I’ve been meaning to share this beautiful pastel image that Beth Lowell did of my girls – Mira and Hannah – from a photo of them at the beach near my house. I was so excited to learn which photo Beth selected, and to see how it turned out in pastel. It’s just stunning and when I receive the original, it will be framed and displayed proudly in my living room! Thank you Beth! Thank you, thank you! I’ve always wanted original artwork of my own dogs. I hope you will be open to doing more!
Well this isn’t a good start to the new year! In terms of writing regularly, I mean! Things got very busy starting New Year’s day, when my family came home from their travels. The ensuing week has been quite chaotic. I still had a lot of work to finish before the semester started up again in earnest (on January 04th), and I wanted to spend a little time with my family before heading home. So no time for writing, or for training the dogs. Fortunately I got out on New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day, which made for 6 training days out of my 10 day break. I’m pretty happy with that. Winter is now setting in in earnest, so we may not get much training in again until spring. Time will tell.
Our last two days out were really good. The dogs were well oiled and each was working well. I met with two friends on New Year’s eve to train, and we held sheep for each other. I worked each of the dogs and was quite happy with how they all did.
First, I worked Mira. I decided it was time to start moving her forward and wanted to see if she might be able to run a novice-novice course. I started by spending about 10 minutes doing some basic wearing with her. Frustrated by her lack of stop over the past week, I brought out the whip. She really worries about that thing, so it’s not something I like to use frequently. But it certainly gets her attention. As I sent her to collect her sheep, she came in tight, busted them up, barked and was in general goofy. Annoyed, I cracked the whip. Mira hit the deck, and looked at me as much to say “HOLY CRAP! you should have warned me you had that thing!!” I then coiled the whip around my wrist and just used the handle like a regular stock stick.
Mira was a different dog. She took every stop I asked for. She stayed off her sheep. She had pace. She stayed deep and wide. It was beautiful. I never cracked the whip again, one snap was all it took. Clearly Mira knows what is expected of her, which leads me to believe that her misbehaviour over the last few sessions was exactly that – willful disobedience. Or rather, willful over-exuberance. Given a good reason to pay attention, she does. Lesson learned!
I next too her out to the bigger field where the others were working. The farm has a 10 acre fenced in field, but also has about 90 acres unfenced. Much of this is used for grazing cows (there is a hot wire that keeps the cows in but is too high for sheep), and they are up for the winter. So we trained in the cattle pasture. I really like this farm as it has no busy roads anywhere nearby. The house is half a kilometer back from a very quiet country road, and then the barn is as far back again. The property is surrounded by other farms so training without fencing is really quite safe. Working out in the big pasture area gave us many new places to train, really enabling us to mix things up. There was also much less draw back to the barn out there, make it easier to practice outruns with the young dogs.
I decided to send Mira on a 150 yard outrun to pick up some sheep being held by my friend and her dog. Mira had never met either before and I was really curious to see how she’d do. She was a bit tight and came in flat at the top, but she didn’t bat an eyelash at the sheep being held by another team. She lifted the sheep and brought them to me. Good girl! She took her lie down very nicely once the sheep were at my feet. Can you see the huge grin on her face? She was so darn proud of herself!
Mira and I then held sheep for our training partner. When holding sheep it’s very important for the set-out dog to not move when the other dog comes in to get the sheep. I knew this would be too much for Mira, and I couldn’t exactly crack the whip as the other dog came in (I had actually put the whip away after we warmed up). So I just put Mira in position to hold the sheep against running back to the barn, and then knelt and held her steady. The sheep were not familiar with that field and didn’t know where else to go, so they stayed quietly in place until the other dog came to get them. These are nice little sheep – ram lambs which are kind of dopey – they don’t run and bolt from dogs, but they do move nicely, without panicking, and are not dog broke or fetchy (by this I mean they don’t just turn and run to the person because a dog is coming and they know that’s what’s expected of them, kind of like trail broke horses). They’re very good for training green dogs.
Mira and I did about half a dozen outruns. By the last two, she was going big and deep. At first she was very flat when being sent away from pressure (i.e. the direction away from the barn – the dogs know the sheep want to run back to the barn so naturally try to stay closer in case the sheep bolt), but by the last outrun she went just as wide on each side, and she also went in deep behind the sheep. She came up slowly and lifted them gently and brought them to me very straight. If I had to correct her line, she actually took her flanks from a distance. I was over the moon happy with her performance. On New Year’s day I met Janet and we did some more outruns in that big field. Mira was again very, very good. Too bad it looks like we may be taking a good long break now. But hopefully she has lots to think about during her winter vacation.
I am really delighted with the progress Mira and I are making. It’s so exciting to get a dog up and running, and doubly so with a dog like Mira who so many told me to give up on. Watching her do those deep outruns with a careful lift and straight fetch tells me that this dog indeed has a fair bit of natural talent. I did not teach her these things. Most people train by teaching their dogs to stop at the top and lie down and wait to be called on to the sheep. I have never taught that to Mira, yet she lifts beautifully without any training. I wonder if Mira is just finally becoming mature enough to work well – she seems to get that this is a job and actually enjoy the responsibility. I have noticed a big change in her over the last 6 months.
One thing I have learned from Mira is the idea of releasing pressure to get the dog to go wide. I had originally been taught to push into a dog to get it to move away. My original trainer in fact teaches (or used to teach) that it is important to hit your dog at home so that it “respects” you and moves away from you when you step towards it. That way, when working sheep, if the dog comes in too tight, you step towards it and the dog will move away (most likely worrying about being hit). I refused to do this and we ended up having a number of battles over this until we finally agreed to disagree.
