Scott is coming up on retiring from big field, ISDS-style trials. In fact, this Rocky Ewe trial was to be Scott's 2nd-to last big field trial - his last will be in May this year. Scott will be 12 years old on June 6 and while he can still hear perfectly and has the stamina to do ProNovice-sized courses, I just feel it's the right time to retire him from these venues while he's still feeling good. Scott has certainly slowed down in his old age but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in vast experience and power - to move those sheep efficiently, he doesn't have to run fast and he rates his stock like no other dog I've ever seen.
I've been running Scott now for about 2.5 years. He has taught me so much about sheepdogs and what quality work looks like. He's taught me the value of what an old dog brings to the table too; this is so clear to me now that I have Jude!
I had to really step up to the plate in order to run him succesfully as my dog knew he knew more than me. It took about 12-18 months for me to realize what the hell was going on out there with the stock, my dog, and how my handling was affecting it all.
So, onward to the trial. Like I said, we were up 10th that day. I am not 100% certain, but I think only one or two other dogs prior to us actually were able to post a score. The trial field, at first glance, appears pretty easy. It looks to be nice and flat, very straightforward. However, given the torrential rains we've been having in the Washington area this month, there were HUGE puddles of water out there - specifically, right in front of the sheep set-out, and also in front of the fetch panels. Most of the dogs that day either couldn't lift the sheep from the set out, or they had fetches that were very offline. Knowing these water-features were out there and predicting what my sheep were going to do to Scott, I was able to set my expectations on what the fetch will likely look like and how I can make it the best possible. Diane Pagel had her super-awesome camera and took some great photos of my run - all below.
So, I send Scott to the left and he left me at a good pace. Nearing the 10 o'clock position on his outrun though, Scott came upon a tree in the pasture. Uh oh - Scott has always had a habit (especially prior to his neutering) to stop and mark on his outruns. Although he hasn't done this in many trials with me, he also hadn't had to run by a tree like that before. So, he stopped to "smell the flowers" and got a prompt scolding from me to the effect of "SCOTT! GET OUT OF THAT!!!" He understood my displeasure and continued on his outrun. Scott, in his older age, has been flattening out at the top of the outruns, which in turn has resulted in him pushing his sheep offline at the lift and a messy fetch. Again, Scott began to flatten out, so I blew a "Lie Down." This worked. The sheep noticed him but didn't run away from him. I blew another come-by flank to get him behind the sheep more, he took it, then lifted.
The sheep were drawn to the side the dog came in on which is unusual but apparently warranted because the sheep did not want to go swimming. Although the sheep were about 30 degrees offline at the start, I layed my dog down again to slow things down. This also stopped the "chase" mode that sometimes happens on our fetch and ultimately, screws us up all the way to the post. Once the sheep stopped running, I flanked the dog Away and he kicked out and got the sheep back onto the fetch line. It was simply beautiful as I've been working on this type of fetch for a long time with Scott. It just all came together and we had a beautiful, dead center fetch through the fetch panels.
Our straight-on fetch produced the tightest post-turn I think I'd ever had with Scott in competition. And yes, I realize from this photo is appears I'm just standing there not paying attention, but I was in total communication with my dog and could tell things were going well. But, I know for the younger dogs I'll be handling in the future, I will never take my eyes of the sheep!
The first leg of our drive was online but I beleive we missed the panel to the inside at the last moment. It's a bummer to miss panels and I'm not really sure why it happened - probably because my dog was too close to the sheep and I didn't respect the pressure that the panels push onto the sheep.
Our cross drive was beautiful - I do think Scott is one of the best driving dogs out there (not to brag or anything, but his cross-drives are usually awesome). You can see how far off the sheep Scott had to be from the sheep - any closer and we would not have made these cross-drive panels.
....and, they're fully through! You want the sheep to drift a little bit from the panel but not too much to where they get off course. If they're too close to the panel, at least with Scott, when I go to turn them they could pull back through the panels. I'm sure sliced-flanks also produce that same effect too. At this trial, Scott turned the sheep onto the final leg of the drive beautifully.
Here is my boy in full stride. Isn't he beautiful???? He actually takes my breath away when we're on the field together. I truly adore this old fart of a dog.
Alright, on to the fun part of this trial. So, typically, the final stage of the ProNovice trial is the pen. And usually, the handler goes to the door of the pen and works with the dog to get the sheep penned. Well, at this trial, we had to do an unassisted pen meaning we, as handlers, had to stand about 40-50 feet away from the pen and maneuver our dog to pen the sheep on his own. The pen was left in the full-open position. Lucky for us in ProNovice, they did leave the gate arm on the pen so it acted like a chute (the Open folks didn't get the 'chute' and thus, penning was even more challenging for them). I have never penned sheep like this before. However, I figured there had to be similarities in where to position the sheep and dog as when one pens in the traditional way. At close range like this, Scott works better with me with voice instruction (whistles can make things frantic for us). Here is Scott on the approach to the pen...
It looks like we're in the wrong position, but believe me, this was exactly where we wanted to be...
Here they come. You can see the intensity in Scott's whole body in this photo - he knew what I wanted him to do.
Ever so slightly, Scott positioned himself closer into the sheep's bubble and they slowly trotted into the pen area. Scott was really listening to my softer commands to take it easy and not be a pushy-boy.
... almost in...
... And the judge calls our pen as "good" and our run is complete. I felt really good about our run when we walked off the field. It was probably the best teamwork Scott and I have ever had and I could feel it right away. This run was also the most relaxed I've ever been on a trial field with Scott. We ultimately finsished up in 2nd place with a score of 72.
There is just something about this old dog. I do feel that it was in the cards that he and I ended up together - we were definitely made for one another (and, we're both Geminis!) Although I've only had him 3 years or so, he and I are bonded as if I'd had him his whole life. I will definitely credit Scott as the dog that taught me to not freak out and stress out at the post anymore. As the dog that showed me that every action has a reaction - blow a wrong flank, lose your sheep; push the sheep too hard, lose your sheep; don't fix a sloppy flank, lose your sheep... etc. As the dog that has made me the handler I am today.
* Photos taken by Diane Pagel