Saturday, November 29, 2008

Epsom Salts

I've always been a firm believer in the magic of Epsom Salts. They have the miraculous ability to take something that hurts and make it not hurt as much. You can use them to make a poultice for your horse, you can soak in them yourself. Fabulous!

Today I went to Ken's to deliver Flint, as someone is coming to look at him. Of course I also brought Reba. If I'm going to make the trip, I might as well make it a productive trip and work a dog while I'm there. The session started out with Ken being impressed with how well Reba is coming along. As Ken gave me various pointers, things he noticed, I worked to follow his directions, while paying attention to the sheep and dog. Remember Reba is still a puppy and something of a wild card. We hadn't bothered to cut any of the sheep off the herd so I was working with around a dozen sheep. This was probably not the best idea.

As I cut across the herd, trying to cut Reba off at the pass, she changed directions and began walking into the sheep. This caused the sheep to begin walking towards where I was. Realizing that I wasn't going to make it to the side of the herd, I began cutting up the middle of the herd. Then the unthinkable happened. One of the Barbados's horns caught my left arm, at the same time a woolly sheep shoved through my right leg, knocking it up into the air. With my arm caught in the horn I was pulled down, under the herd of sheep. Pulling my arm free, wildly waving my stock cane I rolled my legs over my torso and covered my head with my arm, watching sheep hooves and bellies go over my body. Meanwhile Ken is yelling at me to "Lie down the dog." Uhhh, I kinda had other things on my mind. Like not taking a horn or hoof to the head or belly.

I roll to my feet and get the dog stopped. I hurt but nothing is broken. I brush off the dirt and continue working Reba. After Reba, I put Flint through his paces for Ken. Feeling sore and thinking nothing of it. At least until I've worked both dogs and go to sit in my car. Every muscle in my body protests. Loudly. Turning on the heated seats I drive the two hours home.

When I go to get out of the car I feel as though I've been hit by a truck. Nothing wants to work. I manage to get my chores done, and then I hit the Epsom Salt bath. I must admit I was a bit startled when I saw just how many different random scrapes and bruises I have, in addition to the slightly swollen left ankle and right knee.

While I may have a rainbow assortment of bruises, thanks to Epsom Salts I can move.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Great Sheepo Debate

My one remaining wild sheep lives in the chicken run. Sheepo as she's fondly called ran into a broken tree branch and nearly kicked the bucket. So while her friends went to the auction, she remained behind to recuperate from her injury. She lives alone as I was scared she'd teach my lovely new tamer baby sheep about being wild.

I had not intended to keep Sheepo throughout our sometimes harsh winter because she is a toothless wonder. About the time Sheepo had recovered enough to go to the auction market something strange occurred. Her belly ballooned. I asked my visiting aunt (something of a sheep expert) if she thought Sheepo could be pregnant. The general consensus was Sheepo was indeed knocked up. Being greedy, I realized I could make more money selling Sheepo and her baby(s) separately than just selling her as a cull ewe. So Sheepo stayed.

I purchased Sheepo in the beginning of July. Meaning the latest possible time for Sheepo to lamb would be the end of November. However, Sheepo, complete with enormous belly has not yet lambed. My dad keeps trying to tell me she's just fat. (I've been feeding her beet pulp, soybean meal, and dairy ration.) I keep trying to tell my dad you judge a sheep's body condition on their back, not their belly. Each day I impatiently look at her udder, willing it to fill with milk. Each day Sheepo refuses to cooperate with me.

Some days I wonder if I could possibly be wrong. Only time will tell.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Going to a Trial

People who know me know I'm a perfectionist. I'm also anal retentive and competitive. I like doing well. Being a winner if you will. Ken has for years told me to enter trials. I flat out refused. I wanted to be the person who came out of nowhere and cleaned house. Ken kept telling me that my dog would act differently at a different location. You would think after my years of competing with horses I would know this. Change the environment and change the animal's behaviour. For some reason I did not transfer this knowledge.

Tessa and my first trial was a small arena trial. We entered up in the ranch class. At home I practiced all the predicted obstacles. I felt confident, ready. After driving like a maniac to reach the location, I took a deep breathe and entered the unknown. Tessa who's normally a gung ho maniac who charges the sheep. Who for years would dive in and floss her teeth on some handy wool, suddenly needed encouraging to walk up on the sheep. Not a huge deal. I used my most excitable voice and encouraged her to "Walk up, walk up". We ended up having an acceptable finish and she more or less listened well.

