The Baby Animal Post

Rumor had it there were baby farm animals!

Pickles and I hopped in the car Sunday morning to visit Susan and her menagerie of farm babies!

I was only thinking there would be lambs and baby goats but THIS guy caught me totally off guard.  I adore him.

Bull calf in Tucson

Bull calf in Tucson

And the ram lamb is a free range “BFF”, as far as Pickles is concerned.

A Dorper lamb in Tucson

A Dorper lamb in Tucson

So, here are the many babies! A very serious kid!

A very serious kid!

more jumping!

Nigerian Dwarf kid jumps over sister

Nigerian Dwarf kid jumps over sister

more bouncing:

Baby goat practicing jumping.

Baby goat practicing jumping.

and a wee bairn

Violet the kid

Violet the kid

another wee bairn

Sage the kid

Sage the kid

and my favorite farm guy again!

Here's a bull calf, in Tucson.

Here’s a bull calf, in Tucson.

and a sheep that was really interested in the sounds my camera was making!



and Pickles and her new mucker, Guapo.

Border Collie and lamb

Border Collie and lamb

and no trip to the farm is complete without a care package of duck eggs sent home…..apparently for Cody Bear.

Cody Bear and some duck eggs

Cody Bear and some duck eggs




Until there was ewe




In November we organized another instinct test so that some local herding dogs could answer their “call of the wooled”.  It’s always so fun to see all the dogs and their different styles as they see sheep for the first time.  It’s almost as much fun to see the people react when they see herding dogs’ instincts kick in.

This batch of dogs consisted of 2 Border Collies, 4 Border Collie mixes, one deaf Australian Cattle dog, 2 mini-aussies, one Australian Shepherd mix and 1 dog rescued from Thailand.

There were some surprises that day, for sure!

Lucy, ready for sheep!

Lucy, ready for sheep!

One of the fun surprises of the day was Lucy, a BC mix who some thought looked a lot more like a spaniel mix at first.  While she was timid at first and her owner had to come in, once she found her farm paws it was lovely to see!  One of the few dogs of the day to naturally find balance, she changed direction well and responded perfectly to any pressure.  Her appearance was less like a Border Collie compared to the other BC mixes, but she moved most like a real working dog.

KIva, naturally circling the sheep.

KIva, naturally circling the sheep.

Kiva is an older BC (I can’t remember the exact age but at least 8) who was recently adopted from a family that never did any of the favorite Border Collie pastimes with her.  She popped into the pen like she’d been herding sheep all her life.  So glad her new mom gave her the chance to see sheep!

Nike, very interested in following up with sheep in the future!

Nike, very interested in following up with sheep in the future!

Pickles’ friend Nike was also present at the test!  Like most of the dogs that day she needed her owner to be in the pen with her to gain some confidence to approach the sheep, but once she realized it was ok she made the most of it.  Nike was very animated.  The trainer told her owner that she showed instinct but there was a lot be work to be done.  See Nike, like many dogs that have had advanced obedience or agility work, kept checking in with her owner, as opposed to independently moving the sheep around.  So yeah, some instinct was there, but it was almost like she was way too obedient to really move them around easily at first.

Again, all the dogs were so different, some were just driving, some were chasing, some had some nice natural ability.  It was a long morning, very exhausting for the trainers and the handlers to test that many dogs, but the sheep were plentiful and everyone seemed to really enjoy their day at the sheep farm.

Frank worked occassionally, moving fresh sheep into the pen, while Pickles mingled with the dogs after her lesson (which I can’t wait to tell you about!) and whined jealously at times when she couldn’t be in the pen with the sheep.




Years and years ago, long before I moved to Tucson, my boss gave me $200 to go to Petsmart to by a specific brand of chews for his dogs.  I was standing at the checkout line with $200 worth of dog bones and the lady behind me eyed my purchase and said, “My, but we do spoil our dogs, don’t we?”  To which I answered, “Isn’t that why we have dogs?”  with a wee bit of an attitude, as if I had that kind of cash to spend on my own dog.

But really….isn’t that why we have our dogs?  More simply….isn’t it to love?  While a small percentage of sheepdog owners actually rely on sheep for their livelihood, having dogs for their sheep, a huge number of us have sheep for our dogs!  Didn’t many of us get dogs to take care of?  To have someone to cherish and spoil?

I have two dogs….I’m happiest when they’re happy.

On Friday Alicia found out she was off Saturday.  I was free.  We agreed to drive to Benson to work the dogs.

