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, March 23, 2010

Sonoma's Hill Field

Photo credit, Amanda Milliken
Mirk nearing the end of the fetch on the hill field

Here's a bit more about the Wine Country Sheepdog Trial. My dogs ran well, and in particular, Mirk was very good for me. The last time I entered this trial was 2 years ago, and just like I did then with Lad, Mirk and I finished 10th on the hill field. I have conveniently forgotten most of my run on the flat field, but it ended after the cross-drive panel, at what I refer to as the "black hole" where the set out pen sits just 50 or so yards away. No excuses, the dog ran well, and we had a bit of bad luck. It was the hill field where Mirk really shined.

So, the hill field is small, deceptively tricky, and blind most of the way on the outrun. The judge, Ireland's Dennis Birchell, hid them beyond the ridgeline, so even he couldn't see the lift. He was listening quite intently, though, and is a bit tricky himself. The hill field rises up to a terrace, then again to another where the sheep are set. A creek has cut a fairly deep swath across the right side of the field, and Mirk did what most dogs did, and stayed inside to where a crease in the hill pulled them up, and just short of the sheep. There they either, cross their course, cast out at the last possible second, or slice at the top and blow sheep off the lift like a tsunami. That's what happened to Mirk last time, slice and tsunami. The first you saw of your sheep if things went well were their ears appearing above the ridge. With hope, they were on line. If the ears appeared and then disappeared, you may be in trouble. When bodies followed the ears on my run, I breathed a sigh of relief.

From there, they cascade sharply down among the oaks, which is quite pretty. The post was set in close proximity to the judges tent, and that together with hands and dogs waiting their turn, caused sheep some trepidation at your feet. It is the drive on this field that makes or breaks a run. First you go uphill to the drive-away panel, which is very reminiscent of the trip down from the let-out pen, and sometimes the sheep run off. Even if you make the cross-drive panel, you're not finished with the turn. You have to turn, go uphill across some sheep track, make the tree-panels, and turn again. The tree-panels are 2 oaks that have been taped for easy identification. You head up again across more sheep track onto the lower terrace and traverse 100 perilous yards to the cross-drive panel that just sort of hangs out there in the atmosphere. A wide turn there will cost you sight of the sheep and/or dog and the possibility of a rapid descent into never-to-be-heard-from-again land, and you don't want that.
L to R-cross-drive panel, fetch panel, set-out, tree panel, drive-away panel

The finish is always shed, pen, single on this field, and I am a very lucky girl to have a dog that is so efficient at it. Until I saw the video a friend made, I hadn't realized that Mirk saved our run at the pen. Not once, but twice, he stopped a ewe trying hard to break past him. Too much pressure would have created an eruption. Not enough, and she would have made good her escape. A grip would have been justified, but Mirky only jumped to cover giving just enough room to stop, but not spook her. Never having taken my eyes off my sheep, I was shocked to see what was on the tape, and I found new appreciation for my dog. It's nice when they're better than you think they are.

I should have trusted my dog, but blew a re-direct on the outrun that ended up costing us placings. Because I couldn't see the approach, or the lift itself, I blew a flank and walk up before I ever saw the sheep, and Mr. Birchell has good ears. The number of points off my lift was equal the number of whistles I blew. Mirky can be a handful, but this day worked smoothly, and complied with everything I asked. He was lots of fun and we did everything we could to hold the fetch line. Mirk's turn around the post was slick and tight, and he waited patiently while the sheep toddled off down the drive-away line. At the panel, they zigged. We made it, but lost several points. Slicing through the marked trees, Mirk had them well in hand on the cross drive, and drove like a sports car, patient, responsive, and keen. I've seldom felt so confident about a cross-drive panel, and I am always confident about the last leg of the drive. This is where I make up a lot of points on other hands, because they think it's smooth sailing and forget that the last leg of the drive holds as many potential points as the first 2.

I like my sheep to walk benignly into the shedding ring, and started throttling my dog back well in advance. All the shedding practice performed before the trial made a difference, and Mirk showed patience that I have not seen in him before this trial. The shed came quickly and easily for no points off. I've already written about his work at the pen. We had 1 point off, and I feel that not many dogs could have made it with so many pen points left on the card. Likewise Mirk's single was efficient, but I had to voice an "out," or come-bye flank to make him cover inside to the judges liking and it cost us a point.

We left 21 points on the trial field, but Mirk finished 10th from 78 dogs, and I am so pleased with him.

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