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The Lord of Misrule


Donald McCaig
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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

We left the farm at 4:30, me driving, Brandon, the kid who works for us sleeping, Fly in her crate in the wayback. 15 hours and 4 gas stops later we pulled into the LaQuinta in Slidell Louisiana, which I'd picked because it was pretty close to Penny Tose's Mardi Gras trial and because Lucinda Williams sings about Slidell.

 

Since the fall, I've been working hard and attentively with Fly. When snow was deep I sent her to find and somehow bring the sheep to feed, without any guidance from me. Between snows, we did difficult "obedience" training: deliberate crossovers and recrossovers, stops when the sheep were escaping, retraining our working relationship.

Not inconsequentially, in the house she was feeling safe enough to stay in one room while I was in another.

I chose Penny's Trial to test our training and readiness for Ireland and Scotland where we'll travel in May.

Ralph Pulfer used to laugh at the oft heard novice complaint: "But she never does that at home."

 

"Oh yes she does," Ralph would say.

 

That first night we found a pretty good restaurant near the motel and Fly got some doggybag before she went out for her night pee.

 

Next morning I brought her crate into the room, told the housekeeper to give us a miss, and Brandon and I drove into New Orleans where, three days before official Mardi Gras there were decorations, a bubble blowing machine producing ephemera, young people with "grenades" (booze containers) in the streets at ten in the morning, a wonderful cathedral, pralines to take home for Anne, an acrobat walking down steep stairs on his hands and gumbo which wasn't as good as what I make at home.

Next morning we got to the trial which was done up in Mardi Gras motifs: beads, foolishness and masks:Judge Patrick Shannahan wore a skull mask.

It was a big course and a good one. Maltese cross, shed, pen. Easy shed and pen. Very tough maltese.

 

I knew we were in trouble before we went to the post.

 

1. Fly slept on my bed, pressed against me. She hasn't needed that much reassurance in two years.

2. On her pee walks, she scoured for doggy scents and had only the crudest connection with me.

 

So she went out, didn't take the redirect, crossed, bumped her sheep, didn't hold the pressure, took no commands subtler than a bellow and got stuck at the exhaust.

 

Next day was worse. She was scouring for dog scent beside the judge's truck as we waited our turn, ran out too tight, ignored my redirect but widened on her own; still came in too tight, didn't hold them, recovered slightly at my feet but before the first drive panel Fly locked up - just stood staring as the sheep drifted up the course. At the exhaust Debbie Bailey asked, "Do you want me to get them."

"She'll do it" and because it wasn't a sheepdog trial Fly fetched them fine.

 

We departed after our run because a winter storm was coming and the last hours home, the roads wouldn't be plowed.As it was, driving was very unpleasant with heavy rain and fog the last four hours . With his young eyes and reflexes, Brandon took the last shift. We were home a little after midnight and next morning the car was under 4 inches of snow.

I'm not certain what to do next - work her away from home, sure. Anything else? I made an appointment for Fly with Patty Summers, the pet communicator.

 

Donald McCaig

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Hum, what do I know Sheepdogging Geezer- I am up waiting on a first year heifer to calve.

 

But my suggestion is take her to trails with another dog- and only trial the other dog-

 

and if possible set with her? Maybe have the other dog at set out in case you need him. But set with her.

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I wouldn't cancel that appointment (I'm sure you're joking anyway) with the pet communicator. But then, I'm a member of a Spiritualist community, so I go for that stuff. Obviously not everyone is especially good at what they purport to do. I, for one, have no ability.

 

Ronny

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I had one pet communicator (it was on the radio and there was a bad storm) tell me, that my then show horse did not like the color of her show pad...be that as it may. I contributed her issues to some holes in training.

 

I witnessed (this time it was not me) pinpoint some lameness and pain issues on a horse that I had just bought. The seller had consulted with this communicator before I bought him and oddly enough, I had just had him with the chiro who found the same issues before I was ever made aware of this. So...who knows.

 

But, when I went through the roughest time of my life to date...I was so desperate for any way to get a clue...that I did consult the lady mentioned above. This was when hardly anyone had hope left. She did not promise but did feel that things would not just be barely ok but that there was a chance for decent recovery. And it happened.

 

So, whatever your believes are, I do believe that there are rare individuals out there that may have gifts we can't understand.

 

And without a doubt, there is some mis communication between you and Fly. Fixable or not...who knows. But if you do go through with it, I would love to know what happened.

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Likely Fly was sensing Donald was different as he was seeking to assess the results of their winter training in preparation for their trip over seas. I find I am more tense at my first trial back after a long break from trialing especially if I've been training on something during that break or am getting ready for a big trial.

 

Others may not sense the change in me, I may not be fully aware of the change in me, my dogs are fully aware of the change in me.

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took no commands subtler than a bellow

I'm with Mark. I see Fly's thought bubble: "My handler never does this at home"......

 

Good luck as your journey with Fly continues, Donald.

 

Amy

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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

Ms. Smitty asks a good question and I don't have a perfect answer. I have flown dogs to the UK and trialed them intensively and the only difficulty they had - not trivial - was with the new work environment. The long flight was no different in kind from the long flights they previously made across our country. They zone out during travel.

 

So: worst case. Fly gets very clingy and won't run well on Irish or English sheep. The Brits get a giggle at the daft American whose dog won't work. Fly comes home and I retire her to farm work.

 

Best case: familiar sheep and environment help her reset her work ethic. She takes a big step forward.

 

At a minimum I'll better understand the strangest, most talented and in some ways most engaging sheepdog I've ever had.

 

Donald McCaig

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I don't understand this thread.

 

The dog doesn't perform at trials but works fine at home? Is that right?

 

If so, I don't see the problem. Wouldn't it be more concerning if it were the other way round?

 

Unless of course trialling is more important than work.

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How is she when travelling but not to go to a trial?

 

Obviously if she was stressed the night before the trial, the battle was lost before it even started.

 

Less obvious is why or how to get her in a better state of mine to game day, at least to give her a fighting chance.

 

As Mark said, is she sensing something in her handler?

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Of course she senses something. Things that started probably way before Donald.

 

I have trained horses way too long and seen way too many different combos to think any different.

 

It is an interesting concept though to think that taking her back to her roots could change something in her.

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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

Lots of good questions. Thanks.Fly has traveled ten thousand miles to motels/friends' homes - from remote pastures to 5th Ave New York City. While I concede that handler attitude/apprehension can affect a dog and that they read us much better than we read them, what Fly surely spotted was my initial weariness from a 15 hour drive but this is a dog who has failed much more than she's succeeded and I don't think my expectations/nerves were a factor. Mark is right about 1st trial nerves- one handles better and more confidently later in the season. But this wasn't a bad go or poor score - Fly had a meltdown both on and off the field.

 

Why? Dunno. One would think that carefully structured successes at home would have prepared her and she does harder work at home than the Mardi Gras trial. One would think so and I certainly did.

 

Why not stop trialing and just use her as a farm dog? Maybe I will. Fly doesn't value her moments of astonishing grace as much as I do. in the meantime, Fly's teaching me and (except for those meltdowns)having a pretty good life.

 

Donald

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In the UK 8 is retirement age. Here, it's more-or-less prime trialing.

 

Fly'll have a home and work as long as she lives. I'm not sure how old a dog can be and still make major changes. I've known pets who started working sheep at 8 but none that got good enough to run in open.

 

Might Fly- who has the skills and experience - but won't/can't employ them on the trial field at age 8 find the key that frees her? T'were she mine I wouldn't bet on it. Oh, you say, she is mine . . .

 

Donald

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