Feeling pretty cocky we entered the next trial. This one was a field trial. The difference being one is held in an area the size of a hockey arena and one is on a giant field. Tessa at home was running these gorgeous sweeping outruns. An outrun is where the dog runs down the field, collects up the sheep and brings them back to you. Magically, this skill disappeared. She ran up the field and stopped. Stopped not even close to the sheep. Then she proceeded to move the sheep the opposite direction from where I was standing. Our second attempt was not any better. She would not look down the field. Meaning she couldn't see the sheep. I finally ended up running down the field until she saw them. The whole experience was embarrassing and humbling.

It still baffles me how she turns into this different creature when we travel. And I'm tired of paying my dues and donating into the pot. We're doing okay when we do arena trials but the field trials are flat out embarrassing. They've become expensive training runs. So when do I stop putting her in field trials and only take her to arena trials?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How do you choose?

Because of Tessa's excessive vet bill, I'm at the place where I need to sell one of my little herd of horses. The question being, who should I sell? Whiskey is a registered quarter horse mare from a heritage breeding program who's super athletic, has a great personality, and all sorts of training. She's easily worth the most out of everything I own. She's also lame right now.

Buddy has great breeding, is a registered quarter horse, athletic, nice to handle, and doesn't bat an eyelash when you do different things with him. However he's a bully to everything on the property. I'd probably make the most profit on him.

Stella is a baby and not worth much, but is also registered with pretty good bloodlines and a good disposition.

How do you choose? I don't really want to sell anything. I'd love to see how the two younger horses develop before deciding who fits best with what I want to do. Do I sell Whiskey because she'd have the biggest price tag? Buddy because he's a bully? Stella because she's a baby?

Perhaps if I just economize I can keep them all...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wait'n on Sam

Sam is my vet. She's the person I call when the crap hits the fan with the dogs, horses or cat. This year I've had the opportunity to get to know her perhaps better than a person would want to. (I'm being sarcastic, she's a great person.)

I started the year off trying to breed Whiskey via artificial insemination. This is a more complicated process than a person would expect. First you ultrasound the mare to see where they are in their cycle, and to check to make sure everything is okay 'inside". Once you know where she is in her cycle you ultrasound (that's right - again) when she's cycling to try and pinpoint when they're ovulating. Then you call the stallion owner and "order" the semen. Next the vet does the actual breeding part by putting the semen into the mare. Ultrasound again after 16 days to see if the mare is bred. Repeat the process if necessary. The first cycle we missed and had to wait. The second cycle the stallion literally wasn't in the mood and wouldn't produce. We made the decision to short cycle her. This means at a specific point in her cycle she gets a hormone shot to cause her to go into heat quicker. Do the ultrasound routine. Order the semen. And, the stallion's vet goes on maternity leave. No semen. Remember all of these steps mean vet visits.

I rush to find a local stallion to do the job. By this point I have a fair amount of money invested in vet bills. Missed the cycle, more ultrasounds. Ultimately the mare did not end up bred no baby, but lot's of bonding time with Sam. And lot's of waiting for Sam to arrive time.

During the end of the breeding saga, Moxie the cat, gets mauled by something. I rush her into the clinic. She ends up getting x-rays, heavy duty antibiotics and a splint. This involves repeat follow ups with Sam until the cat is good to go.

When I went to pick Whiskey up from the local stallion's house I discover she can hardly walk on her hind. She moved like something was broken. Once again I'm waiting on Sam. Whiskey ends up with a foot abscess, requiring 2 weeks of poultices and care.

Tessa's turn. When she didn't seem to be healing I run her into the clinic. X-rays and a referral to a specialist later we're on our way. Tessa has been going to see Sam every two weeks for bandage changes and checks. Our 8 week check will be in Calgary with the specialist. I wonder if Sam's sick of seeing me yet?

Today I was once again waiting on Sam. Last night I discovered the weanling Stella had something nasty coming out of or off of her head. Waiting for Sam to call. Waiting for Sam to come out to swab the wound. Luckily Sam thinks its a wound not Strangles, so now its just waiting for the lab.

I haven't had my fill of the vet yet. Whiskey who's been lame since May needs to get her hock x-rayed and likely injected. This is to promote healing as she's been stagnant for a while now. I've pretty much figured with a little luck I'll get all the unforeseen stuff taken care of in time to start the inoculation rounds for everything. Big sigh.

