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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sonoma Wine Country Sheepdog Trial

I've lost track of how many times I've been to this Northern California trial in the very heart of our world famous wine country, but I can tell you why I keep going back. The site is stunning, the hosts bend over backwards to put on a well run trial and the judging and the sheep are always top notch. This year was no exception and, not only did I have a great time, but I had the uncommon opportunity to run all 3 of my open dogs, Price, Lad and Mirk.
Sonoma runs on 2 fields, both of which are small and tricky. Half the dogs run on each field each day, then on day two, you switch fields, so that you run against all the dogs entered, about 90 this year, but not on the same day. What they call the flat field slopes up slightly with a brief, 250 yard outrun. 4 just-shorn rambouillet ewes were set just to the left and a little above the pen. The drive is left, away from the set-out pen, causing the cross-drive to be directly toward it and there is always a huge draw. The other field is called the hill field and is less of a hill than it is a steep, terraced slope. Again the outrun is not very big, but because of the terraced slope, the dogs lose sight of the sheep on the way out and, once they get there, you can't see them until after the lift. The drive is fairly big on this field and it's filled with hazards. The drive away starts toward a creek that has cut a fairly deep gash through this field. Once through the panel, the dogs must drive sheep left between 2 marked oak trees, up the terraced hillside and along the ridgeline to a cross-drive panel that seems to just sort of hang out there in mid-air. The line is very difficult to see and you can slide right past panel when you think you're dead on. The flat field required a split, pen and the hill field was a split, pen, single.
All my dogs ran well and I was pleased with them even though Mirk had a melt-down on day 2 on the hill field. Price was consistent with a low 80 each day, but Lad was my weekend star. He ran out well on the flat field on day 1 and listened beautifully all the way around. Drawn to the set out, the sheep broke hard toward the cross-drive panel and the turn there was wide. I spent way too long setting up the split and Lad buzzed them once while holding them to me, so they got a little rattled in the shed ring and, after the split, the 2 cast offs toddled quite a ways off. Lad re-gathered them easily and had them walking quietly in the pen when time was called. Mirk had much the same run and, like Lad, had spooked them in the shed ring and lost the 2 cast offs to a distant corner of the field. Unwilling at first to let go of the split sheep, it took him too long to re-gather them and we timed out without ever making an attempt at the pen. Price made one of the most gorgeous splits of his life on this field, coming through with a quick "air" snap that didn't make contact, but did make his point and then finished with a nice pen. A missed cross-drive panel cost him placing.
The hill field is a whole different deal. Looking at the scores, most of the top placing dogs on the flat field are no where to be seen on the hill field. I say most, because Amanda Milliken with her deep stable of pure talent, won the hill field and was in the top 5 with both dogs, Clive and Bart, on the other. She is simply an amazing talent. Again Price was consistent and ran well with his usual quiet, efficient run. But, again, it was a missed cross-drive panel that cost him. Mirk's collar got a little tight when he lost sight of his sheep on the outrun and he pulled in. I whistled him out, but it was too little too late and when he topped out on that hill, he was too tight. I couldn't see where he was in relation to the sheep, but I could tell by the sheep that it wasn't going to be pretty. He blasted into them and after one lame attempt to hold it together, I decided to call it a day.
It was Lad who really shined on this field, with his immediate reactions and precise moves. He's such a joy to run and he particularly loved the cool, wet weather and grass fields at this trial. He ran out with intention, but he too was a little tight so I re-directed him and then stupidly re-directed him again. The rest of his run was clean, but 6 off the outrun would prove costly in the placings and the second re-direct had been unnecessary. He lifted slowly, and since I couldn't see him, I asked him up a little too strongly and the lift was ragged. He's so responsive and together we had things straightened out and quieted quickly. From then on, the dog really never put a foot wrong. He's such a great listener and moves sheeply easily. He made the difficult drive and cross-drive seem easy and we didn't waste any time with the split. I would have preferred that he had been a little more patient at the pen, but he really understands his job there, so I'm learning to keep up with him. His single was amazing and I'm really in awe of the dog's ability to complete that task. The sheep were flighty and wanted to hang together. There was one ewe that was a bit slower than the rest and when she missed breaking with the others by half a step I called him through without being sure he'd make it. It was a beautiful thing to watch him stop her cold and I felt like a spectator. With an 86 of 100 Lad finished well in the points. I'm still regretting the second re-direct, but it was great to have a good day with my first Welshman.
Amanda won the hill field and Suzy Applegate with her steady, consistent Hap won the flat. Amanda won the high-combined, which is no small feat on two distinctly different tests against so many talented hands and dogs. The creek on the hill field created a hazard that caught more than a few dogs. Some dogs ran out without seeing it and fell in. A few tried to jump it, fell short and slammed into the far side bank. Our dogs aren't just smart, they're resilient though and no dogs were injured in the making of this trial. I truly appreciate all the efforts of the trial hosts and I look foward to going back.

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