Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Rexover

He is a good dog.  He really is.  And he tries very hard.  But he was naughty.  Some would say overindulged.  He went from a talented sheepdog to an unholy terror.  He chased, he buzzed, and yes, he gripped.  It needed to stop, or we would have to quit herding.

But I'm a sheepdog!  We can't quit!

Luckily for us, we met up with Alasdair and Patricia MacRae, who saw enough potential in Rex that they took us on as a project.  Starting with a clinic in October of 2012, and throughout the winter and spring via video lessons, we worked on the most basic of stock dogs commands:  Lie the EFF Down.  And lie down I now know means "an absence of motion".  It does not mean a near-imperceptible hitch, nor a slight turning of the head.  It doesn't mean four steps more, just let me finish this flank.  And it certainly doesn't mean one last lunge at a hock.

You may wonder how, after running a dog in Open for 8 years,  I did not know this.  The answer is that I was blessed with a dog who did actually lie down in an absence of motion kind of way, even though he probably should have been kept moving.

It's true, I'm a gift from God.
By the late spring, I thought I had a good handle on him, so we went to Colorado to meet up with the MacRaes.  I still remember the feeling of despair when I whistled a lie down at the top ... and then on the fetch ... and another ... and another ... and each whistle seemed to make him run harder.  So I guess my good handle on him only worked in Canada?  We spent three days working on "absence of motion" lie-downs.  It was hot, the ground was hard, and there were times when I thought, "You know, he's not a bad agility dog.  Maybe that's all he'll be."  But there were glimmers of hope, and when he did stop, when he did listen, he looked pretty.  He looked like a sheepdog.  It wasn't time to quit yet.  I left Colorado feeling more determined than ever to see this through.

I looked like a show pony in these boots.
We came home inspired, and continued to work on our drills.  We did trial a little, and as predicted, our lie-down was almost non-existent at Bowden, though it held up for the Calgary Stampede.  As the summer went on, and our friends went to all kinds of fabulous trials, we stayed at home and walked.  Slowly.  We stopped, then flanked, then stopped, then walked some more.  We scratched from Meeker (sad!!).  We tortured our friends with requests to video our walking drills.  We taught Wick to pick up the cones when we were done.

Seriously, enough with the sheep!
In August, after competing at the AAC Nationals in agility, we went to Medicine Hat to meet up with the MacRaes.  The first day of the clinic, we worked in an arena.  Would the lie-down hold up this time?  It did!  Of course, this was in an arena, so let's not get too excited.  The next day would be in a field, and we could see if we really had a handle on him.  Unfortunately, the next day, I was sick as a proverbial dog, so we spent that day in a darkened hotel room, dreaming of lie downs.  By the following day, I was somewhat better, so we toddled off to the field for a lesson.

I don't remember much about that day, except I do know that Rex lay down in the big field.  I was told that he looked pretty good!  Truthfully, it was a bit of a blur, and I was glad that I didn't have to run up the field, as that just wasn't going to happen.  But I drove home, very excited with our progress.  Or maybe I was feverish.  Still not sure on that one.

September passed, and then it was Holly's Paxton Valley trial.  At her spring trial, he was a hard to hold, and we retired 3 of our 4 runs.  We were cross-entered in PN and Open.  Would his lie-down hold up?  Would he be able to keep it together?  Could I keep it together?

Oh wow, was he ever on fire!  And did it ever feel good!  Every lie-down, every flank, he took.  He was biddable, eager, not-insane ... he was perfect!  And when I closed the pen gate, I knew that it had all been worth it.  My sheepdog was back.

His Open run later that day was lovely, with the mistakes being mine.  On Sunday, in his PN run, he was even nicer on the fetch, losing only 2 points on his outwork.  We lost 9 on the drive because we missed the driveaway panel, but that was sheer operator error (me!).  In his Open run, he had another good one going, but the sheep were getting pretty frisky in the shedding ring, so I decided to retire.  There was no need to press my luck, and I didn't want to set him up to fail.

Four runs, four good efforts from my dog.  Four beautiful outruns, four lovely lie-downs at the top.  Four decent fetches, four decent drives.  Wow.  Just ... wow.

I am still on cloud 9 and I am sure that I am annoying the hell out of everyone on Facebook, my friends, my co-workers, strangers on the street, my barista at my local SBX.  I really should stop grinning, but I can't.  My dog is back!  I have a sheepdog!  We can go to trials next year!  Yippee!  I know I have a lot of work to do this winter, and that he is far from fixed, but I also know we've turned a corner, and we will never go back to where we were.

