After giving the dogs a day of rest on Tuesday we we headed down to Fido's on Wednesday. The first really hot day of the year. The sheep were grumpy, the dogs lethargic and I almost melted into a puddle on the ground. At one point I seriously thought about jumping into the water trough with Brynn. Thursday the weather cooled off and we spent the day working dogs with Vicki at Cindy's.
With all the practice I have done with Beth at the pen & keeping her back... we stumbled onto a new problem. Beth was hesitant to come up on the sheep at all. So we spent some time working through that and getting Beth to really listen to what I was saying rather than generalizing. My main focus with Beth of late has been to speed her up at the same time gaining her trust so she will listen. Too many times Beth takes it onto herself to make decisions. It isn't disobedience - she is a very honest dog - she just teeters on the edge of feeling like she is loosing control of her sheep and I can see her frustration climbing - it is my job to exude calm and enable her to settle down and work correctly and trust me and my direction.
I have struggled with keeping my cool. Last year at our first two trials I lost it...turned into a blathering idiot, which translated to Beth and she tried to take charge...and ended in disaster. Beth's work is a direct reflection of me on the field. If I am antsy and nervous. She is equally hyped up. Not a good combination.
My goal for this next trial was to enable both of my dogs to work correctly. That was all. Stay calm, be positive and have a good experience.
Friday opened with some fairly decent weather. Cool breeze, scattered sunshine and mild temperatures. Perfect weather for working dogs. Novice/Novice was first on the agenda for the day. Beth was running 6th, Brynn 12th.
Fiona McMillan from Scotland was the judge, flown in with her sister Sheena for these two trials. Fiona is an accomplished judge and handler herself. She has competed in Nursery, Open and represented Scotland at an International level as a young handler. She has been on "One Man and His Dog" and won the International Young Handlers competition at Chatsworth. Fiona has organized four Scottish Nationals, three International, one of which was the Centenary International in 2006.
We introduced ourselves to the Judge then proceeded to the post. Beth did her normal zippy little dance, saw her sheep then settled down ready to be sent on her outrun. The sheep consisted of one Scottish black face, one hair sheep and one lamb. They did not want to be with each other on a good day.
I sent Beth on her outrun. 3/4 of her way up the field the Scottish monster split off from the other two at the set out and pulled away from the set out about 20 feet. It caught Beth's eye and she cut the top off the outrun by turning in to intercept it. I downed her & she listened. I knew if I let her go after that lone sheep she would leave the other two still up the field at the set out. I tried to redirect her with a flank command. She hopped up and headed to the single. I downed her again...then breathed and thought about how we were going to fix this...
We have been working on "look-back" while running the sheep through the foot bath and chutes for vaccinations & worming. Beth knows what it meant. But I had never used it in this circumstance or distance. I took a deep breath and said "Beth...LOOK BACK". We struggled with it for a few seconds...when finally Beth turned and zipped up the field...lifted the two at the set out quite nicely. When they saw the single down field near the exhaust they took off running. The fetch was obviously way off line and crazy. However, Beth managed to get around them and brought them to me at the post. We had a couple bobbles at the pen - then got our pen within the three minutes.
Here is a video of our run.
That was the best part of our entire weekend. Beth listened & trusted me. I am so glad I did not follow my first thought - to walk away from the post. Instead I put some faith in Beth and what we had been working on and it came out perfectly. She finished with 14-3-15-2 and a final score of 26 out of 60. The score meant nothing....the work Beth did was everything.
Beth is in full agreement.
After giving Beth lots of hugs and kisses it was Brynn's turn. My friend Jeanne told me that my entire body posture changed from Beth to Brynn. I would have to agree...Brynn is a LOT OF DOG! I need to be on my toes. She is a firecracker - yet still a baby dog.
Brynn's outrun was kinda sticky - what you cant really see in the video is that Brynn's eye never left the sheep at the set out. Her head was turned looking at them the whole way up the field. I gave her a couple "get-back"s when she started looking like a Lawn Dart - she responded...sorta. She finally came in at the top and lifted the sheep. The fetch was off line and the pace was a smidge too fast, but did finally slow down and the sheep settled...sorta. We got our pen with a little bit of a challenge. This time I was smart and leashed Brynn BEFORE letting the sheep out of the pen so we didn't have a repeat of the last trial when she worked against allowing the sheep to go to the exhaust.
Video of our run.
I was very happy with her. She finished with 4-0-4-4 and a final score of 48 out of 60 and .....Second place in the class! WOOHOOO!
Brynn was very proud of herself. She should be.
I entered both Beth and Brynn into the Ranch class. No intentions of anything other than having the chance to work them both and gain some experience. Beth timed out on the drive after our second run. We were given a re-run because they had an issue at the exhaust which sucked our sheep off the field. The rerun rattled us both. The second run was only judged from the drive - but Beth was so freaked out the sheep were going to take off again I couldn't get her to drive them too far away. We almost had them a couple of times but timed out. Brynn had problems with the drive and we timed out at the pen. But hey...at least we did not finish dead last!
Saturday night my friend Cindy and I attended the handlers dinner where they served some of the most incredible barbecue I have ever eaten. Absolutely delicious! We had a wonderful time talking to everyone and eating. I truly enjoyed talking to Fiona and her sister Sheena. Their sense of humor is absolutely delightful. Much giggling and laughter ensued.
Later in the evening I got the biggest suprise of my life. Fiona and Sue were handing out the checks to the winners of the classes. I had my camera in front of my face snapping away and not really paying attention to what they were saying - just focusing on the composition and lighting of my shots - when Monique said "Carolynn...this is for you!".
I think I froze a little. Okay..more than a little...a lot. Then I started to get a little teary. Fiona chose me as the "Most Promising Novice Handler" because of the way I stayed calm and handled Beth in her run. She said that the way I handled it enabled Beth to succeed & was brilliant. Fiona didn't think Beth was going to take that "look back" but because of the way I supported her and remained calm, she did. Fiona said my handling over the past two trials was also excellent. They gave me a very pretty whistle lanyard too!
The best thing? That run with Beth was my favorite part of the entire weekend, even more so than Brynn placing second. Finally I know what it means to work as a team with your dog and will cherish it forever.
I believe that our achievements are a reflection of our teachers and people in our lives. Our journey into this world has been supported by so many people. From my first lessons with Chris Soderstrom, Karen Child, and Scott Glen to the clinics with Patrick Shannahan I have been blessed with an incredible foundation to build upon. The deciding impact on my handling has come from Dianne Deal and my dear friend Cindy Baker. Dianne has really taught me what it means to be a handler and how to fairly and consistently communicate to my dog through hours of lessons, phone calls, support and friendship. Cindy has shown me through example and generosity of heart the kind of friend and handler I hope I can be some day. I thank you...and most of all my dogs thank you!