Mira taught me a completely different approach to training, which apparently is called “the natural way.” There is a book of that title (Julie Simpson’s The Natural Way), which I think explains this concept in detail. I know very little about it, but from what I’ve seen from Mira, my guess is as follows: when hunting as a pack, you would all dive in together to take down the animal of choice. So when you (the handler) step in to the sheep, that is a signal for your dog to do the same. If you want the dog to move away from the sheep, then you need to also move away. It seems counter intuitive to everything I’ve been taught, but it sure does work with Mira.
Earlier this fall, I learned (thanks to knowledge and keen eye of my friend Janet) that if I want Mira to go wide when I send her around sheep, I need to walk in the direction opposite that I want to send her. On New Year’s eve, I discovered that merely by turning my shoulder away from the direction I want to send her on an outrun, she will go almost to the next county! I’ll see if I can describe this more clearly. When I initially tried to teach her an outrun, I would send her (say to the left) and then run towards her with the idea of pushing her further left. Now I have discovered that what I need to do is, at the moment that I send her left, I turn my body slightly to the right. The farther I turn my shoulder to the right, the wider she goes. Amazing! And so much less work than running up the field at your dog, hollering and waving your stock stick or throwing your hat or whatnot. In fact, the time I turn my shoulder hard right as I sent her, she actually went off to the left at a 90 degree angle from from the sheep.
That she is so responsive to my body language makes me wonder just how many incorrect signals I have been giving her over the months we have been struggling along with this. Here I thought she was not keeping me in the picture, not being a team player, when in fact all along she was being an intensely cooperative partner. I was just telling her to do the wrong things! Ah, so much to learn, so much to learn…
I have tried this ‘natural way’ with the other two dogs and they do not respond the same way. I wonder if it works with all dogs. Kestrel’s breeder recommended Julie Simpsons book and I wonder if that’s how she trains as well. I think I will buy it if I can track down a copy on this side of the pond (surely someone in North America must sell it so I don’t have to pay shipping from the UK) and see if she explains this further. I am quite fascinated now and want to learn more.
Another stretch of days where I am gone all day. This actually has worked out well this week as I’m keeping Ross quiet for a few days after his injury (no sign of any additional problems) to make sure he’s fully healed before I let him run around with any intensity. And Kestrel still needs to be kept under lock and key because of her heat cycle. She’s no longer standing but still smells good to Ross, so I figure she’ll still smell good to some intact male should one come along. By the weekend everything should be back to normal.
Hopefully that will be true of Mira too. She’s still being totally goofy. She has taken to spending all day on my bed and refusing to go outside unless I go with her. Then she walks around the yard glued to my leg, tripping me. As soon as I open the door, she bolts inside and runs upstairs as if her life depends on it. What on earth is going on in this dog’s head? This weekend I am going to spend some time reviewing homeopathic remedies to see which one would fit best. A quick search last night using the term “fear of going out of doors” has Lyssin as the most strongly listed remedy. Lyssin is made from the saliva of a rabid dog – and Mira certainly has plenty of inherited rabies vaccinosis. I have given her Lyssin in the past and it made a big difference. Maybe she needs another dose.
It is tricky to find the right homeopathic remedy when you have a subject who can talk. In dogs, it’s darn near impossible. I have found that initially I have a lot of success with homeopathy in a new case, but then my ability to find useful remedies drops off. I think this is because when the life force is really out of balance, many remedies will help push it back towards centre. As such, a shot-gun approach does seem to work. But as the life force gets stronger, more precision is needed to make any impact. I could be totally wrong about this, but that is what I think might be going on. This would explain why no remedy I have picked for Kestrel has had any significant impact: she’s very balance and so needs little tweaking. I am going to have to find the exact remedy to have any effect on her. Mira is much farther out of balance, but she’s much better now than she used to be. So when if first started treating her, I saw big differences. Now I don’t.
Rubrics I am considering to find the right remedy for her right now include:
Mind: Fear of going out of doors
Mind: Aversion to going out
Mind: Desire to stay in bed
Mind: Desire to stay in bed, during menses (she’s not in heat but clearly is affected by the hormones as if she were)
Mind: Clinging, children, to mother
Mind: Clinging, children will take hand or part of mother (she holds my pant leg)
Mind: Anxiety, going to bed ameliorates
The problem is, of course, that I don’t really know why she’s doing the things that she’s doing. And there’s no way for me to know either (unless I put faith in an animal communicator). Does she really feel better in bed? Is she really afraid of going outside, or is it that it is now cold and she doesn’t like to be cold? I have no idea what is going on in her mind and can only guess. If I’m lucky, I’ll guess correctly. Otherwise, the remedy I choose will have no effect (or could even make things worse). So I’ll need to be fairly sure in my decision before proceeding. Phosphorus comes up in many of these, and that’s the last remedy I gave her. Perhaps I’d be best off sticking with that and maybe going up in potency. It did seem to have helped last time. Phos is a remedy with plenty of anxiety, and there was no indication of any negative effects when I gave her a dose. Still, I need to do more reading and decide.
I could just let her be neurotic, but it is irritating and also causes problem. Two nights ago, she pooped on the floor again. Now, I am certain that the last few episodes were Kestrel, but I’ve fixed that issue by making sure she gets out long enough – and without distractions such as a ball or other dogs or cats to herd – that she takes care of all business after a long day in the crate. Two nights ago I am certain it was Mira. Then last night, before bed, she refused to go out to potty. It was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like standing out in the rain in my pj’s so I let her stay in. Then, at 1am, she woke me up to go out. She likely would have pottied on the floor if I hadn’t gotten up. So I put her in a crate and she had to hold it until I got up in the morning. Cruel? Perhaps. But , I refuse to put up with this behaviour in a 3 year old dog who is perfectly healthy (physically) and well house trained. So in a crate she sat, and this morning she was happy to go out with the other dogs. Maybe I just need to reprogram her patterns.
