Pup Dates

It’s hard to write about working my dogs when I’m….actually not.  I have a 10 acre pasture full of tumble weed, a dog who is seemingly so sensitive that if she had thumbs and a thesaurus she’d probably be the worst poet since the fifth Bronte sister no one ever talks about – Midge Bronte – a psychotic fleabag who loved unwisely and constantly,  and was so full of worms that she scooted across all the best carpets in London during The Season, always requesting the same waltz because it soothed her “stinky third eye”….  She rhymed easy syllables and was always really shittily sarcastic about including the word ‘Wuthering’ ..which she claimed to have coined in reference to her sister’s bad flatuence.
She didn’t really exist, except in my head.

Biz is coming along or dragging me along, more correctly.  Someday she will trial.  If she ever learns to drive. Right now we don’t see eye-to-eye on the importance.  It’s enough to outrun perfectly, lift nicely and fetch the shit out of those pellet dispensers.  Then it’s time for a swim.

Duke…ahhhhh…Duke.  He’s going to need someone bigger than me.  Or I haven’t ruled out a gorilla suit.  I don’t think there is even a USBCHA ‘guideline’ against it.

I don’t know when my next trial is. Probably when I have a dog who will compete and not merely run.  When I feel competent enough to help her/him.  Fortunately the women in my family tend to live long lives…

How’s it Wagging?

I read an article recently which articulated deeper subtlety in the language of a dog's tail wag.  Namely, a wag with a bias toward the dog's RIGHT indicates acceptance and that it's okay to approach and a wag with a bias to the left of the dog's body is negative and a signal to keep distance.

(Link to dog-wag article)

I mean, color me WTF.   I'm not too many years into understanding fairly obvious signs, like "As soon as you let me off this leash, I'm going to bite a lawyer."  

I read this article a week or so ago and since then I have been attempting to study my dogs' tail wags.  My (brief, limited) findings, in general,

Jai wags constantly, her entire back half meets her entire front half.
Jack wags slow and low, no detectable bias.
Pat swishes his tail a bit then rams you with his head and side of body. The tail is just a brief turning indicator.
Scout wags the very tip of her long flowing tail. It's more like a rattlesnake rattles.
Biz doesn't really wag. She waves. High and arched. Maybe a bit more to the left.  I don't believe this is a Stay Away attitude as much as Biz is always on the ready for action and tail wagging seems like a leisure activity.  

The bias is not easy to discern.  I mean, it's not like they stop wagging at the center point. It's very nuanced.  Tail wagging is not the first social cue I suck at, to be sure, but it's in a realm I normally feel safe – a social environment where everyone eats on the floor without talking.  Where the most important things are smelled or tasted, not discussed.

AND, now I'm feeling a little SHEEPISH about what my dogs might be READING in ME…

I mean, if they can spot a slight tail shift to the left at 500 paces, how have I ever thought I'd been fooling them all this time humming a happy tune while nearly peeing myself on the way to the post? If nothing else, I'm sure they can SMELL my sweat.

It's pretty clear that while I have other issues to work through on the field – timing, depth perception, that some of my favorite words can get me DQ'd….one of the biggest and most difficult obstacles I have is my own EMOTIONAL state and, now, in how many ways I am transferring that to my dog.   Holy Right Brained Shit.

In practice vs trial my dog can be a completely different animal.   Delusions are built upon the kind of work Jai does at home – she has feel, she is fast, she is very intelligent, she loves to work sheep.  She rarely grips and she can work up close and at a great distance.  At a trial, often she looks like I've dropped her off at the 40 yard line of a pro-football game in play and asked her to score the winning touchdown. She stands there wagging and licking her lips, as if to say, "Did you forget that I don't have thumbs? Again? This is big and scary and nothing is shaped right."

I think that we did fairly well at the Trailing of the Sheep SDT this year because I didn't think it was possible to get through the course, so I mentally excused myself from the pressure and just ran my dog without expectation or stress of failure.  The sheep were very difficult, R/Ts and DQs were outnumbering scores, I had a dog drug hangover from the night before.  Jai got through the course, I felt pretty relaxed, and we earned our first Open points by coming in 6th.  

The concept that our emotions affect our dogs, that our verbal communication is the least important, is nothing new.  Anyone who lives with a dog realizes this, to some extent. 

