Monday, March 28, 2011

If I could turn back time....

I can't help but wonder how different things would be if I had sent Ricky home with Marc back in September rather then waiting until January. I feel like we are about 2 months behind where we could/should be, this has cost us from the standpoint of getting qualified for Nursery Finals. No Finals for Ricky this year, I will be there pulling for Wayne and Jake. This past weekend was our last chance, we fell short, just short. We were down in Clinton Missouri at a judged field trial.

Ricky did a good job, but he and I were still hashing out some issues. Larry Moore summed it up, "he just needs more obedience, when you say lie down he needs to lie down". It was also noted by many that he is way ahead of many 1 1/2 year old dogs, we were knocking on the door in the open division, things just have not quite gelled together yet, but I'm certain they will and sooner then later. It was a pretty tough weekend on everyone, only 2 open handlers/dogs out of over 20 entries were even able to get the cattle around the handlers post during the first Open class.

Ricky and myself ran three times, twice in Open and once in Nursery. In our first open class we had an exceptionally tough draw and snow, two cows that wanted to go one way and a third that had her own agenda always wanting to go her own way. When I walked off the field Bob Johnson came to me to say that it wasn't Ricky, that set would have needed 3 dogs to get them where they didn't want to go. I don't know about that, IMO, Ricky just wasn't strong enough mostly due to lack of seasoning.

As I stood at the post unable to help my dog I was wishing that I had Jake, I would have liked to see if Jake could have turned that set into believers, but based on the lack of success off many other good dogs odds are he would have failed also. Our next run was Nursery, this time sleet but a better cattle, with the exception of the high headed heifer that took the set out dog back to the holding pens twice before I ever sent Ricky.

The cow was managable, but Ricky got on the muscle with her after we made the turn at the post, things started to come together on the drive when she went to leave on him, rather then holding the head he fell in and went to work on her heels, I elected to not tolerate that behaivor and walked Ricky down and used Ricky to move the cattle to the exhaust demanding proper behaivor from him. Patience on his part was what I needed he wanted to use bite instead. Looking back on the run, I am also to blame for lacking patience, at one point Ricky had gone around to the head and had her stopped, but I didn't give him enough time to let her settle before asking for a flank in an attempt to hold my cross drive line, when he let go she broke, he blew up.

This time I was met by Larry Moore as I walked off the field saying that I should have stayed at the post and waited it out, he felt that Ricky was getting it worked out and that we would have had a chance at winning the Nursery even with the blow up. It's always a tough call when things begin to go wrong, wait and see or get your butt trucking down the field to get things sorted out yourself going into damage control. I stand by my decision, I would rather that my dog didn't know that he can do it the way he wants to on the trial field. Our last run was Open, this time rain and a really nice set of cows.

Unfortunately I may have handled the run in a poor fashion, either that or I did the best I could with a young dog being precented with a situation that required a more seasoned dog. I also wanted to make sure the Ricky did what I asked, following Larry's advice. As I was walking out toward the post I noted that the judge, scribe and score sheet runner were having a discussion, at the same time the cattle were being set out onto the field. I patiently waited for the judge to ok me to run as the cattle drifted to the left side of the field settling in a place that put them dead center inbetween the drive panels and the fetch gates.

This meant that either I needed to have the set out reset the cattle, which may really upset the now quiet cows; or take the cattle where they stood and after the lift have Ricky flank around and set a new line to the fetch gates. He would have to drive the cattle right toward the draw and then I would need to flank him again to get the cattle turned in time to make the panels. The line was going to have to take the cattle parrallel to the fetch gates, with a hard dogleg to get us back on course to the handlers post.

If I had been running Jake I know it would have been a piece of cake, I can position and reposition him quick and easy, almost like handling a remote controlled car. Ricky on the other hand, I need to take my time and let him settle inbetween commands, if I don't he get's tense and leans on the cattle and I didn't want a repeat of my Nursery run.

I elected to take the cattle where they stood, Ricky outran nice, lifted them straight to me, and he was bringing them, I had a moment of panic as I thought that there was no way he was going to take a flank to get the line took me two flank commands before I saw him come around so that we could set the new line, I made him stop a moment and the cattle were off toward the draw. Trying to balance patience with control while the cattle are heading where they want to go is tough, especially for Ricky, he's alot like Jake "They are getting away, I gotta stop them!!!" I didn't want Ricky to kick into a flank and stop or turn them early so I made him walk up a bit holding the drive before flanking him for the turn.