I must thank the MacRaes, especially Patricia, who demonstrated remarkable patience with me, who were so generous in sharing their knowledge and skill, and who believed in this weird little dog when everyone else had written him off.  With them, I laughed, I yelled, I walked (and we're walking, and we're walking) and sometimes, I even ran up hills.  I know there will be more walking, and less standing like a statue in my future.  I look forward to it, and to the places where my little black dog and I will go.  In the words of George Elliot:  It's never too late to be what you might have been.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gone to the dogs

We've finished a whirlwind three weeks of dog sports.  It started with the USDAA NW Regionals in Auburn, then we went to Falkland for Holly's excellent Paxton Valley Sheep Dog Trial, and finally, we finished up with the AAC BC/Yukon Regionals.  That's a lot of dog sporting in a short time!

Rex's DAM team partners (The Perfect RX:  Chili and Chocolate) had some great runs and we WON!  That's right, we are the 2013 USDAA NW Regionals DAM Champions!

That's the good news.  The bad news ... we had to fit 9 dogs and their handlers on a podium.  And Rex, while small, is still a solid 42lbs.  He also isn't used to being carried.  Therefore, this happened.

Let's move on, shall we?

Wick qualified to run in Performance Grand Prix and Performance Speed Jumping.  To say she went nuts in PGP would be kind.  It wasn't good.  Her steeplechase, however, was very good!  I thought it might be good enough to get her through to the finals, but alas, it wasn't.  

Oh well, who wants to run in a finals anyway.  :-)

Wait, what's that?  Rex wants to run in the finals?  Well, despite taking a bar in round 1, Rex squeaked into the finals as the last qualifier.

Due to a lot of fast dogs going off-course, Rex came 6th and earned a semi-final bye to the thing we're not going to in Tennessee.  Oh, and he won $23! And a pretty pale blue ribbon!

Well that was fun!  So unpack the truck, do some laundry, and repack the truck, then we're off to Holly's Paxton Valley Sheep Dog Trial!  This was the first trial in which I wasn't running Lou .  Therefore, I cross-entered Rex in Pro Novice and Open, so I could have four runs with him.

Rex worked his heart out, and while we had some glitches, he is doing miles better.  I think he's just a little bit away from becoming a good sheepdog.  Any deficiencies, it's not for lack of try!

And back down the mountain, some more laundry, and then we had the AAC BC/Yukon Regionals.  I was so happy that it was located just 30 minutes from home.  The dogs were happy that they could chill at home too.  We even had a house guest.

The first day of competition was a little messy, but by Sunday, my dogs really came through.  As she does most every year, Wick got a placement in Jumpers.  This year, it was a 3rd, behind two fast Kelpies.  She is a couple years older than most of her competition, and it's nice to see that, at 12.5 years of age, she can still get 'er done.

When the runs were over, both dogs qualified, so we'll be continuing our adventures in Alberta this summer.  As I've said before, this will be Wick's last Nationals.  Next year, they're going to be in New Brunswick, and I think she will be too old by the time they come back to the west.  Of course, who knows with Wick - she doesn't seem to understand the concept of aging.

Seriously, you've made it that far in this post?  Wow.  That's a lot of scrolling.  Um ... here's another video.  Thanks for reading/watching/scrolling!

Monday, April 29, 2013


For 8 years now, I have been walking to the post with my good dog, Lou.  But over the last winter, I noticed that he was slower to get up, that his outruns had a cantering component to them now.  My big dog who used to sound like a thundering horse going up the field, was starting to break down.

We went to the vet, and x-rays showed that his right hip was an arthritic ball.  Well, that would explain the lack of rear-wheel drive I'd been seeing.  :-(  I've put him on cartrophen, and tomorrow, we will do stem cell therapy.  Still, I have to accept that his big field days are over.  He is a large dog, and he turned 11 this past March.

How lucky I have been to have run this dog for 8 years!  And for 8 years, he literally carried me out there.  I had never run in a field trial before I got him, and after 2 trials in Pro Novice, we started running in Open, where we ran for 7 years.  He always brought me the sheep, he took every flank, even the wrong ones, and did his best to do what he was told.  There were trials when he would have been better off shutting out the ineffectual shouts and whistles of his person, but that is not how he rolls.

Once a year, he would cross over on the outrun.  He usually ran literally over my feet, so there was no opportunity to redirect.  Also once a year, he would ring the sheep on the driveaway panel.  These infractions were so small compared to his handler's errors, that they were filed away as anomalies and never discussed again.

We ran in three CBCA championships, we have been to most every trial on the West Coast, we even flew to Kingston, Ontario, to see how the eastern dogs do it.  Lou and I have made so many wonderful friends during this journey, and even folks who didn't like him as a working dog would admit, perhaps grudgingly, that he was a pretty nice dog to have around.

Lou will still run in the odd small arena trials and he will still putter around Rose's front field, where for whatever reason, he takes none of my whistles and just meanders around, taking the sheep hither and thither.  He will still be under the handler's tent, politely asking for a bite of your sandwich.  But the actual running, that will fall to Rex.  He has very large paw prints to fill, and it would be unfair to compare him to Lou (though I do, often, and he always comes up short).  While Rex is a lovely little dog, he is not the king.    Enjoy your retirement, buddy.  You've earned it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In like a lion

So far, March has been a very damp month.  I don't know why I'm surprised. I've only lived on the Wet Coast for my entire life.  Still, my penchant for hyperbole makes me say thing such as "Bloody hell, I'm going to build an ark" and "Great, now I'm all pruney."  I won't complain on Facebook, though, as the photos of snow banks make me realize that being a bit pruney isn't the worst thing in the world, weather-wise.

