I didn’t think we had received more than a usual amount of rain this year but the weeds are proving me wrong. I generally start pulling weeds by hand in early spring and can more or less keep the weeds on the drive and around the house under control but this year – perhaps because I took a vacation and was gone for two weeks – I haven’t been able to keep up with the weeds and it was getting hard to get down the drive or even walk anywhere on the property. I usually pay a friend to come over with his tractor and brush hog 3 or 4 times a year to keep the grasses down. He has been in high demand this summer and so he hasn’t been able to come over after work until last night. He mowed down some of the high weeds along the drive as he came down the drive and then proceeded to do his usual brush hogging, plus whatever weeds he could deal with. I still have areas where the weeds will have to be dealt with by hand but things are looking much, much improved this morning.
This morning while I was milking goats I kept hearing a strange sound. After putting the last goat back in the pen, I headed towards where I thought the sound was coming from. When I got to the pond (which I have never filled and only has water during monsoon season or after a heavy rain) I looked down and saw a toad. As I watched, a snake (I’m not good with snake identification other than rattlers, so if anyone knows what type of snake it is, please let me know) emerged out from behind a piece of flagstone that had fallen into the pond with a toad in its mouth.
The toads lay eggs in water which is why I have toads in the pond at this time of year. Evidently the snake knows that as well and has found a source of a quick meal though the toad seems awfully big for the snake to eat.
I went out later to see if the snake was still around and while I didn’t see the snake, I found two more toads hanging out in the pond.
I try to work early in the morning and generally quit about 11 am when it is starting to get really hot. I did a little work on my own this morning but most of the day’s work got done when a couple of friends showed up at a quarter to 11. I had initially intended to build the new pens today but had run into some problems taking down the former sheep pen and needed the extra hands to finish that up. When I built the pens about 7 or 8 years ago, the pens were expected to be temporary and so I used cattle panel and T-posts. Over the years the bottom of the fence has become buried which made pulling T-posts and the fence a challenge and something that really went better with more than one pair of hands. The shared fence between the goat pen and former sheep pen had a damaged cattle panel and rather than remove both panels, we opted just to pull and replace the damaged section. This photo shows how deep the fence has become buried over the years when compared to the new panel set in place today.
My friends dug out the small shelter that was against the shared fence and we moved it out to the general area where it will be put into use as a shelter for the bucks. Once I rebuild the pen I will erect a new shelter using cattle panel and a tarp. I will need to finish digging out the gate post and once that is accomplished, will need help moving it with the attached gate to its new location.
My friends were willing to work a little longer but despite a full bottle of water I was feeling the symptoms of heat stroke – nausea and being lightheaded – and decided to call a halt to the day’s work. I’ll conscript them to help on another weekend but can do quite a bit of the building myself, working an hour or two in the early morning and later in the evening when it has cooled off a bit.
Yesterday Fix turned five months old so I thought I’d chronicle his day. Since I leave the door open at night for the adult dogs to come and go as they please, Fix is still crated at night so he can’t get himself into trouble outside. When I got up in the morning, Fix was let out of the crate (waiting for his release word “free” even after the door was opened) and he made his usual check of the dog dishes to see if 1) one of the other dogs had not finished their dinner; or 2) if food had magically appeared in the dish overnight before dashing outside to pee. When Fix was smaller I used to go out with him, first on a leash and then later just to supervise, but he has been going out unsupervised for a few weeks now. I put the water on for coffee and washed dishes and Fix dashed back in to see if the dog dishes have re-filled themselves. After I finished my coffee, Fix was fed breakfast. (Again, waiting patiently in a sit until given his release word to eat.) Chores were next. After we did chores I went back to work on digging out gates. Fix hung around a bit and then went off to explore. He found a piece of horse hoof and played with it for awhile – throwing it up in the air, then pouncing on it when it hit the ground and then running laps with it in his mouth before starting all over again.
We played a little fetch with a stick he brought me and then he wandered off again. When it got too hot for me to continue, I took a shower while Fix hung out. I needed to run into town for groceries so I crated Fix since I was going to leave the door open for the other dogs to come and go. When I got back I spent a little time on the computer while Fix just hung out and then we took a nap in the hammock. At some point Fix jumped off the hammock and just laid down on the bedroom floor. After our nap, I did a little work using the computer and Fix alternated between lying next to me and going outside to explore. We did evening chores and he did a little more exploring while I was pulling more T-posts. He did come back to help me do a little more digging around the gate post. Then it was time for dinner and more time just chilling out in the house before bed. Not a real exciting way to turn 5 months old. . . I’ll have to come up with something special for his six month birthday next month.
I haven’t even starting building pens yet and have already had to make adjustments in my plans.