I’ll keep you posted…
This morning I took Ross and Mira out for a hike together. These are the two that I have to keep an eye on if we run into other dogs, and so I was hoping to run them early enough in the day that we simply wouldn’t encounter anyone. However, being an unseasonably warm and sunny day in November, others had the same idea. We only encountered two groups of people, one with a dog, and one without. Each time I either saw, or intuited that someone was coming (I have this uncanny “spidey” sense around when to leash my dogs) before we actually ran into them. I leashed up both dogs and then proceeded to pass the other hikers. Each time Mira barked her little head off the instant she saw the others approaching. While Ross only barks when up close to another dog, Mira sets off the alarm the second she discovers we’re not alone in the woods. It doesn’t matter if they have a dog or not, although she almost turns herself inside out if there is one.
Mira reacts the same way whether or not she’s on a leash. Yesterday I had her out with Hannah, and we ran into two beautiful Irish Water Spaniels. The other dogs were off leash so I left mine free too. Mira charged up, barking her little head off, hackles raised and pranced around the other dogs.
She gets over it pretty quickly, and settles down and interacts more or less appropriately after the initial 1-2 minutes. Interestingly, she doesn’t react at all when meeting other border collies. All my dogs behave differently when we meet other border collies; they are much more relaxed, as if meeting a long lost friend. But Mira is downright fearful of non-border collie dogs.
After our walk, I came home to a very quiet house. Hannah and Kestrel were up in my bedroom, locked in with bones to keep them busy while we were gone. As I came in the house, I heard their footsteps, but not a sounds emerged from that room. Not a yip, not a bark. Normally when I come home, it’s pandemonium. There’s so much barking I can’t hear myself think. But with Mira (and Ross) out of the equation, the other two are quite silent.
This evening I took Hannah and Kestrel for a run just before sundown (I can’t believe it’s pitch black at 6pm, thanks to the time change!). We also encountered two new dogs, a Malamute and a black Shepherd mix. Both intimidating dogs. All dogs were off-leash, and when they met there was not a sounds. No one barked, no one fussed. The other owners started calling their dogs back, so I whistled once and my two came flying back without hesitation.
The difference between how Mira reacts and how the other two do (Ross is not included here because he is not all border collie) is night and day. Border collies should be quiet dogs; they are not supposed to bark and fuss and make all sorts of noise. This is something I quite like about the breed. I was very dismayed when Mira turned out to be such a noisy thing. It’s really irritating. She barks at everything and anything. A squirrel running by, a strange sound, the cat she lives with, my roommate coming out of the bathroom with a towel on her head. If Mira was a human, she would be labeled “extrovert” as everything that passes through her head comes out her mouth. It’s as if she is announcing everything, all the time. “Alert, alert!! Terrifying Monster…. oh, it’s just a squirrel…” “Alert, alert!!! Terrifying Monster… oh, it’s just the cat…” “Alert, alert!!! Terrifying Monster… oh, it’s just our roommate…”
I really wonder what’s going on in her wee head. Then again, maybe I don’t want to know. The world seems like such a scary place to her.
On a positive note, the homeopathic remedy I gave her two days ago seems like it might be helping with one aspect of her fear. Since the day I first moved to this house and left her outside during some fireworks while we ate supper, and she subsequently escaped the yard and got lost, she has become thunderphobic. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given how sensitive she is to external stimuli, but I am not happy to see this develop. In a dog as naturally reared as she is, I really shouldn’t see any of these behaviours, and especially not this one. It’s been an interesting learning experience for me to observe behaviours, and age of onset of these behaviours, which I had previously blamed on environmental factors such as vaccines and kibble, still rearing their ugly heads in their absence. I do believe these factors are at least partially to blame, having damaged previous generations. Certainly I wouldn’t want to see what Mira would turn out like if she were fed Old Roy and repeatedly vaccinated! But perhaps there’s something else going on too.
Why the onset of thunderphobia at age 2.5, which is common in conventionally reared dogs? Is there something that happens at that age? Is it just a coincidence, with the phobia being linked to the experience of being lost? Or is there some physiological change causing over-sensitivity? I don’t have an answer for that, or even a speculation. Except perhaps that there definitely is some change in a dog when it reaches this age of maturity. Mira has in many other ways settled down nicely since turning two, and Hannah changed even more at age three. All in good ways. Hannah became more confident, calm, relaxed. Mira has also calmed down, no longer constantly pacing and getting into stuff, and otherwise being a puppish (that’s Kestrel’s job now). But she’s also become more insecure. She’s clingy, jealous and a bit bitchy with the other dogs, and now somewhat thunderphobic. I don’t like seeing a progression in this direction, especially after two years of steady improvement before that. I really hope it doesn’t continue.
I decided to give Mira a dose of a homeopathic remedy indicated for anxiety and also sound sensitivity, particularly thunderphobia. The next day she was quirkier than usual, suggesting a possible aggravation. Aggravations are not idea, indicating that you probably gave too strong a dose, but they can also mean that you are at least giving a remedy that is having impact on the vital force along the lines of the symptoms I am hoping to improve. Seeing them get worse is often what happens before they get better (although ideally you give a gentle enough dose that you only see improvement, without the aggravation. Aggravations can be miserable). I didn’t bother working her that day, having learned the hard way that if I see signs of an aggravation in the dogs, it’s best to let them be quiet and not to ask for anything until it passes.
That was two days ago. During this morning’s hike, we heard a lot of gunfire. The last time we heard gunfire Mira glued herself to my leg for the rest of our walk, and then hovered about me during subsquent walks even when guns were not going off. Today she flinched when the guns fired, and even trotted back to me for a second or two, but then she went back to running about. There were at least a dozen gun blasts during our time in the woods (all coming from the far side of the river so I hoped we were safe), and – other than checking in with me after each bang – Mira stayed calm and continued to enjoy herself the entire time. That is a nice change and I hope it holds. Time will tell.
