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Dan and Sue's Excellent Adventure

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Well, guys, today was our last day at Anna Guthrie's Stockdog Ranch - and Dan and I had a final exam that none of us had imagined!


Anna was not able to get out to do morning chores, so Dan and I went out to do them, as we have done them before. The bonus question on the test was - a brand new first-time mother and her little ewe lamb!




So, to keep things simple, especially since there were four new calves in the field I needed to put the flock, I took out Ms Peggy Sue. Then Dan and I went back for the flock. He was interested in the new family but readily left them behind to help me move the flock out of the arena, down through #10, across the pavement, and into #13. Not perfectly, not prettily sometimes, but functionally!


And back for the new pair. I would pick up the lamb and get the mother to follow me, and Dan would come along behind her. My boy, a bit of a bully-boy, was being so very good - when the new mother faced him and stamped (and I was sure he'd charge and grip), he just moved back slightly and eased the pressure so she could turn around and walk on.


Unknown to me, Anna was watching (she did not even know about that new baby until she saw Dan and myself "escorting" the new little family, and she was really pleased. I think Dan got full bonus points!


For evening chores, we did the same thing but backwards - and with the added complication that the new calves were quite interested in the flock and thought they'd like to come along. So I had to use Dan at times to move sheep; hold back calves; guard the gate; and then go and help me bring the new mother and baby to join the flock - all the while, helping to keep the calves in the original field and away from the gate.


Again, not perfect work, not always pretty work (our inexperience was showing, often, but we were showing improvements), but working functionally and getting the job done. Here's a shot of the flock (with calves) that we needed to bring in for the night. I love that evening light!




We'll be up at 4 am for the ride to the airport and the flight home - thanks, thanks, and thanks to Anna! Thanks to my dear husband, who's been manning the fort at home and totally supportive! Thanks for Danielle for the fabulous photos! Thanks to Cindy for taking photos and video! Thanks to Sharon for helping with the ride to the airport! Thanks to our John and his family for hospitality and airport transports!

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Epilogue? I'm so tired from all the work and all the travel that I just want a nap!


I do need to report that we are both home, safe and sound. As on the trip to CA, Dan traveled like he'd been doing it all his life. As when Anna and I went to retrieve him at the oversize baggage ramp in San Diego, at Reagan in Washington, he was calmly sitting in his crate watching the world go by - or at least the other travelers in the airport. He was only there seconds when I saw him, and he looked for all the world like a dog settled in for a comfy people-watching session.


After a mostly sleepless night at my son's home (and lovely wake-up hugs and kisses from the grandkids on the way to school and the pre-schooler who's old enough to help me take down the airbed), Dan and I hit the road for home.


And, after being here a bit, I went out to feed my mare and decided to be brave and bold - after putting the other dogs up and letting Molly out of her feeding pen, I utilized Dan to get the cows moving away from the working pens (they were hoping for goodies, spoiled girls!) and back towards the pasture where they are on winter hay feeding. They were not interested in going but Dan convinced them.


It was not southern California conditions - after winter's snow, freezing rain, and then milder temps, everything was muddy and some places were quite deep and puddly. Normally, I would have said to wait for a drier day but, with my anxious nature, I felt I needed to take that first big step and try Dan on (the majority of the) the cow herd.


He needed quite a bit of help at times but was taking his downs nicely, giving me some flanks, and really trying to figure out what I was asking of him. His first, slap-dash approach resulted in a big, unexpected mouthful of muddy cow tail brush - and a face that apparently said, "Hey, what's this - those dry California calves don't have this sort of thing going on behind them!"


He calmed down quickly (this is a relative thing) and we had a satisfying work together, just for five or ten minutes. After a good hosedown, he was glad to get in the house and feel like a big boy, working dog. Life is good!

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Epilogue? That's going to take time and thought, but my first ideas are -


Work on a good down, especially for a dog like Dan with lots of motor. Use that to work on getting pace and feel.


Help your dog. The dog can only do what a combination of its instinct and your clear communication can guide him to do. Don't put your dog in a situation that is destined to fail or over his head. Challenge him, test him, give him the need to think, but don't throw him into something that isn't going to help him progress or, worse yet, will set him back.


Do your part - think! Place yourself where you need to be to help the dog. Move about as needed to allow the dog a place to bring his stock. Don't stand like a deer in the headlights either wishing for something to happen, hoping it will happen, and or preventing it from happening.


Communicate with your dog. Some dogs seem to read your mind but that usually takes time, practice, and experience. Let a young dog know what you want, use his sense of balance to help him learn, use his desire to fetch to help him learn, use his natural instincts to help him learn.


