Saturday, December 26, 2009

What I did for Christmas

Hi all, I know it's been a loooong time since I've posted. Suffice to say, a few readers were reading and making some very derogatory remarks. I got in a bit of a snit about it and stopped writing. I think I'm over it now. Those of you who read just to say nasty things... go away. You know who you are!

So, Merry Christmas everyone else!

I ended up being able to spend the day with a good friend working dogs together. It rained. It rained some more.

I have babbled on and on about my dear Stella. Somehow, someway, her fetch has gotten a bit screwy. I'm working on it and we are making progress. Some of the things that Scott told me earlier are making more and more sense to me now. If it isn't one thing, it's another. Throughout the summer I had spent a lot of time working on her stop. I am proud to say that her stop has dramatically improved. It seemed like she had no idea what to do after her outrun. She was stopping pretty good at the top but then seemed a bit confused as to how to just walk on and lift the sheep. We're working on that and are being relatively successful.

Bond, James Bond. I spent the summer working on challenging his mind. Driving, fetching, building a vocabulary. He seemed to go a bit insane. His "doll eyes" got wilder and wilder looking. His working style followed suit. Back to the drawing board with him. Back to some puppy stuff. Little outruns and wearing. I've taken to wearing along a fenceline with him so I only have to worry about watching one side instead of two.

After working on this for a while, we turned into the field and I crossed all my available digits.

I walked forwards - notice I'm not turning my back on him. I have a tendency to do just that and it NEVER turns out well.

I walked backwards. I still need practice with this but I'm getting better. I stopped him, I started him, I flanked him. We did some little outruns and a couple that were much longer than I thought he was capable of doing. When I sent him on those, I had stopped paying attention to the sheep and they had wandered off. "Uh oh" I said, and started to run. I was fully expecting Bond to bust in and be naughty. He wasn't.

I still have to work on our relationship. He seems to think he can get away with things. This is a common theme with me and my dogs. I'm not quite sure what I do to create the lack of respect on the field but I manage to do it. With Bond, I'm not sure how to earn that respect. I'm sure I will figure it out. A big part of me believes that it will come with mileage together.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stella's Debutante Ball

Also known as The Bluegrass Stock Dog Trial.

We had done all the preparation we could. We packed up and left at around 4:30am to make the 9 hour trek to Lexington, Kentucky. There was frost on the ground when I left home and when I arrived in Kentucky, it was close to 27 degrees C or 80 degrees F. I stopped to pick up supplies, food and such, then proceeded to the trial site. It was an absolutely gorgeous park. I found Dal n Kate's camper and decided I would park near them and take advantage of the shade their camper would provide. I set up my little campsite after walking my dogs then went looking for Andrea. I finally had my bet payment for her.

I had some supper, fed my dogs, visited with Dal and Kate for a bit, then went to bed. Stella and I were running the next day and I wanted to be well rested.

I had spoken to several people about this trial. Everyone said the same thing. The Novice field is a tough one. Although the field didn't look terribly ominous, the sheep proved to be quite wily. They learned rather quickly where the exhaust was. Stella and I weren't going to run until later in the day so I knew the sheep would be keen to get into the exhaust pen.

Strangely, I wasn't nervous. I watched many runs and several times, the sheep simply jumped into the exhaust. My plan was to get Stella to lie down and listen to me as soon as possible. My biggest concern was the fetch. If we got through the fetch and around the post, I felt that she and I could get through the drive.

