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.