In formulating my plans to build new pens, I decided I would take the small gate off the post which had been sunk into the ground in the former sheep pen.The gate was to a smaller pen built in the corner which will be dismantled. I planned on putting the small gate at the east end of the 4 foot alley I was creating in front of the kidding jugs. I was then going to rebuild the former sheep pen only to the post – making the pen about 8 feet shorter. However, while I was able to remove the nuts, I wasn’t able to get the bolts to slide back through the tie. So my next bright idea was to just dig up the post and move it – and the gate – to the new location. My problem now is that I don’t remember how deep we buried the bottom of the post. I – with help from Fix – have dug down about 10 inches and can’t dig any deeper until the T-post next to the post is removed and I can’t remove the T-post until I have another pair of hands. As helpful as Fix is trying to be, he just isn’t up to the task of holding the cattle panel away from the T-post so I can use the T-post puller.
Since selling most of the ewes and lambs this past spring I have been contemplating how I wanted to re-configure my animal pens. I considered moving the pens to the area around the barn but after deliberating on the pros and cons, decided I would keep the pens in the current location since it was more or less visible from where I work during the day. The lambing jugs will keep their current location and purpose (only for goat kids instead) and the main goat pen next to the horse corral will get a few minor repairs but otherwise will stay. However, the pen that used to be for the sheep will be taken down and rebuilt and two additional pens will be built. The configuration I have planned will allow me to bring the trailer directly back to the animal pens and will also permit expansion should I need more pens in the future. With the working pen dismantled, I hope to be able to re-seed the areas where I will not be building new pens.The below is a rough schematic of my current plans and the sizing may differ slightly once I start building. The “temporary” pens I built seven to eight years ago have worked well enough that I will use cattle panel and T-posts again since it is something I can do by myself if necessary and is relatively inexpensive compared to sinking fence posts and stringing fencing. It also is easier to change if I decide the new pens aren’t working quite as well as I envisioned.
At not quite five months of age Fix is starting to help out with chores. I’ve allowed him to put up the sheep at night a couple of times. While in reality, the sheep will usually put themselves up once I bring them out of the pasture, as far as Fix is concerned, behind them and dragging a line, he is moving the sheep on his own. This morning after I filled a hay net with hay, Fix moved the hay net to the cart. He did this on his own, without any prompting by me.
I play games with my puppies – primarily fetch and tug – as a way to encourage team work (and to teach self-control). Fetch because later I will train a reliable retrieve to hand and tug because sometimes the dog will have to exert some force to bring me something – a filled hay net is one example.
Many years ago a fellow trainer told me a story that I’ve never forgotten. He trained bird dogs so his puppies were taught to fetch from day one. He also never corrected a puppy for picking up and carrying something inappropriate but encouraged the pup to bring the item to him. One day he had a young pup with him in a building where unbeknownst to him someone had put out rat poison. He noticed the pup with something in his mouth and called the pup to him. The pup came running with a box of rat poison. Had he been in the practice of punishing or correcting his pup for picking up things, it is likely that 1) the pup would not have come to him carrying the rat poison; and 2) the pup would have tried swallowing the poison before he was able to remove it from the pup’s mouth. I have taken that lesson to heart and I also never correct a puppy for carrying something in its mouth.
Fix really likes carrying my shoes. He learned very early on not to chew on shoes by simple redirection. However, every time I saw him carrying a shoe, I called him to me, praised and then removed the shoe from his mouth and gave him something else. Fix has also taken to carrying empty metal food dishes if I leave them on the ground. Again, I encourage him to bring those to me and reward him for that. In the past I’ve had to train dogs to carry metal objects so I’m very pleased to see Fix has no issues carrying metal dishes. Of course it means I have to watch where I put the wire cutters in the barn because I’ve caught Fix carrying the wire cutters a few times.
Finally, fetch and tug are useful games to use in training. The following is a brief introduction to TUG OF WAR.
The rules of tug are:
- You start all games of tug (the toy should be put up away from the dog between games).
- If the dog’s mouth touches your hand or arm at any time during the game, the game ends immediately.
- You end all games of tug. The dog must release the tug toy on command.
Start all games of tug with the dog in a sit. Some dogs will be uncomfortable holding onto a toy if they feel you want it. If your dog is hesitant to hold on to the toy when you tug, start with just holding one end of the object and praising your dog for holding on. The next progression is very gentle pressure on the object while praising the dog for holding onto the toy. It may take several days before your dog is willing to hold on to the toy when you pull.
Remember pups that are teething have sensitive mouths – don’t jerk objects out of their mouths. Also, keep the object level and don’t tug up where the dog has to flex his neck.
Frequently during the game, tell your dog to sit or down and give. While tug should be a fun game, you don’t want the dog to become so aroused he no longer is under control.
Finish the game by having your dog sit or down and giving you the toy. The toy should then be put up away from the dog until the next game.
If you are having problems with your dog giving up the toy, with your dog in a sit or down, simply put your free hand under his muzzle and press his lower lip over a lower tooth. Praise when he opens his mouth slightly and remove the toy.
