The dogs and I had a great Christmas.  It’s 10pm and they have all been passed out for several hours now. I feel like a good mom again, at last.

To start, I found the perfect presents for them.  I stopped buying my dogs presents for Christmas and for their birthdays since I have so many now, but they did need a few new things and I decided to use Christmas as an excuse to buy them.  First, I got them all new tags since the phone number on the old ones no longer forwards to my new number.  I hate jingly collars but don’t like my dogs to go about without any form of ID.  I came across these Boomerang slide-on tags and decided to give them a try.  Hopefully they will arrive in the mail in the next few days.  I also ordered a new collar for Hannah and for Kestrel as theirs are really wearing out.  I ordered them from Silverfoot, a small Canadian company that makes very durable and unusual collars. I have bought a couple in the past and have been very happy with how well they have worn.  This is the one I chose for Hannah.  Kestrel is getting the same one but in ‘Minnowflex Red.’

The collars and tags are really presents for myself.  The real present for the dogs was a Jolly Ball.  The girls really love to play soccer and I have been kicking around the saddest looking, deflated soccer ball for months now.  They of course love it and all go in search of it the second they go out the back door.  But I thought it was time to upgrade.  A Jolly Ball shouldn’t deflate because it is molded, not inflated.  And best of all, it has a handle on it.  It was originally designed for horses, so I expect it to be pretty tough.  It didn’t take Hannah long to figure out what to do with the handle.  In fact, she grabbed the ball by the handle immediately, as if she felt it was about time that soccer balls came with handles.  She was over the moon with this.  The others chased the ball around, but Hannah was the first one to understand the handle concept, and therefore was the only one to be able to retrieve it for some time.  She was pretty happy about that!

Next, I loaded the dogs into the car and drove to my friend’s farm.  He and his wife were away for the day, spending Christmas with friends.  But they invited me to hike and train the dogs at their farm regardless.  I took the dogs for a good hike around the property (100 acres) and then started to train.  My friend Janet came to join me and we spent the day alternately training dogs (she has two) and sitting in the barn, warming up and chatting.  It poured rain the whole time, and my down coat soaked through completely by the end of the day (I left my rain coat behind, not expecting this kind of weather!).  But rain meant it wasn’t overly cold, so I didn’t get badly chilled.  We didn’t wrap up until dusk, at which point I took the dogs for another hike.  Once home we had dinner (I had a ham sandwich and some eggnog), and then I took a hot bath and got into my pj’s.  Now it’s time to read by the fire and go to sleep.

The dogs all did much better today than they did yesterday, which was to be expected.  Hannah was still a bit over the top and I need to do some basics with her to try and get her head on straight again.  I wanted to work on her lifts, and Janet wanted to work on her dog’s fetches, so we did sheep relays.  We stood about 50 yards apart and had the dogs fetch the sheep back and forth between us.  Hannah’s lifts had really slowed down to the point that, as someone recently commented, you could smoke a cigarette during her lift.  The lift is when the dog has come up behind the sheep at the top of an outrun, and starts to move them towards you.  In the ideal lift, the dog gently, calmly but firmly gets the sheep moving in a straight line towards you.  You don’t want the dog to blast into them (like Mira and Kestrel still do), so most people teach the dog to lie down once they get into position, and then call them on in a walk to lift the sheep slowly.  Hannah does this naturally (incidentally, so now occasionally does Mira) but she comes on so slowly that the sheep take forever to lift.  And tough sheep might just stare at her and refuse to move.  My goal is to get her to walk on more authoritatively, and she was definitely doing that today.  The trick is to get her to then slow down once they’ve started to move.  For the first few times she just galloped them down the field.  Balance is always a challenge!

I worked on lengthening Mira’s outruns today.  She worked very nicely, yet again.  However, her stop had completely vanished.  No matter how much I hollered and stomped and waved my arms, she refused to lie down.  Janet came over and decided to try her on whistles.  I have done a little whistle work with Mira, but not much.  Mostly I have just done some flank drills, i.e. I stand between her and the sheep, blow the whistle for the direction I want her to go, then have her go around the sheep in that direction.  Repeat in opposite direction.  Mix it up.  The idea is that she should start to associate the whistle with the directional command.  This, apparently, was a waste of time.  Janet just started working Mira on whistles, giving her the various commands like she expected her to know them, and uttering a low growl when Mira was wrong.  In under 10 minutes Mira was working very, very nicely on whistles.  She not only took lie down whistles, but a “take time” one too.  She doesn’t even know what that means if I tell her.  Yet 5 minutes on whistles and she was taking time when asked.  Amazing.  I guess I will be working Mira on whistles from now on!

I just did some wearing with Kestrel to get through her head the necessity of not running me over with sheep.  Again, Janet had some great ideas and within a few minutes, Kess was wearing nicely.  It’s so wonderful to be able to train with someone with more experience, and who has trained with really top trainers as well.  Every time we get together, my training skills improve, as do my dogs.

Here are a few pictures of Kestrel working sheep, at long last.  Having a second person is necessary with these young, fast dogs, which is why I don’t have any of her or Mira.  As the light was so low the images are grainy and slightly blurred, an effect I’ve always liked.  I was also going to take some photos of Mira, but it rained too heavily and I was afraid of getting the camera any wetter than it already was.   Hopefully next time!

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