A "head control freak" is a dog with certain compelling instincts that may require a different approach than what you might think. We found that, for Dan (who, as Lana points out, is a "head control freak" typical of his lines), providing more distance between him and his stock, and his stock and the handler, reduced a lot of the flying around to the heads that *all of us being too close* was producing. Use the dog's sense of balance to help prevent him flying around, which you can't do if you are all too close.


Use your voice as one of your two most important tools - be calm, be quiet (this is an animal that can hear a plastic wrapper crinkle from the other end of the house, with the TV goin), be expressive, but quiet. If you yell and holler from the beginning, for small things, because it lets you vent, what will you have to use when you need something "stronger"? And if your dog learns to listen to the calm, quiet voice, you might not need anything "stronger".


Your body is your other most important tool - use it to help the dog develop balance, to block your dog when needed, to be a place where the stock can feel comfortable approaching, to communicate with your dog.


There is a third important tool (or maybe a third and fourth) - the stock being well-suited to what you need to do (and the facility). At Anna's, at different stages and for different purposes, we used experienced school sheep that are calm and stolid; the school sheep with younger, dog-broke but less-dogged sheep to make the mix lighter; well dog-broke calves; less-broke and lighter calves; a full flock with school sheep, ewes, lambs of varying ages, and mothers-to-be. Each group helped teach us something different, and how to work with different animals.


We were fortunate to have very nice facilities with good fencing, good catch pens, and good gating. Each of these things helped us to learn principles without have to "fight the facilities" as I might have had to do at home where things are not set up so handily.


Work on developing a partnership with your dog - work together, learn together, strive and struggle together. Respect what your dog brings to the partnership, whatever his or her style may be. Trust your dog, and let your dog know he/she can trust you. You'll both make mistakes, you'll both be able to make progress if you learn from your mistakes and from good instruction.


Don't be afraid, and be willing to go outside your comfort zone or you will not be able to learn and make progress. Take a risk trying something new when you don't have to worry about things getting out of hand. If you make a mistake or things go awry, figure out how to fix it and give that a try. That's how you learn the most, perhaps more than any other way.


Thanks, Anna, for all your efforts, care, and encouragement.

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"By Jove, I think she's got it!!" (And we *did* watch My Fair Lady here the other night.) :D


This is such a wonderful (and thoughtful) summary of things to bear in mind when bringing up a young dog. I wonder if we could possibly archive this last post of Sue's...


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For evening chores, we did the same thing but backwards - and with the added complication that the new calves were quite interested in the flock and thought they'd like to come along. So I had to use Dan at times to move sheep; hold back calves; guard the gate; and then go and help me bring the new mother and baby to join the flock - all the while, helping to keep the calves in the original field and away from the gate.



Just reading this paragraph shows how far you and Dan have come.

So glad we got to share your excellent adventure!

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Thanks to Danielle, here are a couple more shots of handsome Dan -




And, "That's all, folks!" or "All's well that ends well." or just "The end(s)."




And my thanks to the many people who have been encouraging, supporting, and enjoying our most excellent adventure!

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Yep - that epilogue is exactly what I was looking for! Hopefully, Eileen will pin it in the appropriate spot when she has the chance.


Welcome home Sue and Dan; an excellent adventure indeed. I'm sure Anna is proud of you both.

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Last evening, using Dan to move the cows, as unpolished and ragged as our first attempt at home was - I realized that the adventure was not over, it has really just begun...

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I have a terrible case of fence envy.



Thanks, Penny, but don't have too much fence envy as most of the paddocks are definitely not lamb-escape-proof and some are not sheep-escape-proof. But basically, very nice, very sturdy, good gates that swing well, catch pens, water troughs, etc.


I have envy on the fencing, too, because it's super fence for cattle...

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Woo hoo! It looks and sounds like you guys had a great time and learned a lot. The scenery is gorgeous and everyone sounds so nice. I'm glad you were able to go and had such a great time. Wish I could have gone with you! :)



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I enjoyed my photos but Danielle's blew them out of the water - great camera, great composition, great job on her part!

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I have had the opportunity to work Dan a bit here at home, not as much as he would like, not as much as Anna would want me to be doing, and not as much as I should be doing. But one very important concept becomes obvious each time I take him out to stock here - there is a tremendous variation in stock. What a dog is capable of on certain animals, and what that dog appears to have down as very nice work on certain animals, may not translate into capability or nice work on very different animals.


At Anna's, we worked our way "up" - the first stock we worked with were the three "school sheep". Big boys all - Big Daddy, Winston, and Rusty - they've been there, done that, seen it all. Capable of being very solid, stolid, confident, moving off the dog excellently, and keeping themselves calm, they are excellent sheep for starting a pup or a dog "young in training" with a big motor.


When Dan and I were ready, we lightened this mix by adding three more sheep, younger ones, that were more likely to move more quickly off the dog. Of course, that was offset a bit by the fact that having six sheep rather than just three also changes the dynamics. Dan actually seemed to do much better with more sheep than less, up to a point (which I will get to). There is a more calming effect with a greater number of sheep, probably because the sheep feel more calm (safety in numbers) in a larger group.


