Sunday, August 7, 2011

On the Road Home: Day 15

The work: Jack Monsour

My final day on the road was once again hot and humid; the heat wave from the Midwest followed me back east. Fortunately, it wasn’t as miserable as the previous few days.

Jack Monsour is a gentleman who had been quite involved with trialing quite some time ago, but hasn’t trialed in years. His dog work is now focused on raising and training dogs for use on his sheep farm, where he and his wife run about 1000 North Country Cheviots. They are also kept busy with the management of their vacation homes: Monsour Vacation Homes and Sheep Farm

I came to know of Jack through my friend Jan Mayr, who takes lessons from him as often as she can make the trip (nearly two hours each way). As I was talking with Jan about the itinerary for my trip, she asked whether I was going to stop by to visit. Jan lives in the outlying suburbs of Pittsburgh, which wasn’t on the way home from Vergil’s, but what worked well was to meet at Jack’s for a lesson. Happily, she was able to arrange that on somewhat short notice, and so I got in a quick visit with Jan and her husband Bob, as well meet and work with Jack for the first time.

Jan and I took turns working dogs, and first up was Jan and Ceilidh. Ceilidh is related to Dare, as she is a great-granddaughter to Walt Jagger’s Imp. Celt, and Dare is a granddaughter. Ceilidh is a fast, intense little dog who is hard to keep up with on sheep sometimes. She worked nicely, but very fast in Jack’s large round pen. They didn’t work very long as Jack suggested ending on a good note while she was still in a good state of mind.

Ceilidh looking for her sheep as she waits her turn.

Ceilidh coming way around to cover her sheep at the top of her outrun.

Next, I worked Seamus. Seamus was also working really fast, and I don’t think Jack was entirely comfortable with this young, unknown dog, so we worked in the round pen for the most part. This was fine with me, as I didn’t need more distance from him for what I wanted to work on. He wasn’t doing anything crazy, just acting young. After he settled a little bit and started working more like a dog who’d had some training, Jack suggested we practice gate work by pushing the sheep back and forth out of the round pen and into the larger field a few times, which we did, and Seamus was happy to have more space when he’d re-gather them in the larger field to push them back into the round pen.

Getting him thinking about holding them to me instead of pushing them past me. 
Photo by Jan Mayr.

Being a good boy and lying himself down. I don't care if he lies down or stands, as long as he stops.
Photo by Jan.

Bringing them from the larger field back into the round pen. 
Photo by Jan.

Jan’s Piper had his turn next. Piper is also related to Dare; they are both sired by Cheryl Williams’s Andy. As Dare is the easiest of my dogs for me, Piper is the easiest dog for Jan to handle. He was a good dog for Jan to ease back into stockwork with after a few years of not being involved. Like many Andy pups, Piper generally doesn’t want to get into trouble, so he is a careful, sometimes cautious worker.

Piper at the lift.

Piper holding his sheep to Jan.

After Piper, Dare and I worked. We also started in the round pen, and she was working well, so Jack seemed comfortable with us moving out to the larger field. We worked on a little driving. As I drove down the field, the sheep started to run down to the bottom; I didn’t know there was a gate there, which led to the woods where many other sheep were hanging out. Oops! Sent Dare on to regather, then drove them past me the other way. This time they ended in a corner near the barn, next to their bottle lamb buddies. Apparently I need to pay more attention to what pressures might be in an unfamiliar field! Dare gathered them out of the corner and we put them back into the round pen for the next dog.

Beginning a nice little drive, with me modeling the sophisticated look of a bug-net veil.
Photo by Jan.

Dare gathering out of the corner near the barn.
Photo by Jan.

Putting them back in the pen for the next dog.
Photo by Jan.

The humans and sheep needed a bit of a break, so I had a chance to talk to Jack a little bit more about his dogs (all of them go back to one of his first dogs), and how trialing differs now from when he was involved. I also got to meet Jan’s youngster, Gem. Gem is related to Bran, via CV Joe. Bran is a granddaughter of Joe, and Gem’s sire is a double grandson. I can’t wait to hear about Jan’s adventures with Gem as she grows up!