I used to try to occasionally sneak out of the house to go for a run. Alone.  I had SHOES on the FRONT PORCH a day ahead of time, clothes in the car.  I'd tiptoe around, I'd pretend I was picking up, cleaning, meandering closer and closer to the door….and the moment I even looked in a door-ward direction, I'd have every dog in the house standing there, staring and wagging ( I assume to the right), whining and ready to go.  Every time.  Yet if I was really just cleaning the house, even going in and out of the front door to get the mail, take garbage out, etc., no dog ever more than lifted his/her head from a nap.  

That always flummoxed me.  That and how Scout bends spoons with her mind.  Both are examples of how forked we are.

Trying to work as a team with your dog, you really begin to understand the depth of this silent physical language.  Our trainers tell us from day one – your dogs pick up on your energy, good or bad.  What is surprising, and I think increases the complexity 1000 fold, is how much more subtle, physically, they are, and how hard it is for (some of) us to transition to that communication world.  I barely pick up on a vigorous hand gesture from a livid human, let alone a slight tail posture. 

Visualize your perfect run, Lavon has told me before going to the post. Picture every part of it and how it should look.  Watch enough runs so that you know the pressures on the field, you see how the sheep are moving, you understand the places where you will be challenged.  Picture in your mind how you will help your dog in these places.  KNOW your run before you run it.

It sounds so new-agey and contemplative.  I've only ever tried this, sort of, once (and Jai and I did have a decent run), because I am just too jittery and scattered leading up to my run to picture anything in sequence.  I prefer to spend my time in the porta-potty and looking at the running order over and over.  (Plus I think I know WAAAAY more about running a dog than Lavon.  When I was telling him about the tail wag thing, he asked, "Which part is the tail, again?")
(ha ha ha…not really. But he does call their feet 'soft-shell hooves' and when asked how his dogs are bred, usually answers, "By humping…")
(No. He doesn't.)

I have often wished he'd say the secret to a great run was animal sacrifice.  "Kill a chicken on a full moon before each trial."  
I love my chickens. BUT I don't need a great run. I would just like a score more regularly. So…maybe animal inconvenience. I could yell at my chickens.  Make fun of their unfortunate molting,

"I can see your yummy parts!"

….But now I can see why this pre-run ritual of Lavon's makes sense.  It is calming. It forces you to concentrate on the mechanics of what you are about to do so that this is present in your mind when you walk to the post and send your dog.  Your mind and your emotions are more centered on the function and communication, rather than freaking the fuck out and worrying about peeing yourself.

Anyway, this wagging thing really highlights the complexity of the subtlety in communication between human and animals in a way that is both intriguing and OHSHIT-afying.  I'm sure you can get a dog around a course without understanding the intricacies of what they are telling you and what you are telling them, and what you are both telling the sheep, but it won't ever be what it can be, which, for me, is the whole point to having sheep, trialing, and trying to discern a bias in my dog's wag.


The Original G and H

As one of 800,000 (plus or minus) government employees on furlough, it's a good time to be thinking about compromise and The Big Picture.  It's a better time to Think Globally and Act Locally.  Usually I only apply this to breakfast, but I'm GROWING as a person…..

I really believe most of us hear what we want to hear.  We sift everything through a filter of what is familiar and comfortable to us.   If a trainer tells me,

"You need to correct your dog! Make him(her) know that you mean it! You asked for that flank 3 times. You need to ask once, and then get on his(her) ass."

I think that means I should probably get a new whistle. Clearly Jack didn't hear me.

"You need to work on things up close. He is slicing his away flank every time. You won't get nice flanks far away if you can't get them up close."

This means that Jack has a nice come-by flank.  We'll practice that more because it makes us feel good and then I don't have to yell as much.

"He(she) is reading the livestock and responding instead of listening to you because that is what your dog has had to do in order to compensate for your off-timing; it's what he's been allowed to do because of your lack of corrections." 

My dog has tremendous natural feel and talent. 

But, really – I have tunnel vision.  I tend to focus on small details in my work that are often detrimental to the bigger whole. Like in sorting sheep; I focus on the 5 lambs I want – just the lambs, as objects.  And the gate, as hard to keep closed.  And my stick as not being long enough.  Not the process. Not how the entire flock is tensely moving from one end of the pen to the other and the motion is nonstop and when there is a brief pause in the motion, because I've remembered to STOP MY DOG so I can locate my 5 lambs… the only way to accomplish anything is to muscle things through or not through the gate. I only intermittently remember to yell LIE DOWN GODDAMNIT and only then when I am being run over. 

