Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Confessions of a Non- Hunter

It's currently gun deer season in Wisconsin.  I don't know about other places, but this is a serious holiday season around here.   The gals at the office have been talking bow hunting.   My retiree lady neighbor looks forward to getting her deer every year.  Almost nobody makes appointments.  Hardly anybody works.  Many kids miss school.    Saturday morning was opening day and it sounded like we were living next to a firing range or in a war zone, from dawn to dusk, both Saturday and Sunday.
  The back roads are filled with parked cars and trucks.  Bright orange people with guns are everywhere you look.  In the afternoon every other car or truck has a deer strapped to it.

I admire all those hunters out there reducing the deer population.   All the conservationists say we have too many deer, and anyone who drives in the country at night would agree.     But I can't bring myself to join them.  I have never shot or tried to shoot anything, not a deer, duck, turkey, goose or anything except some unwary traps and skeet, and pieces of innocent paper.    I don't know why, but it really just doesn't appeal to me.  Plus, the thought of being out there in the woods with a bunch of guns scares me.    So that's my confession.    You all have fun and get a deer for me! 

Monday, October 24, 2011


The puppies are 4 weeks old now, and exploring new places every day.  We took them to the barn, they saw the sheep.  We took them for a little walk down to the gate and back.  They got to see various rooms of the house and get carried here and there by the kids.  They have met all the big dogs now and the adults are unimpressed, except for Sprite who loves to play with them, and Becky who follows them around licking them.  They have various toys such as dumbbells, frisbees, and a cardboard box to climb around on, as well as some little puppy stuffed toys.  Jayne is definitely the more spunky pup, he wags and growls and plays almost constantly, he sometimes barks too.   Book is a quieter pup who will come up to me wagging his tail, get petted, but then just sit and look at my face thoughtfully for a while. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hawk in the barn

We have a hawk in our barn, and I'm happy about that and hope he will stay.  I'm not sure what kind it is as the barn is pretty dark, but it does have a striped tail and is medium large sized.   He (she?) was there yesterday and all the pigeons were gone.   Dane thought the hawk might be trapped, so he opened the barn doors wide.  Well, he is still there today and just as I went in I saw him make a dive for a pigeon and miss.   As long as he sticks to pigeons and stays out of the ducks and chickens I'll be happy.    We have far too many of the winged rats and they make horrible messes in there. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nationals, and lessons

Ganesh, opener of ways
I spend most of Nationals in Renea's RV (thank you!!!!) but the last night the RV had to go home so I stayed at the Super 8, watched over by this little guy.    When I saw him at the front desk I knew it would be a good place to stay, and it was. 

Sprite and Hank, competitors

Luke and Pepper, visitors
I took 4 dogs, not knowing if I would get any runs because I was on the wait list for everything.  I ended up getting into everything I signed up for, but changed my mind on Sprite's advanced sheep run at the last minute and let someone else have it.  I was confused by the new rules on staying at the same level and I actually could have trialed her in open again, so I was kicking myself later when I figured that out.    Hank was in sheep and ducks in the Nationals trial and Sprite was just in advanced ducks.  Except for Hank's sheep run I was happy with how they did.  Sprite scored a few points higher than Hank on ducks because she actually got hers through the center obstacle.  Hank was being very stubborn on "out" and coming in at the wrong moment.  

On sheep, Hank would not drive to the panels, and I was very frustrated with him just standing there holding the sheep.  But I did get some very helpful advice from Shannon Wolfe on how to work on that, so I'm trying it.   I went by there for a lesson later on.  

First of all, Hank is slipping side to side because I have not taught him to hold a line, so he's following the sheep; he tends to miss the panels because he's not on a line (not a rope, but a straight line with the sheep), and then when I get excited and give a bunch of commands he gets worried and looks back to me.   Then, he doesn't want to push into them because of the worry so he stands and holds them.  Also, he needs work on taking the inside flank.

So, the first thing to work on is how I start the drive.  Instead of just saying "walk up" and letting the dog take it from there, I am now giving a couple of flanks to get the sheep headed the right direction, and then saying "there, walk up".   This shows the dog where the line will be and lets them learn to hold it.  I wasn't expecting instant results with this, but it seemed to really help him out right away.  

The second thing was to brush up on the inside flanks, which we did by flanking him from the balance point around 360 degrees several times.    Then to be next to him while driving and emphasize "HERE, away" or "HERE, go bye".

The third thing was to have him drive them into a corner and then keep driving them until they scatter and he has to come out and cover.  It's very important to stay calm and let him know it's fine if he makes a mess, he knows how to fix it again.   This should get to his reluctance to push in.   The first few times I tried it he was really slipping side to side and letting them go around the corner, but then he figured out what I wanted and was actually driving them straight into the corner.  