I’m exhausted and cold, but will try and write a quick entry before bed. It’s supposed to go down to several degrees below freezing tonight and we don’t have any heat going in the house. Our heat comes from a wood stove and my roommate and I each got home late tonight, and decided that a heavy sweater, hot shower and early to bed was easier than firing up the woodstove just for an hour’s worth of heat. That of course will change as the temperature steadily drops over winter. I am going to have to learn how to light this thing and keep it going strong during the days I sit at home and write. I actually think it will be quite pleasant as the dining room table is next to the stove and a lovely place to work. But I digress…
On the way home from my parents’ house yesterday, I stopped once again to train the dogs at my friend’s farm. The three of us who trained together on Friday got together again yesterday and worked our dogs. The weather was much more cooperative, and while cold, was at least dry. The leaves are all turning and quite frankly, it was a beautiful day despite the chill. I do love fall weather, as long as I’m dressed for it.
One friend had an idea of how I can work with Hannah to get better pace. She explained a technique to me that was taught to her by the big-hat handler who trained one of her dogs. The idea is simple: when the dog doesn’t behave, she loses her sheep. To make this happen, you call the dog off as soon as it starts to go wrong. I wasn’t really sure about this method, but I tried with Hannah with surprisingly good results.
To start, it was important to set things up correctly so that everything would stay in control, and also so it was really easy to read what is going on. We had to set the sheep somewhere that Hannah could fetch them from without strange draws pulling them sideways, or a swamp to push them through. Such obstacles would cause the sheep to move crookedly and then it would be a guessing game as to whether or not what Hannah was doing was correct. As I’ve written before, Hannah starts to flank back and forth a lot when fetching sheep to me. This might actually be ok if the sheep are zig zagging on their own, or if she needs to push them through a swampy area and they are refusing, but if they are coming nice and straight, she should be calmly walking behind them.
So we found a couple of spots where the sheep would walk nice and straight. I kept the distance relatively short, and sent Hannah. She did a beautiful outrun, a nice, quiet lift, and started bring the sheep. She obviously knew something was up because she was being very calm and quiet at first. But then she couldn’t resist and bumped the sheep. They zigged, and she went to zag, but I was faster and hollered sternly “That’ll do!!” Shocked, she came to me with an expression of amazement and wonder on her face. “What did I do wrong?” she clearly was asking! Getting her to figure that out is exactly the point. I can correct her and mechanically control her with hollering and jumping up and down and whatnot, but what I really want is a dog who knows what she’s supposed to do and who does it right without me having to say a word.
I sent her a second time. Again a nice outrun, and gentle lift. Then the fetch. It was slow. Painfully slow. Obviously she knew what she had done wrong and was swinging the other way. I could almost sense her sticking her tongue out at me, as if to say “so you want them slow, do you? I’ll show you slow!” She would gently nudge the sheep until they moved, then lie down and wait until they drifted to a stop. Then she’d get up and nudge them again. Repeat. It was like watching pain dry. But it was better than the rodeo she usually makes happen. And clearly she was thinking.
I told her she was a good girl, we reset the sheep, and I sent her again. This time she was a little faster, but very controlled and gentle. The sheep came straight and stopped about 5 feet in front of me, with Hannah lying down quietly about 30 feet behind them. And all the time I said nothing. Is this my dog? Who knew she was capable of this!
I made a big fuss over her, told her how fabulous she was, and then put her back in the car and pulled out Mira.
I started to work Mira and she was just full of beans. She raced about and dove in at sheep. I worked at trying to send her around without her busting them up, then doing a little wearing in figure eights and so on. At one point I turned and she went around to the away or right side (her weak side) and she dove in and gripped one of the lambs. It was totally uncalled for, or so I thought. But just as I was about to yell at my dog (I hate yelling at my dogs), one of my friends laughed loudly and said “that was YOUR fault!”
It was? Hurray!! Because if it’s my fault, then I can easily fix it and we can start to move forward with our training. Someone finally actually saw what I’ve been struggling with all these months, and knew how to fix it. Oh happy day.
I discussed earlier about how I need to project my pressure off in a different direction with Mira in order to get her to widen out. In other words, pushing towards her actually pulls her in, even though intuitively you’d think that should push her out. So when I send her ‘away’ (counter-clockwise, or to the right) around the sheep, instead of running towards her, I need to then walk straight off to my left, or perhaps at a bit of an angle to my left, aiming towards 9 o’clock. In other words, I need to move almost in the opposite direction to my dog, and instead of her pulling in close and tight, she will actually kick out nice and wide. I did this over and over, and every time Mira was nice and wide. It was amazing. She is a very stylish little dog, with very square flanks and a bit of eye. I was very pleased with her.
Next we worked a little on getting her to stop. This is a big problem with her. Recently I read in Vergil Holland’s book Progressive Training about dogs that are extremely pressure sensitive. These dogs, he writes, are so sensitive to any movement or any pressure that they simply MUST react. So if the dog is in a down and a ewe twitches an ear, the dog feels compelled to get up. Such dogs are apparently the hardest kind of dogs to train (no kidding). He offers some good training exercises that I am going to review and try with her. I know I followed some the first time I read the book and they definitely helped. Now that we are more advanced, I am re-reading and learning new things to do. Every time I look at this book I learn something new; as I learn more myself, things he said that previously meant little to me, or seemed of no interest, suddenly take on new meaning and importance.
