Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Road: Day 14

The work: Vergil Holland

I love Kentucky, and I especially love the Lexington area, so stopping at Vergil’s place in nearby Cynthiana gave me that feeling of being right at home. That morning was quite similar to the previous; very hot and very humid.

Knox playing in the hotel room.

Little Knox was a bit fussier that morning in his crate on the ride over, but when we arrived, Vergil was still working dogs with a previous visitor, so I had a good chance to take the pup out and let him play. It also occurred to me after all this traveling, that if I couldn’t get photos of the dogs while I worked, I could at least get a few photos of the place so you readers believe I was actually there. ;)

This way to the trial field!

Guinea fowl. Love them!

A peacock showing off, unfortunately facing the wrong direction for photos! 
(and inconveniently behind a fence)

Not sure if this is the same bird as above.

Typical Lexington-area barn, likely an old tobacco barn.

When it was my turn to work, we took a short drive to one of his larger fields. I thought it would be fine, as I don’t have to use the entirety of a large field just because I’m working in it; we can still work as close as need be. I worked Seamus first, and he went out tight, and ignored all information I tried to provide to him about how he needed to approach those sheep. The results were predictable, of course; sheep scattered and running and me needing to do my own share of running too—not fun on that hot, muggy morning!

Naturally, we revised the plan and moved back to a smaller field closer to the house. I think it was similar in size or possibly slightly larger than the one we’d worked in at Jack Knox’s. Vergil observed that Seamus was not taking much control or responsibility for the sheep on the lift and the fetch, which I agree with. He showed an exercise that in basic practice was somewhat similar to the corner exercise that Nyle had used. We’d send the dog a fairly short distance, and move laterally back and forth to meet him if he overran at the top, and continued to meet him on the fetch. He wanted him to feel the balance better, and we did some balance work using this type of exercise. Vergil wants the dogs to be responsible for what happens to the sheep basically until they are told not to, that is, until the human takes responsibility off the dog by telling them to lie down (or of course, that’ll do). Seamus really shaped up and got tuned in to me much better, but we needed to give him a break as he’d gotten very hot (me too!).

Two of Vergil's fields. The field in the foreground is where we worked 
(this is only a small part of the near end of it.)

We put Seamus up for a bit and worked Dare on the same sort of exercises, also with very good results. He felt that generally, my dogs were not taking responsibility because they were basically always being told what to do with the sheep (flanking, take time, etc). I did see a difference in both dogs, both in their work and their attitude, which softened and became more relaxed. It gave me some things to really think about, the first being that they probably really do need more balance work. Secondly, I’d need to decide what I wanted to do about the top of the outrun and lift. Some folks, perhaps most, think it’s best to let the dog find the balance. Others feel that in a trial situation, it’s best to tell the dog where to turn in, because the pressure at the top in a trial is artificial, and when the dog on course takes the sheep away from the pressure of the setout dog and handler, the sheep are likely to react to the pressures of the field. If the dog on course has found the balance based on the feel at the top when sheep are being HELD, it may well be in the wrong spot when the setout dog has released the sheep, so it may actually push the sheep off-line. (I understand this way of thinking but I’m not sure I’m explaining it well!)

Anyway, after working Dare, it was quite a bit later than I’d meant to be on the road, and the heat and humidity was wearing me out. Vergil really wanted us to work Seamus once more to get second chance to practice and reinforce what Seamus and I had learned, and I agreed, so Seamus worked again, in place of Bran. It was worth it as Seamus worked quite nicely and I had the chance to reinforce the methods for myself, too.

After some deliciously cold water and a chance for all the dogs and the puppy to play a bit and potty, I loaded up and got back on the road.

The takeaway: Make the dogs take more responsibility, rather than constantly telling them things (such as that they should flank to cover).


The trip: Kentucky to Pennsylvania
The mileage: About 430
The time: About 8 hours

This was a nice drive through beautiful country, but by the time I got going, I was quite tired, so I had no motivation to try to get snapshots, and sadly, I don’t remember any little interesting or amusing details about this drive. But here’s a neat flower from the day before (somewhere in Missiouri, I think), that I forgot to post in the last entry.