In the end I will have 6 or 7 of the biggest, ugliest, nastiest ewes.  The 5 lambs I wanted, meanwhile, will be with the rest of the discards, looking quixotically at me, chewing. Always chewing. It's such a big Eat Me gesture. 

I also do not insist on getting what I ask for
from my dog, even when I am wrong.  This is why my dogs feel that everything is just a suggestion and, with my inprecise timing, my suggestions are really just chatter.  Or rap music.

"Come bye! COME BY

What the fuck are you doing, Jai, I said come by!



…Who knows?

Also, I have totally misunderstood the
mechanics of shedding. Though many fine trainers have told me in many different ways, the How and Why of what happens in the ring, my approach has been more like a tag-team wrestling match. Or viking invasion.  I'd move, my dog would move, the sheep would move, we'd all move faster in the other direction, some foul language, a foot stamp…more movement…and after a period of time we'd all be tired enough to either quit, grip, or something approaching a shed would happen. It was exhausting and never felt good. It's what I imagine shopping on black friday feels like.  I hate shopping.

I've been going through somewhat of an existential crisis with training.   Why am I doing this again? I'm not really movinf forward…I'm moving sideways, and a little backwards… Sure it makes my dogs happy, but so does snausage and sleeping on the bed.  Lately, training has put me on edge and I dread trialing.

I argue with my dogs. I argue with Lavon.

The last of which led Lavon to setting up a lesson for me with his good friend and mentor, Don Helsley.

you'll listen better to him. Maybe he will tell you some things in a
way that makes more sense to you at this time than I can…."

I am a pain in the ass to train.  Many nights I claim it's
too windy or too hot to work dogs…or I would rather have a beer…
I do work my dogs I give him excuses for all my dogs' and my bad
decisions and behaviors.  I had kind of hit a rut of malaise about it

Enter Helsley.  I like Don because he really does not mince words. AND you really don't feel like he is open to hearing all your lame ass excuses about why your dog really needs to feel the success of a constant comeby flank.

"If you can't get it up close, you won't get it far away."

In watching really good handlers shed, it just flows so effortlessly.  The
sheep move slowly and the shed happens like choreography.  My attempts
look more like 5 sheep tossed in a KitchenAide mixer, at various speeds,
controlled by my dog, while I try to figure out where to stick my hand
to part the batter…until my dog grips, usually.   That's even how my
BRAIN processes it.  It's made me hate baking.

"Your dog should be laying down if you are moving. If you send your dog, you need to stand still. Otherwise…you turn it into a race." 

This was huge info. 

When Helsley sheds, he walks parallel to the head of the sheep,
smoothly catching their eyes, turning them, walking parallel to the head
again, turning them again. 

"Bring the sheep to your dog. If they get
too close or bunch up, move them off and do this again."

I realize that I've been afraid to approach the sheep. Historically when I would, I usually was also flanking my dog.  My theory was once we got them in that nice line, I'd step in, make a hole, and call my wagging, lip-licking Gripmaster 3000 into the void and we'd have a chase scene that ended in Thank You or







Well, best case scenario.

 Don gave me some exercises to help me and both my dogs – making the Big Picture small enough to make right. Walkabouts where we work up close on flanking squarely in both directions; and shedding, where I think about what I am doing – and all the parts that go into it, simultaneously – and quit fearing the shed as one would an IED.

I have nothing but time. 


Soldiers – Highlights from The Hollow

Sometimes when I'm at a huge trial, watching brilliant handlers run incredible dogs…I believe what I really understand about what is going on
around me is how a ferret would feel in this environment.  Or a bag of
squirrels readying for winter.

 There is just so much to take in, and so much noise surrounding it, plus snacks.

 Soldier Hollow draws some really great talent, and
tens of thousands of people who clap when a ewe stomps her foot or a dog
flops in the water tub, applaud like bait-crazed seals when sheep go through a panel in any direction.  

 Second billing to the "Ultimate Sheepdog Challenge" are a
Splash Dogs competition and much fried food.

