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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

FEED the Sheep

I entered and ran all 3 of my open dogs at the Porterville Fall Driving Trial last weekend in Lindsey, California, and found success with Price. It's very nice to have him running well again after all the illness and challenges we've had in the last 2 years. This trial has a bad reputation that the trial committee has been determinedly working to change. It's getting better and better and this year was the best that I can remember in the 10 years or so that I've been coming. The aged rambouillet ewes are always challenging and in the past that has been coupled with poor field conditions and extremely poor set out to make for nearly impossible running. Many people have chosen never to return and I would suggest that they give it another try. The committee has learned from their mistakes and come a very long way. The only suggestion that I would have made (had I been asked, which I never will be) would be to put a water bucket in the exhaust pen and FEED the sheep all day long at both ends of the field. Sheep are browsers and when not allowed to, they get cranky.

Lindsey is a small, rural farming community centrally located in the state. Olives are a principle crop and I'm shown taking a mock bite from the one in the picture standing in front of the Super 8 Motel, where we used to stay in the days before 5th wheel.

There were 52 or so dogs entered in each trial. From that number only about 20 received a score each day. The rest either lost their sheep at some point, DQ'd for a grip or, most commonly, lost the fight when the sheep did the stop and stomp. The slightest hesitation or weakness from the dog was immediately assessed by these ewes at which point they fought and won. Just like every year at Porterville, everyone stands around wondering why the sheep are so difficult. The answer this year was; they're cranky because they're hungry, so FEED the sheep.

The weather was perfect, sunny, in the 70's with no wind. The field is an idle, level hay field that was recently worked up, so the dogs ran on good loose soil with no cover. The sheep were set on hay to the left of the tarped set-out pen with an outrun of about 400 yards or so. Where in the past there has been way too many dogs and hands mucking about the set-out, this year it was handled quietly by one able individual and went really well. Welshman, Alun Jones was in the judges chair doing a fine job, as usual. His style is sensible and he gave us 12 minutes, which was probably about 1 minute more than you would get from other, less progressive judges. Having to hurry makes for poor work and it was nice to be allowed to handle for a change, instead of handle but hurry. The finish on both days required a split of 4 sheep, pen and single. Any 2 on the split, any single on day 1 and a single off the back on the nose on day 2. Alun likes a clean finish, and while he allowed most grips on these recalcitrant sheep, he nailed you for messing about. I had a grip on the split on day 1 for a grand total of 1 point. I was grateful for the point. Another hand took his single on the butt on day 2 for 1 point. We got the message loud and clear. I ran Price and Lad on day 1. Price ran third and was the fist dog to successfully bring sheep down the field. Since his illness last year, Price has taken to running tight on his left-hand outrun. I don't understand this, but when I whistle him out, out he goes for a couple points off. We collaborated on the lift, which I was told by the scribe that Alun commented was the best "technical" lift of the day. I could see the sheep were heavy to my left, so when Price lifted I half-flanked him to cover and the lift was quiet and straight as an arrow. There were a couple points off an uneventful fetch and, where many dogs fought with the sheep around the post, we made a decent turn. The sheep were a bit panel-shy at this early hour of the foggy morning, but we made the drive-away and cross-drive panels with nice lines to each, and came into the shedding ring with the sheep strolling benignly. Fighting a little here, the sheep bought themselves a grip when my dog lost patience holding them in the ring. A clean split came right after, but the damage was done and we lost 9 points. I've had so much fun with Price at the pen over the years that if I never have another dog that is as deadly there as this one, it's OK. It's a wonderful thing to have such confidence in your dog's ability to get the job done, and I know that no matter what's going, we'll likely be successful. Price was masterful on this day and the pen on these tempermental and touchy ewes was perfect. No opportunity to single for us as the clock ran out and, in fact, was set by our run. I'm still struggling with Lad and this trial was no exception. He ran straight for the set-out pen and no whistle or voice command deterred him. It was over very quickly on this day. In my opinion, he is an exceptional dog that hasn't yet transitioned from the hill in Wales to the trail field in America. It's been hard for him, but I'll just keep sending him until we get it figured out. I ran Mirk for the very first time on Sunday, and while we were called to a standard after the drive, I was thrilled with him. He ran out well and widened on a whistle near the top. The sheep shifted off the lift from his mere presence on the outrun and I was worried about the means he might use to keep them from escaping. He came from deep behind them, listened well and took every flank to straighten the line. The fetch was on a string to my feet and those ewes that fought so many dogs around the post, could not get around fast enough for this dog. Mirk has bold presence and an easy confidence about him that these testy ewes never questioned. He walked quietly up a laser straight drive-away but when they broke hard after the panel, he took hold with a vengeance and brought them back through. Alun was using a standard at this point that I had likely met, but he graciously allowed me to continue for a while knowing it was the first time I had run this dog. I appreciate that. Price ran later in the day on Sunday and had a better draw this time. Not a good one, mind you, just better. We made the most of it and finished well. He was one of the few dogs that weekend to have 2 scoring runs. This trial has been run for something like 20 years with Sally and Jim Oxford producing for most of that long, long run. At the handlers' dinner on Saturday night, there was a well-deserved standing ovation while they received a gorgeous bronze statue awarded for their efforts by the San Joaquin Valley Border Collie Association. The unsung heroes in all this are Sally and Jim's daughter, Patty, her husband and children, who have hosted the trial at this farm for the past 18 years. I've always had great admiration for their efforts and for their contribution to the American working border collie. Say what you will about this trial, these folks deserve our gratitude. Please click here for pictures and all the scores.

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