The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Monday, April 2, 2007


Lad is the first trained dog that i've imported, so I've learned quite a lesson in how long it takes for a dog like him to settle in. My belief is that the trip from Wales was much harder on him than I understand. Everything is different. The weather, the countryside, the sheep, the handler, the food, whistles, sheep, kennel, other dogs. For the first couple weeks Lad seemed lost. He bonded to me quickly, but he wouldn't take a flank or run out and seemed disinterested in working altogether. He was fearful of people other than me and had little interest in sheep. I expected him to be unsure, but I didn't expect that he wouldn't work at all. I used him to do small chores and he was useful, kind of, but he wasn't having fun. In spite of all this, he and I became very close. He is a really happy dog and it's impossible not to like him. Almost immediately I had him loose off a lead and he followed closely and kept an eye on me. I just needed him to work for me.
Up until the time I bought him, Lad had spent his entire life with Richard Millichap on Hendre Owen Farm in South Wales. Except for a sheepdog trial every so often, he spent his days beside Richard and the other dogs and things didn't change much for the first 5 years. Then I came along, snatched him off the farm, stuffed him in a crate for almost 24 hours and dropped him in the desert that is Southern California. All things considered, he adapted quickly and while he began to work for me at home, things weren't going too well on the trial field.
The first time I trialed him he ran well the first day, then wouldn't lift his sheep on day 2. I say wouldn't because he could have done so easily. He had proved that to me at home. He wouldn't and he left his sheep and went over to play with the set out dog. Then when I walked up to retrieve him, he acted fearful as if he expected me to correct him. The next time I ran him things got worse and he would barely leave my feet. He ran out aimlessly and without any intention of looking for sheep. He's not a malicious or sour kind of dog so I came away from that wondering what I could do to help him.
I've seen handlers buy trained, imported dogs and and try to do too much too soon with them. Then they become disenchanted over time, because the dog doesn't act like they planned and end up selling it on. Bobby Henderson told me a story about selling a dog that was returned the next day. The man who bought him said the dog wouldn't work for him. Bobby said before he should have even had the dog off a lead, he was trying to get him to work for him. He said "they're not remote control cars, are they?" After struggling with Lad in the beginning, I remembered that story and had made up my mind that Lad would get 365 days before I passed judgement on him. By this time he was starting to work well for me at home and I knew what a good dog I had. With every day, he was getting stronger and more confident.
I began to treat him a little differently than the other dogs. I didn't work him at all for weeks. I fed him last and moved him down a peg in the pecking order. He's so likeable and so much fun to work that it was hard not to treat him like the new "big" dog, but that's what I did and I could tell he didn't like it. He began to try harder for me and become even more attentive. He was working well at home and I was looking forward to having another go on the trial field.
Before I went to the post last weekend with Lad I sat with him behind the post and let him decide for himself to look for his sheep. I didn't want to put any pressure on him and I wanted him to be excited and happy to be there. It worked and he watched the runs before him eagerly with intent. Before, when I had asked him to look for his sheep at a trial, he had actually moved behind me and acted fearful, so I thought this was a good sign. When I walked to the post I kept him excited and didn't mess about sending him once I got there. I walked out and off he went. He went out well, but turned in and crossed. He was lost again, but the difference this time, was that he wanted to find his sheep. I could see that. So I blew a stop, but then thought better of it. I wasn't out to win, just finish, so I let him cross, but he was still not on a good line, so I stopped him again. He was looking in the wrong place, so I blew a turn back, which he took and cast out nicely in the right direction and, this time, I thought he had found them. Then inexplicably he crossed back. I don't know why he did that because he was so close to his sheep, but he found them and came right up behind. At that point I was just happy he found his sheep.
The sheep at the trial were very tough depending on the time of day. Early they moved nicely off any dog, but we were running in the heat of the day and our sheep were not happy. There was a strong draw to my right and the sheep would fight as often as not, but Lad has nothing if not presence. He always wins the argument and the lift was lovely, straight, clean and quiet. The outrun was somewhere around 450 yards and, since I had only gotten this far with Lad on one other occasion, I wasn't sure he'd listen to me at that distance. He did. He took my stops and made the most beautiful, sweeping flanks off his sheep to hold the fetch line. We just missed it, but sliced right through the heart of both drive panels. Lad can be tight on his turns because he enjoys influencing sheep by tipping his head inside. In the shed ring you don't need this, but the habit creates sharp, precise turns around the drive panels and that's what I got. His cross drive was brilliant because he moves sheep from way far away and has good, square flanks. I knew he could shed and this one was quick, confident and worth 10 points. It was at the pen that he really surprised me. He brought sheep on a string to the pen while I held the rope and did little else. In the mouth of the pen one ewe broke hard to my right. Lad shot to cover her and turned her right back. No sooner did she return that another broke hard to my left. Again, a swift recovery, only this time his position swept them straight into the pen where he held them like statues. No one wiggled and all I had done was stand there with lead feet and spectate. There were only 4 successful pens all that day.
We didn't have a winning run. We didn't even have good scores. Many dogs scored higher. There were some tremendous runs at that trial. I saw some excellent work by dogs and hands on what were sometimes extremely recalcitrant sheep. I didn't even place and there would no HA points awarded to us. What I had was progress. Lad ran better on Sunday and I left that trial really excited about my dog. A very wise handler told me at last year's finals to make trialing about my dogs and not about my ego. The concept has really taken root and made a huge difference in my attitude. Winning is great. It's the ideal and it's fun, but last weekend I had just as much fun by simply making progress with a good dog.


  1. I read your blog from time to time and it is really good.

    Just really curious - your Lad dog is he a son of Ben?

    I have a bitch out of Ben that has been doing well for me and has been given birth to some really good dogs.

    Kind regards

    Rikke Andersen, Denmark

  2. Lad is off Millichap's Ben