I had started noticing a few oddities with Stella in the last couple of work sessions. She had started crossing over occasionally. Ok, twice. I thought that it was pressure related and had decided that on our first go, I would look at the set sheep and would send Stella the direction that the sheep weren't facing. I looked up at our set sheep and the direction I decided to send her was to the left. As we walked to the post, Stella kept flipping to my right side and I kept bringing her back to my left. I sent her on her outrun and she disappeared for a bit as she went down into a knoll. When she reappeared, she was about to cross over. I tried to stop her but couldn't. I decided to take the cross over - which would cost me 19 of the 20 points allocated to the outrun - and let Stella get her sheep. I gave her an 'away to me' to let her know that things were ok and that I was in this with her. She did a pretty good outrun after the cross, the sheep lifted fairly quickly and I finally got her stopped right around the fetch panels. She listened to me the rest of the way down the fetch and we got turned around the post. As we started our drive away, the sheep were drawn to the exhaust. I knew that this was going to happen and knew that if I stayed calm, Stella wouldn't let those sheep get away. I flanked her one way, then the other. The sheep fought to get to the exhaust and Stella and I were doing a pretty good job at keeping things under control, she was getting worried and I could see it. Another couple of flanks and we would be on our way. Except for the pen. Where Stella needed to be was where the pen was. I hadn't practiced this part. She was behind the pen, and the sheep decided that was their chance to get to the exhaust. As they made their way to the exhaust, Stella decided she had had enough and took off after the one that was making a break. I left the post to make sure Stella didn't do anything bad. I called her to me, gave her a pat and asked the person who exhausted my sheep if they would mind doing my exhaust for me. I really didn't want Stella to bring all the exhausted sheep out and back onto the field.

Scott had watched our run. He said to me that Stella listened pretty good and that I should just keep doing what I was doing. His advice for my next go was 'do what you did, but stay away from the pen'

The next day
My plan for today was to improve on yesterday somehow. I decided that I would let Stella choose the side she wanted to go, and if she wasn't adamant about a side, I would send her the direction she wanted to go, and ultimately ended up going, yesterday. I was also going to try to stay away from the pen as per Scott's advice.

Stella and I walked to the post and she seemed willing to go either direction. I sent her to the right. She did a lovely outrun. I was watching her rather than keeping an eye on her and the sheep. Next thing I noticed was that the sheep were headed to the left of the field. I looked at Stella and she seemed to have been deep enough not to have caused that. Think Janet, think. This is a bad situation for Stella, the sheep are running. I gave her a steady whistle, and hollered her away to me. [she and I hadn't transitioned fully to her whistles yet]. She managed to control herself and I let her cover her sheep. My heart was racing. Once again she got stopped just around the fetch gates. We were under control. I looked at the pen briefly as we finished our fetch and this time, the pen door had blown open. Good grief. Ok, stay away from the pen. Turn the post, make her mind, don't get anxious, no yelling. BREATHE.

Staying away from the pen seemed to fly out the window when Stella ended up INSIDE the pen. I kind of chuckled at how miserably I had failed at staying away from the pen. Once again, we ended up with Stella in a precarious spot where she had to flank repeatedly to get away from the pen and cover the sheep. Once again, it proved to be a bit much for her and we retired.

After that run, Scott said he was pleased with how she minded her manners. He knew, as well as I did, that the setout problem could have proven disatrous for Stella. He also reassured me that Stella didn't cause the setout problem.

Although I wished she and I had completed the course, I was absolutely thrilled that she and I were able to walk to the post and that she was willing to listen to me after she and I had really only been working together for a few weeks.

Only six months prior, Stella was a whirling dervish. Only 4 weeks prior, I had thought I had turned her into something worse than the whirling dervish. Only 3 weeks prior, she and I had our 'argument', and only 2 short weeks prior to this trial she had started listening to me. I was really proud of all the obstacles she and I had already overcome and was excited to work more with her.

For the first time in a very long time, I left a trial feeling excited and happy about the quality of work from me and my dog.

We spent the remainder of the week watching the open class. That was tough going, and not for the faint of heart. One day Stella and I will be running on that field.

New Place to Work

I made a couple of calls, and found a place relatively close to home that I could work my dogs. The Kentucky Bluegrass Trial was coming up and I had entered Stella. I contemplated scratching her. On the withdrawal deadline, I emailed the trial manager and asked if it would be easier on them if I put Stella in Novice Novice rather than Pro Novice. Alas, Stella had made the cut into the Pro-Novice class. I toyed with the idea of secretly swapping out Stella and running Data in her stead. Data would answer to the name Stella about as readily as he answers to his own name on the trial field.

