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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When She is Good...

She...Sonoma, is very, very good. I'm referring to the weather, but there isn't much about this trial that would not be categorized by all attendees as very, very good on any year. Unfortunately the sheep this year were the 1 glaring exception and luck of the draw played the starring role in competition. They were very bad girlz, miserable beasts, marauding cretons, like I never want to see again. On 1 of my 6 trips to the post at this long-running trial, I had the overpowering desire to call in sick.
Flat field
Running on these sheep was like playing pool in the devil's hall. The crew racked them as tightly as possible and we sent our hapless collie-ques flying for the break. No matter how correct the dog at the top, no matter how much feel, patience, timing or skill full handling with a deft touch around the course, they ran, careened off the bumpers, topography, fences and dogs like maniacal, 200lb, just-shorn bumper cars on LSD, a runaway, downhill freight train, maddened, stampeding elephants through a straw-hut village, Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

I swear I heard one cackle as she rocketed past me at the pen. They made no sense. They did not behave normally. They were no fun at all and no amount of talent or skill helped when you got the worst of the worst, which was all but a few. The sheep sucked at Sonoma. So let's talk wine.

Jan and Star into the breach
When I think of Sonoma, I think of heavy duty rain gear, as in "Deadliest Catch" best of... After 2 torrential years in a row and one huge, downed oak that blocked entry to the trial for over an hour, it was such a relief to see the forecast. We had sun, sun, and more sun with just a bit-o-wind Sunday afternoon.

Mornings were clear and cool, but when the sun topped the treeline, jackets went flying and all manner of hats appeared. We ate on picnic tables, basked in the glory, lingered in the grass with our dogs. The weather could not have been better and it was a lovely accent to the fine food.

My foster dog, Brady, shaded up under my chair
Our hostess, Sandy Milberg, brought in a catering truck this year, instead of the usual Healdsburg 4H kids to feed us, and it was a nice change-up. Falafel, pita sandwiches and BBQ on Sunday drew us toward lunch like a lonely dog to a...well, to a girl-dog. We monged on lunch while Sandy conducted her most-excellent auction during the hour-long break each day. I couldn't afford tickets this year, but there was an amazing array of world-class, award-winning, and very expensive wine on that table. Just the sight of it was impressive.

I had some extraordinary 2-buck-chuck at the hotel, and enjoyed an amazing bottle of Italian chianti with good friends at La Coco's in Santa Rosa on Saturday night. OK, so the sheep disappointed, but it was nothing that  great weather, memorable food, spectacular wine and sparkling conversation with laughter among dear friends in a charming restaurant could not assuage. Sonoma is a really not-to-be-missed-if-at-all-possible dog trial.
Set out on the hill field
So how were my dogs you ask? Mirkie was heroic. There's no other words for his performance. My 10 year old dog ran his legs off, never gave up, took every frantic command with a calm that made me miss him already, even though I may get another year. There's nothing like running an exceptionally powerful, older dog that forgot more about sheep than I'll ever know. What a great pleasure it has been to own him.

Sunday on the hill field, deep in the afternoon with the wind driving insane ewes into every nook and cranny, he navigated the hill field like a ballerina on rails. I asked a lot of him to fly over treacherous, uneven terrain where one bad step could cost a career-ending injury. After a decisive split and 3 revolutions around the pen I lay him down and let the sheep run free.  They were most definitely not worth it, even though his run had been passable and may well have placed him in the points had I let the clock run out.

Bottom of the hill field
Buffy got lost on the hill field. No surprise there. He is wide, there was no room, and these were not the sheep for his particular idiosyncrasy. He fared better on the flat field and came within a near miss at the pen to finish in the top 5. Where almost half of the field DQ'd, his owner, Mandy had run him successfully in the pro-novice on Friday against the same wiley sheep we had in the open, and she was standing ringside with husband, Hirsh to watch his go with me.

I always marvel at how adept he is changing gears from her to me and back again. Buff just rises to the occasion and gives as good as he gets. A point or 2 will come his way for a top-20 finish, and that's something to be proud of in an 84 dog field from this talented Irish import we share.

High point of the running for me was nursery dog, Tam. You should'a seen him go! Trialed just 3 times previously and with very little experience of any kind away from home, he did himself proud on Friday in 2 nurseries on the same impossible creatures we had in the open. Only when he got them, they were fresh! The sheep did everything but pull a knife on him, and he just kept on keeping on.

He ran out beautifully, exhibited feel, took every whistle, demonstrated clean flanks, kept his cool under pressure and fairly trounced the competition by a 7 point margin with a 68 in the 2nd running, picking up the overall win as well. For that Sandy awarded a gorgeous, harness-quality leather collar and leash, and a 2007 vintage Napa red that I'm told is pretty special. That dog's a keeper.

Tam's nursery winnings
And did I mention my pro-novice friends? We were 3-for-3 at this one. Mandy and Buff, Beth and Hula, and Jan with Star all earned scores in a 42 dog field where 17 were either DQ'd or retired. Way to go girlz and doggiez! So happy for ya...

The wrap up is, Sonoma is very, very good. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the sheepdog community is very blessed indeed to have hosts like Sandra and Arthur Milberg, who work tirelessly for us year after year after year. They offer up they're incomparable Oak Springs Farm, pull together an amazing crew, raise money for kids in the process and quite simply put on one spectacular dog trial that I will attend every year they'll have me.

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