I just came in from doing some reading on the front porch.  The yard there is fenced and so the dogs can sit out in the grass while I read and I don’t have to worry about them.  I kept finding my thoughts drifting from my text (this is work related reading, not pleasure) and designing a ‘dog yard’ for my future house.  I love having this small, fully fenced grassy area for the dogs where I can leave them without concern.  It has plenty of shade, spots for them to dig, and several raised platforms on which they can sit and watch over the property.  I keep picturing a similar yard out in the country, where the gate opens into pasture instead of lawn, and faces fields of wildflowers, sheep and trees rather than another house.  Someday, hopefully soon!

First I have to finish this degree, and I am determined to do so in the next six months.  This is going to mean really being disciplined and doing a tremendous amount of work.  I’ve been feeling pretty good these days and my energy has stayed consistent despite working many long days in August and early September.  That I am able to work hard and stay healthy is extremely encouraging and a positive reflection of where I am these days.  I really hope I can continue to manage things such that this becomes the norm for me.

Yesterday I got some really good news: I have a part-time contract for the next 8 months.  The money is not great, but it will be enough for me to pay my bills and buy healthy food for myself and the animals while only having to work two (fairly long) days a week.  The rest of the time I can focus on my dissertation so things are looking promising.  I will actually be working two related but separate part-time jobs at a small affiliate college.  This will be a big change from the large academic institution I’ve been at for the last 5 years, and I am really looking forward to it.

I am taking it easy today in terms of trying to get too much done.  I was going to run the dogs at the conservation area but they all seem rather quiet today so instead I’m focusing on my work and will take them to the farm tonight to train.  Tomorrow I am doing a herding demonstration with them in the evening at a local agricultural fair.  I expect it will be really fun.  The people who own the farm where I train are putting it on and invited me to join and bring all three girls so that I can demonstrate different levels of training.  There will be other handlers and dogs there as well, and I look forward to meeting new herding people from the area.

Last night I spoke at length with a good friend who also does herding.  He is a relatively new handler (6 or so years of experience) but is doing exceptionally well.  He’s very dedicated to his dogs, and constantly searching for new and better ways to train.  He is very positive in his methods and gentle in his ways and I wish I could train with him in person as I expect I would learn a lot.  As he is too far away, we talk by phone and he gives me tips and verbal lessons, and then I try to put what he says in practice.

Last night we talked about a habit that Hannah has that I need to fix: she flanks constantly back and forth on the fetch.  By this I mean that when she is bringing sheep to me from a distance, she is constantly moving from side to side of the group.  The result is that the sheep zig zag down the field, rather than move in a straight line.  They don’t typically move much off-line, but this unnecessarily agitates the sheep and if we were working really light sheep, she could easily lose them or get them so rattled that we end up with a lot of struggle when needing to do more precise close work.

This flanking back and forth is a puppy thing and people have often told me that it should go away as the dog matures.  My friend said this is indeed true… for some dogs.  With others it becomes an entrenched habit that you need to actively fix.  This is obviously the case with Hannah.  Fixing this problem is going to be one of my focuses in training over the next little while, along with getting her comfortable with working in tight places with stock.  My friend gave me some tips that I won’t try and explain here until I’ve done them and see if I understood correctly.

It’s good to have specific things to work on while training, rather than just going out and working sheep.  I need to think carefully about what I want to do with Mira and Kess.  With Mira I’m working on driving, and with Kess it’s quiet wearing, but these goals are pretty general and I need to break down the processes into smaller components that I can work on in short 10-20 minute sessions.  I will put some thought into it before going out tonight.

I noticed that the last time I trained I started to get bored with what I was going with both Kess & Mira, despite their good performance, as I didn’t have a real purpose for what I was going.  Gosh I get bored easily!  This is my constant challenge, both in training dogs and in trying to write a dissertation, among other things.  Setting out a structured plan of action, broken into small & easily accomplished steps, I’m finding is a great way to manage my easy distraction and move forward at a steady pace.  Saying that, I need to get off this computer and back to my work plan for the day.  I may not get a chance to write again until the weekend, as tomorrow will be a busy day!

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