I've decided if I didn't have bad luck I'd have no luck at all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Welcome Home

Today I left work early. I needed to be home to get my doctoring of the horse ickies done before dark set in. I pulled into the drive at 4:00, stopping only long enough to pull on my farm boots, jacket, toque and gloves. Moving quickly I let the dogs out of jail and caught Whiskey. Once she was treated I moved to Stella the weanling's pen. Stella had had very little (as in none) handling before she came to my house so she is wearing a halter and a drag line until she's tame enough to easily catch and handle.

I grab her rope only to have her twitch, shake her head and rear. Settling her I notice somethings not right. Something is very bad indeed. There is something nasty looking hanging down from under her head. Gently I move her halter. Only to have her rear again. Carefully I loosen her halter and take a closer look. Her halter is covered in goo. Welcome home!

I drop her line and hustle into the house. A phone call to the vet later I'm back outside. Worried my new addition has either strangles or impaled herself on something I can only wait. My vet has Monday's off and with the rapidly disappearing light I'm waiting for my dad to come help me.

We carefully removed her halter leaving a rope around her neck and began to irrigate the wound/abscess with an iodine/warm water mix. Needless to say Stella did not appreciate our efforts. After cleaning the wound we moved panels to create an additional barrier between the two groups of horses. Stella lived alone but shared a fence line.

Next step was sanitizing everything. Strangles is very, very contagious. Spraying boots, washing outer clothing and soaking her halter and lead in a disinfectant wash.

Settling down at the computer I went Internet searching for information on Strangles as I've not had a horse with it. If Stella has it, she's an atypical case. Meaning she doesn't have all the symptoms. Tomorrow morning Sam (the vet) will call. And likely come out and take a look.

Waiting, gotta love it...

Picture taken 1 week later.  Not bad looking now!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Working Dogs

Reba loves to work, however she doesn't quite know what work is. All she knows is this compelling urge to chase things and run circles around them. In August Reba had her first taste of working sheep. She was so excited she grew a foamy saliva beard! She literally froths at the mouth when given the chance to work.

The trick with a young dog or puppy is to shape their behavior without turning them off the stock or putting so much pressure on them its no longer fun. A balancing act to be sure. Slowly and carefully I've been giving her opportunities to work. Short training sessions, always positive.

The goal is to let her learn about action - reaction, sheep behavior if you would, without her getting into a situation she can't handle or scares her. The hardest part of working with her is getting her stopped. A few weeks ago, while trying to get her stopped I ended up riding the sheep. The sheep clustered so hard around me my feet left the ground. Reba continued to run at them and as the sheep herd moved I was an unwilling passenger. Think body surfing. All I could hope to do was regain my feet. If I were to fall to the ground the sheep would trample me. Not fatal but painful. Adrenalin shooting through my body I twisted, used the sheep's backs for support and worked my way out of the herd. Shaken and with few minor sprains I survived.

The time had come to apply more pressure to the baby. I needed a stop. Cord in hand the lie down training came into effect. In working dog language Reba is biddable. This means she's highly trainable and wants to please. After four session I had a lie down that was mostly reliable. What more could a girl ask for?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


When Tessa went out of commission, I had six sheep, six sheep who were not dog broke.  While lovely for Tessa to tune up her skills, not so lovely for starting Reba in a controlled manner.  The difference between dog broke sheep and normal sheep, is dog broke sheep will run toward you and have figured out being close to you is a safer place to be. Normal sheep will run all over the place, scatter and not necessarily want to be near you. 

After a conversation with Ken, I discovered he was busy and wasn't using Flint.  A gleam developed in my eye, and some sweet words later, Flint temporarily became mine.  I was keen to get started and wasted no time in putting my new project on sheep.  My sheep who had been worked a little by Tessa, were not so keen.  In front of my astonished eyes, I watched them scatter and hide.  Literally hide.  They would run into the tall, dead grass and lay down.  The dog would then loose them in the grass.  Some of them ran into the dry slough and lay down in the depressions.  Clearly dog breaking the sheep was going to be slightly more challenging than I had anticipated.

