Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 Herding Reflections

I am very happy that Diane, my herding instructor and friend, has given me nearly 2GB of photos she has taken over the past year or so of me working with Scott and Mattie. As I look through the library of images, I am actually quite surprised of all I've accomplished in the past year with my two dogs.

I haven't actually counted but I think I ran Scott in 12 USBCHA Pro-Novice trials in the past year - that's about one a month I guess. I've learned a lot, such as the basic shepherd whistle commands, the nuances of pace, timing, control, draws and pressure and how it all varies with different courses, sheep and even weather. I've also learned how to have a rewarding working relationship with my dog and I've learned a lot about myself as a handler.

Running such a well trained, powerful and stylish dog such as Scott has its advantages and disadvantages. As an advantage, Scott has the ability to rate his stock and adjust his power to suit the stock naturally. This makes my job much easier as the dog is applying the proper amount of "push" so I have to think about one less thing out there. It really becomes my job to utlize Scott's power and control of the sheep he has but keep him "listening" to my commands to push the sheep around the course as accurately as possible. However, as I found out over the past year, as a new handler with a dog like Scott, Scott was totally aware that he can get away with "stuff" on the course (like slicing, gripping, flanking to his own desired side, etc.). Thus, I will say the disadvantage of being a new handler and running a "pro" dog like Scott is not being able to tell when he is "self herding" and blowing me off. After a few clinics and lessons and quite a few trial experiences, I am finally beginning to see his "cheatin' ways" and I'm getting quick enough and assertive enough to correct him so that we don't completely get off track on the course.

In our first few trials, okay probably our first 8 trials, Scott was definintely in charge and we were making some "interesting" mistakes around the courses. I suppose it's a testament that Scott and I make a great team though as we don't seem to make the same mistake more than once or twice. At some trials we'll lose tons of points on our outwork, while on some we'd lose it all on the drive. Once or twice we couldn't pen at all, and sometimes we were just too slow and timed out. It seems that once I think we've fixed a problem, a new one comes up! I am thankful that Diane is usually watching my runs and is extremely observant as to what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong.

Lacamas SDT, Camas, WA

Heading to the post: On the River SDT, Acme, WA

Winter Series, Acme, WA

Carnation Fun Day SDT: Carnation, WA

On the River SDT: Acme, WA

Winter Series, Acme, WA

Winter Series, Acme, WA

Scott fooling around, Lacamas SDT

On the River SDT, Acme, WA

My herding training with Mattie is also coming along well. We are out at Diane's farm about once a week now and although we are still in the round pen, Mattie is turning into quite a nice little farmdog. In fact, this past weekend was Mattie's first time with ducks and she did very well.

When we first came out to Diane's, Mattie and I had some big problems, mostly because we both lacked confidence in one another. Let's just say that if you're a passive-aggressive handler you will have a passive-aggressive dog. Anyway, Mattie is a Smithfield Sheepdog and the breed is notorious for being "sporty" on stock and being a bit of a biter. Honestly, Mattie wasn't the best choice of dog to start herding with but she is my dog and she isn't going anywhere so I will just need to work it out. Mattie can definitely move stock - no one argues that. She does have quite a bit of power to her but she doesn't know how to reliably wield it yet. She exhibits a bit of "eye" like a Border Collie but will also growl like a Rottweiler and nip/bit/tear like a Australian Cattle Dog. She's quite a gem and perhaps in 3 more years we'll be able to rely on her to move just about anything.

Mattie comes to balance naturally on stock, she has learned her come-by and away flanks and I even got her drive sheep 30 feet through a panel in a calm, controlled manner while practicing at Fido's Farm in Olympia. I am very pleased with how far she and I have come this past year. My goals for 2010 with Mattie is to get into bigger spaces and start working on driving. The Smithfield is a drover and I feel that she'll be an excellent driving dog. My other goal for 2010 is to run Mattie in a Novice trial next Winter (arena trial perhaps). While she may be able to do the work required in a novice trial, it will be difficult for her to ignore the distractions of the trial itself - specifically, the offleash dogs in the parking lot! We'll take it month by month and see where we're at.

So that's my reflection on the past year with regard to my herding with Scott and Mattie. It's been a great year and I'm looking forward to the coming year.

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