Unfortunately it was a few strides to late, the turn was made but just past the fetch panels. Ricky proceeded to bring the cattle on toward me and we began to work the turn of the post. We had a bobble or two on the turn before Ricky was off taking them to the first drive panel. The first leg of the drive went fairly well, so did the turn but I could'nt quite get Ricky back into the right place to hold the cattle away from the draw to make our cross drive panels, nor did I try hard. It would have meant that I would have to rush Ricky and I wanted to keep things calm and quiet.

Next up was the trailer, only two handler/dogs has successfully loaded the cattle in the trailer prior to our run, all day. We had plenty of time, we had to regroup once as one of the cows that gave Ricky a hard time on the handlers post turn tried him again, but we prevailed, the cows stepped up onto the trailer and in, course complete. At that point I didn't care how we scored or where we placed, I was just overjoyed with completeing a course without having the wheels fall off. My dog stopped when I asked, flanked when I asked, the cattle pretty much went where they were suppose to in a controlled fashion and as far as I was concerned we won.

Ends up...that I think we were 1 point short. We can use a top 20% open placing to qualify for Nursery Finals, I think we needed to place 4th**. We did, but tied for 4th, the tie breaker was the combined score of the outwork (outrun, lift and fetch), we lost the tie breaker. If we had preserved just one more point Ricky would have been qualified for Nursery Finals.

**Upon review of the score sheets we would have needed to place 3rd, 4 points short...

Looking back at the run I can't help but wonder if I should have had the cattle reset, but that may have upset the cattle. If I had flanked him a little sooner vs. making sure he settled before asking for the turn on the fetch panels the cows would have made the panels, but Ricky might have blown up. If I had tried a little harder to get Ricky to hold the line to the cross drive panels or I even could have had a better line from the cross drive to the trailer, but at that point I was just happy to be heading to the trailer and was in the "Let's just get this done" mode.

Originally I had planned on coming home after my runs on Saturday but bad travel weather convinced me that I was better off spending the evening at Applebee's with some other handlers and back to the motel. Since I was staying over I went ahead and entered Ricky in the Open Sunday morning. Thinking back I really was not thinking about it being one more chance to qualify, I was looking at it as one more chance to season my dog, would he be hard to handle like Saturday morning or would he pick up where we left off, each run on Saturday got better.

Sunday morning Ricky had the best run of the weekend, there were parts of the fetch and drive that I don't think we could have made any better, it was like I was running a little nearly fined tuned machine, Ricky and I were finally getting together. We had a little glitch on the cross drive, but we got through and I think we made the panels. I tried to set a better line to the trailer holding the cattle away from the draw and also a pile of hay, but the cattle got to the hay and Ricky had to convince them to move on, now we need the heel bite... We got up to the trailer, lined them up they started in but one cow said no and went to run through Ricky, Ricky got her stopped, lined things back up just in time to run out of time.

We just were not meant to go to the Nursery Finals this year, but that's ok we still have next year and the summer trialing season is yet to begin. I can't wait for this coming weekend, we will be at the Indiana Horse Fair competing in a 10 dog trial. My fingers are crossed that Ricky and myself will pick up right were we left off on Sunday.

When I came home last night we dropped Ricky's pups into the pen with the lambs for the first time. They are 8 weeks old this weekend, every one of them went to work, very willing to move the sheep but also able to go to the head and stop the sheep. We didn't see and ounce of fear or over sensitivity, one little pup looks like he is going to be a heel hellion just like his daddy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

If I didn't trial

I wouldn't have to work so hard on learning how to whistle

I wouldn't be waking up at 4am thinking about the path of my dogs outrun pondering what it is that I'm not seeing that others do.

I wouldn't have to slip and fall out in the greasy pens at chore tim while walking down Ricky for slicing a flank or disobeying a command.

I wouldn't have to challenge myself to understand what correct work should look like both from the view of the dog and the livestock.

