Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No Fences

Yesterday the fields surrounding our little piece of Iowa Realestate were harvested. It took them all day and well into the night. We awoke to a clear view all the gravel roads that we have not seen for months. I took advantage of the situation and turned the ewes and lambs out to scavange for a few hours. There are no fences, the sheep are pretty good at staying in the fields, if they leave the field you can typically find them grazing the green of our driveway or along the perimeter of the farm. When vehicles come down the gravel road all the sheep high tail it toward the house.
They are hard to see, but there are sheep out eating dropped ears of corn out in this field. They are spread from one side of the picture all the way to the other, and some grazing on the grass in the driveway.

See....Jake just brought them all in!!
Hopefully by spring JJ will be able to take over the duties of bringing the ewes in while I watch from the house armed with my camera and a cup of coffee.
It's sorta strange that things I do with Jake, things that I never would have imagined doing when I was exclusively working with the Australian Cattle Dogs. I would have never just turned the ewes loose, heck this past spring I turned the ponies out with them, Jake had it covered.
Someday I would like to be able to have these same tasks handled by one of our cattle dogs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Training updates...actually having fun!!!


I sware someone stole Ben and replaced him with a look alike that does not act alike. Ben is one of those push you to your limits types. He tends to want to run on his own agenda and could care less as to what you are interested in. But, over the last couple of weeks Ben has changed. Out of nowhere he began to execute a lie down like a pro, heck, I don't even remember teaching it to him and he darn sure was more interested in busting things up vs. lieing down prior to now.

I took Ben out into the apple orchard today, normally he comes in tight but not today, today I was fighting keeping him on contact, in some cases the pasture was not big enough. He did blow into the flock once, then was thinking about it a second time but instead stopped and lied down on his own, kinda weird. Where did this dog come from??? I'm hoping that he sticks around, he was actually kinda fun to work with.

Chip, Wayne's cattle dog was next. We did a little driving, a little fetching, worked on letting him track the heads in hopes that he will figure out that he can control both speed and direction from one spot. Overall Chip did a good job, it's slow going, but it's going.

JJ got to move the sheep from the orchard over to the square pasture. This job is usually saved for Jake, it can get pretty hairy, the sheep know all the hiding spots in the yard and on occasion have caused all kinds a havoc. JJ did a great job, in part because he was willing to listen to me and stop followed by taking the proper directions. We were able to thread the sheep in between the barns and into the court yard, around the gate and in.

I then took JJ out and worked his flanks and drives, asking him to flank towards me, away from me, in front of me, into pressure, off pressure, basically every which way but loose. I would mix in long drive, short drives, drives away from me, drives past me, drives that I helped him with.

JJ seemed to be enjoying it and got more comfortable by the moment with driving sheep, releasing and flanking around either direction to pick up a new drive line. We did a couple of little outruns where I flanked him on past the lift point and would ask him to drive the sheep across the field, then I would let him lift, fetch to me a little and then flank him off of the fetch to then stop him so that he could cross drive the sheep. Boy if I can get the handle on this little dog at the same distances I have Jake he's going to a blast to use, both here on the farm and at the trials. One of these days I'm going to have to get him started on cattle....

Bea was next. I ran her through the same program as JJ but not quite as intense working more on letting have some fun driving, but never letting her fetch to me. She still has it in her head that she should fetch me the sheep and leaks badly if I'm not careful. As I see her thinking of fetching less and less I will go back to letting her fetch a little, the key is that she is going to have to fetch at the right times and be willing to be flanked out of a fetch when I ask for it, that is her sticking point.

I'll try to post more updates when I come back in, next up is Jake. I want to do a quick run on the figure 8 that we will be excuting at the next trial to see how much work I'm going to have to put in to sharpen him up between now and then. We will be running the same pattern that is run at the Denver Stock Show, we won't be making it to Denver but it's always fun to go and run with the guys that will be going at the warm up trials. I can crash and burn just as easily 4 hours from home (Platte, SD) as I can 12 (Denver), besides it will be cheaper...