It's really helpful to have a good trainer take a look at your dog and figure out what you need to do to improve.  

All these things are working with the younger dogs too so I can hopefully head any problems off before they start.  

Shannon's dog Miska working in the pens
I spent a lot of time working in the sheep pens, which was fun and kept me busy while still being able to watch the runs.   And I helped a small amount by being a fence for the cattle drives as they were moved from barn to arena and back again each day.  

Aside from a flood in the RV and some rainy weather some of the days, Nationals was really good for me this year and I had a great time seeing everyone there.   I can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tyra and Sally

I have never written where Tyra and Sally ended up, so since today is a day off for me I thought I'd give updates on them.   Tyra went to a family back in May, where they had owned a previous generation of my mom's dogs.  Now the daughter is grown up and out on her own and came back to my Mom for her own dog.   Tyra has a little girl whom she loves, and has managed to become an important part of the household.   One night she was put to bed in her crate as usual, but completely unlike her, she just would not stop barking.  Finally her owner got up to see what was wrong and found the back door wide open.  As soon as the door was shut and Tyra checked and found everything was ok, she went to bed peacefully.

Sally has gone for a try-out period with a sheep dog trainer friend.   So far she is doing really well and my friend really likes her.  Sally will get to work sheep quite a bit and trial if all goes well between them.   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I got home from Nationals to find that we'd had unexpected births while I was away.  These two little black guys were born September 23, the first day of fall.   Their mom is Tessa, and dad will have to be determined by DNA testing because they were some sneaky little buggers.     They are some of the fattest puppies I've seen, with only two of them to share the food.   They have names.  They are Jayne and Book according to me, but we haven't decided which name goes with which pup.  Sometimes they are also Storm and Pistachio (if you ask Michael). 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Working again and starting school

I worked Pepper again today.  We did a lot of the same things, with having her come around to my side on a flank and then come between me and the sheep.  She did it much more easily this time, so I think there was some latent learning going on for her.    She had better flanks going around after crossing in front of me, and I didn't see any of the panicked "ack, I'm in the wrong place" which would lead to rushing around too close that she did a couple of times in the last session.   
We also did some driving with me behind her.  I had her on a long line, but didn't have to use it.  I've been finding that if I keep in contact with her by repeating "there" in a steady low tone, her ears keep me tuned in and she doesn't go into yee haw mode to try to bring them back.   It works better than stopping her.
I also worked Ben a bit just to keep him in practice.  I have him entered in an advanced farm trial in October.  
Yesterday I worked Luke, Hank ans Sprite.   Sprite was a pushy little monster, obviously she thought she hadn't been doing enough lately.   Hank was just the same as he always is, and Luke was really happy to be at work again.  He doesn't think he should be retired.   He got the biggest grin on his face when I called him through the gate instead of one of the other dogs. 
The rest of the week has been pretty much a boredom zone for the dogs.   Lots of getting ready for school things to do-  today was the first day back for the kids.   They were both excited and a bit nervous and they got up extra early and were running around with their shoes and backpacks on an hour before it was time for the bus. 
Are we ready for school or what?

Michael, First Grader!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pepper was 2 yesterday

Yesterday was Pepper's birthday, and she got her favorite sort of present, which was to work sheep until her tongue was hanging down and she was ready to get in the water bucket.   We did a lot of work on flanks.   I'm having her come around from balance to my side up while I am against a fence, then come between me and the sheep and go back around to balance.    She goes around behind me on a flank very easily, but coming between me and the sheep does not make her comfortable.   The only way I can get her to come in front of me is to have my back against the fence.   I'm using a technique learned from Bob Vest, of holding the stick out diagonally and touching the ground, then having the dog go under the stick as they cross in front.   For some reason it helps get the dog close in to your feet without having them focus on coming to you.     Getting the dog between me and the stock is an important step in driving, especially when I want them to drive stock off that are resistant to going away.  

Michael with Sprite, Pepper and Ben

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to find a working dog

There are a lot of places not to get a working dog, starting with some of the obvious ones: 

Don't buy a dog from a pet store, whether you are getting a pet or working dog.   Their dogs do not come from "good local breeders" no matter what the stores claim.   Good breeders do not sell their pups in pet stores.   Period. 

Buy a dog from someone who uses their dogs  if you need or want a working dog.    Not all Aussies retain good working instinct or the drive to get the job done. 
A breeder may have "working lines" but if the actual parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters etc. are not being worked you don't know that the instinct to work is being passed down.   Critical pieces of instinct can be lost and you are taking a chance that the pup you get will not be as useful as he could be for your operation.   Since you are going to be putting money and time into the pup you might as well give yourself the best chance at success.  