Next: Working with Jack Monsour.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the Road – Days 12 & 13: I Pick Up a Hitchhiker

The route: Colorado to Missouri
The mileage: 730
The time: A blur; something around 13 hours.

Tip: Colorado Hwy 10 should be traveled with a full gas tank and an empty bladder.

Saturday, July 16, I started home, and had a full day’s drive ahead of me. I got on the road before 6 am, and the drive through southeastern Colorado was pretty, in a high-desert sort of way that was different to the central mountain areas near Aspen (which has been receiving more than their share of rain this season and was lush and green). There was a great opportunity for another “Not in New Jersey” shot of elk crossing road signs, but I missed every one of them, unfortunately!

The Spanish Peaks are volcanic mountains about 85 miles from Alamosa.
They were a significant landmark on the historic Santa Fe trail. 

I drove through eastern Colorado, Kansas, and into Missouri as that section of the country was experiencing a terrible heat wave. It was 91 degrees in Lamar, CO before 10 AM, and 106 when I was east of Dodge City, KS…and it wasn’t a dry heat. The further east I got, the more humid it got. It was also quite windy, which I suppose helped, but just felt like the heat waves rolling out of a hot oven. Considering the wind and open space, I thought I’d see more wind farms, but I only saw a few windmills. Maybe they are at too great a risk of being destroyed by tornados.

Kind of cute in western Kansas.

Some sort of fence decorations for sale? I don't know what they are. 
They lined the road frontage of a property in Kansas.

I don’t forsee myself ever desiring to move to southwestern Kansas, unless the alternative is unemployment. The first little bit where I was still somewhat in high desert near the border with Colorado was kind of interesting, though greenery was only found in planted, irrigated fields.

Some of the walls of underpasses near Wichita, I think, had very intricate and interesting designs. The first one or two I noticed were much prettier than this, but of course I wasn't ready with the camera phone.

Somewhere in central Kansas...

The closer I got to Missouri, the better-looking central Kansas became. 
More rolling, and more green. Much more inviting to me. 
And so was this:


Sunday morning dawned very humid and just gross; the sort of day when you walk outside and it’s so muggy that you can hardly tell if you’re sweating or if it’s just the moisture in the air settling on your face and body. Gah!

Jack and Kathy Knox have a large farm with a large flock of North Country Cheviots (I think he said). The barns and house sit on the highest points of the property with a beautiful view all around.

As usual, no one available to photograph my lesson. We worked in a small field, an acre or two, just right. A common theme at Jack’s clinic’s is (basically) make the wrong difficult and the right easy. He usually chooses to let the dogs make a decision about how they are working, and correcting them when they make bad choice, as opposed to what comes more naturally to me; trying to prevent something from going wrong. It’s hard for me to let go and let that happen, but I can see how letting the dog make the choice and then showing that there are consequences for the wrong can make a bigger impression on a dog than always trying to step in and MAKE the right happen.

Seamus was being a little goofy, but with Jack backing me up, we were able to get his head on straight and working pretty well for me. Another suggestion from Jack was to take pressure OFF the dog when asking them to go wider. So, if I wanted to send Seamus to the right (the direction he doesn’t like as much), I should lean or step left as I send him. He feels this releases the dog and frees them up to go wider, and it does seem to work. It seems to make sense to me that coming into the dog’s “bubble” would make the dog more nervous and tense, just as when the dog comes into the sheep’s bubble.

Jack himself worked Seamus a bit more, and was able to get some very nice work from him. Once again, I’m inspired by what I know he CAN do, and can’t wait to get myself there as a handler!

I don’t recall which dog I worked next but it was probably Dare. Between the heat of the day and the week that has passed since then, I am having a difficult time recalling details about working Dare, but I do recall that part of what we worked on was similar to Nyle Sealine’s approach; getting her to come around wider at the top to fix the top and her inside flanks, and she responded well to this. I think because I trust her the most of all my dogs, and I know she’s not going to make a mess of things, I tend to let things slide, and she doesn’t mind taking advantage of doing things the way that seems easier for her.