 I ran Lavon's young Boot in Splashdogs, because it was hot and we were tired of being mere spectators. Boot loves to swim.  It was funny to follow a line of dogs whipped into a frenzy with neon
balls and flying stuffed squirrels, handlers yelling and running up and
down the platform, dogs circling and yipping or barking barking barking before, during, and after their jump. Five
solid minutes of buildup for a 3 foot jump, or even a twenty foot jump. 

 …And then there was us:

Boot and I make eye contact, I gesture up the stairs and say calmly, "Get in!"

Boot's jumps (12 feet and change) took less than 30 seconds from announcer
to me coaxing him out of the pool. That was the hard part – Boot likes
to get his money's worth. He took his victory laps, while the splash dog assistant frantically tried to call him to the exit ramp, he paddled around, relaxed.

 Boot was in it for the swim. He doesn't give two floaty shits about toys or drama, but the dog responds to a verbal invitation to Get In.

 Twenty bucks a pop! Jesus Inflatable Christ,
who can justify this sport? Not someone with a canal in their back yard!


  (photo by Ann Daugherty)

Still, Boot loved it. 

"That's my next open dog," I heard Lavon tell a splashdog spectator who remarked that Boot might have a knack for the sport.


Lavon sounded sad.  Boot is also a very fine sheepdog, almost ready for Open; he just likes variety. We both do.

 "Maybe we should enter him in that contest over there!" I told Lavon, pointing to an arena where dogs were pulling little carts.  A few dogs had hats on.  I pictured Boot in a little driving cap..

 "We could have him pull TESS in a cart!"

 The crowd LOVES Tess. 

 Lavon shuddered.

 "Or he could give people in Funnel Cake haze a ride to the porta-potties! FOR SPLASHDOG CASH!"

 Lavon suggested that we instead return to the trial field to watch Amanda's run, because "She is so focused"…

 "What about me and MY FOCUS? I haven't shut up about funnel cakes for HOURS!"

 "Are you hungry?"

 "NO! That is what is SO IMPRESSIVE about my intensity!"

 People eat something that emulates it's exit strategy, deep fried.  With sugar. It's uncanny.


before her run, late in the afternoon with Dorey, after a day of dogs running
and very very few pens, Amanda announced that she would "Pen or Die"…

 I didn't really believe that she'd die, because she
didn't dress for it,  but I never doubted that she'd pen. I've seen her
run her dogs, live and on numerous videos from various difficult
Since I first heard her name a few years ago, I've heard people whinge
about the fact that she whistles almost constantly.
When I was really new to this I thought this meant something negative;
somehow her input style and intensity took away from the impressiveness
of her top scoring consistency.  I thought it meant that she was telling
her dogs every move they needed to make and therefore they were
Now it's something I try to emulate.  Most of us aren't fast enough to whistle like she does, or right
enough.  Her dogs are fast and responsive and she is very precise.  It's really something to


Lavon ran his last competitive trial with Tess in the Finals on Monday, and it was good,albeit sad. She ran like a dog not ready to retire,  but Lavon wants her going out on top. Sadly, he didn't not want her going out on top of a cart, so, despite my coaxing, she was not carried from the field in a chariot pulled by Boot.


Dairy and Queen

We have two more weekends until Lacamas and Lavon would like to spend this one riding 'Jet Ski's' at a 'Reservoir'.

The only man made body of water I appreciate is a bath tub. Furthermore,  for me 'Jet' and 'Ski' are two words that go together like 'Space' and 'Ship'.  Taken separately, why not.  Fast and Vast, quiet and transportive.  The stuff of cheesy meeting room posters. 

Combine these nouns and my sphinctor snaps shut like a partisan mind.  Whose doesn't? I will tell you whose: Aliens and Lavon's.

Jet skis are loud and dangerous and ruined my quiet childhood on the REAL lakes of Northern Idaho.  Lakes with secluded rock beaches and clean* water; miles from any other person, beer cans, or dead carp. 

Honey and Bucket
PLUS This: I used to live next door to a family who every year had the newest in snow machines and jet skis, dirt bikes and atvs…but no indoor plumbing.  THEY PEED IN COFFEE CANS IN THE WINTER!! Where are the priorities of these Jet Ski Enthusiasts?  Thank GOD Keurig has changed everything.

