Monday, August 29, 2016

Make Friends with The Stars

Walk into the night
Leave the hull of man’s home.
Make friends with the stars
and you’ll not be alone.

Bright or mere promise,
the moon waxes and wanes.
Make friends with the moon
and she’ll light the dark lanes.

The night sky engulfs,
commonplace yet unknown.
Make friends with the sky
and you’ll find you are home.
©Maria Amodei 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016


I like to get my young dogs out a few times on small courses.  The most important thing they learn at a trial where their sheep are easily visible is that the sheep from the last run are never theirs.  I wait right at the gate for the prior run to end and hurry onto the field to make sure my dog gets to watch the sheep being exhausted.  Then I go to the post and send my dog.  I walk to a position some 5 to 10 yards behind the post so that when I turn and walk to the post I’m walking directly towards the sheep.  I show the dog where the sheep are by my gaze, my forward shoulders, and the line I walk.  My dogs understand this because I do it in training, right from the beginning.  I square myself to the stock even for tiny gathers in the round pen.  I walk a few steps on that center line with the dog beside me before sending as I begin to lengthen their gather.  I do it every time I walk to the post at a trial even if the sheep are easily seen and my dog is already looking at them.
None of this is unique to me.  I was taught by other Open handlers to use my body to communicate the location of the stock to my dogs. 
Back to the exhaust sheep...odds are the exhaust pen is somewhere behind the post.  It is not in the direction I’m sending my dog.  My dog might swing back towards the exhaust pen the first time they’ve witnessed sheep traveling there moments before.  I don’t make an issue.  Those sheep are now gone.  I continue to watch our sheep, watching the dog in peripheral vision.  Once or twice I’ve had a young dog make a significant foray towards the exhaust.  If needed, the dog can be called back towards the sheep that are standing in plain sight waiting for them.  I’ve never had a young dog repeat the run towards the exhaust the second day.  I’ve never had to scold them.  Most of my young dogs have correctly understood when I turned my back on the exhaust sheep and headed towards the group on the field.  Throughout the dog’s trial career I walk out to the field before the prior sheep are exhausted.  Seeing the prior packet disappear off the field is as much a part of the background as the judge and scribe to them.  Those sheep are never theirs.  Their sheep are waiting in the direction I set them. 
I’m not alone in this either.  Many handlers treat the exhaust sheep as just another aspect of trialing and don’t put out effort hiding them from their dogs.  This weekend I asked a couple handlers who also walk on the field before the sheep are exhausted.  They shared my experience that it is quite easy to teach your dog to ignore the exhaust sheep and look for stock in the direction they are set. 
I’d rather know my dog expects and ignores sheep being exhausted and focuses up the field when I’m walking to the post at a big trial than hope and pray I’ve successfully hidden the regular parade of exhausted packets from their view.
Daylight is limited.  Depending on the field layout you may need to wait some time before you can even walk on the field, give your name to the scribe, then walk to the post if you can’t let your dog see the sheep being exhausted.  And your sheep may have been waiting at the top this whole time, starting to fidget.  And the delay in getting to the post can add 30 seconds per run easily.  That’s 30-40 minutes of waiting for people to come out of hiding on a 75 dog trial.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Baptism of Rain

Rain, blessed by the sky,
Washes away dry despair
Bringing new life, hope

©Maria Amodei