I had been watching the DVDs made at Scott's and one of the things that Scott said was that I needed to be determined. That stuck with me, and I decided to dig in my heels and be determined. She was going to run at the Bluegrass and we weren't going to embarrass ourselves.

She and I worked and worked every day for the next week or so. At first things weren't so great. New sheep, new field, new opportunity to give me a try. I was stubborn and determined. She didn't get away with anything. I ran into a snag with her while starting the drive away. When I asked for an inside flank, she would dive in. Once again, I called Scott. He said "You don't want to give her a steady diet of that." Uhmmm nooo, that's why I'm calling. He then suggested that I simply crossdrive with her to remind her how to do it properly. Next work, I did just that. It seemed to really help.

Slowly but surely, the pieces started coming together. I took Data out one morning, I thought he might find it fun to work some sheep. I couldn't believe the difference between working with Data and working with Stella. I no longer wanted to pretend Data was Stella at the Bluegrass, Stella was working far better for me than Data ever had. Actually doing the work with Stella was paying off in spades.

I knew that Stella and I weren't going to be competitive at the Bluegrass. I had only had her back for 6 weeks, and it had only been the last week or two that she had started listening to me, but I felt confident that she and I could go to the post and not be completely humiliated.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't Put Her on Sheep That Will Run

"Stella likes to be in charge of her sheep so, for right now, don't put her on sheep that will run." This was Scott's advice to me, and what did I do when I got back from Virginia? I put her on sheep that will run. Apparently, Scott really meant it when he said not to put her on running sheep. It was a disaster! Stella seemed worse than she was before I sent her to Scott's. I was in tears. Big snotty tears. I called Scott and, after he admonished me for doing exactly what he had advised against, gave me some guidance. "Get her on heavier sheep. When she starts circling and not taking her eyes off the sheep, keep the sheep away from her. Do it against a fence. Don't yell at her. If you have to, take a step toward her. It can take a few minutes, just be stubborn about it." I sniffed and thanked him.

Next work session at Cynthia's, we got some heavier sheep. Almost immediately, she started circling and trying to beat me. I looked for a fence and I couldn't find one nearby. Ok, so I took the sheep away and stayed between her and the sheep. 'Round and round we went. I said nothing. At one point I looked at Cynthia and said "I really really want to say something to her!" but I didn't. I was persistent. I was stubborn. I stayed with the sheep. She got wider and wider but didn't take her eyes off the sheep. After what felt like about 10 minutes, I saw it. She looked away from the sheep. She had conceded the point, I had won. I asked her to stop, she did. I gave her a flank, she took it. I asked her to stop and said "that'll do". I was too dizzy to keep working but rewarded her for bending to me. That's all it took. She started listening to me more and more. I still wasn't able to grumble at her though. If I did, she went straight to Uranus. I figured, it was easier to fight one battle at a time with her, and this was a battle well worth fighting first, regardless of how dizzy I got. The grumbling at her could come later.

I worked her all weekend that weekend and made the decision to go to a place closer to home to work so I could work her more often.

Getting to Know Each Other

I left for Virginia at around 4am and make the 12 hour trek down south. The last hour or so of the drive is pretty arduous. If I leave early then I can drive the hard part during daylight making it a bit easier.

The morning after my arrival I helped Craig clean up his yard in preparation for his trial. Then we went to work the dogs. I was really excited to show Stella off since Craig had seen her a year ago, suffice to say he was not impressed with her. His sheep are honest and really move away from a dog. Stella was more like the old Stella. We worked on fetching, walking backwards, lie down, flank. Tiny flank, lie down, tiny flank, lie down. It was tough going but after a while she started to listen. This was the first time I had worked her except for those few minutes at Scott's. I was a bit disappointed that we weren't doing these huge outruns and all the wonderful things I had seen Scott doing with her but, I understood that I needed to keep things close at hand with her and above all REMAIN CALM. If I get all wound up, the whirling dervish in Stella can rear it's ugly head. Craig told me to run Stella in Novice Novice at his trial that weekend and make my goal to win. He said I had to get used to winning. Sigh. Ok, Novice Novice it is. I put her up and noticed she was lame. I checked her feet and she had torn all four of her pads. I wrapped her feet and worked her some more later that afternoon. I put her up for the night and hoped her tender tootsies would be fine in the morning.