Spectator and Sports
Jai is getting fat, laying around the house watching me bitch about jet skis. Jack is still in repose, licking the ghost of his balls. Neither have been worked outside my 9 acre stubble field in too long.  Only Biz works sheep on any sort of aggressive schedule, because she is small enough to fit through the fence and I'm not fast enough to catch her.

Sometimes Lavon likes to spontaneously suggest we work in the
evenings.  Sometimes this is not convenient with my happy hour routines.  Sometimes I think instead we should watch Orange is the New
Black or sit in the yard, under the trees, and speculate idley on what
the fuck the neighbors are doing that involves so much mowing and a
little bench that overlooks clippings.  They could feed their one
unhappy goat those clippings. They never do. 

Shit and Shingle
This trial is coming up fast.  We should be going to the part of the desert that doesn't feature an artificial cavity full of seepage, we should set sheep instead of jet ski.

I think aliens probably don't even have sphinctors, but I don't know what Lavon's excuse is.

*Except the toxic mining waste and heavy metals

Caldonia vs The Colonies

This weekend is the Athena Caldonia Games, which Lavon keeps calling the 'Colonial Games'..so henceforth I'm going with that.

Along with big hairy men in tartan kilts, throwing logs and playing bagpipes there will be the annual SHEEPDOG TRIAL held on a local high school FOOTBALL FIELD! THERE IS A BEER GARDEN! Meat on a stick! Music no one can dance to!

This is exactly as I imagine my prom would have been, metaphorically, 30ish years ago in Northern Idaho, had I not dropped out of school to follow my 'dream' and my mother's 'nightmare'.

Lavon is Basque. He really doesn't know Caldonea from Colonial. Throw in a Calzone or some cologne…and you might as well not even bother explaining why you unpacked all his pants and replaced them with plaid skirts from the thrift store. And a bonnet.

I don't even know how many dogs I'm running, or who, because Lavon sent in both our entries. I know I'm running Boot, his young dog, whom I've only sort of worked twice before. Boot and I are good friends…but who knows how it will work on the field. I picture a good time to insert a bagpipe if ever there was one, outside of Braveheart.

Lavon might be running Jai, I can't remember. Jai is in the Kitchen with the Curse, bleeding on everything from one end and licking with the other. Which means that my running Jack will be as memorable and inspiring as smallpox.
It's a small trial, Open, PN, Novice and Nursery…plus a jackpot time and points event Saturday evening. It's a good time. The sort of good time this country was founded on.

I wish I had a powdered whig for Jai and Lavon. Next year. This year they both have enough strikes against them, what with no underwear and the wind.

For What It’s Worth..

I'm heading into this trial season with ZERO expectations, which matches my actual discipline these past few months. For once they jive! Usually I have no RIGHT to any expectations, but my mind fills up with DELUSIONAL FANCY served on the Expectation platter regardless.

I've just been particularly lax with my training since last fall.

This spring I finalized a divorce, bought and remodeled a new old farm house, moved my stuff out of two previous residences and missed my children.

It's a big old house.

I have MORE acreage! And sheep! And Lavon LOVES TO WORK DOGS.

I bought more chickens. Instead of training my dogs, this spring I spent a lot of time sitting amidst chickens, watching them. They are like living amongst cranky old women. Chicken body language is all snarky gossip. They look like feathery puritans – all judgement and cackle.
I don't particularly like eggs and I'd never kill one for meat. These chickens are like belonging to a book club or going to parties that always end by 9 pm. They are what I imagine belonging to a church that serves koolaide and hellfire must be like.

This winter and spring I ate shit COMFORT food (and I'm talking the kind of comfort that really means SLOTH) and I drank as if the polar ice melting were beer and I was the only thing stopping California from sliding into my liver.

I didn't run or write.
I didn't work dogs. I walked dogs on the canal and in the desert and I raised the puppy Biz.

I did practice my whistles in the car while I drove. I downloaded Neil Young Unplugged and learned all the songs, particularly Long May You Run and Pocahontis.

It's been a good transitional spring, but I've been on hold in too many ways. I miss the discipline of running and writing and working my dogs.

Just about a week ago I started regularly running and working dogs again. 

Surprisingly, Lavon is still willing to help me become a better handler! Last fall he got a little irritated with me because, according to him, whenever he told me something designed to help me and my dog, I would argue with him. I would justify why I was doing something in a certain way, rather than listen to his experience telling me how I should be doing it, or how I might try it for better results.