After much running, sweating and yelling, Flint managed to get five of the sheep into the corral.  Poor Flint was out of shape and huffing pretty good at this point.  Normally you would take the herd of sheep to the loner and collect up, however, afraid I'd never get them back in I chose to leave the ones I had in the corral.  Realizing I was running out of dog, we took a water break, then went after the final sheep.  Wanting to save my dog, I brought my trusty grain bucket.  Nope, not interested.  Fine be that way.  Sending Flint, we encountered a problem, this sheep had it's fight on.  It faced up and proceeded to refuse to move.  Deciding some artillery was needed I gave Flint his bite command.  Bang!  Right on the nose.  Still no movement.  Again, and again.  Still no movement.  By this point the sheep is bleeding and I'm realizing nothing is going to get this thing going.  But I don't want it to win the battle.  The last thing I want it to figure out is if it fights then it doesn't get worked or gets to do what it wants.  

Back to the barn Flint and I go.  Rope in hand I go back to the sheep, place it around it's neck, send Flint to the hind.  I tug, Flint bites.  And no movement.  Until the sheep lies down.  Flint is wiped, I'm tired and aggravated.  So I leave the sheep.  Not great training but sometimes you need to know when to quit.  I could have fought until the sheep died but then all I'd have gained was a dead sheep.

I've had Flint for around a month now.  And I'm pleased to announce that my sheep are kinda, sorta dog broke.  Enough that I can work Reba, with Flint waiting as back up for any bolters.  Which is all I need right now.  

(P.S.  Flint is for sale...)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Sneak Attack

Bella, my Maremma, turned one year old on November 19. The Maremma is a breed that originated in Italy and has been bred for centuries to protect livestock from predators. When I purchased Bella the intent was to keep the cougar and coyotes out of the yard and away from the sheep. When she was five months old, she chased two coyotes out of the corral, through the field, until they turned on her and began to beat her up. She didn't quit and run back. My dad, hearing her cry, ran out with his gun. Only when he called her in did she back off and return to the barnyard.

Bella was bonding fabulously until the I purchased the sheep from hell (Sheep Escapades). These sheep ran away from her and beat her up when she went out to be with her. Needless to say these sheep didn't last long. Hopefully residing in someone's freezer now. My new sheep are used to being with a guardian dog and tolerate her, just as she tolerates them. Bella was doing a fantastic job hanging out in the field and with the sheep. When to my dismay she went into heat.

I was not interested in having "ooops" puppies. This meant Bella went into jail, only to be released when supervised. Poor confused Bella now thinks the yard is what she should be protecting. So I've begun the sneak attack regime.

Bella is terrified of my old lunge whip with a plastic bag on the end used for sacking out colts. When I catch her near the house, I run out and madly shake the whip, shouting "Get back to your sheep!" Bella always takes off as though someone goosed her. Bella is a very intelligent dog. She's figured out when my car pulls into the drive to take off, or when the door opens to take off. So I've begun setting my watch for half hour intervals. Every half hour I sneak out of the house, grab the whip and go looking for her. If she's in the field I sneak back to the house. But if she's somewhere the sheep aren't I jump out at her and shake the whip at her. This strategy is strangely effective.

I'm sure people driving by think I'm slightly nutty. Whatever works...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Attack of the Skin Ickies

Every fall, without fail, Whiskey develops skin ickies. I Betadine, Virkon, and Lysol everything in sight. I've had the vet out only to be told after extensive labs that they don't know why or what they are. She gets fed crushed flax seed, vitamins. Nothing seems to work.

Stella, the baby and latest addition, has developed ringworm on her face. Never having had a horse with ringworm I had the vet take a look to confirm the infection. Sam (the vet) said she was likely carrying the infection and the stress of the move brought it out. (Stella tolerated an eight hour trailer ride to get here.) So now I have two horses with skin ickies. (Nice technical terminology.)

But I have a plan. And I hope it works. Really hope it works. Tonight while at the vet for Tessa's splint and bandage change, the vet techs mixed me up some "special" stuff for the skin ickies. It's called Imaverol and is supposed to be super powerful. I'm looking forward to trying it.

Saturday is T-day. The sheep and outdoor dogs will get dewormed. The horses will get inspected and treated for skin ickies. Should be a good fun day and with a little luck my skin icky curse will disappear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bully

With shock and dismay I watched my two year old gelding, Buddy, beat up my sweetheart of a mare, Whiskey. Having always been blessed with good natured horses who get along with everybody and everything I was slightly taken aback. Considering the fact that Buddy was the younger new comer to my little herd it was unusual to see.

