Sunday, September 28, 2008

More stick-chucking, but less than usual.

Went out to Dianne's this morning for a lesson with Cedar. Rhonda was there with Belle, and LJ Estes was there running a very nice little bitch called Gina. Cedar is really coming around and we are both making a ton of progress...

But before I tell you about that, I suppose I should talk about yesterday. I drove out to New Plymouth with Jodi to go watch the ASCA herding trial. Colleen and Jaenne were there competing with Reena and Kip. I'd never been to an arena trial before, only seen videos of the different levels on Youtube. So needless to say it was a ton of fun and very interesting. A completely different event than USBCHA stuff that's for sure!

I'm sad that we arrived too late to watch the duck runs, I've never seen duck herding in person before so I was curious about that. Oh well, next time I guess!

After watching the Started, Intermediate, and Advanced sheep levels, I think that this is something Cedar and I could definitely do well at with more training. The Started course is extremely easy. It seems like there is no real skill needed at that level except for a well mannered dog. But I definitely can see the merit of stuff like this, though. It's good for people like me who need to get their feet wet in a trial situation. Plus, getting ribbons, titles, and prizes is fun, too :)

After the trial I worked Cedar for a bit at Jodi's house. I worked on getting her out farther away from the sheep and got in a few very nicely timed corrections. My inexperience gave her several big opportunities to mess up badly but for the most part, she held it together. I was very pleased with her, aside from the few cheap shots she took at the sheep when she got in too tight. But she's learning!

So anyways, went to Dianne's this morning for a lesson like I said. Jodi has Rob back so I just had Cedar. I worked her twice and I am really inspired. I had to really get after her to get her to stay off the sheep, but I think she's really starting to "get it." And I'm getting really good "stick chucking" aim... :D

We even got a few nice, controlled mini-outruns and a few brief, but glorious moments of a real walk up! Cedar is really starting to learn to think about rating herself and is not so concerned with circle circle circling the sheep all the time. I shed figurative tears of joy when she did a few straight "walk up" steps without thinking about circling, laid down on command, and walked away from the sheep with me with just one "that'll do" :)

The second time that I worked her today, Dianne made me go out on my own :).

Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn....

The sheep were grazing right underneath the big sprinklers, which made me nervous. The sprinklers create a whole different kind of pressure scenario. I asked Dianne to get Rose to move them out into the open for me but she wouldn't do it. So Cedar and I trekked out to the sheep, I laid her down, and sent her on the "come by" side. My thought was that if she had to go around one of those big wheels, she would come out on the other side far enough away from the sheep to calmly send them back to the main pasture space. Well, you know what they say about "best laid plans..." Tail straight up in the air with an evil glint in her eye, she blew me off completely, ran really tight (to her credit, at least, she didn't run straight in) and pushed them to the other side of the sprinkler (NOT the side I wanted, though). Thankfully she didn't chase them. I banged my stick on the metal which made a loud enough noise to snap her out of it. So I hop over the sprinkler, lay her down again, and shush her on softly. This time, she does beautifully, pushed the sheep in the right direction and stayed decently off them.

Once that situation was under control and I got Cedar's brain in "working mode," we started working back and forth across the field. I corrected her every time she tried to circle the sheep when I didn't ask her to. Aside from continuing to push her further and further off the sheep, I worked a lot on using my voice properly... it sounds SO obvious now, but I noticed that the calmer I sounded, the better Cedar listened and the calmer SHE was. We've been having problems with her "lie down"... blowing me off and stuff. When I lowered my voice, she did much better and was much more obedient. Dianne said we could start working on penning soon. :)

She is such a good girly... with quite the sense of humor, too. Every time after I work her, I take her over to Dianne's pond. She usually just kind of wades in and gets a drink. Today,she submerged herself completely, head and all. Then she did her cute jump/splash thing where she makes splashes then chases them. What a ham. I know I've said it before, but I just love this dog. Even if she turns out to be a herding flop, I'll still keep her forever. She really is my "once in a lifetime" dog.

But regardless, I'm having a blast with this herding thing anyway :) The whistle is coming along... Dianne gave me the commands for "lie down" and "walk up" to learn so I'm working on that. It's harder than it looks, though!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sheepdog whistles... from Hell?

So I got my sheepdog whistle in the mail today. After several hours of meddling with it, I am convinced that they were designed by the devil.

As per Dianne's recommendation, I got a brass whistle made by Rob Drummond. The "Astro Blaster" in particular. I chose it because it looked less intimidating than the other whistles on the page. Doesn't he look cute?

Ha ha ha. Yeaaaah.

How hard can it be to work this thing? I put it in my mouth and blow.

Needless to say, I am not a whistling prodigy. All that happens the first time is that I drool all over my chin and make absolutely no sound. Damn. After a few more attempts (and a few very faint "whistle-like" sounds), I put it down in disgust. I am slobbering all over the place and getting nowhere. So I do some research online (this is a great site: about how they are supposed to work and learn a couple of things:

1) It can take YEARS to learn how to do it properly.
2) It helps if you know how to whistle with your mouth first (I do... kinda)
3) If you try too hard, you won't get any sound.

With #3 in mind, I go into a zen-like state with the whistle, just sort of rolling it around and seeing where it's supposed to fit, trying not to think about it too much. Nothing happens for awhile except for more drooling and some strangled raspy sounds like a dying rabbit.