I tended to get a little pissy with him,

"I'm only going to drive Jack down the fenceline one time because I think he's tired. IT'S NOT WORTH KILLING MY DOG OVER, LAVON!"

"I don't like shhhushing Jai on because she gets all amped up and she will grip and it's NOT WORTH KILLING A SHEEP OVER, LAVON!."

"NO, LAVON! YOU sound like fighting magpies. My whistles are fine. IT'S NOT WORTH KILLING …UH…TIME OVER, LAVON!"

So, here we are.  This weekend is the first trial of our summer. It's in Wyoming and Lavon is the judge.

My stop whistle is 

"With your chrome heart shining, in the sun, long may you run…"

Not really. 

Camp Lavon

I haven't really written about Big Willow because, well….you can just read any other Wah! I Suck post I've written, add 90 degree heat and a few CONSONANTS to our score card.  We DQ'd, We RT'd.
As I've said, we didn't deserve to do better with my lax training schedule these last several months.

From Jai's perspective, I might as well have suggested that she emergency land a 747 while I finish my complimentary northwest beer or wine. 

Biz had a great time playing with other puppies and eating her weight x 2 in free range ewe shit. (THE BEST KIND!). 
It was really fun watching people I like and admire run their dogs well, or handle the runs that didn't go so well with grace and dignity…in a beautiful place.

Now we have roughly 6 weeks until the next trial. 
Lavon suggested that I practice my whistles, which have mostly so far sounded like a shrill form of nonverbal turrets. So I have been whistling, nearly every day, on my 45 minute commute.  I think I'm less likely to attract ground squirrels and bad attention now.  I believe that I have improved enough that my stop and away whistles no longer sound like outbursts of an inappropriate nature. PLUS! They differ.

This weekend Ann is coming up from Nevada, and Mindy from Portand, and Lavon is going to put us through a mini sheepdog boot camp.  He's setting up various exercises in field and corral, both at my house and his.  We will work up close to strengthen our relationship/trust with our dogs on livestock in pressure situations, and enhance our timing.

Next trial, Jai is going to thank me and vice versa.  Jack will keep his head in the game and his poo out of it.

I'm really looking forward to it. 

Wrong Way

This whole 'training' before you trial thing….there just might be something to it.  I've spent the last few or more months watching reruns of bad tv; cleaning a really really trashed future home, purchasing future home, painting and fixing future home and moving into …home.  Plus, I watched 2.5 seasons of Archer.

I love that show.

I didn't have time to TRAIN my DOGS. or me. Unless by 'train' you mean 'buy a new couch for' ….

Highlights from My Personal Goring Ranch Experience:

1) Jai didn't find sheep. First time ever that she actually shrugged and turned in the entirely WRONG direction when I sent her. As if I had said, instead of 'Away',

'Go Find Yourself!'….

In fairness, I didn't spend a lot of time SHOWING her where the sheep ACTUALLY COULD BE FOUND because I was certain that everything she needed to know she learned in kindergarten.  Or something to that effect.  I was busy trying to get internet access on my Iphone so I could check the weather and text.

Her second run was better. 

2) Jack had a nice outrun, credible lift….stopped to sniff pee on his fetch….trotted a bit further, turned around, went back to pee spot, more sniffing ensued, follwed by a leisurely pee on pee; he then meandered after his sheep downfield, into a large ditch as the sheep were coming out of it..late late late…Jack emerged from the ditch way downfield…HEY! WHERE ARE MY SHEEP??!! frantic frantic frantic…running entirely wrong direction…Finally found sheep with much irritated help…had sheep moving toward the post….stopped to take a poo…

Need I elaborate further?  It was about this time that I found myself fervently wishing I had a monkey; a handsome little thing, vicious and shit flinging, but studiously fashionable with slicked back monkey hair and a pillbox hat, PLUS a begging cup.  He would rattle that thing about half way through a run such as this, standing next to me at the post. 

But no.

What I have is about 3 days to work Jai a little before Big Willow, plus move some of the rest of my stuff into my new home, plus surf the internet and buy things that I don't really need. 

I have 3 days to get my attention span in order and commit to at least trying to give Jai a fairer shake next weekend.

Because I do NOT have time to find and outfit a monkey.