Monday, September 28, 2009

A History Lesson of Sorts

For me, this thread on the Border Collie Boards hit particularly close to home, and I was compelled to post a blog about it.

First, a little background for those who don't know...

I began showing dogs in AKC conformation when I was ten years old, starting with a Belgian Tervuren and ending with Brittanys. For years, I was completely wrapped up in the AKC world (I refuse to call it "ACK"... I have many good friends that are ethical, awesome people who love their dogs as DOGS first, not just because they are pretty, or some nonsense like that) and competed successfully, achieving national rankings, at the highest levels of conformation shows. I also dabbled a bit in performance events with my Brittanys, and got to see what a good working "field" dog was like by attending hunt tests and field trials. I have always had a great appreciation for seeing a dog do what it was bred to do, and well. Even competing in conformation, I knew that there were more important things to a dog than just having good structure, lots of coat, or whatever. I doubt that you could find more than a few (ethical) people in the AKC world that would dispute that.

A few years ago, after three years of dreaming and research (and additional experience with BC rescue), I bought my first Border Collie from a rather well-known show/versatility breeder. Cedar is half ISDS working lines, and half British show lines. To tell you the truth, the working side of her pedigree appealed to me more as I have always preferred the look of the working Border Collie. I thought I could have it both ways.... a pretty dog that could work. (Un)fortunately, what I got was a dog that wasn't really bred for (or good at) either stockwork or conformation show stuff. I can't say specifically that her show bloodlines are what made her the way she is... that would be unfair. As Sheepkelpie pointed out, poor stockwork is not specific to show line dogs :). However, I do believe that the way she was bred definitely has an effect on how she works.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my girl... she is the most amazing dog I've ever had the pleasure to be around. We are so bonded that we can almost read each others thoughts. She is fabulous at obedience and agility, and is a wonderful pet. Most importantly, she has been my introduction to something that has become perhaps my biggest passion: stockwork. I have faith that she will end up being a “useful dog” on stock someday, but we have certainly gone through a lot. Granted, a lot of our problems are totally my (newbie) fault, but she is not the best, or most natural dog on sheep. She tends to be tight, reactive, slicey, and panics easily.... but she always tries to figure out what I want. There have been many times that I wanted to just give up because it didn't seem worth it to struggle this much over something that we may never be good at. It is interesting to look back and see how far we've come since we started, because it's pretty amazing. She is basically a different dog now than she was, and our relationship has completely changed for the better.

My intentions with her were to do primarily performance stuff (agility and obedience, and I wanted to "try" herding, HAHA) and maybe do some showing on the side. I had done some research into the ABCA/AKC debate, and, I suppose understandably, originally sided pretty much with the AKC as the idea of a "versatile" dog appealed to me greatly. I honestly did not know any better; as far as I knew, AKC registered dogs were the best way to go.

What I didn't 'get' at that time that I understand now, is that the working dogs do not need to be bred for conformation specifically, because in order to do their jobs well, they have to be functional both physically and mentally. Living proof of this is SO apparent that it's freaking [b]maddening[/b] that I didn't get it before; the majority of working-bred dogs that I've been around are much more functionally built and sane than show-bred Border Collies. And they also are able to do what they've been bred to do for centuries.

Anyways....when my girl was a little over a year old, I emailed her breeder and asked who in my area would be a good person to take her to see how she would do on sheep. I was curious to see what she'd do. Her breeder told me that Patrick (Shannahan) would be a good person to contact, and he led me to Dianne Deal. Five minutes into our first lesson and I was hooked... even though Cedar was kind of scary.... gripping and panicked (she was NOT like the “bounce bounce bark!” fluffballs...). I got to see several other (working line) dogs work that night, and thought that it was the most amazing and beautiful thing that I had ever seen. By my second lesson, I knew that I would never own another Border Collie that was not working bred. What I was seeing just felt “right” to me.

Since it first caught my interest, I have completely immersed myself in the sport, and read everything that I could get my hands on. I have attended numerous lessons (several times a week) and trials (just to watch, so far) and tried to learn as much as I could about everything relating to sheepdogs. I also joined this board, but have felt too inexperienced to post much thus far. I should say that have learned SO much by reading these discussions, though. I must say that I do appreciate the honesty of a lot of the people on here. I do try to stay away from drama... my life is full of enough of it already! :)
I learned pretty quickly that the working crowd is (pretty much) all opposed to anything to do with the AKC, and since my girl holds AKC papers, I try not to bring up her background. Thankfully, most people don't ask.

