Last weekend Scott, Jude and I drove to Camas, WA to run Scotty in the 2010 Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trial. We stayed in Diane's very comfortable RV at the trial site. I drove down on Wednesday afternoon to help Diane set up the camper and just to get settled - I hate rushing around. I didn't have a run on Thursday but I wanted to watch the other ProNovice runs and see how the sheep behaved. My runs with Scott were scheduled for #44 on Friday and #4 on Saturday. Unfortunately, no one was able to take pictures of my runs so there are no pics to post here - I'll try to write as descriptively as possible though ;)
Last year, Scotty and I were pretty new to trialing but I still entered in him 2 ProNovice runs at Lacamas. Our first day, we retired on the fetch as we lost the sheep to the setout behind a hill and were excused. The second day we faired a bit better and completed our run, scoring mid-pack. Losing our sheep on that first day was handler error - inexperience and freaking-out came into play.
This year, I had familiarity with the field/sheep type and a year of trialing/stock work with Scott under my belt. Albeit, Scotty is no spring chicken; he's 11 years old now so he's slower than your average border collie. To our advantage though, this year's Lacamas sheep were heavy lambs that were not dog-broke at all. Their heaviness slowed things down a bit and I think that worked for Scott very well. Scott has never had a problem pushing any type of stock around - probably has something to do with his strong breeding and working on a large cattle ranch for 5-6 years!
Our Friday run was being judged by Rob Miller. The sheep were growing heavier and heavier as the day wore on. There were 64 runs scheduled to run that day and my run at 44th took place around 3:30pm or so (they started at 7am). Dogs kept timing out on their drives as the sheep were just unwilling to move. They were getting hungry and many sets would just graze during the fetch and drive. Dogs that didn't have that special "power" came to a stop and had trouble pushing the sheep. There were many grips happening as well, most warranted though as many ProNovice dogs are youngsters who tend to grip to just get some type of movement.
For this first run, the set out crew was having trouble with my set. We waited about 3-4 minutes for them to get the 5 sheep out to the set-area. They'd push the sheep out about 25 yards and the sheep would run back to the set out pens. In the past, this would have tweaked me out a bit - it's always easy to blame "bad sheep" or an "unstable setout" on how one's dog lifts and fetches. Some people will blame the set out on the way their whole run goes if it doesn't go well. I made the concious decision to not let the flighty-set of sheep get to me. I sent Scott on the away to me side, which is the side the set out pens were on. Scott's outrun was nice and wide, he sighted his sheep and while he came in a bit flat, I felt this was warranted given the heavy draw those sheep had to the setout pens. His lift was beautiful. Scotty totally knows how to fetch sheep to me, so when I saw that he had a soft yet authoritative lift, he "had" those sheep and was correcting himself to get online. I kept my mouth shut the whole time and it wasn't until those sheep when through the middle of the fetch panels that I slowed him down with a soft "lie..." Our post turn was a bit wide but efficient. The first leg of the drive was S L O W. The sheep were extremely heavy and Scotty was pushing hard. We were a bit offline as the sheep were a bit squirrrely and would turn to face the dog (this happened on most runs that day). I recall that we missed the first drive panel - the sheep were also drawn to the exhaust on that side a bit. It was just slow going. I got my sheep back online and we began the crossdrive. Again, slow but straight (Scott is an excellent driving dog). We made it to our cross-drive panels and while I can't recall if we made them or not, our sheep popped offline up a small incline and didn't want to come back down. We had 7 minutes to complete the course and time was ticking. Scott did manage to get the sheep to move again toward me. Unfortunately, we timed out about 50 feet from the post, which means we didn't complete the drive. So, we automatically lost all 30 drive points and our 10 pen points. However, because of Scott's excellent outwork, we managed to get a score of 44. That put us in 17th place on Friday.
Saturday, we were 4th up. Becki Maloney was our judge. At the handler's meeting we learned the 1st run scratched so I was actually 3rd up. Again, my sheep were not set in the "ideal" way. Right after I sent Scott on the away to me side again, the set out dog lost the sheep at the top and they started to trot offline to the left. I hate it when that happens! But, again, I wasn't about to let that spoil my run or be an excuse - the set out sheep "is what it is." You just gotta deal with it. Scotty's outrun was a bit tighter because he saw the sheep taking off. He managed to get behind and lift them as they were on the move - again, not an ideal situation. His presence thus moved the sheep to the right and the unanticipated dog-leg fetch began. We were running just 4 sheep today which helped them be not so heavy (compared to Friday's runs). Of course, this meant the sheep were faster and having been exhausted a few times into their "safe zone" the sheep were making a beeline to the exhaust. Scotty had the sheep but he refused to release the pressure on the fetch and would not flank for me to the comeby side in order for us to make the fetch panel. We ended up about 20 feet to the right of the panel and the sheep were making a beeline to the exhaust now. As they got closer, Scott finally took my comeby command and steered the sheep into my direction at the post. We had a very wide and ugly post turn. We started the first leg of the drive (left hand drive today). The sheep were a bit easier to push around today - perhaps because there were only four and that it was first thing in the morning. We hit both drive panels and were offline a bit at the turns and that last leg of the drive to the pen. The drive again was complete when the sheep reached the post. When they got to the post, I was ecstatic. Now, today we had 6.5 minutes to complete the course but the drive was shorter than it was on Friday. Not wanting to time out again, I jogged to the pen. We had a little bit of a ruckus at the pen but not circling - when the 4th sheep meandered into the pen, I quickly closed that gate! We got our pen! There were only 7 pens total that day so I felt that was an accomoplishment in itself. Our score was a 55 with this run. At the end of the day, after the 60th run was complete, we ended up 12th.
I'm very happy with how both runs went. I'm happy with how my dog worked for me and how he put full effort into his work. He listened well and was really teaming up with me. I'm happy with my whistles too; all that practice in the car on my way home from work is paying off! And, I'm happy that I kept a cool head when given difficult-to-set-sheep and didn't let that affect either run.
It took a year to get a cohesive working partnership with Scott - just like my trusted herding advisors told me it would. I know I'm very fortunate to have a well-trained, biddable, thoughtful and powerful dog like Scott to learn on and trial with. He is not only Jude's Obi-Wan Kenobi, but mine too!