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.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


"That dog doesn't owe you anything." Speaking about Price someone told me that once after I got frustrated with him when he failed to find his sheep on a huge gather in an unfenced pasture during winter time when the sheep and landscape matched perfectly, and ended up back at my feet. In other words, he's earned the right to make a mistake. The interesting thing about that mistake is that the next day, he went out with such care and landed spot on balance behind his sheep to lay down a good run. Price is an exceptionally clever dog that I've been blessed to call "mine" for about 8 years now.

I ran him last weekend at The Thompson Ranch Trial in Auburn. He ran better than he has in a long time, we placed well and it jolted me out of a complacency that I've felt towards him for a while. I've been taking my very good dog for granted.

In the last few years Price has had some major health issues. In 2005 he came about as close to death from a rattlesnake bite as he could without dying. In 2006 he contracted a virulent lung infection (of unknown origin) and underwent a lobe-ectomy where one of his 5 lung lobes was removed leaving him with compromised lung function and always short of breath.

Before and after those 2 events he had some pretty spectacular success on the trial field. 14th at the Bluegrass and 4th at Soldier Hollow in 2004. 2nd at Wooler in England, 6th at Meeker, 6th at the National Finals and 6th at the Western Regional Finals in 2005. The Regional Finals placing netted us "Rookie of the Year" for the highest placing first time finalist and he was awarded the trophy for "Best at the Top" the first year we went to the Bluegrass. As a nursery dog, he made the short go the year the National Finals were held in Lebanon, TN in 2001 and won a perpetual trophy for a high-combined finish in a 3-trial pro-novice series.

Last weekend after our run, a friend of mine pulled me aside and said "that dog sure makes you look good," and I could not agree more. My immediate response was, "he always has." From the time I stole him (at the time it seemed like a great deal of money) he has made a hand out of me. At his great personal expense, he has taught me whatever I know about handling a dog. By patiently putting up with me through mistake after mistake, remaining steadfastly willing and responsive he continually forgave my inadequacies and my temper and simply waited me out. I have stupidly given up on him and on 2 different occasions offered him up for sale, but he has never, ever quit me, even when he should have.

Price and I have traveled to Canada twice, half way around the world once and many times across the country. He is a "no maintenance" dog. He can ride all day in the dog box and never so much as wiggle the truck. At 9, he is still so athletically sound that he can easily jump out of the truck or into the second tier crate in my RV. A simple "load up" from anywhere makes him head straight for the truck bed and he is ready for work at all times. 2 days after the lobe-ectomy I brought him home from the hospital and when I lifted him down from the front seat of the truck, with an e-collar around his neck and a fentynol patch taped to his leg, he dropped his head and walked straight for the sheep. He had a 9" incision that ran from his withers to his elbow from where they had pried his ribs apart, removed part of his lung and sewed his ribs back in place before closing him up. All he wanted to do was work and it took a couple "that'll do's and a gentle tug to turn him around. He was recuperating in an x-pen on my kitchen floor, but when he heard me working the other dogs one day, he pushed it, the cushion and rug on top about 10' all the way across the room to the door. Price is nothing if not committed.

He ran out of breath on the uphill outrun last weekend and it took a couple re-directs to propel him to the top. The re-run woolies had gotten better over the weekend, but they still wanted to take flight on the lift. Price has always been very kind to his sheep and they flowed straight off the set out hay and began a trotty fetch. As always, Price flanked cleanly off the pressure to hold a very nice line and only lost 3 there, I think. The ewes tested him around the post and one became suddenly independent and tried to break off for the first of many times around the course. As he did all the way around, he patiently gathered all of them up and put them back together for the drive. He had that lagger, so he hung back and quietly urged her on the first drive leg making the panel and a nice turn. You had to cross the wash and start uphill on the cross drive and that one ewe jumped it before the rest and stopped while the others drifted below the wash just off line. I asked him to head the 3 and stop them, then return to get her, then quickly flank and drive them all across the wash. His work there was quiet, precise and efficient and the rest of the drive was even and uneventful. He lay down just outside the shedding ring while I got everybody settled, then came right through to take the back 2 on the nose, head down, looking them straight in the eye when I stepped away and just in front to create an opening. So quiet and confident there. Price's presence at the pen has always been immense and I have complete confidence there because of it. He will puposefully give me one careful step after the other and his flanks are square while his eye holds everything in place. After all these years I'm amazed with his talent at the pen and this one was quick and faultless. We finished up a strong 5th on troublesome sheep.

Back home, he's the same old Price. Just dying to walk beside me and always happy. Immediately responsive to whatever I ask of him, undemanding, grudgingly tolerant of the other big dogs and waiting patiently for a pat and a bit of attention. They say things come into your life for a reason and I think he's been here to show me the possibilities. Price doesn't owe me anything, that's very true, and I could never begin to repay him.

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