So, I took Jake out, sorted off 4 head, had him settle them up near the top of the pasture and called him back to me. I then sent him off onto his outrun, he came up a little short which I would expect based on the draws which actually set things up perfectly lifting the sheep right down the middle of the pen, some quick flanks and the sheep were spun around one cone and then acrossed the pen and around the other, with a major giving Jake the wrong flank commands. Ok, so there's the hole, me!!! If I can keep the correct flank commands firing out we will be fine, hah!! I guess I better appoligize to Jake now.

The next dog out was Weasel, she did an awesome job for me. Each time I work her she shows me great things. Her future job is to be a goose control dog, but not just any goose control dog, she will be expected to have enough handle on her so that she can be used for round ups, pennings and to be able to drive geese off of nests. I'm just going to take things slow and easy with her.

After Weasel I pulled out Dixie. Dixie is also destined for a life as a goose control dog. I don't know is she will have the power that Weasel has but she's going to be a blast to handle. She is behind Weasel in training just now beginning to understand her flanks, shaping them is going slow but coming along.

My last dog was Ugh, he's another one of Wayne's Cattle Dogs. Today was the first day of his restart, he didn't take it very well. Oh well, gotta have one dog out of the bunch that does not excell.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


"There is nothing more likely to lead to error than to begin with the part rather than the whole."

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones

The above quote just keeps nagging at me. I ran acrossed it the other day when I was doing some research on Operant Conditioning. Someone had mentioned that we use all 4 parts of Operant Conditioning when we are training our stock dogs, well that comment made me realize that I had no clue what operant conditioning really was. I'm not even going to pretend that I know what it is, no preconceptions, but after reading it sure seems as though it is often misunderstood. So, off I went to Google it, and wow did a whole new world open.

I've been trying to work through some training issues with a few of my dogs, and keep asking why are they not changing, well the answer lies within those many pages that explained Operant Conditioning. I've gotten to the point where I understand what I want my dogs to do in regards to the livestock, I understand how I expect them to respond when I give them the command, but I was missing the bridge with some of them. I could get them to do what I wanted but not when I wanted it, or maybe they would offer the right thing but still not give up on the old undesirable thing. I was failing at being a complete trainer...and we come full circle "There is nothing more likely to lead to error than to begin with the part rather than the whole". This trainer (me) was getting hung up on the part, the method in which we communicate and teach along with the results is part of the whole,'s not just dogs and livestock.

As I reflect I find that that quote is not limited to dog training, it relates to all and any training, learning and understanding. It relates to dog breeding and selection, it relates to decision making.

I'm not going to try to explain it, google it for yourself, read more then one source and prepare to be awed at least I was, sorry to make another quote "We don't know what we don't know".

Monday, October 12, 2009

This just in, update from Cecil's (Jax) owner

Jax when he was about 5 weeks old

This e-mail just arrived, we love it when we get good news about our pups!!!


To preface this... It is our land lord's contractual responsibility to provide quality fencing. We maintain it. One strand of hot wire at 32 inches up is not enough, and it just trained our cows and calves to not respect fences. Now we are up to a 3 strand hot barbed wire and true gates, the middle strand is grounded, so they really get a wallop when they try to nose through the wires. The bad part is that the little calves still find a way and then can't get back in. Too bad we didn't start this way in the spring. A Big Boo for bad, lazy landlords.
However.... Good for the pup!

Exciting news here! Our little Monster is really something! I used him this weekend, while it was cold and nasty here we had to do some serious cattle management. There are 2 bulls, 50 cows and calves, weighing in about 500lbs on the average. Mind you, our cattle are used to dogs, but a few are tough customers, and require a lot of heart - even from our seasoned dog. So... The alfalfa field, behind the rented native grass pasture, was being invaded on a regular basis, so when I drive in to check cows, they start bellowing to their calves, half a mile out there on volunteer wheat and alfalfa. In this weather they can bloat and die quick on the frosted wheat and alfalfa, so I have been out there every dang morning, and usually take Bell, our seasoned BC dog, as I don't have a good down on Jax yet.