Back to Mira and her stopping problem. My friends encouraged me to really get after her when she won’t lie down. I told them that if I do that, she will lie down and not get up. Mira has actually been getting better about this with time, lying down more readily, and also getting up more readily as well. I have not been too hard on her or pushed her too much with the lie down, and tried to get her to stop on her feet. That would be fine, but she really doesn’t like to stop. At least I think I now understand why.
First one friend, and then the other, tried to work Mira for me to demonstrate putting a stop on her. I let them, hoping they’d have better success than I did. The first friend got her working, and then when she didn’t take his lie-down, he stepped at her and waved his stock stick. She dodged around him so he stepped at her a bit more sternly. That was too much for her and she ran back to me and hid behind my legs. I tried stepping away so he could get her back, but she was having none of it. My other friend stepped in, thinking perhaps that Mira would work for her, being female. She tried to call Mira to sheep, but my dog was firmly attached to the back of my knees. My friend came over and took Mira by the collar and started to lead her to sheep. Pull her, actually, then drag her. Mira had all four feet out in front of her, digging into the ground and looking very pathetic about the whole thing. I was very glad to see she made no effort to bite, snap or otherwise ward off my friend with any aggression. She just sank her butt on the ground and dug in like a mule.
This was obviously too much pressure for Mira so we let things go at that point and I started working her again myself. She seemed so relieved to be working with me again, that she took every lie-down I gave, and nicely popped out of them too. She kept her flanks wide, and her gathers honest. I was very pleased with her and called it a day.
Kess was Kess – keen, pushy and talented. And totally not keeping me in the picture unless I was within 20 feet of the sheep. At one point I stepped back to see if she’d bring the sheep to me, and she just pushed them past and drove them (beautifully) about 100 yards in an arrow straight line to the back fence. I’m sure I’ll be really happy about this when it’s time to get her driving, but for the moment I’d like her to hold the sheep to me! I really must get her going in agility to work on our relationship.
Finally I brought Hannah out again and did a couple of more short outruns and fetches to make sure she had learned her lesson. She had and I was mighty pleased. I am going to keep working on this, gradually stretching out her outruns until she can bring sheep to me at a nice pace from a distance. As I mentioned before, she can easily do an open length outrun, but then blasts the sheep all the way down the field until she’s within 50 or so feet of me. Clearly she’s learned that she only has to listen within a certain distance of me, and that’s what I need to change. I’m going to push that distance out 10 feet at a time if necessary, and gradually we’ll get there. Given how quickly she changed her behaviour yesterday, I don’t expect it will take too long.
Mira gave me quite a scare tonight. I went to the farm to train, bringing all the dogs. I am very careful about them getting too hot, always keeping the car fully open with all crates pointed outward so they are getting air directly from outside. I park in the shade, fill their buckets of water and make sure I don’t put them back in their crates until they’ve cooled off after working. Fortunately this summer it hasn’t been that hot. Living by the lake keeps things even cooler, and allows me to exercise the dogs in fairly cold water when the temperature starts to rise.
I think this might by why Mira appeared to have overheated tonight. That is, perhaps she simply is not acclimatized to the heat we had this evening, moderate though it was. Then again, neither of the others overheated and they both worked longer.
I worked Mira in the round pen with the weather for about five minutes, then I put her away and worked Hannah for a good long stretch on the main flock. Hannah had to work hard and she was breathing pretty heavy by the time we were done. Briefly, I worked on her driving the big group around, and then shedding them over and over until we were down to one ornery ewe and her two lambs. This ewe would stomp at Hannah and we had to work for a while at getting Hannah to walk up on them and turn her. Hannah tends to only get so close, and then if the sheep don’t move she freezes in place, waiting, waiting, then lunges at them. She does not grip, but rather lunges to give them a start. This definitely gets them moving, but it also scatters them. It’s not a good habit to get into so I worked at just having her walk up slowly and turn the ewe and move her. By the time we were done, Hannah’s tongue was around her knees. I started to note that the air was quite humid and that it’s probably a lot hotter for the dogs working than I realize.
I kept Hannah out for a while and let her just walk around and cool off before putting her back in her crate. Where I used to train they had a tub for the dogs to jump in, but they don’t have anything set up here. Mostly it’s been cool when we’ve been training and simply lying in the grass for a few minutes while lapping a cold drink has been sufficient to cool the dogs.
After Hannah I worked Kestrel. I’d had her in the round pen for about 10 minutes early on. She’s doing really well. She has really natural balance and moves beautifully around the sheep. She has no trouble peeling them out of corners an off fences and just marches calmly right into them, and they move. This is what I wish both Hannah and Mira could do, especially Mira. Hannah can lift sheep but she’s stressed about going in tight. Mira is extremely stressed. She blasts in, pulling wool and busting the sheep up, scattering them every which way. Not Kess though – she’s just steadily walks into and then around them and peels them off. It’s really lovely to watch. Perhaps I’ll try taking a video next time to post.
I worked Kess in the small field and tried to get her wearing. She really is a heat seeking missile and so things become rather action packed. I am torn about putting too much control on her – I love her keenness but she’s also running the sheep over me constantly. My feet are bruised from being stomped on, for example. She also seems to be able to take quite a firm correction (with my voice or blocking her with my body) and pop right back up instantly. No sulking, not getting sticky, no running off. She just hits the deck and waits for me to release her or step ever so slightly out of the way and wham! she’s off again.
After Kess I brought Mira out. I am trying to do a little more farm-type work with her so I had her help me put the tired sheep away and bring out fresh sheep for her to work. Unfortunately a shoot door was open and the tired sheep ended up mixed in with the fresh ones. I then had to put the whole group out into the holding pen, with the intention of gate sorting them.