If it was just Whiskey Buddy beat up I'd chalk it up to herd dynamics and let them work it out. Out working sheep in the field I couldn't help but giggle when a sheep made a break for it and Buddy chased it down the fence line. Picture this: ears pinned, mouth agape, neck extended, rearing and striking, sheep running in sheer terror. While it makes me snicker it is not a desirable trait to see Buddy display.

Buddy is a bully. If he thinks he can dominate it, he'll try. From pinning his ears at me, to chasing anything that crosses his path, he bullies. Buddy and I have had a number of discussions regarding his unfortunate choices. These discussions usually involve me hucking a bucket at him and chasing him around. Dominating him if you will. He's not allowed to come to his feed if he pins his ears. Period. This means I'll chase him off time and time again till he approaches with a nice attitude. He's in an isolated pen which he hates preventing him from bullying. But I'd love to have him be able to hang out with any of my animals and not worry about him hurting or killing something.

My friend's mom is a wizard with the Parelli Horsemanship stuff. I'll be calling her for help. Buddy needs to learn to get along with not only me but everything. And I'm at a bit of a loss of how to accomplish this. I know he knows I'm the boss of him. But I also know he does not know how to play nicely with others. Will having another bigger bully horse help? Or will it just compound the problem?

I had originally chalked his bullying behavior with the sheep as cow sense but I can't take him to a competition and have him try to pummel the cow into the ground. This is frowned upon.

What to do with Buddy the Bully?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Simple Pleasures

Perhaps it's the seasonal change. Perhaps its the fact that after a week off I've had to return to my "real" job, but I've been feeling very reflective. I live far enough north at this time of year we lose sunlight at an alarming rate. This means my morning chores are completed in the dark. And my evening chores are completed in the dark. In order to arrive at work on time I need to leave the property by 8:00 in the morning. Chores take 30 - 40 minutes doing the bare minimum. Meaning I have the pleasure of doing chores by yard and flashlight. When cleaning the dog kennels (that at this point don't have a light), I hold the flashlight in one hand and scan for poop. Next I maneuver the laden shovel and flashlight out of the kennel to the poop drop spot. All this time the dogs are cavorting about around me, waiting to go for their "run" in the field.

I find the routine of my chores strangely soothing. Everyday I do the same things. You would think I'd get tired of it all. I will admit to taking an animal hiatus for a few years. I had one dog and put the horse in a barn. This freed up an astounding amount of time. But was not nearly as rewarding. I missed the welcome I receive. When I go out in the morning or when I come home from work the animals are enthusiastically waiting.

There is a special kind of purity in watching the dogs play in the field. Having a dog lean against your legs for a pet. Seeing the horses prance and blow with their release into the frosty fields. It makes me smile. It some days makes my heart feel like its going to pop out of my chest with love. Animals present such unconditional love. All they ask is that you take care of them. Spend some time with them.

My animals help make me a better person. A person I'd want to know.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Guilt Trip

My Queen of the Universe, like any pampered athlete seems to get more severe injuries than those who spend their lives sitting on the sidelines. Tessa has one speed. Hard and fast. She can't just trot or walk to her toy sitting across the room, instead such an action requires a pounce or dash.

About a year ago, my dad was dog sitting. When I came home I discovered a dog with a mouthful of broken teeth who was lame on one foot. My dad tried to tell me she ran into a gate. (Whatever!) I personally think she got into a conflict with a cow or horse and lost. Off to the vet we go. She ends up having a bunch of her teeth including a canine surgically removed. The paw we decided had soft tissue damage and a possible fracture. Fair enough. Tessa lived the good life until she was feeling better and then resumed her prior activity level.

This summer we were at a trial when she fell into a hole on the field. She didn't stop working, yelp or limp so I didn't think anything of it. Animals are surprisingly tough. That week she was extremely lame. I in my infinite wisdom thought she'd pulled a muscle or had some soft tissue damage. After having her be kinda lame to really lame off and on for a couple of months I took her into the vet. X-rays then revealed she had a pretty major break in two of her foot/paw bones. On a human it would be the bones in between the wrist and knuckles. My vet who understands Tessa's personality and activity level didn't think we'd be able to get a strong enough knit with just a splint. This was because she had broke where she had the fractured bones. We were then referred to an orthopedic surgeon. Yes, just like people there are animal doctors with some specific specializations.