Gem: "Is it my turn next???"

The last of Jan’s dogs to work was Seeker. Seeker is yet another member of the extended family and a nephew of Dare. His dam is a daughter of Cheryl’s Andy. Seeker has more power and a bit more eye than Piper. He worked for the most part with purpose. He’s not as easy for Jan to handle as Piper, but I think easier than Ceilidh, as he is fast but not as fast as Cei. He resisted giving room to the sheep when sent to his uncomfortable side (sometimes he resisted flanking that way altogether), and Jack stepped in to give Jan backup, which sorted him out quickly. I am sure if Jan were able to work him more often, they could make some good progress. He’s a nice dog, and Jack likes him well enough to have bred one of his bitches to him earlier this year.

Seeker walking up on the sheep.

Fetching to Jan.

Working with Bran wrapped up my two-week adventure. Again, I worked in the large round pen. She was working rather predictably; not trying to make a mess, but not quite working with me, either, by constantly coming on into the sheep, coming on too fast, and over flanking (especially at the top). On the fetch, I couldn’t seem to get her to even think about pacing herself. Jack had an idea that he thought would make her more responsive than my frequent demands for her to lie down (half-ignored on her part) and my stick. He went back to extremely basic work with her, by sending her around, and coming through the sheep towards her if she pushed on too hard. After a few minutes, she settled and worked for him in a relaxed and somewhat thoughtful manner. Just another example of how what I am reactively doing with Bran doesn’t seem to be working. If I see what I’m doing isn’t working that well, and what other folks are showing DOES work, why is it so hard for me to break the bad habits and remember to do what works? Insanity (doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results)?

Starting a little drive in the pen. 
Photo by Jan.

Why we were still in the pen: "Whee! I'm fetching sheep! Hooray! Running behind sheep is fun!"
Photo by Jan.

Jan had to work that afternoon so they got on the road after I finished up with Bran. I got all my dogs out again for a bit and chatted with Jack, who encouraged me to think more about the work the dogs (the breed) needs to do, and let them work rather than thinking about trialing and giving so many commands. I do try to work and train my dogs with real work in mind, not trialing, but I think it is too easy for me to slip into the “training for trialing” mindset, since I don’t have sheep and don’t get the chance to do practical work all that often. Another point well-made that I need to work on!

The takeaway: Trust more in Bran and let her work.


The route: Pennsylvania to HOME! J
The mileage: About 265
The time: About 5 hours

A happily unremarkable last leg of my trip!

This familiar sight means I'm getting close to home. 
An abandoned train bridge which crosses the Delaware River and I-80 near Columbia, NJ.

Total mileage for the trip: 5085. The dealership was quite surprised to see me back for another (free) oil change and service just four weeks after the previous one.

This was a wonderful journey, and I hope that I will have a chance to do it again sometime. The dogs and I didn’t come home as finely-tuned as I’d hoped, but I feel that the experiences and input from a wide variety of experienced folks taught me a lot. I feel like I have more tools in my toolbox now, and I hope to remember to pull them out to use once in a while. The dogs are working pretty well overall, and I am still learning about areas where we all need extra work.

Fetch Gate Farm is having a Novice trial next weekend, and that is my next target. I entered Dare, and with encouragement from Gene and hostess Heather Millen, I’ve also entered Seamus. I hadn’t planned to enter him as he’s young and not always predictable, but both of them said that judge Ron McGettigan is a really good judge for novices and young dogs, so I’m going to make the leap and run Seamus too. One thing that also helps me feel somewhat more comfortable entering Seamus is that he and I have been on the field before, back at the Scott Glen clinic in June. The trial atmosphere will be something new for him to run in, though he’s at least been at trials before, which I hope will help.

Running orders are now up at NEBCA trials

Next: Fetch Gate Farm Novice SDT.

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