Bell was sore and carrying her leg from working at the sale barn a few days before, so I reluctantly loaded up only Jax. I figured I could keep him on the long line and if he got out of hand, down him by force. Well, I am so happy to say that it wasn't necessary! No, he didn't down the first or second or third time I called to him, but he found his own way. We started in the back corner of the circle - with 1 rotten cow and 22 calves. No one bloated, but still, out on our neighbors volunteer wheat.

Jax unloaded with huge interest, I got out with him, to give him direction and confidence he might not get if I stayed in the pickup. I decided to leave the string off, since it would be unlikely that I could catch him at a full run anyway, and if he missed a flank and got in the middle somehow, I wanted him to be unencumbered.

He is a big pup at 32lbs already- and covers ground well, still a lot of foot to grow into though, and we laughed at his ears flapping all over as he hauled butt out there with just a hiss and "get them up!" . He got within 3 feet of the cow, and looked back at me, running behind him, and I repeated the command, and he took a bite of her cannon bone- quick as could be, then went to wearing left, to keep them on the path - something he did all on his own! A couple calves were starting to slow and looked for a way through the repaired fence, and he flanked on his own, ducking through the fence, and ran hard at them, pushing them back towards the group. Jax slowed and looked back at me, and then seeing me still jogging towards the main group, I backed him up with another hiss and "get them up" and he took off again, wearing right to left at speeds I didn't know he was capable of yet! When they got near the fence, my husband had opened the gate and Jax changed his position - again on his own - to the far right to drive them through the fence. I was in total awe!

How does a 5 month old know to do that - and I am so tickled with his confidence! He did check with me a few times, and that is fine, he never changed his body position, and didn't let them stray while he thought about what I might ask of him. He stayed focused and I never called him back until we were done - with a That'll do! Good Dog Jax, Atta Boy!

He was pretty excited, but a bit winded, with tongue out and willingly laid down facing the herd- about 20 feet inside of the pasture, unknowingly - or instinctively protecting the open gate. He didn't come right back to me, just laid there - looking at them and then me, then back to the herd. I was winded too - been a long time since i had to run 1/2 mile to chase cows!

A little later Jax helped me with moving the same cows to another watering point - through a gate they weren't familiar with, so we really had to work to get them to stay in there - some of those rotten, tough-customer, dog hater cows put their heads down at him, then realized a human was behind the dog, and turned, without Jax realizing he wasn't entirely responsible for the cows movement and hesitation. I worried about them - and don't like being afoot for them myself, but for Jax's confidence, it was essential. Don't want to break his egg or bubble!

So, now, the focus is on downing and I am assigning come bys and away to me when he looks like he is going to do it anyway, but not focused on more than down and get back this week - at least intentionally.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy 4 week birthday, 1 day early!!

Hereeee's Ricky.........

The little bugger is ruling the household. I was concerned about how he would handle other dogs, being a singleton....well, he attacks his dad, barks at the TV and chases JJ, and he's just 4 weeks old!!!

Ricky is out of Vicky by Jake, I can tell already that he's going to keep me hopping. He's already demanding more food then mom can deliver.
Watch for pictures of Dottie and Ugh's Australian Cattle Dog pups. Some of them are still crawling around like little slugs even though they were born he same day as Ricky. Ricky runs circles around them, I'm sure they will be payback's in the near future.

Training updates from yesterday

Fly and JJ

I was able to work quite a few dogs yesterday. The day began with setting up the farm for a vet visit, health papers for the sheep and rabies updates for dogs. This weekend we will be in Winterset Iowa to produce stock dog demonstrations. I try to share more later.