By the next morning, I had realized that Novice Novice was an extraordinary idea and I was keen to run her. Her feet were still quite raw, but I figured that would just slow her down some. I re-wrapped them for her, poorly, and when my turn came I went to the post and sent her on her outrun. The sheep had been a bit flighty for the earlier runs and I knew I had to stop her in order to keep things calm. I did get her stopped, eventually, and she walked them to the post. Then it came time to turn the post. Amanda once said to me that one should always be thinking about the next phase of work. I had not thought about the next phase of work until the turn at the post was right there. I totally forgot how to do this in Novice Novice and I created an anxious moment for Stella. If I'm not mistaken, she lost her cool and pushed too hard making the sheep run. Running sheep are not great for her and off she went. I left the post and called her off. Thank you. I didn't run her in the trial the next 3 runs. Mostly because I was going to be there for a while and I wanted her feet to heal so I could work her. The trial wasn't that important to me.

The next several days were spent socializing, working dogs and of course I would spend a few minutes each day with Stella in the field and Bond in the round pen. Stella and I were making some progress and I was feeling really good about things with her. Bond was becoming king of the round pen and I was feeling pretty good about them.

Oh, Data announced at that trial that he was no longer interested in trialling. I sent him on his outrun, he stopped for a poop at around 2 on the clock. After he lifted the sheep and started on his fetch he found something wonderful to a dog. He picked it up and ran sideways across the field shaking his prey. Ok Data, I get it. I ran him a few more times and each time he sniffed the area where he found his prey but, we actually got around the course albeit pretty untidily. On one run, I gave a wrong flank at the drive away panels and Data took it, causing us to lose all but 4 of our drive points. We had a perfect pen and the judge told me that we had the nicest turn around the post he had seen all day. Ok, I'll take those small successes.

After an evening of wine and 'shine, some laughs and good friendship, we all headed to bed so we could make the drive home the next day. Once home, I was finally going to be able to show her off to my friends. Or was I?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Journey Home

I'm not sure why I didn't get lost on my way back. I really wasn't paying attention to driving. My mind was reeling with everything. I was playing back everything that Scott had said. I was thinking about how great things were going to be now, how Stella and I were going to be stars! Every so often, I would reach behind me into the crate tub - I had collapsed her crate and it was like a tub for her - to touch her and make sure she was really there. And then it happened. I started crying. I was elated to have her back and able to work. I felt a bit foolish but was relieved that the flood of tears came after I left. I called Louise and Cynthia and babbled endlessly about her.

I hadn't meticulously planned out my return trip with her. As I arrived at the car rental drop off I had to figure out how to get her out of the car, assemble the crate, into the crate, onto a luggage cart and into the terminal. I bumbled my way through, got her to the airport and walked away as they carted her off to her seat on the plane. I went on through to my gate and watched for some sign of her being loaded on to the plane. I was worried that she wouldn't make it on. The flight home was relatively uneventful. We landed in Toronto and all I had to do was go get her and take her home. They brought her out and off she and I went to start our new lives together. Her on her luggage rack, me pushing it. We got to the bus stop where the shuttle bus to the parking lot would meet us. Then I saw the bus. It was a regular city bus. How was I going to get her on and off the bus? Fortunately, a nice young lad returning from a ski trip with his buddies offered to help me. What a gentleman.

Arriving at the parking lot, I realized there was no way for me to get her crate to my van. No luggage trolleys, only a miserable wheelchair. Well, it's got wheels so I decided to use it. I grabbed my leash, pulled Stella out of the crate and put the crate on the wheelchair. Poor Stella was a bit shell shocked after having been in the middle of nowhere for several months, here she is in the parking lot of the Toronto airport, and I dropped the crate on her. Twice. Welcome home Babydoll. We eventually got back to the van and she happily jumped into the spare crate I had in there. I shoved her crate in, my bag, and the wheelchair. I dropped off the wheelchair and we were on the last leg of our journey. We arrived home, I opened the door for her, put her in the back yard to potty while I parked my van. I got her from the yard and she nosed around the house noticing that I had rearranged everything. She looked at me and said "I'm not sure I like what you've done with the place, I'll let you know tomorrow." With that she went upstairs and flopped onto my bed. Yes Scott, I let her sleep there that night. And a couple more after that.