Appointment made, financing in place, we made the guilt trip to Calgary. The entire drive I was berating myself. How could I not know my dog had broken bones? What kind of a crappy, irresponsible owner was I? Tessa didn't care. She still loved me.

After a successful surgery we came home. My high end active dog is now on the equivalent of bed rest. The prima donna gets carried up and down stairs, has attractive head gear (cone head), a sock and modified saline bag to protect her splint from getting wet when on potty runs. Which are pretty much her only outside excursions. She gets to visit the vet every two weeks. Which she loves! Not so much.

Thursday is her six week check. We're battling pressure sores so she's on antibiotics. We're also battling cabin fever so she's also on Chlomicalm (think doggy Prozac).

My Queen of the Universe is queen of this universe these days. Sigh.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Queen of the Universe

Tessa, also known as "Queen of the Universe", has always been a high maintenance dog. My first indication was when I was crate training her. Having poured over the books and training manuals I had been meticulously following the crate plan. First I made her crate a welcoming cozy place complete with wool blanket. Then I put toys and treats inside of it as an added incentive for her to hang out in her "den". I allowed her to come and go from her crate as she wished. I was a bit stymied when she showed no interest in this luxury of caves. But I persisted. I'd say the word "kennel", gently pull her by the collar and put her in the crate. I'd shut the door, give her a treat and tell her what a good girl she was. If she put up a fuss, I ignored her until she was quiet. I'd then open the door and release her. I thought things were going pretty good.

Tessa travelled with me everywhere from day one. I had to go to a conference and a friend offered to take care of her while I was gone. After our arrival at Antoinette's place, we played and pottied. While Antoinette and I went out for supper the plan was to place Tessa in her crate and leave. We would only be gone for a short time and felt it would be a good transition for when she had to be crated while I worked.

Upon our return to Antoinette's house the first indication something was horribly wrong was the hideous, stomach turning stench that fumigated us when the door opened. Antoinette, a house dog veteran immediately knew what that stink was. Tessa had clearly become upset. We knew this because she had not only defecated in her crate but vomited repeatedly. I had the queasy pleasure of cleaning her crate, while Antoinette bathed her in the kitchen sink.

Now some people say there is no such thing as dog anxiety - it is something created by people. I'm not entirely sure about that. This dog in addition to needing an extra large crate - which to this day she doesn't like (she appears to be claustrophobic), has an intense fear of storms, wind, microwaves, toasters, cameras and anything that beeps. She is also afraid of baby gates (which is handy for me) but that's likely because my brother and I thought it was rather funny to chase her with them when she was a puppy. Ooops...

Tessa, my little high maintenance dog does best when she gets to work. It seems to help her burn some of her nervous energy off better than playing or going for runs.

Right now she truly is "Queen of the Universe" and I her lowly servant.
To Be Continued...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Trainers - The Rant!

I had made a nasty discovery about Reba... she was NOT nice! Reba who seemed so loving and friendly at home with my dogs was an evil wench out in public. To say this trait in my otherwise fabulous puppy was undesirable was an understatement. After she attempted to eat my aunt's Miniature Daschund, drastic steps needed to be taken. So I enrolled in a puppy socialization and obedience class. While the obedience end of things wasn't something I felt particularly passionate or unskilled about I thought it would be a great opportunity to see a different trainer in action. I'm at session 3 in a set of 7 sessions from hell.

My personal training beliefs are there are many methods that can be effective and not all animals or people are the same - hence not everything will work for all animals. My instructor's philosophy seems to be that her way is the only way, and she is the only person who knows anything about training. I fully realized going into this that I would need to do things her way. I also had the courtesy prior to classes starting to inform the instructor about my purpose in attending and that my dog is a stock dog and our commands and training are different. At that time she had no issues with this. Now that she has my money, I'm an incompetent idiot.

Things I hate about this trainer:
  1. She has a closed mind and a limited training tool box.
  2. She belittles her clients. (Not just me - everybody!)
  3. She is not consistent in what she preaches and models.
  4. She repeatedly tells the class how good and skilled she is. (Really!? Lady - if you were that good you wouldn't have to tell us!!)
  5. The final straw for me - she caused a submissive dog to pee then blamed the owner (who wasn't handling the dog at the time.)
What frustrates me about the situation is people are going to her to seek help. They want to do the right thing! And many of her strategies are good, sound strategies. However, her way of delivering the message is brutal and her ability to see the reason behind the animal's behavior is nonexistent. I am a teacher. I am really, really good at helping people see different ways of doing things WITHOUT making them feel bad about themselves or skill level. Isn't that what training is about? Helping people make the most of their abilities? Helping animals make the most of their abilities? Shaping behavior into desirable behavior?

