Well so much for writing regularly!  I tried, I really did.  But life just keeps going at mach speed.  Plus I have been spending very little time at my computer of late.  This will change now that I’m back to work full-time.  Most days will now be spent in front of this machine, so likely I’ll be able to write more frequently.

So what have I been up to?  Well, all sorts of things!  I’ve been visiting with friends, camping, cooking, eating, and training the dogs.  I’ve also started a new relationship, which I’ve wanted to focus my time on while I still was on flexible summer hours.  In short, I’ve been really enjoying myself and remembering what it is like to have a balanced life!  What a treat.  I am hoping I can hold on to this balance, or some semblance thereof, throughout the coming months.  Between now and next April, things are going to be pretty crazy.

The dogs have had a pretty darn good summer. At least I think they have.  I can see the improvement in Ross, who’s coat has turned soft again and who is behaving in a much more relaxed manner.  His weight and energy are good, and even his eyes look better.  Most of the time they are a soft, almond shape rather than the round, stressed out sad shape with saggy lower lids (that indicate a thyroid imbalance).  I’ve had him on a new homeopathic remedy this summer, but I really think his improvement has come from me being home nearly 100% of the time.  Or him being able to come with me when I go out.  Ross is a real mamma’s boy and he likes to be close at all times.  Mira is like this as well, and is similarly behaving much more relaxed and happy.

Hannah and Kess don’t seem to be as bothered by my irregular schedule during my work year, but they have both enjoyed quite a lot of training and work this summer, making them quite happy dogs.  We managed to get out and train at the farm 2-3 times a week most weeks.  Last week we farm-sat this farm for 8 days, and Hannah was over the moon with joy at having so much work.

This farm is a working, commercial farm with somewhere between 200-300 ewes and lambs.  Every morning we had to get up and put them all out to pasture, and every evening they needed to be brought back into the barn and locked up for the night.  This is because of coyotes, which have been very destructive this year.  More on that later (or perhaps in a separate post).  Hannah had to also hold sheep off feeders while I filled them with grain, and otherwise move sheep here and there depending on where I needed them to be.

What amazed me was just how brilliant this dog is at farmwork.  She is so, so keen to work.  Every morning she’d be sitting by the front door, waiting for me to get ready and go out.  After dinner she’d start to pace and bounce about in anticipation of evening chores.  Then we’d head out and she’d get down to task.

All I’d have to do would be to show her what I wanted, and she’d do it.  Once she understood, I wouldn’t have to say a word.  The first morning I guided her carefully around the barn, gently lifting sheep out of nooks and crannies, carefully moving the whole flock out the small gate without causing panic or chaos.  After that, she knew what to do.  I just sent her in and she’d come out, walking quietly, behind 250 sheep.  She’s lie down and wait patiently while old or lame ones would limp along at the end.  She’s flank to one side or the other of the flock to tuck in wayward lambs.  She’d stare down those who didn’t want to move, and – on a few occasions – nip at the noses of the really stubborn ones to convince them she was in charge.

Once all the sheep were out in the pasture field, Hannah would lie down in the gate and watch them trot away.  After that she’d look back at me, very clearly asking “OK, what’s next?”

Bringing in the flock at night was equally lovely to watch.  I’d send her from the gate and say nothing more until the last lamb disappeared into the barn.

Of course one danger with Hannah is that once she is sure of what needs to be done, she will often think she knows better than I do what comes next.  As such, I made sure to sometimes change things up, or at least to do some training on other things – where she needed to listen and work with me – throughout the day, in order to keep her listening.  My biggest problem with Hannah is her tendency to work on her own, and just letting her do barn chores would certainly make that worse.  But doing the chores + things that she cannot anticipate made for a good balance.  All in all, I think we both came a long way in that week.

I did work with the other dogs as well, but I let Hannah be my main working partner.  I know it would be really good for Kess or Mira to do the same, but with only a week, I decided to just focus on one dog.  Kess is only two, and Mira has enough other things to work on, so there will be time to let them be my right hand.  Plus Hannah just loves it so much.  Her desire to work is so much stronger than theirs.  The other two love to work when you bring them to stock, but Hannah clearly sits in the house thinking about her job.  I can’t say the same about the others!

I am noticing some big improvements in all three dogs.  Hannah is working incredibly well, although we still need to improve our whistle performance and her shedding is still hesitant.  Kess is coming along and starting (finally!) to develop an outrun.  It’s still spotty and I never know if she’s going to walk straight up the field or cast out when I send her.  I have been doing my best to always set her up to cast out, but not everything can be controlled.

Mira has recently surprised me by her increase in confidence.  She remains very tough to manage around stock, behaving as if she really doesn’t hear me (and I suspect she really doesn’t) until I have hollered at her several times and the stock are totally in the wrong place.  But she’s now going in to all sorts of tight places and pushing stock around and out of corners she would never have considered only a few months ago.  She almost never barks while working, and her tail stays down most of the time now.  We still have a long way to go, but her improvement is noticeable.  While she’s not an ideal dog to train by any standard for breed selection, she’s teaching me a tremendous amount by her challenges.  I know I’ve said that before, and I will say it again many times I’m sure.

Last week I also decided to put Ross on stock.  Why you ask?  Well, because he has really turned on to stock and is so fixated on them that I decided it would be prudent to do a little training to at least get a lie-down and recall off stock on him.  Who knows when he might actually get through a fence.  It has never happened, but anything is possible.  Now that I’m traveling more with the dogs to farms and trials, I need to be confident in my dogs.

Ross on sheep was quite entertaining.  The first time I tried I put him in a round pen with them.  He went round and round, tail up, singling out one ewe and cornering her.  Once she stopped, he’d walk up to her tentatively and sniff her nose.  Just like I’ve seen a lot of young dogs do.  In short, he’s behaving like a puppy.  No surprise, really.  I would have been far more surprised had he gone around the sheep and brought them back.

The next time I brought him out, I tried it in a larger field to give him more room.  That was probably not the best idea because there simply was a lot more running.  He’s still not gathering, although he did start to turn back the singles he was chasing and bring them back to me.  And once he started getting tired, he did show some inclination to go around.  He may never do more than this, but then again more instinct might come out in time.  It doesn’t really matter either way.  What I want is to be able to call him off, and that I was able to do.  I also established that he is no sheep killer.  Quite the opposite in fact.  While he enjoyed the chase, he’s very gentle with the stock. Good boy.

I have plenty of other stories to tell and I will do my best to tell them over the coming days.  I also have a bunch of photos to share.  I just downloaded them to my computer, and once I have formated them for posting, I’ll start putting them up.  Those might be the fastest way to get caught up after my long silence.