I spent the next three days touching her. I couldn't keep my hands off her. I hadn't realized how much I missed her until she was back home. Then we were headed to Craig's in Virginia.

The Queen Comes Home

I know I'm a bit tardy updating this blog. I have lots to share and will do so in a few posts. I'll try to do them in a relatively short time frame.

The first weekend of April, 2009 was when I was going to get Stella. I had decided to fly out to Scott and Jenny's, spend some time with Scott and, if he had time, maybe take a lesson with him. After having gone to the lengths of sending her there, why not go and pick her up? That was a good decision for me.

Once again, I was up at 3am to drive to the airport to get on a plane to fly to Calgary then drive three hours to get to my destination. I slept some on the plane but it's nearly impossible for me to get comfortable. Ok, I've seen the ads on TV with these wonderful reclining seats, I wasn't in one of those seats. I digress. I arrived in Calgary and after sorting out a bit of mess with my rental car, I was on my way. I took my GPS along to help me navigate. Jenny sent me an email with some directions as there was no address or coordinates that I could punch into my GPS to get me to their doorstep. I learned a new word that day, "Couley" - I think that's how it's spelled. The easiest way to define it: Scott says "we call the Grand Canyon, the Grand Couley". Anyway, after going through a couley or two and driving along some pretty desolate roads, I arrived at their place. Scott whisked me into the living room to watch Stella's DVD. I don't really recall what went through my mind while I was watching it. It was kind of like watching a dog that looked like mine but couldn't possibly be mine. Scott explained a few things and I listened as best I could. I do remember thinking, "Is that really her?" She was outrunning, and stopping and flanking and driving OH MY!

After watching the DVD, Scott took me out so I could see her work. I had been wondering how she would greet me. She always had a unique way of greeting me and others she knew well. She came out of her kennel and as she was running to Scott she saw me. She bent in half [her way of greeting me] and then carried on. I said "Hi Stella, thanks". We went out to the field where Scott trains and he started showing her to me. I am not sure what my expectations actually were, but I recall thinking "That's just Stella!". I suppose I thought she would somehow look different. Ridiculous, but true. There was one huge difference though. She was working sheep. I had always had this fantasy of one day letting Scott or Alasdair work one of my dogs, just to see what they could do compared to what I was able to accomplish. That day, my fantasy was fulfilled. It was breathtaking. She was doing what Scott asked. He explained some of her quirks and strong points. I nodded and smiled. Inside I was fighting back tears of joy.

That evening, we went out for dinner. Once we were back, Scott and Jenny had to do their chores. I offered to help but was told I could just relax. I did. I stood on the deck and looked at the beautiful landscape. I saw Scott heading down to the barn with a dog. I did a double take, low and behold, he was doing chores with Stella! Apparently, that was the first time he had taken her out to help but, to me, it looked like she had been doing chores with him all along. Again, I beamed. Stella came and sat with me on the deck before she had her supper and went to bed. Afterward, we chatted and played with the puppies a bit before I went to bed.

The next morning Scott announced that he wasn't pleased with Stella's DVD and he wanted to shoot another one. Jenny had some stuff to do so I was elected videographer. I didn't do such a good job with her outruns. Stella was giving Scott a lot of grief. At the time I didn't quite see what, exactly, he meant though. It still looked pretty good to me.

I had a chance later on to take Stella out myself for a few minutes. I had no idea what I intended to do with her so I just did a few small outruns, some fetches and a bit of driving. She was listening to me. In fact, she was listening to me better than she had listened to Scott earlier that same day.

I loaded Stella into my rental car and headed back to the Calgary airport with her. As we left Scott and Jenny's, Stella had her head resting on the back dash of the car and whined as she watched Scott disappear.