I wouldn't have to look to myself and my dog for issues with the livestock but could rather say "That's ok Ricky, your good, I would have bit that dang nasty ewe too."

I wouldn't have a higher standard of work to strive for and would be able to accept whatever my dog is willing to offer.

I wouldn't be blessed with the loyal companion that is sitting at my feet right now, gazing at me with admiration waiting for the next task that he can turn himself inside out trying to do as I ask and work together with me to accomplish.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Quick Update

Last evening Number 6 finally mustered the courage to get over the wall!!!
Last evening I let all the pups and Dixie out and we went for a walk out into one of the small pastures. All the pups were great, following along, going out and investigating the new environment but staying aware of where I was.
I've said it from the time they were less then a week old, this litter is different then any other that we have raised. Typically on the first outing there will be a few pups that would prefer to stay in the kennel or one or two that go off doing their own thing totally oblivious at to where I am, not this crew.
It was entertaining watching them struggle up one of the remaining snow piles, about a 4 foot climb with ledges to fall off. Number 3 jumped off a top ledge just because he wanted to get to the bottom, he's kinda fearless little bugger. 1-4 all buzzed around, up and down easily, number 5 sat at the bottom and screamed for a minute or two before setting his mind to the task of climbing up so that he could be by me. Number 6 did a good job but you could see she was a bit uncertain of her footing and was low and slinky to the ground.
Wayne joined us just to watch and take it all in, he also sees that this litter is a little different then previous that we have raised, but maybe we are looking at them for a different angle compared to how we looked at previous litters. Another thing we have noticed is the both Dixie and Ricky are different with the pups then any of the other dams have been or Jake. Jake really does not like puppies, Ricky takes them in stride, he lets them play around his feet, head him, heel him a bit and corrects them effectively but not over the top for getting to personal. Dixie has been physical with them since they were under a week old. We were worried when we heard a growl and screech from the whelping room as Dix tuned on a little 3 day old pup. She also would leave them and not go running when someone cried, she had them on a strict feeding schedule and would only feed them at set times. She would go in and clean them, but not allow them to nurse.
When I feed Dixie I don't worry about seperating out the pups, the pups go to join her, she raises a lip and they all slide stop a hault lined up side by side and patiently wait for Dixie to authorize them to eat. If they are around a food bowl they move off when told to but will eat comfortably if allowed, they understand that no means no. I have a feeling that Dixie is going to make my job a lot easier come training time.
Over dinner we discussed what his thoughts were, he is pretty much in agreement, Ricky Junior is the best and number 6 is the bottom running a close race with number 5. We both agree that if someone was to drive in today and pick a pup to take home they would more then likely pick one of those two bottom pups if Junior was unavailable.
On a different note, Ricky has worked his way back into the house for a brief stay. On Saturday while working cattle he was stepped on and lost some hide over the top of his foot. I've been keeping and eye on it. After using him to tag and sort ewes and lambs last evening I decided to play it safe and leave him here in the house after cleaning it up last night, his entire foot is sore but not to the degree of showing it while working. He has claimed the leather sofa that I picked up for free as his domain, actually chasing Bea off of it last evening after dinner, house dog again....atleast for a few days.

Monday, March 14, 2011

If I was to venture a guess - 6 week puppy evaluations

The pups turned 6 weeks old this past weekend (Dixie x Ricky). We have elected to not let any of the pups of this litter go home until we have had a chance to evaluate them, which includes their introduction to livestock. I'm guessing they will be hanging around here until they are about 16 weeks old or when they show me something that I just flat out don't like, which ever comes first.

Over the last 4 weeks I've been making little mental notes as to who is showing strengths and weaknesses and if the pups mature out of their weaknesses or if the weakness keeps raising it's head in other places. As it stands, if I had to make my picks today, here is the order and why:

Ricky Junior, he's my number one pick. This little guy has been the most outgoing pup of the bunch, but not brash. He is a thinker, when given a correction you can see the wheels turn, "hmm, what caused that?"

Today as I was coming up from the barns I realized that we had an escape, actually 4. Junior was one of the four, once he spotted me he started out right for me and proceeded to follow me around the house as I located a new brick to cover the escape route. This was his first time loose in the yard, he took it in stride.