Mira helped scoop them out of the barn and down the little channel into the holding pen outside. I had her wait in the channel while I closed some gates in the barn. While doing so, one of the big ewes outside decided she wanted to come in. She put her head down, charged and plowed right over Mira. Mira was rolled several times and dumped in heap! Oh, no, I thought, worrying that she’d been injured or frightened. But no, Mira jumped up and went after that Ewe, overtook her and chased her right back out into the holding pen. She then proceeded to take her temper out on the whole group of them! She was clearly pissed off. It was interesting to see.
I had Mira work the sheep in the small pen, moving around and around them until she could do it calmly and confidently without teeth or blasting and busting them up. That took a few minutes, maybe 3-4. Then we put the sheep into the field and did some work there. All I did was have her wear them around for a while, and then work on some driving.
Mira worked fairly well, and I was pleased with her progress. We did a little driving, which she did well, so I decided to call it quits and finish up for the night. We were maybe out there for 10 minutes, perhaps 20 at most. Keep in mind that I’ve worked this dog for an hour in the past with no problems. It was humid out, but it was evening and maybe in the low 20s (70s). Muggy but not overly hot. Yet Mira started to get wobbly. She was dragging her hind right leg and stumbling. Oh dear.
I picked her up and carried her back to the car, where the owners of the farm were standing talking to some friends. Fortunately they have a formal kennel set-up, complete with elevated bathtub and grooming area. We carried Mira to the bathtub and filled it with cool (but not cold) water. Her ears were burning and her mouth and tongue were scarlet. At one point she started flopping over a little and I thought she might be starting to seize. In hindsight I think she was just slipping on the bathtub surface.
I kept her in the bath for a good 10 minutes. By then her ears had cooled and her mouth turned a normal colour. Her pupils were back to normal as well (they were extremely dilated). When I put her down she was walking fine and seemed totally back to normal.
Seeing her staggering around reminded me of what she did when she was a pup after running around and playing ball. Especially the dragging of the back legs. I had thought there was something wrong with her hips, but perhaps she’d also been suffering from heat then? It would only happen after she’d been running around a lot. Tonight is the first time I’ve seen her do this since I started chiropractic treatment with her. Or… perhaps being run over by that ewe threw her back out and is causing this problem to flare up again? Once home she came over and wanted me to give her a pretty intense back massage. Hmm…. the chiropractor won’t be coming for another month. Perhaps I’ll give her a homeopathic remedy (which one… arnica for bruising? Ruta or Rhus-t for sprains? I’ll have to give it some thought…) and see how that helps.
Now that we are home she is behaving perfectly normally, other than wanting her back rubbed. But I’m going to have to watch carefully and see if I can figure out what’s going on. This is a dog who’s normally able to out endure any of the others by a long stretch, so overheating like this is not normal for her. Tomorrow I work all day so the dogs won’t be doing anything anyway. She should sleep well and benefit from the rest.
I can’t believe it’s been 3 weeks since I’ve had time to write! I have just been so busy lately that I haven’t had the energy to write during the few moments of spare time that I have had. I thought things would wind down with the end of the school year, but no luck with that! Between an intensive teaching training course I’ve been taking, moving back and forth to the sheep farm, and starting to get ready for my big move in June, plus getting my garden going and of course taking care of the dogs and doing all my food projects, I simply have not had time to write.
I wish I could say that things are going to slow down now, but they really aren’t. My course winds up this week, but next week I leave for a 7 day “vacation,” which includes attending the Kevin Evans clinic I registered for and visiting a few friends along the way there and back. Should be fun, but it means doing a lot of work this week in order to be able to get away for that long.
As for the dogs, they are doing well. I have been getting them out pretty much every day for a good run, and we’ve even gotten in some training on sheep. As I mentioned, I took care of the sheep farm for 10 days, which was great. I only wish I hadn’t had to drive back and forth to the city each day, packing up dogs and cats every time. That ate up about 2 hours of my day, just with the commute. So training ended up taking place at the end of the day when I was exhausted and cranky.
Hannah went back to work like she had never stopped. She’s just so amazing that way. The same was true when we took an agility workshop after not doing agility for 5 months. Hannah is simply an extremely level headed, consistent dog. What a treat! Mira, on the other hand, went back to square one and was quite a challenge. More on that in a moment.
Hannah really enjoyed training but I found that she got bored after about 3 times out. Funny, so did I. I was getting bored with training her when we stopped last fall. Hannah is really a fully trained dog for the level of work available on this small farm, so while she has plenty of room for improvement and still lots she (and I) could learn, repeating the training patterns we’ve done in the past is simply not a challenge any more.
Mira kept me on my toes, but I got frustrated because she really had gone back to almost square one. She did at least go get the sheep and bring them back to me, but I couldn’t get her to balance to me. Instead all she wanted to do was hold the sheep on pressure, which means she would position herself to block the sheep where ever they wanted to go (typically back to the barn) instead of positioning herself so that she held the sheep to me. This became extremely frustrating and I didn’t know how to fix it. On our last day at the farm, I walked off the field with her wondering if I should just give up with this dog.
It’s very hard for me to know if the problem is with the trainer (i.e. me), or with the dog. I have to say that probably 99% of problems in training lie with the trainer, so I suspected that Mira’s issues were due to my novice ability to teach her. At the same time, Mira’s line is a tough one to train. Mira has a couple of close relatives (her sire & a half sister) who have won major championships. At the same time, I know of over half a dozen other dogs closely related to her who’s handlers were never able to get them working. Would these dogs work with a different trainer? Quite possibly, but this still suggests a line that takes a skilled and experienced handler to get up and running. Skilled & experienced handler I am not.
Very fortunately, I had the opportunity to have this question answered this weekend. I have been in touch with Kestrel’s “grand” breeder – i.e. the breeder of her dam. This woman is a very experienced shepherdess and sheepdog trainer who moved to North America from the UK. She very kindly invited me to her farm so that she could meet Kess and evaluate her potential for me. She suggested I bring the other dogs as well, and offered to give me an evaluation of them too. What a great opportunity!