I would hate to think that people would judge me and/or my dog based on where she came from. Yes, she has been called a “Barbie”-- to my face, no less. It should be all about the work, right? So far, everyone has been SO great at helping us get on our way. Even though I am still incredibly new and awkward at this “sheepdog thing,” I love this sport more than anything I have ever done with dogs. The amount of training, work, natural talent, partnership, and TRUST that goes into molding a great working dog is so amazing. I can't even eloquently put into words how great I think it is. I guess, basically, I am completely in awe of this breed, and the dedicated people that campaign for the “true” Border Collie.

... and now Moss, my first working line pup, is ready to go to Dianne's for training :D

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Moss is 9 months old today, holy cow!

I can't believe that my sweet little baby puppy is now almost grown up! :D

It seems like just yesterday that we brought him home...

He has turned into quite a good boy, and if I do say so myself, quite handsome, too!

Even if he DOES have the wonkyest ears this side of the Mississippi!

(Maybe his secret ambition is to be a ballet dancer?)

Or maybe all he wants to be is "really, really, really ridiculously good looking" a la Zoolander? :D

He goes to Dianne's for "sheepdog boot camp" really soon... I'm going to miss him!

In other news, I entered Scully in the Boise dog shows in obedience! This will be our first trial together. We'll be going for our Novice Obedience (CD) title. We competed in the ICCKC fall match last weekend, and she did great! I wanted to see if she was ready for competition, and she worked really well for me, so I made the leap and entered her. Wish us luck!

At that same match, we also won Best Adult Handler (like junior showmanship, but for people over and got a huge rosette and a really pretty ceramic dog bowl.

In her Halloween costume, LOL!

And finally..... a particularly pretty headshot of Cedar:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

No sheep were harmed in the making of this blog... really!

Cedar was most excellent on Friday at our lesson with Dianne.

Like, really REALLY good. The best she's worked for me in months. I think that *maybe* all of the work we've been doing over the past few months has finally started paying off. For once, nothing bad or scary happened! LOL

We started out doing some outrun stuff, which was really encouraging because she actually took my corrections and would swing out wider when I asked. That is a big deal for us... and even though it's kind of a "small potatoes" achievement, I think that it shows a lot about our partnership and how it has changed. And it's nice that for once, she wasn't scaring the bejesus out of the sheep, too. I'm sure they appreciated it.

I know it's small, but look! An outrun! :-P

After warming her up with some outrun/lift/fetches, we worked on driving. She is much more confident and response with driving as well. I had her drive the sheep in a rectangle around me, both directions. She was really good.

I think that I must be more comfortable with going clockwise/come by, because my timing was off more on the counter clockwise/away side. Still, Cedar didn't blow up and bust the sheep apart. She actually kept her head for once.

She's learning to rate herself, too... instead of continuously pushing on the sheep, she will back off on her own. I know a lot of people with more "talented" dogs probably take this kind of stuff for granted, but to us it's kind of a big deal. :)

After putting Cedar up, I worked Moss. I could tell that he was going to be challenging today by the way he was when I walked him to the sheep. Even though he wasn't pulling on the leash (he learned THAT lesson last week!) he wasn't paying any attention to me. He was fixated on the sheep. I'm not sure how to fix that... thankfully Dianne is taking him for training in a few weeks :-P. My head was also not completely in the game, so the first part of our work was pretty full of FAIL. I completely take all responsibility for it. Moss just sort of ran around while I sat there looking dumb and not getting after him enough. Thankfully, Dianne got us sorted out (thank you!) and the rest of the work went quite well.

Dianne said that Moss is starting to figure all this stuff out, and is getting more confident. I say he needs to be knocked down a few pegs :-P

I still really love to work him, because he makes my job so easy. So much of the skills we have had to train Cedar how to do, he already knows instinctively. For example, when I ask him to go around the sheep, he pretty much always kicks out 90 degrees.

I don't think I've ever seen him get slicy when I ask him to bring me the sheep.

Good boy, Moss :)

We're going out to work tomorrow morning, and I have a lot of stuff I'd like to work on. Plus, I need to pick my whistle practice back up... I've been slacking!