My number 2 pick is this little female, she was the slowest to mature, almost acting a bit premature, but once she caught up there has been no looking back. She is bold and almost brash and fearless.

It will be interesting to see if she holds onto her number 2 position, I'm a touch concerned as to how trainable she is. She takes a correction well, but I've not been able to tell if she is learning anything from it.

She was one of my 4 escapees, she also came to meet me.

My Number 3 Pick is this Tri-colored male with the blaze. Originally I had him down at the bottom of the pick list, he showed signs of sensitivity and didn't want to be touched. But, over the last couple of weeks I've seen him solid up and handle things well. I really expected him to be scattery to noise and motion, but he is proving me wrong, so far.

He was another one of my escapees, though he slid back into the kennel when the other two came to greet me, the sensitivity is part of him.

Here is number 4, this pup is pretty easy going but not as outgoing as the other two. If there is a bussel in the kennel you will see her find a safe corner and watch from afar. She really does not seem to be scared, but more of the "I don't want to get into trouble" type.

She was the 4th of the Jail Break Gang, but she too retreated back under the fence when she saw me coming.

This one is unexpected, number 5, I actually had this male tagged as a good one early on but an interesting development has brought by thinking into question, it's the same issue that has the number 6 pup in her place, in addition to a gut feeling that I have that he is going to be excitable. He's shown me a couple of over the top reactively excited moments, that type of dog can be hard to train, they get excited and can't take direction, but if you make them contain themselves they can't react. Time will tell...

The biggest issue I have with number 5 is that he is not willing to try hard when he wants something but would prefer to sit behind what ever is in his way and scream about it. We have a 10 inch lip at the doorway to our kennel building, the other 4 struggle over it to get outside, both he and number 6 stand with their feet on the ledge screaming and biting at the ledge, heck, even with Dixie nursing the other 4 just outside right in front of them. Today he finally showed enough determination to conquer that wall.

Onto number 6....

Number 6 is a large tri-color female that I know most would consider her the female pick of the litter. She is outgoing and handles things pretty well. But, if she feels too much pressure she goes into a little frantic spin and she also has an issue with adversity. I don't think many would even see it, but I tend to test the pups and look for either desirable or undesirable reaction.

She still hasn't clawed her way over the kennel ledge, and I'm not going to help her. Today I watched as number 2 jumped back into the kennel building to get a drink, number 6 was tickled to see her, number 2 came barreling back up and over, number 6 screamed, "Help me, I can't get out"

I could see where many would have helped her over the wall, but I wanted to see how long it took before she builds the resolve herself or if her helplessness is a part of her. I've not been desensitizing these pups, with the exception of number 3, he needed to accept being touched. Otherwise, I've been watching to see how they handle adversity on their own. So that I can learn see how it translates to future stock work and training.

This past weekend we took their sire Ricky and Toby, an uncle to dog break cattle. Ricky went right to work, it was tough going, the mud was elbow deep in places. Ricky has never worked in such poor conditions nor for such a long time, but he kept ticking. Toby, well that was a different story, he sniffed poop, tried to stay on dry land. Even went so far as digging in his front feet refusing to step into the mud, his unwillingness to deal with the adversity prevented him from being useful. No courage or heart, he's lucky that Wayne is in his corner, I'm done with him.

It will be interesting to read over this post in another month or so and then again further into the future to see if what I believe to be positive or adverse traits stay with them or if they change with maturity. It will also be interesting to see how if effects their interaction with livestock. The level of stock drive may have a strong influence on their desire to push through, but I also wonder is as the work get more difficult and less fun if those traits I'm seeing now will raise their head.

We will start leash breaking in another week or so, that usually tells me a bit about train ability, how badly they want what they want and if they are easily distracted from something that peaks their interest.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stock Dog Training and Low Stress Livestock Handling Seminar

We are pleased to announce that Marc Christopher will be here at our farm to conduct a Stock Dog Training and Low Stress Livestock Handling Seminar the first weekend of June.

More information can be found at our website:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Moment of Peace

I just came in from my first working session ever with Ricky where I felt at peace afterward.

There was no battle of wills today. Yes, he made mistakes, but then again, so did I.