When I worked Bran, we had a bit of an interruption; Seamus had gotten out of the crate, and come across the road to the field, discovered the group of sheep waiting to be worked in the courtyard area, got in, and started chasing. I was so mad at myself for not securing his crate properly! Of course I didn’t recall not securing it, but I’m sure he didn’t magick his way out of the crate…so there I go with my first and hopefully last loose dog experience. I’m so glad that their road/driveway was absolutely devoid of traffic. I leashed Bran and was just reacting without thinking, trying to get through all the gates with Bran on my arm, to get to Seamus. Jack called Seamus over to the fence and he came, so Jack just lifted him over the fence and chained him up in the field where we were working. I hated that Seamus learned that busting out of his crate could have some really fun results, because he’ll probably keep testing his crate from now on. The up side to this is that he had to watch quietly while I worked another dog.

Little miss independent Bran can be quite hardheaded about doing things with her own agenda, but she is also a sensitive dog. This is part of what makes her difficult to work, and it was especially so when I was trying to get her started. I often feel like working Bran is a lot more work for me than it is when I work the other dogs. But, she really seemed to like Jack’s pressure-off method, and responded to me quite well when I was able to step back and ask for the lie down. This was really, really hard for me, as I always feel she is going to resist it every time, and I have basically become conditioned to stepping towards her to enforce it. If I can break that habit, I think she will work better for me.

The takeaway: Take the pressure off.


The route: Missouri to Kentucky
The mileage: 643 miles
The time: About 12 hours

I picked up a hitchhiker in Butler. His name is Knox.

This little pup is from one of Kathy's current Open dogs, Imp. Clint. His dam is Peg, who is Imp. Jake x Faith, who is by her 1995 Finals Champion Ettrick Bob. He was sold to a gal in Maryland. It just so happened that the gal has a friend who lives quite close to my stop in Pennsylvania, and the friend was planning to go to Maryland that weekend. So, I agreed to take the pup with me, if we could fit a crate on my front seat. My car was packed so full that it was the only place left for a crate.

Jack found a crate, which fit just right on the seat, gathered up some puppy food to hopefully avoid any tummy upsets while traveling, and even provided a towel for the pup’s crate. The bolts for the puppy crate could not be found, so ultimately, we zip-tied the crate together, and I got on the road rather late. Little Knox may be the most perfect puppy I’ve ever traveled with. He was totally quiet and content in his crate, although he’d probably never been in one before, only whimpering just a little when he really had to stop and potty. He was not bothered by having to potty on a leash, either, and I’m sure he’d never been on a leash. When we got to our hotel in Kentucky, I put his crate between the girls’ crates, thinking he’d find the presence of the two dogs more comforting than mine, but he fussed a bit. I brought his crate next to my bed and he settled down and slept through the night (about six hours due to our late arrival). What a good puppy!

Knox in Appleton City, MO.

 Next: Working with Vergil Holland.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On the Road – Day 11

I was looking back at some of my posts, and realized I hadn’t uploaded any photos of Seamus’s dam, Tina’s Bree. I’d meant to, but I’m not exactly speedy at blogging, and uploading photos via my wimpy netbook over wi-fi while on the road tended to be a challenge, so apparently I missed adding them. Here’s Bree from July 9.

Bringing the work flock.

Turning on a dime!

The Nicomedes Gulch Trial in Monte Vista, Colorado, started with an Open trial on Friday, judged by Laura Hicks. Two Ranch and two Nursery trials were run on Saturday, with Renee LeBree and Laura each judging a Ranch and a Nursery class. The second Open trial was on Sunday, judged by Renee LeBree.