This weekend was spent taking down the working pen, cleaning out the lambing jugs where the bucklings currently reside, building a second compost pile with the old bedding, left over hay, and of course goat manure, and re-configuring the former quarantine pen for the sheep to give them more room. (The sheep got moved out of their pen to accommodate the horse when a tree fell into her corral.) I still don’t know if the two new does are bred, but one is starting to look as though she may be bagging up. If I have kids this fall I will need to have the lambing jugs available so my goal is to build three new goat pens plus two new shelters by the end of this month.
As usual Tuck and Fix were with me while I worked. It really is too bad Tuck doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but since he isn’t able to help with removing T-posts he elected to find a shady spot to lie down. Fix has decided that he needs to emulate his great-uncle and when I looked around to see what mischief Fix was into, I discovered he was quietly laying next to Tuck, just observing. When the temperatures started to climb I decided to quit until evening. However, later in the afternoon it started to lightly rain and I figured it was a good time to finish putting up the new, temporary sheep pen. I headed back out, accompanied by the dogs. Again, Tuck and Fix found a good spot to observe while being out of the way. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped – and the humidity soared – but I wanted to finish up so I kept working. It then started to rain heavier than before but still something I could work in. I looked over to see both Tuck and Fix hightailing it back to the house. I told them they were both wimps and kept pounding a T-post in. As soon as the T-post was set, the heavens opened and the rain started coming down in buckets. I ran towards the house – and nearly killed myself tripping over Fix who had come back to find out why I was still out in the rain. Fix is starting to act more like an adult dog and less like a puppy. . . I’m going to miss my puppy but am ready for the next stage in starting Fix as a stockdog.
In the last post I mentioned that a dog with a herding title may not be able to actually work. There is a huge difference between taking direction in an arena where the handler is standing close by, and being able to work without direction to accomplish a task. In my experience, very few dogs which trial are capable of the latter. (And yes, I used to trial dogs many, many years ago.)
As an example of the difference, here is one of the many instances where Tuck has proven himself as a working dog.
Back in September of 2013 heavy rains caused flooding in my area (see post). The sheep had been in the east pasture when it started to rain and while Tuck and I had gone out after the rain let up, the depth of water and degree of mud made me decide to leave the sheep out for the night.
I received a phone call early the next morning from the post office saying that my order of chicks had arrived. I knew I was not going to be able to get off my property so I called a friend and asked her to pick up the chicks for me and once the frontage road had been cleared, I would meet her at the gate to pick up the chicks. So later that afternoon, after the county road crews had worked on both the frontage road and the county road I live on, she drove over to deliver the chicks. Tuck and I navigated around the cottonwood that had fallen in my drive and waded down the drive (which was still under water) to meet her at my gate.
Unbeknownst to me, the road crew had knocked down the corner post (a railroad tie) and the fence in the east pasture along the road was down. As my friend drove up she spooked the sheep that had made their way onto the road and the sheep took off south, around the bend and out of sight. My friend was upset and wanted to know what to do to get the sheep back. I simply told Tuck to bring me the sheep and he trotted off while I stood talking to my friend through the window of her vehicle. In relatively short order, the sheep appeared around the bend with Tuck behind them. He pushed them through the gate and down the drive where I knew the downed cottonwood would block them until I could wade back down the drive with the chicks.
A good working dog does not need to be micromanaged and given constant directions to get a job done. The dog simply needs to understand what the job is and then left to decide the best way to accomplish it.
Every day since I returned with the new puppy, Tuck and I have moved the remaining sheep out to the east pasture. The east pasture is probably about five acres and was not used for a couple of years after a road crew took out a corner post and most of the fence along the road. I finally had the fence replaced last summer and was able to use it to graze sheep again but it is still very overgrown.
Yesterday morning Tuck and I moved the sheep as usual. Usually by evening the sheep are waiting at the gate to go back to their night pen. Last night, however, when Tuck and I went for the sheep, the sheep were no where to be seen.
Since I was wearing shorts I wasn’t enthused about traipsing through the pasture looking for sheep so I sent Tuck to find them. Given the terrain, I couldn’t see Tuck or the sheep so couldn’t give him directions other than just to tell him to find the sheep.
It took him awhile, but . . .
Unfortunately the phone camera isn’t a great way to take photos so I couldn’t get both Tuck and the sheep in the same shot.
While I think it is admirable that people want to do things with their dogs and are willing to spend the time and money to take lessons and trial their dogs, don’t ever believe anyone who has a herding instinct title or herding title when they tell you that their dog can work stock unless they can demonstrate that the dog can perform a task on its own without being given direction. If you need a true working dog look to a breeder who actually works their dog in a similar situation to yours, and not just one who has titles on their dog. These sheep are trotting – not running – and even so, if I hadn’t been yelling at Tuck to hurry up, he would have brought them up at a walk.
Over the past ten years Tuck has proven he is worth his weight in gold (most days) and I’m hoping his great-nephew will be as good, if not better, a worker.