First we took Kess out. While the trainer basically said that Kess shows good potential but is still very pupp-ish and only time will tell, I was extremely impressed with what I saw. I have only watched a small number of dogs get up and started (a dozen or so) but Kess was probably the best I have seen to date. She was miles better than Mira was at this age or stage. Kess was very quick to balance to me and extremely responsive to my body language. To say she is keen is an understatement, yet she still called off nicely when I asked. I was warned that she is likely going to turn into a heat seeking missle when she really gets started, but everything she displayed was very promising.
And to think this dog nearly was put to sleep.
Hannah worked very nicely and was assessed as being “a good bitch.” With Hannah, the trainer focused mostly on me because that’s where the improvement needs to be made. This has always been the case with Hannah. The trainer suggested that I set tasks for us to do instead of training for a trial course. For example, split off several of the sheep, move them to another part of the farm, then have Hannah help me catch one single one to check its feet. Anything practical. Hannah is too smart to find doing trial patterns interesting.
The other thing she said about Hannah is that what she really needs is good solid daily work to “loosen” her up. Hannah does have a lot of eye, but she is not sticky. Hannah could become sticky, however, if I’m not careful. She showed me some exercises to do in a small area to work on getting Hannah to move more loosely around the stock.
She also constructively pointed out things I was doing wrong (in a very polite and constructive manner): I talk too much (no surprise there!); I don’t use my voice intonation enough; I need to be more clear in what I expect, and then make the dog do what I ask.
Finally we took out Mira. I told her the trouble I was having with Mira, and asked if she would work Mira and give me her honest opinion of this dog. I said I needed to know if she has potential and that I am simply screwing her up, or if the dog really is not going to work (as so many have told me).
She spent a lot of time with Mira. First she gave me a tour of the farm and had me bring Mira along. She watched Mira as we went through the buildings and around the other animals. Mira was reactive, startling at noises and movement. She commented that at least Mira recovers quickly and gets over it. This is true, and a change from how she used to be. She also commented that Mira “has another agenda.” Also true! Mira has always had another agenda, that’s for sure!
On stock, Mira actually did quite well. The trainer took her into a small corral with half a dozen sheep. Mira was on a long line so that everything could be kept under control. She had Mira go around the stock, lifting the sheep out of corners. At first Mira dove in, scattered the sheep, tail flying and even barking. But soon she settled down and worked more calmly and seriously.
Overall, she said that Mira definitely had potential and that I should keep working with her. She said Mira is not consistent, but when she’s “on,” she’s not too bad. Hopefully Mira will become more consistent as she gains confidence (which she lacks) and experience.
I left feeling very positive about the whole experience. I was particularly pleased to learn that Mira’s issues were predominantly my bad handling. I will get better, so that means there’s hope for us yet. It was really good to take a lesson after so long, and I probably should have done so earlier. I now have some concrete skills to practice and goals to focus on. Too bad I still don’t have any sheep!!! This weekend I’m going to a herding demo at the local pioneer village being put on by a couple who are open to dogs training on their stock. Fingers crossed, I hope to work something out!
I’m having some problems with Mira again. Specifically, she’s been going to the bathroom in the house every day of late. Today she both peed and pooped. Last night I went out for a couple of hours in the evening. I had taken her for a nice hike just before I left, and so she should have been fine. Yet I came home to a nice puddle on the bathroom floor. Same thing happened tonight, only she peed in the living room on the carpet.
I have a theory about what might be going on. Every time Mira comes into heat, the stress of the process on her body brings out the signs of her chronic disease. When these symptoms become stronger like this, it is easier for me to select a homeopathic remedy with which to treat it. The theory is that this should help cure her at a deeper level, and I have indeed seen improvement with each heat cycle. During her first cycle she turned into an absolutely basket case, reverting to the very freaky puppy that she used to be. I treated her homeopathically and during the second heat cycle, she had much milder symptoms, although symptoms none the less.
Mira is not actually due for another heat cycle for another couple of months, however Hannah just came into heat. It is possible that Hannah’s hormones are affecting Mira sufficiently to cause her issues to surface again. For the most part, the only thing I’m seeing is an increased restlessness, some mildly destructive behaviour, and this pottying in the house.
I have to say this is all very frustrating. I keep wondering exactly when, or if, these issues are ever going to go away for good! After all, she’s 2.5 years old now, she should be house trained and she should be able to lie calmly in the house even before she’s been walked. Heck, Kess can do it at 9 months, so why not Mira? Of course, because Mira has very serious chronic disease and she’s reminding me that there’s still work to be done.
I did a half-assed attempt at reworking her case when this started up, and decided to try giving Mira homeopathic Lachesis. This is a remedy made from the venom of a Bushmaster pitviper. Picture fast moving, restless, quick to strike. These are parts of the Lachesis profile, along with intense jealousy, and aversion to work, loquacity (barking!) and inappropriate sexual behaviour. These all fit Mira quite nicely, so I thought I’d give her a dose of 30c in solution.
Unfortunately the remedy didn’t seem to help, and in fact made her worse. My roommate even commented several days later that Mira had been ‘vacant’ for the previous few days. She also started chewing stuff up more and I found her on the couch – twice! – chewing on a knife she’d stolen from the counter. Yikes!
I looked up the antidotes to Lachesis and settled on giving her a dose of Belladonna. Bell is a good fit for Mira and has helped her in the past. This did seemed to take the edge off that the Lachesis had created, but didn’t improve the other issues.