Going to this puppy class is like stabbing shards of glass under my finger nails - positively painful! I'm also very stubborn and I bloody well paid to give Reba the opportunity to socialize with a variety of dogs in a safe environment. So I'm not quitting. I am going to bite my tongue and do my best to keep and open mind and try things her way. Even if it kills me... And it just might.
In the picture: Reba and Tessa enjoying a swim after a play on a warm summer evening.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sheepish Escapades

Bapper, Rambo and Chevy were Ken's dog broke sheep. They were easy to work with and handle. Unfortunately, too easy to handle. I had discovered when I went to dog trials the sheep there behaved differently! They were NOT interested in running towards me irregardless of what my dog was doing. This was a serious impediment to my training. Decision made Ken's sheep went to a new home and I went sheep shopping.

After much debate and angst, I bit the bullet and purchased 6 cull ewes. This meant they were cheap. I knew I'd have my work cut out for me as I "dog" broke them. What I know now - I wish I knew then. Much to my surprise these sheep had no, as in zip, zero, nada, interest in hanging out in the corral. These sheep were bound and determined to run away. And run they did. First running into the brushy back forty. I managed to get 4 of them back down to the corral. Putting my exhausted dog away I went looking for the other 2. The old owner had assured me that they came nicely to "Here, sheep, sheep!" accompanied by the rattle of a grain bucket.

Carrying my bucket of grain and calling like a lunatic I began the trek through the scrub to look for the sheep. Fighting mosquitoes, prickly bush and my fear of the neighborhood cougar, I spotted one in the distance. Trying to act nonchalant, I began a stealthy circle around the sheep. (These sheep had no interest in coming to my grain call.) My thinking being if I got behind it, it would at least run towards the yard. I have never seen sheep run like these ones did. While they didn't look it I'm sure they were part deer or gazelle. They were fast and agile. They were also gone. And not back into the barnyard! Discouraged I began walking the fence line. With no sight nor sound of the sheep, hot and tired, I began the long walk back home.

Only to discover them calmly grazing alongside the cattle in the neighboring field. Okay, now what? Walking home, gathering the dog and finally, successfully moving the sheep back into the corral. Whoo Hooo!

Time passed and while remaining freakishly wild, the sheep started to settle in. I became more brave while working them. One evening a friend of Ken's came to visit and work his dog. His young, not really trained dog...

While working one of the sheep broke from the herd and ran like the gazelle it was back into the corral. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal as they were locked up at night anyhow. Rather than stop where it was fed this sheep chose to run through the corral and out the fence. As it was getting late, (and I was still irritated with my last chasing adventure), I decided the sheep could come home on it's own or get ate by a wild animal.

The next morning outside doing chores (What you need to realize is when I do chores I generally roll out of bed, pull on some sweats, don't stop to brush my hair, or teeth, put on a bra, deodorant, etc. I generally do all that and shower AFTER I've fed the animals.) when a car pulls into the driveway. An older gentleman rolls down the window, "hey, are you missing a sheep?" Surprise I nod an affirmative, he then proceeds to tell me it's just down the road. Not wanting to be responsible for a vehicle animal collision I gather up my trusty grain bucket and begin walking down the road. And I walked and walked, then walked some more. Still no sign of the sheep from hell. Calling, shaking the grain bucket - nothing!

About a mile down the road, a large truck slows down, a man shouts out the window "If you're looking for a sheep it's a 1/2 mile ahead of you. Inspired I pick up speed. Another mile passes. Still no sheep. Hot, tired, hungry, sweaty and grouchy I try to decide what to do. My mom pulls up in her car with the dog riding shotgun. Guzzling the Gatorade she brought me we drive down the road - still no sign of sheep. (By this time it's 25 degrees Celsius out...) While I was ready to quit and head home, mom decides we need to start stopping at houses. Where I live on the east side of the road is a large national park bordered by a large provincial park, on the west side of the road are acreages. As a last ditch effort we pull into the grazing reserve. Mom felt they should be notified. While mom's talking with the caretaker (I had refused to get out of the car looking like I did.) I noticed the sheep. My sheep! It was walking around the corner of a building.