We moved up to working about 2-3 dozen sheep, including the school boys for stability (and their experience that led them to want to stick with me), some younger animals for quantity and lightness, and even some two-month-old lambs. This size group resulted in some very nice work with Dan - I could turn my back on him, use my whistle, feel the energy of the sheep by me to know when he needed to lie down or slow down, and do walkabouts with curves and straight lines, turnbacks and other activities that encouraged Dan to flank but calmly and quietly.


The final group was the whole flock - school boys, ewes, lambs down to just a few days old. Dan had problems with a group this size. A large part of his problem was his "head control freak" personality. He felt a huge need to be up near the front so he could see the heads and control the heads of the lead sheep. In doing so, he was losing the back end of the flock entirely because his pressure would just cut them off - we'd wind up with myself in the lead, maybe a dozen or two dozen sheep, and then Dan's pressure creating a gap, and the rest of the flock looking on with puzzlement, wondering why they were excluded from the gathering.


And, of course, the bonus round was working with just one new mother and her baby. Dan had not had a sheep face up to him and stamp before. Where I thought he might fly into her face with a grip, he pleased me by relaxing the pressure on her and letting her feel comfortable enough to turn her back and follow her baby (that I was holding) or walk with her baby (when I wasn't holding it).


So, variations on a theme - sheep of different sorts and groups of different sizes (of course, accompanied by the additional changes afforded by differing jobs - moving, sorting, penning, gathering, beginning driving, and so on).


As for the calves, we worked with two groups at Anna's - the four very similar heifers that were very well dog-broke was the first. They moved as a group as long as the dog let them and didn't split them. They moved readily and easily off the dog, although they could get stuck in a corner or under branches along a fenceline and give the dog a bit of resistance. They easily came close to me so that I could walk through them if I wanted to push Dan off and/or send him around on a flank.


The second group was three animals, mixed sexes and mixed personalities. These were more challenging - they were more likely to split as they were not as cohesive a group and, if certain ones split off, that one might just keep on going (unlike the group of four, that really had no interest in leaving each other). They were less docile with the dog, more likely to run and jump, and less inclined to "come along quietly".


Dan did some nice work with the first group, and the work was a bit rougher with the second. But coming home to adult cows, first-calf heifers, and new mothers - well, they present a different scenario, and very different personalities.


Our adult cows are well dog-broke, having been worked by Celt (and other dogs at times) for years. They are used to a very polite dog, one that has a big outrun, a good feel for his stock, who relieves the pressure readily for new mothers and inspires confidence, who doesn't have a lot of push but on the other hand, doesn't tend to upset his stock. He has virtually no grip but has the courage to get into a cow's face and convince her that she will move. This would probably not work on a rank cow of any sort, though.


Our heifers are a bit feisty this year. They work well with Celt but have realized in the past that Dan is definitely a different dog - an unguided missle in their opinion, and rightfully so, prior to our trip to CA. And now, out of seven, four have new calves as first-time mothers.


So, what does all this mean? Dan is faced with cattle that are not quite so compliant as Anna's training calves - they are slower to respond, like a dog that gives them options (dog gets into position and gives the cattle the chance to move off subtle pressure) rather than strong-arm (strong-jaw?) tactics.


So, it's rather like we are back to basics - I try to set up a situation that will offer Dan a good opportunity for success. And I don't always manage that. Anna has pointed out that some scenarios I have set up have been counterproductive, and told me why - which explained why things went south very quickly and Dan was not successful - and would look at me as if to say, "Hey, boss, I gave it all I had and it did not work - why not?"


Mother cows are another story - they are willing to fight what they perceive as a threat to their babies. They don't let Dan get close like he did with the training calves without a reaction. They will, on the other hand, help teach Dan that the right distance is a good thing - he needs to think of more than just Dan, but rather about what the stock need to get the result that we want and need.


Meanwhile, he's not getting the work he should be getting and it's not just that I am lazy or avoiding it - we have very slick conditions, slick and slippery mud, and not good conditions for working with Dan because of the hazards to both cattle and Dan with bad footing. I've had him out several times, I find that I am not fearful like I have been in the past but rather feel that I have the tools to work with him better than I have had, and that (barring something injurious happening) we can work our way through mistakes and make them into learning experiences.


So, for now, his major job is learning something all the dogs need to know. To have manners, stay with their people, listen, stay put where I leave them when I am checking the stock and walking in and around the groups, and help us hold the line when we are feeding hay. Not big jobs, but essential to both our work and to Dan's progress.


Now, if only the ground would freeze up or dry out a bit so we can really get out there and work and train safely...

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