After she pooped and peed in the house a few more days in a row, I decided to simply give her another dose of Sulphur, the remedy that I’ve given her in the past that seemed to have done her a lot of good. The thing with Sulphur is that it is a remedy that seems to fit many cases, but I don’t think that Mira is constitutionally a Sulphur (picture absent minded professor – definitely not Mira!). This is why I had decided to try something different. I was suspecting that Sulphur had helped in the past because it is often a remedy that opens up cases and clear blockages so that other remedies can work, but does not cure. That she keeps having the symptoms return tells me that Sulphur has not been curative.
My assumption seems to be correct. I gave her the Sulphur last night and she still pottied in the house twice today. In the past a dose of Sulphur has cleared things up perfectly. This time it doesn’t seem to be working as well. She did vomit half a dozen times this morning, then had the runs a couple of times (outside, thank goodness). So clearly the Sulphur got her body to purge itself of something (and likely I gave her too strong a potency as ideally she shouldn’t feel worse after taking it). I really don’t like giving too many remedies too soon after each other, so I’ll leave this for a few days to see if any improvements become evident.
On a positive note, lately Mira has been around some very small children and has been showing a lot less anxiety. I have a neighbour with twin 3 year olds who like to come and look for bugs under the rocks in my garden. I had Mira out in the yard, inside the fenced area while the little boys were playing just on the other side of the fence. Mira watched them closely for a while, then went about her business of sniffing and checking out the yard. After a few minutes she actually went up and started sniffing them through the fence. This is a huge improvement for her. And today she actually stayed calm within 2 feet of one of these children. I think the trick is that these kids are not obsessed with her, so she is able to check them out without fear of being grabbed, something that she worries about with all people, kids or adults. Most adults don’t bother tying to touch her but kids always reach and grab, and this has clearly enhanced her fear of them.
It was good to see her being so relaxed around these little ones; she’s definitely making good progress in many ways. But I do need to figure out this house training stuff as I am sick and tired of cleaning up after a dog who should have long ago stopped doing this!
Watch and learn, little one.
No, no, THIS way!
Now you’re getting it!
Ready or not, here I come!
Right behind you, oh wise one!
What are you hollering about, oh cranky human? Don’t do what?
Don’t lie down? Sorry, couldn’t hear you, what with all the splashing…
Sensei, why does our human look so upset?
I have no idea, grasshopper. It’s probably because she doesn’t know how to stay cool in this heat…
Today I spent some good quality one on one time with Mira. I haven’t done that in a while, and I need to do a lot more of it. I have been noticing that she’s been acting a bit clingy and jealous, particularly since Kestrel came onto the scene. Mira always gets lots of exercise, but because she’s a bit of a frustration to train with, I tend to find excuses to train her last, and then often don’t have time. She’s always been one to just want to have fun and has never seemed to be that keen on training anyway, so I’ve let her training slide, waiting for her to be more keen. I think, however, that she’s changing and developing a work ethic now, at long last! Yeah!
Today I took her out by herself and had her heel and do some shadow handling all the way to the park. That is about three blocks and it took us both a fair amount of energy to get there. I kept her in heel position the whole time, but she can only go about 5 feet before she starts to forage ahead. That darn impulse control again…! But then I reminded myself that she’s walked to that park 1000 times at least, and so how can I not expect her to just make a b-line to get there? It’s only natural and it’s what’s been extremely well reinforced (get to the park and run and play).
But instead of getting frustrated, I just made a point of turning in circles and zig zagging around, changing directions unexpectedly and stopping from time to time. She actually did a very good job of staying focused on me the whole way there. I haven’t done this with her in several months (I should search my blog to find the exact date) and the last time I remember her brain short circuiting long before we got to our destination. She must really be maturing as she made it the whole way there, and still had more for other training.
Once at the park I let her run around a little, but she really wanted to keep working with me. She seemed excited and keen and quite pleased with herself. This really is a big change in her. She’s over two now, and perhaps finally growing up.
I decided to work on shaping a back-up and threw her favourite ball on the ground. She wants me to kick it, so she drops it at my feet. She then stands there with her nose almost touching the ball, making it hard to kick it anywhere without hitting her in the face with the ball or my foot. I want her to back-up, something she’s been taught over and over, so I stand still and wait for her to offer it.
I’ve done this before with her with very poor results. In fact, I’ve worked very hard on this in the past and had almost no success. So I was quite delighted when she offered a back-up within about 10 seconds of waiting, right after she offered a nose touch, eye contact and then a lie-down. The second she took one step backwards, I kicked the ball. Within three repetitions I waited for two steps back, and so on. Within about 10 rounds of this, she was backing up around 5 feet. Hurray!! Way to go Mira.
At this point I put the ball away and just went for a bit of a hike. She still wanted to do more but I knew her brain was getting fried. No point burning her out or ending on a bad note. After a bit I played some tug games (Tug, Out! Tug, Out! Lie down, Tug, Out! Hand touch, Tug! etc.), and had her do send outs around every lamp post we walked past, as follows: I put her in heel position standing around 5 feet from a pole (start doing this much closer), then send her forward to the pole. Once there I turn my body indicating that she is to go around the pole, and then come back to me. Reward with the tug. It only took once for her to get it. I have done this with her in the past, but again she never caught on. Today she did it every time, and from both sides.
I am so pleased by all this change and improvement with Mira that I am quite inspired to do more with her now. She was very pleased with herself as well. I’m not sure if this is a maturing thing, or if her brain is simply working better these days. Perhaps both. Regardless, we both came home quite happy.
Tomorrow I am renting my agility instructor’s training arena for an hour or two in the morning so we’ll get to play around on some equipment after all this time. Yeah! I am going to bring all four dogs and do a little with each, although mostly work Hannah as there’s no point paying for time to do ground work that I can do at home. Should be a fun morning and I had best get to bed and review my training notes to plan our time most effectively. Good night!