Don't be afraid to look at breeders outside your area. Breeders of working Aussies are not that common in some areas of the country so you may need to expand your search.  Many breeders can ship a puppy, or a road trip can be a vacation or can sometimes be combined with other travel plans.

If you're looking at a web site and most of the dog photos show them standing next to little signs with people wearing suits and dresses it's a good bet that their first breeding criteria is not for a working dog.    There are many more show dog/pet dog breeders out there in Aussieland than there are working dog breeders.   Be selective.      

If you're looking for a cow dog, make sure the dogs in question work cows.   And the same for sheep.  Many working Aussies will work both types of stock, but some are specialized more toward one or the other.    It helps to discuss with the breeder what types of jobs you will expect the dog to perform and listen to what they say about the strengths/weaknesses of their own dogs.   If they don't say, you can ask, and  if they know what they are doing they can give specific answers about the working traits of their dogs.

If you're not sure where to look, you can always ask for recommendations.   There are several working Aussie groups with helpful members who know the dogs and can recommend breeders and litters.  

This is a good place to start:   
 If you contact a breeder and they don't have any puppies available, ask if they can recommend someone.

This one is on facebook:
This is a practical stock work group:

Another good group with some experienced breeders/trainers as members:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Working Sunday

Yesterday I took Pepper out in the big field with three of the ewes that haven't been worked much.  They are dog broke, but they are out of the habit and were pretty light.  She did pretty well, though she didn't settle them as quickly as she might have, eventually she did and we even did some open field driving.   I'm still trying to stay up even with her and not let her get way ahead of me so I can stay in the picture.  She has her directions down pretty well and her flanks are square (or bigger than square sometimes, depending on what the sheep are doing).  

I had Kip move the wether/ram group to a new pasture, then worked Tessa and Sally on them with a break in between to work Pepper on the other group.   I'm happy with how Sally and Tessa are doing.   We did some fetching, some small outruns and some driving both on and off the fenceline.   Both pups are doing well on leaving from my side at short distances.  I need to start working toward longer outruns with them.   Sally has really hooked into driving (I'm talking really short drives on a line here) and coming on the the sheep that way and she looks a lot like her mom-walking with intensity.

kids and dogs

Tessa after the kids gave her a bath

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gettin' up there

This is an old picture of Cinder.   She's past her cattle working days at age 11, but she's still eager to move the sheep around for me when I need her.  I've been a bit worried about her a couple of times in the last few weeks when it seems like she had a momentary weakness in her hind legs.  Once it seemed like her feet were dragging just for a few seconds.  The other dogs sometimes knock into her when they would never have dared to face the wrath of Cinder in her prime.   More than anything I do not want to face the reality that she is getting older and I will be without my Cinder dog some day.   She has given up leadership of the pack gracefully and without a fight to Pepper (who is rowdy hooligan but really wanted it).  

Cinder at 11

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prickly situation

I was looking out the window one day last week, and saw this little guy on a low branch of a tree right at the edge of the deck.  He was about the size of a basketball.

The dogs hadn't seen it yet, and I quickly called them all into the house.   Then Dane and I used a rake and a long pipe to herd him down the branch to the end until he dropped off in to the pasture (the tree hangs out over the fence).    The porcupine, probably a young one,  was trying to climb back up the fence into the yard and was a really quick climber so we further herded him out the pasture gate and off into the pine woods.  Porcupines don't herd well and when you push them they tend to hunker down.   Hopefully he will be happy out there and not try to come back in the yard.  


The blog site was down for a while, and I was down for even longer.   Nothing wrong, just loss of motivation, which wasn't helped by Hank getting injured in a scuffle with Ben over chasing the hose- too much excitement.  He had to get some stitches in his eye lid, but is out of confinement now and back to work.  He seems a little out of shape and is up in weight- normally he's very thin, and now he actually has padding on his ribs.   I used him to bring the lambs up today so I could check them.   I just love Hank.   He's a good boy.

I have been working the young dogs - Sally, Tessa and Pepper.     Tessa is really standing out as a very biddable dog lately.   She is calm and serious, never quits but is willing to do what I say, stop, walk up, whatever.   Sally is still mostly about fetching, but after we had a little discussion about down still being down even with sheep she's doing better on that.   Before she would stop and stand but not down.  I had to tie her to a gate and have her down far away from me several times with no sheep in the picture because she didn't really get that it was the same command far away from me as it was at my feet.   The two pups are very different and my mom and I decided that Sally takes after Smudge more and Tessa takes after Emma- Sally prefers circles and staying out of the pressure, catching the eye to turn them, but then going back out on a circle-  where Tessa thrives on hooking up to pressure and taking them somewhere, preferring to walk straight rather than to circle.   So to keep each dog balanced up, I work Tessa with a lot of turns and fetching, and I'm working Sally with more driving and trying to straighten her line behind the sheep with more stop/ walk ups than I do with Tessa.   