Then BAM! I got one wavering, but vaguely musical note! However, I have no idea how I did it. So I try not to move the whistle in my mouth at all and try again. Success! I managed to recreate the same sound! I experiment with little scales and tunes, and it doesn't go too horribly. But I am annoying the crap out of the dogs :)

A few hours later, I can whistle a slightly off-key "rule brittania" and an actually decent "jingle bells." I have trouble with the lower notes, so I'll have to work on that...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Progress... and a breakthrough or two

So today at 10 AM I went out to a lesson at Dianne's. I brought Cedar and Rob. Little did I know I would end up spending 5 hours there; hanging out with Dianne, working dogs, playing with puppies, and meeting some people even newer to herding than I am :). It was overall a fantastic day, I had a ton of fun and learned a lot. It was fun getting to know Dianne better as well.

We worked Cedar first in the big pasture. I think she had a breakthrough today! She made the connection that she could stay more than 10 ft away from the sheep and still control them. After some brainstorming, we figured out that she is not necessarily staying close to the sheep because she is worried about them, but partially because she is worried about where I am. So we did a lot of work on making her feel comfortable away from me. It seemed to really help. She is doing much better with walking up also, and is much more comfortable staying behind her sheep and bringing them to me without trying to circle so much. We're still working on that "lie down"... she is good for the most part but still has a tendency to blow me off. We did a lot of quarter and half turns working on getting her to lie down on balance. I had to chuck my stick at her a few times but not like normal :D She also had an excellent call off, and didn't try to run back to the sheep after I told her "that'll do."

Dianne said this was me and Cedar's best work yet!

Next, I worked Rob. We basically just did a bunch of outruns and fetches in the big pasture. He did great. Dianne had me work on getting him to go wider on his outruns, he has a tendency to go really tight on the Away side. I got in one good correction that involved me running at him and chucking the stick, and after that sweet Rob behaved perfectly ;) We had one sticky moment when the sheep wandered under the sprinklers and Rob went in tight and split them before I could stop him, but he got them back together and brought them to me in a gorgeous, straight-as-an-arrow fetch! His fetches really are getting MUCH better. Dianne basically let me alone to figure things out for myself with him, as he never lets me get into too much trouble. Rob is such a good boy.

After I worked Rob, I went and hung out with Dianne and two ladies, a mother and daughter from Alaska (I can't remember their names, sorry) who were interested in getting into herding with their border collie... I think her name was Lacy? Or Lady? Something like that. My memory is just terrible. She's a cute, but pretty timid, black and white. Anyway, I digress. I think their uncle or something is buying one of the Rose x Riggs pups that Dianne has at her place right now, they are 5 weeks old and SO cute. (I want the little male, "mini Riggs"... he has a TON of charisma and is gorgeous as well. Haha fat chance! ) But it's always fun playing with puppies, especially pups as friendly as those little guys. After that, Dianne worked Lady/Lacy/?? for the first time. It took her about 15 minutes to get over her nervousness and "turn on"... but she ended up doing pretty well.

After some more chit chat, and a brief horse feeding interlude, Dianne suggested that I work her nursery dog, Nikki. I was pretty nervous (didn't want to make her look bad!!!) but it was too cool to pass up. So we trek out to the pasture again (gawd all this walking around is tiring! I am SO out of shape, yikes!) and Dianne, giving me minimal directions, tells me to send Nikki out to get the sheep, who were about 100 yards away. I am dubious that she'll work for me. But I tell her "come by" anyway. Nikki looks at me like I'm crazy, looks at Dianne, and looks back at me. I tell her "come by" again, a little more forcibly ("tell her like you mean it!" Dianne says), and Nikki takes off on a gorgeous, textbook-perfect pear shaped outrun, has a beautiful lift, and then expertly fetches the sheep to me as straight as can be. I am too transfixed watching how gorgeous she is to remember to direct her to take the sheep around me, so she stops them in front of me and looks at me like I'm a total idiot. So I get my shit together and manage to get her to take the sheep around the post (or me, whatever...) without looking too bad :) We do this a couple more times and call it quits. She is an awesome dog and I wish Dianne the best of luck with her. If she does that well for me, she has to do 300 x better for someone who actually knows what's up :)

All in all it was a fantastic day. The best work ever for BOTH Cedar and Rob... and the best work ever for me also. Progress!


I think someday I could turn into a decent handler...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some updates

Okay, so I really am terrible at keeping this thing up to date.

Cedar had her first match two weekends ago, and she did great! She took Best of Breed and behaved herself decently for never having anyone go over her before like a "show dog" :) However, I'm not quite certain that she has a big future as a show dog. Her movement is not great. I'm going to hold off on showing her until she's older and more mature, because I'm not really into wasting my money :)

But she is cute, huh?





Cedar is now weaving 6 straight poles, which I'm really excited about! She is going to be a great agility dog, I'm certain! We've started a bit on threadles and more complicated jump sequences, and also working on accurate weave entries. I want to be ready for our next set of classes... whenever those will be.



Some of her weaves a few weeks ago, before she progressed to complete uprights:



We're also working on our trick repetoire... so far she knows:

Roll Over
Sit Pretty (Beg)
Peekaboo (go in between my legs)
Wrap (go around my right leg)
Turn (go around my left leg)
Back up
Shake (left and right paw)
Wave (left and right paw)
Chorus-line kicks (lifts her paws corresponding with my feet)

We are working on:
Limp (walk w/ one foot off the ground)
Play Dead
Leg weaves

Herding is going well, too. Here's a video of one of our last lessons with Dianne:

Right now we are working on getting her behind her sheep instead of just wanting to circle, as well as building her confidence as we've had to correct her pretty hard several times. But my handling has improved drastically so that's helping things a lot!

Well that's all for now... I'll update more later!