both a herding trial and an agility trial this weekend – he’ll be busy! Bright is also entered in the the agility trial, and I jumped her at 20 this week and she had no knocked bars at all and looked very comfortable and confident. Too confident, she was making shit up again, but physically she looks good. I’m looking forward to running them both, they are such fun dogs. Look, even a little video of them – including when Asher couldn’t help himself and got kicked out 😉

I am a little surprised that Asher is still not lifting his leg. Never has, just pees like a girl. Once again, he’s not that old, but I’ve never had a boy dog make it past 7 months before they started to lift their legs. Someone mentioned it may because the other dogs do continue to keep him in check quite a bit, but I think he’s just still just a big floppy puppy – his brother lifts his though, and HIGH! Asher got a measurement at the agility trial, 21.25, which is what he looks like. He just feels so BIG now, that whole litter is very substantial. I just don’t want him to go over 22, he doesn’t need to measure into the 24 inch class … Navarre continued to grow quite a bit after 18 months, so that’s scary. Fingers crossed.

The agility trial was fun, I like doing the one day trials with lots of runs. Bright had a fabulous time, in fact she was so happy to be there she started doing something she’s NEVER done which is scoot past the first obstacle! So that was one NQ right there, I was shocked, even when she moved quite a bit I thought she’d still get it. And the next run she scooted a lot too. To be fair, I don’t put her on a formal stay, I just leave her in a stand from her stressy younger years. So, yeah, it may be time for a stay! She was really happy though, no knocked bars, was moving really well and felt so easy to run. I wish dogs could stay this age forever, she’s just perfect!

Navarre, on the other hand, really struggled in all his runs. He started off first run the weavepoles were like the third obstacle, got in and then started skipping poles, pulled him out and he went to WRONG side of the entrance twice – so we left. So that was odd. But in his next run I stood dead still and waited for him to get to like pole 6 until I saw he had those weaves, but then overhandled a next section and pulled him off a jump. But then he couldn’t seem to understand a threadle cue, which was odd. We finished up and celebrated. Third run, got through a VERY nasty twisty tight opening (ugh, not happy with some of the spacing this weekend, unfortunately) and, once again, enters and just starts randomly skipping poles. Tried it three times and he couldn’t do it, so we left. I went to find the chiropractor, but she was gone already. I went ahead and ran him on his last run and, sure enough, skipped poles. But I gave him one more chance and really helped him out and he got through them, big party and we finished up and celebrated. So that was nice to end of a good note. Not sure what to think about the weaves, he is a big guy and they are not easy for him. We haven’t practiced them much lately, because he never seems to have much issues I don’t want to do a lot of repetitions with him. The only thing I can think of is he pulled something at the herding trial the day before. I haven’t seen anything since, but I’ll keep my eye on him.

As for the herding trial, I’m calling it a success. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but there weren’t any big issues other than, uh, a lot of speed. You got 7 minutes for the course, he did it in under 3. There are conflicting opinions about whether Navarre was really responsible for the speed issue, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t help. Which isn’t to say he didn’t try, he was really trying very hard and actually giving the sheep a lot of space, but it wasn’t enough, it was an all out race through that run. It was fun to see Ian still be able to work with Navarre that quickly (which I most certainly would not have been able to). It always amuses me when Ian says how good Navarre was being while he was yelling at him constantly. There was a lot ‘NAVARRE, YOU LIE DOWN!’. They did a great job though, getting almost all the panels, and a very nice outrun for Navarre.

I think Navarre is getting the hang of this trialing thing, at least at Scio with Ian. Though Ian was saying that Navarre never works with small groups of sheep, that’s why they were so flighty. He’s got no one to blame but himself for that one, I don’t choose how many sheep he works with! So something to practice before their last winter trial on February. Who knows what else he’ll end up doing trial-wise this year, but he’s at least got a score in his last three Pro-Novice runs. I think that’s a good place to start. Ian is all concerned about finding him an Open handler for this summer. I, personally, am not at all worried about it. When Navarre starts getting ‘too good’ for ProNovice, then we can think about it. I don’t know who else could handle Navarre though, much less in Open, especially considering he’s trained to Ian’s whistles. I did ask Dave, as they obviously work well together, but it didn’t sound like anything he was really interested in. So we’ll see, but I’m pretty damn sure I will not be that handler.

As for MY herding project, I did get the go ahead from Ian and Dave to work Asher a bit more this month, with no particular training goals, but more exposure. It was rather comical, at Ian’s I forgot my herding boots, and his field is quite a mucky mess. I had intended to work Asher myself, but gave him to Ian. Apparently the only field available was the big field, with like 10 crazy Ian sheep. Oh my, total chaos and Asher could care less about any yelling on Ian’s part. I gave a bit to see if they could figure it out, but I had to take my tennis shoes out in that field and work my puppy. Who found that whole experience REALLY EXCITING. He definitely listens to me better, but I didn’t have any sort of stick or rattle bottle so we called that quits pretty quickly.

If nothing else, that experience really made Asher way more excited and pushy! So when we went to Dave’s the next day we went out with his much more sedate sheep and Asher was still quite, uh, full of himself. But I had my little rattle bottle and much more control of the situation. Asher is definitely getting pushier, my goal is for him not to turn into Navarre! However, just a little bit too much pressure, such as we were working on him giving to pressure and it only took about two repetitions to turn him completely away from the sheep. So it’s a balance, and something we can work on. I had grand plans to go out to Heidi’s and work with the babydoll sheep while I still had access to them, but the weather is not cooperating. But we’ll try to get more practice this week, having a lot of fun with my little guy.

Went hiking with Ravi this week (Flea is season and had to miss it, unfortunately!). The boys did great together, no issues! They are quite a party, those two. It was much warmer than it had been, and Asher was just really spun with Ravi and his family being there and just would NOT stop running around like a maniac (which is what he just does these days, even without any help). I was seriously concerned he was going to get heat stroke as his little eyes were bugging out and he would just not take a break or just WALK somewhere. I made everyone stop to try to get him to chill out, but he really didn’t chill until near the end of the hike when he just looked exhausted – and we cut the hike short as I was worried about him! So, yeah, 8 month old red head maniac. When he can run, he just RUNS … and runs … and runs … and runs. And he’s not chasing anyone, he just keeps going and going. It’s an interesting trait. He stays close, he comes when called, but he will not stop voluntarily. I’m hoping he may grow out of this.