What was missing was the wrestling match between us, he wanting to do this when I want that, it was more like we were working together today....strange but really good feeling.

I hope to return to this place in our relationship again soon and often.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Taking Inventory

Wayne out working Ricky this past fall

I took Ricky back out to the field yesterday to try again, but as we worked to get the sheep out to the field I took inventory, what was he doing, was it right, was he listening, was he obeying. I found three major issues that I needed to address, he was slipping to the left into a flank while driving, he was taking 3 - 4 extra steps when I asked for a stop when he was flanking to the left and when I called him to me he was not coming straight to me but rather bending telling me that he was not 100% committed to the recall and concerned about the sheep.

Before we ever got the sheep to the field I put my foot down on the sloppy recall, then I made sure that when I asked for a stop that he gave it to me, and I mean johnny on the spot. The third issue was taken care of when I dealt with other two. I felt like we were back on track and ready to roll.

I sent Ricky out on a outrun, he got around the sheep and listened 100% better when I asked him to stop. I had him cross drive the sheep, flank around to a different spot and drive again. I found that I was not happy with how he was breaking off of his sheep when he would initiate a flank, he was flat and not wanting to let go, so I got his case for it. Soon he let go and just floated out and around with alot of feel and very relaxed like he did for Marc down in Missouri and also how he was for me this past weekend at the clinic and fun day. You would think that he would handle the stock the same way from place to place, but he doesn't. He had developed a poor method here at home out in the field prior to leaving for Missouri and was reverting back to that method when he thought it was right.

I'm really looking forward to this summer and the upcoming demonstrations. I have a few trials that I would like to go to, but in all reality I'm not looking forward to them as much as I am the demos, we get so much more work at the demos. I really feel that the demonstrations give us an advantage at the trials and also help me to build confidence with my dog and my dog gains confidence and trust in me. I've come to the conclusion that the demonstration and real work that we accomplish are the cake any trial success that we have this summer will simply be the icing on the cake.

We are also looking forward to hosting a Marc Christopher Training Seminar June 4-5th here at our place in North Central Iowa, I will be posting information and the flyer to our website soon. Marc has been instrumental in our success with our dogs both from a training and breeding direction. When we met Marc 4 years ago this coming May, our first Border Collie, Jake was just a pup and we were clueless as to what it took to get around the trial field. Wayne knew how to use dogs out on the ranch and how to get them to be useful, but he had never dreamed that it was possible to do the things that we do with a dog now.

Our website is

Marc's Website is

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back in the saddle after getting bucked off...

One of the nice things about training dogs as opposed to horses is that it does not hurt as bad physically when you get bucked off but I think that the mental toll can be just as high.

Yesterday I took Ricky out to the open field here at home for the first time since he came home from Marc's. In the past we have had some blow ups out in the open field that I had not been able to overcome, hence why I sent Ricky down to Marc's. Everything has been going great with him, it's not been perfect, Rick can be a handful but I have been able to overcome any adversity and move on and he did great out in the open field at Bob's this past weekend.

Well, not yesterday, big wreck, imagine the colt running through the field bucking and kicking as the rider lays stranded in a heap... We had some bad moments while getting the sheep out of the yard and to the field, but each was overcome with good work and I actually felt that Ricky was learning his way through the encounters and getting better at managing the sheep through all the nooks, crannies and hiding spots. Eventually we were driving them down the driveway, Ricky very relaxed and myself with a aire of confidence, maybe too much confidence.

I had Ricky drive the sheep out into the field and noticed a couple of slips of communication between he and I where he went into business for himself. I corrected him, thought I had things working right and called him off when the sheep were about 200 yards away from me in the field. I should have known that I was living on the edge when I called him back to me and he was floating to my left instead of coming straight back, but I ignored it and accepted it, bad move....

I set Ricky up for a outrun going off to my right, he went off great, but the sheep decided that they were going to make a break to the left straight across the field to the left. Ricky bent out and around and went behind a slight rise where he lost view of the sheep. I tried to stop and redirect him but he would have none of it and landed where he thought the sheep where, which was now behind them with them moving off away at even a quicker pace. I tried to stop him, instead he went into high pursuit mode and took two sheep down before getting to the back side and sending the sheep flying back toward me. Did I mention that this was a big field, soybean stubble, wet, greasy...not fun.. Cue the bucking horse reel.