After the vet left a good friend, Johnny stopped up to help me load the sorting & head chute and wood gates into the trailer. He has a border collie that I have helped him with and also allows us access to his cattle to train dogs. Anytime he comes up we end up working through the pack, he lets me know what progress he is seeing, not only in with the dogs but with myself.

We began by taking Fly out to the pen, Fly is a little 3 year old spayed female that I took in on trade for Riley from a farmer. She has some drive and feel but lacks confidence, I am hoping to find her either a pet home or a low requirement hobby farm home. I worked with Fly last spring and put some basics on her, she can be handy in the back pens, has some direction on her a stop and a walk up. All I can do with her at this time is continue to use her, and be there to help her.

Next dog in was little Rosy, what a little crackerjack she is at 5 months of age. She just gets to discover what the sheep are all about. She just loves to get them stopped, hold them at balance and then walk right on in, which in turn creates an explosion and it happens all over again. After a couple of repeats all of a sudden she ran backwards just as the explosion began, this resettled the sheep, if she had an expression on her little face it would be, I didn't know I could do that!!!!

Toby at 5 months (Bea x Jake)

Toby was up next, he is Rosy's brother. Toby is more like Jake, and is more careful around the sheep, that is until he get's excited, then he goes to playing and bitting. The opportunity presented itself where I could show Toby that he could get around the outside of the sheep and control them just a effectively as holding them to a fence. He was like a kid with a new toy, all of a sudden this little dog that was a bit hesitant to have the sheep move was driving them and then flanking around to drive them a different way.

Each of these young pups spent just a short amount of time in the pen, just long enough to let them discover some new useful thing they can do, allow it to reinforce and then pick them up and take them out.

Now on to Jake, Jake is the older male that arrived back in August. I've been working him now and then, with my focus on retraining his triggers, and adjusting his pressure sensitive thresh holds. Much of my work with him is just daily encounters out in his kennel. Back up when I walk in, kennel up when I say so, understand that when I growl and bang the soda bottle when you are running a barking that you need to stop and not amp up more. It's amazing how this work away from the stock can improve your relationship while out with stock, so many don't understand just how the two environments intertwine.

"Cow Dog Jake"

Johnny is also very interested in Jake, he is considering crossing his female to him and wanted to see the dog first hand. It was love at first sight, on both of their parts. I was even able to trust Jake enough around the sheep to allow Johnny to take him for a spin. The worse he did was pull wool once when he got in too tight but immediately stopped when Johnny corrected him. I doubt that Jake will ever be a sheep dog, but we really don't want him to be, he was bred to a working cow dog, I just need him to learn that there are other things that I need him to do then just run in and bite stock to make it move, and the sheep are the best training tool to help get the lessons learned. To be completely honest, I think he has been here before, he actually had some training with Ben Means, Ben also is his breeder. His square flanks started to show themselves not long after I began holding him to a higher standard, his complience to his other commands and corrections keep improving also. The pace in which he is improving is too fast for a dog that has never been taught, is more like a dog that has forgotten and feels stongly that he does not need to do it that way.

A note about Ben Means, Ben is a trainer, breeder and the author of a stock dog training book from Oklahoma. He is respected by many in the working dog community, I feel privledged to get the opportunity to work with a dog that he not only bred but also trained as a young dog. As I work with Jake I am running into Ben, I can feel and see his influence on Jake. Each time I work with him more of the dog that Ben was trying to develop reveals himself. Each of us that work with a dog put our mark on that dog. Sometimes what we see years later is not a true representation of the trainers that put their heart and time into that dog early on, the mark has been blurred and covered up. But if it was done right, the mark is still there just waiting to be uncovered and brought back into focus.
This may seem foreign to some, but I've expirenced it before when riding/training horses, the trainers I worked with could "Feel" my training when they rode my horse and then could help me determine if what I was doing/creating is consistent with their training. Each time you run across something that someone else put in that is simular to what you do you will know it, the just knows what to do, or maybe it won't be quite the exact response that you expect but it will be simular. You can then learn from the dog, maybe that other trainer can teach you something through that dog.