Pepper, after almost 2 weeks off, acted like a wild hooligan the first time back at work, running through the sheep when I tried to have her drive.   I must have worked her for 45 minutes to an hour that day and really got on her about ignoring my down commands.   Like I told her at the time, she may be a stubborn bitch, but I am even more of one.   The next day she was behaving again, and she's been good since then.   She really does need consistent work at this point.   I worked the ducks with her a bit this week too and she did pretty well.  She tends to zip around a little, but is getting steadier. 


Friday, July 29, 2011

Odd picture

Umm, pasture art?


Bobby the Plecostomas is our new addition to the fish tank. We're not sure if it's male or female, so I guess that could be Bobbie.  The other fish are all doing great, so far they are growing and thriving.   Especially Cartman.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sometimes a little dog needs a little help

I took Sprite out to check the lambs last night.  They are in our neighbor's far pasture, which has grass up to my waist right now.   We had to walk past my other group of sheep to get there, so when I sent Sprite for the lambs she thought I meant the sheep she already saw and started the wrong direction.  I called her back and lifted her up above the grass, pointed her nose toward the lambs and told her "look".    She saw them, I set her down and sent her "go bye".   She went out perfectly, stopped on her own in the perfect spot and creeped up slowly to them them started, and brought them to me without a command.   I have to tell you my heart was singing to see her in action.   And some people wonder if dogs can visualize in their heads.  She saw those lambs, and kept the picture of where they were and how to get there as she ran out, since once I set her down they were out of sight again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pepper's Job

Pepper got the job of taking the older group of sheep through the barn to munch down my small pen for a few hours.  It's not convenient to get the lawnmower into- much easier to let the sheep do it.  

All done!

Moving the sheep day

We move sheep around regularly from one pasture to another, and today was the day to move again.   Ben took the lambs over to the far pasture, which hasn't had any grazing and is getting really tall.   Probably too tall, but the sheep will manage I'm sure. 

I snapped some pictures of him and the sheep.
Before I sent Ben:  
The lambs with a helper bird on board.  It's not just elephants and zebras that attract little bug eating helpers.
Rounding them up

Bringing them to me

Going toward the gate

Now driving

On the other side of the gate he brings them to me again.   I want to make sure they don't get mixed with the other flock in the field.

Through the next gate

The last gate- the grass is getting really tall over here

Sheep vanishing into grass

After that I let him go get the neighbor's lambs to put them in the pen. 

At first the lambs are curious about the new dog
First he took them to a corner and then down the fence to the pen.  
Getting them out of a corner
About to enter the pen
Ben didn't  have any trouble with them.

Ben watching them at the gate of the pen


Yesterday was mostly hot, but it cooled off in the evening and at 8:00pm I went out to train Pepper, Tessa and Sprite.   Tessa is in heat now, but it didn't make a difference in her work.   I gave her only 3 sheep, and two of them rams, so she had to adjust herself down a little from the larger group that we were using.  The rams are pretty well behaved but are still rams and if you don't give them an escape route they are more likely to fight than other sheep.    So when we worked on some driving I made sure to keep Tessa back and not let her push into the fight zone.   Just her staring at the old ram was enough to get him to move.  

Pepper worked the other group in the L shaped field, which is tricky as they run around a narrow gate to get to the other side of some trees, so the dog has some interesting challenges there.  She did really well.  I didn't let her drive out ahead of me, but stayed right with her as she drove the sheep.  

Sprite worked the lambs in the large field, and I had one moment of shock.   I sent her over a hill on an outrun to start with-  we saw the sheep, but they saw us also and darted behind the hill just as I sent her.   When I didn't immediately have sheep coming at me I marched up to the top to see what she was doing- to my surprise there was no one there.   No Sprite, no sheep.   The grass is pretty high in some places, so I was searching the field for moving grass, then finally spotted them just to my left.   Evidently the sheep had bolted just to the left to go down in a dead end alleyway as Sprite was coming and she didn't know how to get them back out again without making a mess so she was just holding them there.  

This is a video of Kip, but it shows the alleyway where Sprite was holding the sheep.   The grass is higher now than it was in this video.

I had to go help her get around them, then of course they bolted for the other side of the pens off to the left in the video.   Once we got everyone collected we had a pretty nice session.   Sprite was a little too pushy on fetching them but had a really nice pace while driving.   I practiced driving a square around the middle of the open area- drive for one side of the square, have Sprite make the sheep do a 90 degree turn and drive another side, and so forth.