Well, I'm now in full correction mode, walking Ricky down, really wishing I was horseback, would have made it easier. Ricky was still high on adreneline and ran out huge, he had to be 1/4 mile off the sheep, better then trying to run past me to the sheep. I walked the other way, he stopped turned and ran out huge a different direction, boy did he remind me of both Jake and his momma at that moment, I've been here before.... The sheep decided that they were going home, I let them, continuing to walk Ricky down. He disappeared off around the back side of the property, I figured that he was going to go around the barns and come back up at the front drive so I started the hike.

As I came in from the field I was surprised to not see Ricky, then I turned around, her he comes trotting along in a straight line right to me, he assumed his position just to the left and behind me and we came in together from the field, without me saying a word.

When we got back up to the barns we gathered the sheep back up, moved them over to the "L" pasture so that I could get closer to my work and regain some of what I lost. Rather then doing easy stuff that I know Ricky can succeed at I worked on things that he and I struggle with and looked for places where he was changing what I wanted to do into something that he wanted to do, and made some gains.

So, today I need to get back in the saddle, we need to get back out into the field and get a good ride in and hope that I stay on the top side.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Full Circle back to Flanks...

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a entry about flanks where I went into some detail about why when and where, (

You would think that people would figure it out, just how important proper flanks along with the when, where and how of it, but once again I watched a bunch of people talking flanks but not showing any concept of the little parts of the flank. So many think left or right, others think around but few are factoring in the livestock and recognize that a flank is not set in stone but rather a always adjusting place based on feel. We can't command a dog along a proper flank path, from a distance we can not anticipate correctly what they feel or see or how the stock will respond.

This comes back full circle to the mechanical vs. natural argument. When I think of mechanical I'm thinking of the dog that does not feel, does not or has not been allowed to control his stock on his own but waits for the command. I had a moment this past weekend when I realized just how different our approach is then others. Ricky was driving cattle away from me and sliding to the left in an effort to hold the cows on line (basically Ricky was making sure the cows would maintain a straight course of travel). As the draw got heavier he moved further forward in an effort to maintain the line. There is a point where a young dog will make the mistake and slip all the way around, I think it is when one animal makes a larger adjustment, the young dog takes it as a moment of escape or loss of control and comes around to the head sorta out of panic.

Anyway, the person with me was telling me that I was not correcting him soon enough for slipping around to the head, that Ricky was slipping way earlier then when I was recognizing it. As I thought about it I realized that the person may be treating the adjustment Ricky made to weight the draw and try to hold the line as an indication of a slip to the head, basically the advice indirectly was to not let the dog control the direction of the stock but rather wait for me to tell him to move over. Yes it will work, but imo, that's mechanical, not what I want in my dog, I want more.

It was pointed out to me that I will win less the way I'm working my dog. But, to me, that's ok, I have no huge problem being beat so long as my dog works within my vision of correctness. In reality, that is winning, and I believe will lead me to breeding and raising better dogs over the long term. Thinking about being beat, each time I have been beat I can think of many things that my dog or myself could have done better, there are times I have won that IMO was done with poor work. I suspect that when my dog works properly I will be at the top, the difficulty is in not allowing myself to accept less due to being able to win with less.

I had a moment of pleasure this past weekend when I was approached while working Ricky, I was offered a compliment on his flanks, someone saw that his flanks were better then the others, even those that were claiming to have good ones. The proof is in the pudding, or rather the livestock, all you have to do is watch the livestock, a dog that flanks properly will be able to make livestock work look like cake, one with poor flanks makes it look like it is really hard.

So often a dog/handler has a tough time not due to the stock being bad, but rather the dog is not working or responding properly based on the situation. Reminds me of a statement that Tony McCallum made that made everyone groan, "There is no Bad Livestock". I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah, right, you've never seen some of my draws", but I have change the way I am looking at how my dog handles the stock and I have began to recognize places where my dog showed weakness or made a poor decision which lead to a fight, basically making the livestock appear to be difficult or bad. Tony's right, there is no bad livestock. Clean and proper flanks based on the livestock are just one of the factors that can make livestock easy to hand.