Ben (JJ's littermate)

After we returned Jake to his run and got through all the discussion about Jake's future, btw Johnny is willing to dogsit and use Jake to help him with his cattle any day, go figure. We moved on to Chip, an ACD. Johnny didn't see the point of me bringing Chip out letting me know that he really does not like the dog and has never seen him offer anything. Well, Chipper showed him. Working with Jake has helped me to find a way to get through to Chip, Johnny sat there speechless as Chip went to balance, flanked off pressure and eased in toward the sheep stalking like a cat, just to release and flank to balance again. Granted after his little display ended aburptly with an explosion take a hold of a leg that led to a take down, but it's a work in progress, ewe is fine, muzzle went on and we ended on a really good note. I saw some huge gains with Chip in this short little work session, he initiated on his flanks and going to balance on his own, I didn't have to convince him to engage. When I put the muzzle on he continued with the same level of initiation showing that he could still focus on the sheep while dealing with a big distraction.

The last two dogs into the pen were Dixie and Weasel the two Border Collie females that are full sisters to JJ. Both girls are still lack in maturity but both also showed that they are learning. I found a great opportunity to bolster Dixie's confidence in close proximity of the sheep, boy did that change the way she handled herself, it was almost as if a piece of the puzzle fell into place and she suddenly understood something that was escaping her.

Jake and JJ

I mentioned that we will be demonstrations this coming weekend in Winterset, Iowa. We will be leaving first thing Saturday morning, I'm still trying to decide who is going and who is staying home, I'm trying to limit myself to 5 dogs, which will make our return home Saturday alot easier. We leave the sheep down there and then go back Sunday with the dogs again for more demonstrations.

Jake for certain is going, he's the cornerstone to the demonstrations with the ability to show spectators what is possible. Quiet calm work up close, an ability to work out at large distances while processing commands in a fashion that resembles playing a video game and using the joystick to position your player. By no means is he perfect, he's still not a finished dog, heck he won't be finished until the day he retires, just like us our dogs can always improve and learn something new.

I think I'm going to take Bea, she is the dam of Toby and Rosey. I don't have her working at big distances but she is handy working at hand or in small lots, she also has a different way of traveling compared to Jake, more upright and less slinkey.

The third dog is Toby, people always love to see the pups work, he is also the last of our pups that is available for sale.

I think the fourth slot is going to Chip, at this point I don't plan on using him in the demonstrations but he needs to get off the farm and deal with other external pressures. I will give him the chance to engage the sheep sometime during the day, but not while spectators on placing expectations on me or the dog. If he proves that he can handle it the pressure of working away from him he may get the opportunity to strut a little stuff.

Now the fifth hole is the tough one, do I take Weasel, spectators connect with her, you can see in the way she handles herself that an explosion is just under the surface, and I've had her erupt at the first demo we did with her. During the eruption I hear little comments such as "that's what my dog does", and she gave me a great opportunity to show people how to handle it.

Another option is JJ, he is in between Jake and Bea in ability, but I don't think he will help to teach people anything, that Bea or Jake won't already cover.

Yet, another thought is Fly, does Fly and the manner in which I handle her to help her be useful offer anything to spectators. Cow Dog Jake could also go, but I just don't trust him enough yet, if he does break on me and take a ewe to the ground it is not going to be pretty, best to leave him home.

There are few very important things that I look for when I do these demonstrations, the first it to exhibit low stress livestock handling, the second it to demonstrate ways to teach your dog that is not at the expense of the livestocks well being and third is demonstating that there should be a good dialog between you and your dog. All are important to us and we work hard to operate at home the same as we do in public, but we have to remember, there is more pressure on both us and on the dogs when we are away from home. Yes, the dog and we have to learn how to function when exposed, but it is not fair to take a dog that is not ready to handle it. Your just going to set you and the dog up to fail. Each time we set our dogs up to fail they loose faith and trust in our relationships, the decision to put you and your dog out there should not be taking lightly.