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.