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Dan and Sue's Excellent Adventure


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#121 lrayburn

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 01:43 PM

Woo hoo! It looks and sounds like you guys had a great time and learned a lot. The scenery is gorgeous and everyone sounds so nice. I'm glad you were able to go and had such a great time. Wish I could have gone with you! :)

Lisa

#122 lrayburn

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 02:06 PM

All the photos are great. I *really* love the ones posted by Chesney's Girl.

#123 Sue R

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 06:45 PM

I enjoyed my photos but Danielle's blew them out of the water - great camera, great composition, great job on her part!
Sue Rayburn - Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult, but not the brightest firefly in the jar.

Celt, Megan, and Dan

"When the chips are down, watch where you step."

"The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything." - author unknown

#124 Sue R

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:53 PM

I have had the opportunity to work Dan a bit here at home, not as much as he would like, not as much as Anna would want me to be doing, and not as much as I should be doing. But one very important concept becomes obvious each time I take him out to stock here - there is a tremendous variation in stock. What a dog is capable of on certain animals, and what that dog appears to have down as very nice work on certain animals, may not translate into capability or nice work on very different animals.

At Anna's, we worked our way "up" - the first stock we worked with were the three "school sheep". Big boys all - Big Daddy, Winston, and Rusty - they've been there, done that, seen it all. Capable of being very solid, stolid, confident, moving off the dog excellently, and keeping themselves calm, they are excellent sheep for starting a pup or a dog "young in training" with a big motor.

When Dan and I were ready, we lightened this mix by adding three more sheep, younger ones, that were more likely to move more quickly off the dog. Of course, that was offset a bit by the fact that having six sheep rather than just three also changes the dynamics. Dan actually seemed to do much better with more sheep than less, up to a point (which I will get to). There is a more calming effect with a greater number of sheep, probably because the sheep feel more calm (safety in numbers) in a larger group.

We moved up to working about 2-3 dozen sheep, including the school boys for stability (and their experience that led them to want to stick with me), some younger animals for quantity and lightness, and even some two-month-old lambs. This size group resulted in some very nice work with Dan - I could turn my back on him, use my whistle, feel the energy of the sheep by me to know when he needed to lie down or slow down, and do walkabouts with curves and straight lines, turnbacks and other activities that encouraged Dan to flank but calmly and quietly.

The final group was the whole flock - school boys, ewes, lambs down to just a few days old. Dan had problems with a group this size. A large part of his problem was his "head control freak" personality. He felt a huge need to be up near the front so he could see the heads and control the heads of the lead sheep. In doing so, he was losing the back end of the flock entirely because his pressure would just cut them off - we'd wind up with myself in the lead, maybe a dozen or two dozen sheep, and then Dan's pressure creating a gap, and the rest of the flock looking on with puzzlement, wondering why they were excluded from the gathering.

And, of course, the bonus round was working with just one new mother and her baby. Dan had not had a sheep face up to him and stamp before. Where I thought he might fly into her face with a grip, he pleased me by relaxing the pressure on her and letting her feel comfortable enough to turn her back and follow her baby (that I was holding) or walk with her baby (when I wasn't holding it).

So, variations on a theme - sheep of different sorts and groups of different sizes (of course, accompanied by the additional changes afforded by differing jobs - moving, sorting, penning, gathering, beginning driving, and so on).

As for the calves, we worked with two groups at Anna's - the four very similar heifers that were very well dog-broke was the first. They moved as a group as long as the dog let them and didn't split them. They moved readily and easily off the dog, although they could get stuck in a corner or under branches along a fenceline and give the dog a bit of resistance. They easily came close to me so that I could walk through them if I wanted to push Dan off and/or send him around on a flank.

The second group was three animals, mixed sexes and mixed personalities. These were more challenging - they were more likely to split as they were not as cohesive a group and, if certain ones split off, that one might just keep on going (unlike the group of four, that really had no interest in leaving each other). They were less docile with the dog, more likely to run and jump, and less inclined to "come along quietly".

Dan did some nice work with the first group, and the work was a bit rougher with the second. But coming home to adult cows, first-calf heifers, and new mothers - well, they present a different scenario, and very different personalities.

Our adult cows are well dog-broke, having been worked by Celt (and other dogs at times) for years. They are used to a very polite dog, one that has a big outrun, a good feel for his stock, who relieves the pressure readily for new mothers and inspires confidence, who doesn't have a lot of push but on the other hand, doesn't tend to upset his stock. He has virtually no grip but has the courage to get into a cow's face and convince her that she will move. This would probably not work on a rank cow of any sort, though.

Our heifers are a bit feisty this year. They work well with Celt but have realized in the past that Dan is definitely a different dog - an unguided missle in their opinion, and rightfully so, prior to our trip to CA. And now, out of seven, four have new calves as first-time mothers.

So, what does all this mean? Dan is faced with cattle that are not quite so compliant as Anna's training calves - they are slower to respond, like a dog that gives them options (dog gets into position and gives the cattle the chance to move off subtle pressure) rather than strong-arm (strong-jaw?) tactics.

So, it's rather like we are back to basics - I try to set up a situation that will offer Dan a good opportunity for success. And I don't always manage that. Anna has pointed out that some scenarios I have set up have been counterproductive, and told me why - which explained why things went south very quickly and Dan was not successful - and would look at me as if to say, "Hey, boss, I gave it all I had and it did not work - why not?"

Mother cows are another story - they are willing to fight what they perceive as a threat to their babies. They don't let Dan get close like he did with the training calves without a reaction. They will, on the other hand, help teach Dan that the right distance is a good thing - he needs to think of more than just Dan, but rather about what the stock need to get the result that we want and need.

Meanwhile, he's not getting the work he should be getting and it's not just that I am lazy or avoiding it - we have very slick conditions, slick and slippery mud, and not good conditions for working with Dan because of the hazards to both cattle and Dan with bad footing. I've had him out several times, I find that I am not fearful like I have been in the past but rather feel that I have the tools to work with him better than I have had, and that (barring something injurious happening) we can work our way through mistakes and make them into learning experiences.

So, for now, his major job is learning something all the dogs need to know. To have manners, stay with their people, listen, stay put where I leave them when I am checking the stock and walking in and around the groups, and help us hold the line when we are feeding hay. Not big jobs, but essential to both our work and to Dan's progress.

Now, if only the ground would freeze up or dry out a bit so we can really get out there and work and train safely...
Sue Rayburn - Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult, but not the brightest firefly in the jar.

Celt, Megan, and Dan

"When the chips are down, watch where you step."

"The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything." - author unknown

#125 ShoresDog

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 06:05 PM

Nice update, Sue. It's interesting to hear how Dan's progressing. Let's hope your conditions dry up soon.

Jan & Daisy & Juno & Star
LJ Shores, San Diego CA

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