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.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's always fun when you win!

This weekend I didn't win, but I had great fun anyway. When I truly find satisfaction in improvement or simply good work, I have fun even when I don't win. That's exactly what I did this weekend. I've sold all my youngsters and am down to 3 open dogs. On Thursday, I loaded Price, Lad and Mirk into my truck and drove the 10 hours of so to Auburn, California, a burgeoning bedroom community just a little North and East of Sacramento off Highway 80 on the way to Lake Tahoe.
Extraordinary land values in this area have pushed out farmers and ranchers and The Thompson Ranch is a rolling, green, oak-studded oasis surrounded by thick commercial and residential development. We should be very grateful and appreciative of this stunning venue because clearly it's highest and best use is not in agruculture and it's only a matter of time before the Thompson family chooses another path. For the time being though, this gracious family allows us to traipse in, set up and compete and I appreciate it very much. Just inside the cattle guard you pass historical farm houses, there are 2 or 3 on the ranch, and a few old barns and pens in good condition. Beside the pond is a covered bridge leading to the main house with fenced horse pastures on either side. Once inside, it's hard to imagine that you're so close to civilization.
The trial field isn't over-large, and the use of completely dog-broke St. Croix ewes, lambs and wethers made for what many referred to as a "handler's trial." Meaning, I think, that the dogs would encounter few challenges from the sheep, and those hands with the best skills would win. It's true that shifting the sheep was not the least bit challenging, however, moving them quietly, in straight lines was for some. For me, moving them through the gates was daunting and I missed 3 drive gates that probably cost me at least one win. No fault of the dogs in any instance and I came away thinking, "if I only had a brain."
The out run was maybe 300 yards to the top of a sloped, rolling grass pasture with the set out pen behind and to the left of the set out point. After settling them, no attempt was made to hold these trotty hair sheep while the dogs ran out, and the judge, Alun Jones from No. Wales, gave just about everybody a free role on the lift. The only way you lost lift points was if your dog came in tight on a packet that chose to remain still, but more commonly, the dogs were correct and the sheep started down the field long before the dogs came any where near balance. To be correct to the left, your dog had to run around an outcropping of brush, downed wood and a tree, and they had to go by the set out pen to do so. This direction, however allowed them to see their sheep pretty much all the way. Sending "away to me" precipitated a blind outrun with the dogs losing sight of their sheep almost immediately and not finding them again until they topped out on a steep rise. Because of the proximity of the set out pen, I went right all 4 times and was glad I did.
I ran Price and Lad in the first trial. Price ran well enough even though I had to re-direct him on the outrun. We hit every panel and had just 1 point off our drive. It was a pen, single the first day. The sheep walked automatically into the pen but were very hard to single and we timed out without success. Lad took 2 re-directs on the outrun, but once behind his sheep, never put a foot wrong. I wondered how this big powerful dog would handle the delicate, flighty sheep before us, but I shouldn't have worried. I used the softest whistles I could blow and he was absolutely obedient. The fetch and drive were as close to perfect as I've ever accomplished and I was amazed at my dog, that up to this point, had never run so well for me. I bobbled the pen rope and caused the sheep to circle the pen, completely my fault, but his single was absolutely stunning. The sheep stuck together like velcro. I made the tiniest gap, called him through and he shot in easily holding the one i wanted. Lad finished 6th, just out of the money, but in the points and because of his ability in the shed ring and his spectacular running, I made the decision to run him and Mirk instead of Price and Mirk in the second trial.
Mirk is a handful to say the least. This was only the second time I had run him and I had the sensation of hanging on by my fingernails and slipping. Mirk ran on the edge of control the whole way around but never crossed the line. He hesitated slightly when he lost sight of his sheep running out, but took the re-direct perfectly and finished at the top, wide and deep. The sheep had shifted way off line, no fault of the dog, and I worried about what he would do to put them back. After covering on his own, I gave him a stop and a flank after which I said his name. He started his flank with a little too much glee, but flanked off when he heard his name and it was by this means that we got around. Mirk impressed me mightily on this day and I imagine he'll be quite special once he settles into his work with me. It was a split, pen finish and, where many others struggled, Mirk made it look easy. Lad likewise had a beautiful run. Since he knew the way, his outrun was faultless and he gave me everything he had all the way around. I caused us to miss both drive panels and it cost us the trial. Actually both dogs give me an opportunity to win and it was my poor judgement that cost us. Mirk finished 9th and will receive his first HA points for the effort. Lad finished closely behind him, but out of the money and points.
Kathy Hoffer, Jan Davis, Polly Lowry and their crew gave us another well run trial on that beautiful ranch. As it has always been in the past, the hospitality was exceptional. Alun Jones is a wonderful judge to run under. Very practical and sensible in his style allowing the hands every opportunity, with substantial penalties for sloppy work. I drove home thinking about how well my dogs had run and being really grateful to have 3 good dogs in my truck all at once. Any one of them will give me a chance to win on any given day and that's an amazing feeling that I've never experienced before. It felt good.

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