The sheep were a leased flock of about 250 3-to-4 year old ewes, run in groups of five. They’d been put through the set out pens and pushed down the field to the exhaust the day before in groups of about 20 or so, but on the first day of the trial, they were still very difficult. The set out was about 300-400 yards away, I think, but in a little grove of trees. They were held at the top by a pair of riders. A shallow ditch crossed the field just downfield from the setout (no water but muddy in some spots). Most folks sent right as it seemed more likely for the dogs to lose sight of the sheep behind the trees if they went left. Many dogs had trouble finding the sheep, and if the got to them, there was some trouble getting them going down the field. The sheep would play ring-around-the-rosey behind the trees with the dog, and other similar avoidance tactics. The dogs who got them coming down the field had a lot of work keeping them online. The turn at the post was counter-clockwise. As they neared the bottom, the sheep seemed to want to drift or even bolt to the right just above the post, so the dogs had push the sheep back left. But when the dog got them low enough, the sheep would balk at being pushed back to the right again. If the dog overcame all this, the sheep then tended to start running as they approached the drive panels. The crossdrive was in a general direction they seemed to like to go, if the dog got them turned, but then it was a push back to the shedding ring for the 2/3 split, and finally, a pen, where many handlers timed out and left those 10 points on the field. The leading score last I looked on Friday was a 58! After all that, it still wasn’t quite time to relax, as the sheep generally did not want to go to the exhaust, creating a lot of extra work.

I took lots of photos. I don’t know all the handlers so I am making some guesses based on the running order. If anyone knows for sure, please feel free to comment with an ID or a correction if I’m wrong.

Laura Hicks’s Jag, hanging out while Laura judged. 
He’s a littermate to Ryn (Newby’s and Bran’s dam). Doesn’t Newby look like him? 

Dan Keeton and Newby, awaiting their run.

Judge Laura Hicks and her clerk, Sondra, I think?

Tina LePlatt and Tess.

Tess working for that turn at the post.

Newt Robinson and his interestingly-colored Soot (blue, perhaps?), exhausting sheep.

Newby working at the post. He was very patient with one or two ewes that broke off again and again, but finally got fed up and gripped.

Sometimes the set just couldn’t get headed to the exhaust after the run, so the group in the exhaust would have to be pushed out of the pen to draw the smaller packet in.

Amelia Smith and Mirk in the shedding ring.

The set out. See the sheep between the trees and near the horse? The dog on course is straight left of the sheep and tree, but you may not be able to pick him out in this size photo.

Dan and York at the pen.

Newt Robinson and Mik, I think, trying to get around the post. 
There was a lot of this as the dogs got hot and frustrated with the unwilling sheep.

Joni Swanke and Sage (?) repeat the scene as they try to keep their set gathered in the shedding ring.

Sage: “And there’s more where that came from!”

Lise Anderson's Mack (?) at the lift (little dot to the left of the sheep).

The set out crew: Neighbor kid in the pen, Terry LePlatt, Tom (?).

View from above: Cathy Balliu and Dan at the post.

Cathy’s Dan turning in at the top.

A Red-winged Blackbird contemplates whether he's due for a pedicure.

Pushing sheep up to get the next set into the chute.

Boing! Boing! Boing! If you scroll down really fast, it'll be as if they're animated. ;) 

Neighbors’ barn.

This raptor took off right in front of me. Of course I didn’t have the camera ready, and it got away before I could get a good look at it. Cathy Balliu and I spent some time looking at a bird ID app trying to guess what it was. I finally settled on a Red-tailed Hawk as they are pretty common and it seemed to sort of fit. But now that I’m looking at this one photo I managed to get, 
I wonder if it could be an owl; it seems to have a white face and a cobby body.

Karen Stanley and Meg (?) trying to get around the post.

The creek (main irrigation ditch).

Gary Scott and Amelia Smith check the scores.

Jim Swift and Zac (?) get their 2/3 split. 
The sheep finally settled a little bit near the end of the day, 
and this was a really nice run if I recall correctly. 

Chuck Riley and Moss (?) at the pen. Another really nice run.

Someone with a cute puppy (possibly Joni’s).

Laura E’s Ike enthusiastically getting a better view of the action!

Pushing the flock out to gather the most recent set which wouldn’t go to the exhaust.

This ewe slipped through the barbed wire fence after one of the early runs, and spent the day next to the exhaust pen wishing she was in it with her friends.

When the majority of the flock was pushed out of the exhaust, she decided she'd rather came through the water than be left alone.

Sending most of the flock over the bridge to the night field.

Either Libby Nieder and Sydney (?) having their first run, or someone else having a re-run.

Next: Homeward bound (this post was long enough!), and working with Jack Knox.