Remember, I'm hot, tired and mildly grouchy at this point. Hopping out of the car I persuasively start shaking the grain. The sheep's head shoots into the air! It begins to trot in the opposite direction. Infuriated I let the dog out of the car. Springing into action the race is on! And the sheep is once again gone... sigh. Wishing I could just leave the stupid thing, I once again begin walking only this time with Tessa. Periodically I'd stop and send Tessa into the brush (no this was not open field - all heavy bush), after another mile and half we reached the horse gate leading to the road. Heaven sent, my mom was sitting there with the car. Exhausted, home I went. And no - the sheep was never seen again. I hope it died a nasty death by coyote!

Needless to say I did learn a lesson. The remaining sheep (less the one who impaled herself days prior) went to the auction market. And I went sheep shopping once again...

In the picture: Bapper, Rambo and Chevy in a stand off with Tessa. The next picture would have been the dog diving into the sheep, mouth agape, and sheep scattering every which direction.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Beginning

If you had told me 5 years ago that I'd be where I am now, I'd have laughed. After all, who plans to have 7 sheep, 3 horses, 3 dogs and a cat? Let me assure you, I was perfectly content with a (as in 1) horse. The saga starts with Tessa. When I got Tessa I had no intentions of owning a dog. I lived in a condo and had a footloose and fancy-free lifestyle. Instead Tessa was destined to be a gift for my boyfriend at the time. However, in between the time I purchased the puppy and the puppy was weaned, an explosive break up occurred. I spitefully kept the yet to be named puppy. Knowing enough about dogs the realization that life as I knew was now over quickly set in. Having never owned a house dog I bought books and read, read, read, desperately trying to slow the learning curve. Tessa is a purebred Border Collie from working lines. This means she is busy. To further complicate matters Tessa is not an easy dog to get along with and train. She has issues and has had issues from day one.

Having grown up on a farm, I was familiar with Border Collies had a good understanding of what she'd need to be happy and healthy. This is how I developed an interest in working stock dogs. A couple of years went by when she started to show some neurotic behaviors. I made the commitment to work her and learn how to be good at it. Everyone who knows me knows I'm type A and a research freak. So I researched, and asked questions before settling on a trainer to take lessons from. Off and on over the course of 4 years I drove 2 hours one direction to take lessons from Ken Mackenzie - stock dog trainer extraordinaire. Tessa, while a challenge, loved it. So did I! I was hooked.

Having a stock dog means one must have stock. Ken would off and on lend me some of his dog broke sheep to work at home. Eventually the time came for me to leave "the nest" and fly solo. I watched at the sheep auctions, read the classified and found some sheep. Not dog broke. What an adventure! I'll share my sheep escapades another time.

Living in a high predator area meant I needed something to protect my sheep. Meet Bella. Bella is a soon to be one year old Maremma. Maremma's are livestock guardian dogs. This means they live with the stock and keep predators away. I'm now at two dogs, and 3 sheep.

Two months prior to Bella's arrival some kind soul dumped a lovely cat on the range road. This generally means a death sentence for the animal. Except I kinda liked this neat little cat. Meet Moxie - mouser. Moxie and Bella are best buds. I'm now at 2 dogs, 3 sheep and 1 cat. Plus the 1 horse I had always had.

July was a banner month for me. I decided Tessa was getting older and I wanted a second dog for when she would no longer be able to work. This is how Reba my 8 month old Border Collie joined my family. 3 dogs, 3 sheep, 1 cat and 1 horse. At the same time my breeding saga for my mare was continuing. Originally, I was breeding through artificial insemination to a cutting bred stallion from the north. The stallion had issues, his owners felt bad for me and offered me a weanling (as they were unable to produce the semen I needed). This is how I acquired Stella. I still needed to get Whiskey bred so I took her to my friend (who happens to have a working cow horse stud). While there I encounter a 2 year old who was a deal I couldn't pass up. The official count at this point became 3 dogs, 5 sheep (bought new ones), 1 cat and 3 horses. Unfortunately, Whiskey didn't catch... (as in she's not bred right now.)

And it all started with a dog...

In the picture is the original Tessa, myself and our first "money won" at a trial.