In truth, we've managed to get a lot done for all the rain.  First, Lou celebrated his 11th birthday!

I am largely in denial that my big beautiful border collie is now a senior citizen.  He is still keen to work, but I think his days of field trials are over.  I'll try him one more time at Lee's Stirling Acres trial in April.  It seems fitting, since my first trip to the post was at Lee's trial in 2006. 
Don't be sad, we have cake!

On the other end of the aging spectrum is The Wickens.  I am not sure that she's a dog at all.  My friend has always maintained that she is a Terminator, sent back through time to terrorize squirrels and warn mankind about ceiling fans.  Whatever she is, she's still running strong at 12+ years of age.  

In a few years, I suppose all I will have in either herding or agility is this:

Why do you say it like it's a bad thing?

In fairness to Rex, he's turned out to be a nice little agility dog (bark!  bounce!  barkbounce!!!) and I think he's very close to being a good sheepdog.  My puppy will be 6 in May.  I am not sure how all these dogs can be getting so old when I am still 23.  Or so.

Rather than lament the fleeting nature of youth, I shall reflect with fondness on the fun Wick and Rex had just this past weekend!  No need to dive back to the halcyon days of 2007 - oh no!  The second weekend of March, 2013, we went down to Argus Ranch and ran at the Red Hot Rovers USDAA all-tournament trial.  Wick and I ran with our friend and teacher, Wendy, and her rocket dog, Phoenix.  While the girls didn't qualify in PVP (stupid off-courses!) we had a lot of fun.  Rex ran with Wendy and her little red dog, Chili, and Stefan and his good border collie, Chronos.  We stayed largely on course (glares severely at Rex) and actually managed to place 2nd out of 21 teams in DAM - yay!

And with fond reflection comes gratuitous dog videos, set to music that may or may not have anything to do with the content of the video.  'Cause you know what?  I like AC/DC.  There, I said it!

And why Pink?  Why not!  It's only the best colour, like, ever.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

2012, and the world didn't end

2012 was another crazy year of Dog.  In my defence, the world was meant to end, so I wanted to squeeze every last, glorious moment out of it.

All three dogs competed in some sort of Nationals.  Wick and Rex each showed well at the AAC Nationals in Nanaimo, and Lou and I crossed off the Kingston Sheep Dog Trials (and CBCA championship) from our bucket list.

Wick also completed, after nearly a decade of futility, her ATChC.  In true Wick fashion, she made a liar of me, earning that final Q on a dreaded teeter gamble.  She even got a gamble at Nationals, and earned a 3rd place in one of the Jumpers runs.  This year, Wick is coming up 12 or perhaps a smidge older.  I thought that the 2012 AAC Nationals would be her last hurrah, but it seems that Nationals in 2013 is in Alberta.  So yes, for the THIRD time, I will say:  it will be her last Nationals.  And again, she will probably prove me a liar!

Lou, my good, faithful sheepdog, had some nice moments himself.  He certainly held up his end at the Stampede, while I let my end fall in a spectacular fashion.  He competed in a couple of field trials, and while he did ok, he seemed to be struggling a bit on the longer outruns in Alberta.  I probably won't run him on the big fields anymore, which hurts my heart.  Watching my big handsome dog thunder up a hill is one of my favourite sights of all time.  I won't have him struggle, though, as he is too good a dog to go out like that.  He's still got more than enough pep for smaller field trials and arena trials, so he's not going to be retiring completely!

Rex, my perpetual puppy... what can I say about Rex?  He is a brave, crazy, happy, silly dog who both delights and frustrates me.  He had a great agility year, qualifying for Nationals when I thought it impossible (did I mention my dogs like to make liars of me??), he got himself into all Masters classes by the summer, and he gave me 4 great runs at Nationals (and two horrific Gamblers runs but that's a handler thing).  On sheep, he showed signs of brilliance and signs of lunacy.  Still, he really tries his heart out for me on sheep, so I need to try harder to get him out on sheep more, to practice in a constructive and meaningful way, and to appreciate my dog for who he is, rather than resent him for what he is not.  This dog is a reflection of my soul - in 2013, I am going to like what I see!  Rex won't quit on me, and I won't quit on him.

We put a lot of kilometres on the truck, we took ferries, and planes, crossed bridges and climbed mountains, in pursuit of all things dog sport.  We made new friends, reconnected with old friends, spent  a lot of time laughing, we made memories to last a lifetime, and we're keen to do it all over again!  Here's a look back at the year that was, Collie Nation style.