And we had two squealing, wagging babies as we pulled into the farm.  And we had two smiling, resting babies as we left.

So, here they are….just happy to be around stock.  Frank on sheep, Pickles meeting goats for the first time.

Frank, relaxed and happy to be working sheep.

Frank, relaxed and happy to be working sheep.

A good Saturday for Frank, working his sheep and enjoying the brisk winter morning.

A good Saturday for Frank, working his sheep and enjoying the brisk winter morning.
Pickles enjoying a morning with her new friends, the goats.  All smiles.

Pickles enjoying a morning with her new friends, the goats. All smiles.

Pickles, smiling and eager to keep working with her new goat friends.

Pickles, smiling and eager to keep working with her new goat friends.

Saturday morning….full of smiles…..

Mind the rake

On a Saturday in September we packed the dogs in the cars and headed to Benson for herding lessons.  There were three canine students that day, two human students, two trainers and one rake.


Mind the rake!

With three very different dogs, this was a great opportunity to see the varying degrees of pressure each dog would take for training.   Even though I was standing on a ranch next to a pen of sheep the whole morning felt like lab work.  The round pen with a dog and sheep in it was a petri dish and the rake was the reagent.  Let’s see what happens when we add the rake to a pen with three VERY different Border Collies and their sheep.

Dog 1:  Molly.  Very intense and unaffected by any pressure.

Molly, very keen for sheep!

Molly had an instinct test last month and showed intensity and instinct.  Her second exposure to sheep this past weekend was even more intense; so intense that she was oblivious to any pressure.  Whereas last month she seemed joyous to chase the sheep, this month she seemed joyous chasing and gripping the sheep.  The rake was only introduced to molly because she was completely unaware of the trainer in the pen with her and was running after and gripping the sheep.  Molly was so fixated on the sheep and so grippy that the rake had to be brought in with hopes that she would heed it and lay off the stock a bit.  But that didn’t happen.  She ignored it.  At top speed she ran after the sheep.  When a trainer would growl and slam the rake to the ground behind the sheep she would run into it then go straight after the sheep again.  By the end of the day she gave no signs that she was any closer to responding to pressure from anyone.

Player 2:  Pickles.  Newly responsive to pressure.

That Saturday was lesson two for Pickles with the rake.  Initially she wasn’t aware that there were people with her in the ring and her barking was non-stop.  The bag and the flag made no impact on her, but when the trainer introduced the rake, thumping it on the ground and growling, she became attentive.  Now she is very responsive to it, but her face shows confusion.  The thumping of the rake is used as a correction when she tries to come straight to me instead of the sheep, which happens frequently.  You see, when Pickles is stressed or confused she wants to be close to her person.  When Pickles has done well she wants praise from her person.  But dear Pickles needs to stay away from her person when sheep are .  She needs to work with her sheep then receive her cuddles outside of the round pen.

Player 3:  Harley.  Extremely sensitive to pressure.

Harley, cautious and sensitive

No rake for Harley.  Not only will he not need the rake or any other attention grabbing items, as he is so sensitive the mere presence of the trainer, it would be bad for his training if someone worked with him with an intimidating garden tool.  It’s not needed and no one wants to scare him off the sheep all together.   Harley moves beautifully with the sheep and within the course of the one morning gained confidence right in front of us.

As I side note, I wonder if Pickles will ever look at yard work the same again….


Pickles finds her stealth mode

What would happen if the untrained, un-pedigreed, unquiet Pickles was expected to sit quietly for an entire day watching other dogs gather sheep and herd them right in front of her at the herding trials in New Mexico?

One would expect her to bark and make quite a scene.  Or perhaps you would expect that when the sheep passed she would lunge and twist and we’d have to go rushing back to our hotel room, humiliated.

While she had been far from perfect the day before, left in a kennel angrily barking, day 3 of the trials had her at my side under a tent watching the Open Trials.

…..quietly and with a with a smile on her face.

Pickles, on a plaid blanket watching the Open trials with actual working dogs.

While she had been a good girl that day, it was evident to me that the dogs competing were out of her league and I had been told it was possible that Pickles might never be able to figure out how to be an actual sheep dog.  Maybe she could get some fundamentals, but she’d never have an outrun and she’d never be able to trial.

We were curious to see how she would do the next time she saw sheep upon returning home to Tucson.  She had already had two “lessons” where she chased and barked and spit up dirt, being too excited to learn a thing.

I told Alicia that my goal for her next lesson was simple:  I just wanted her to be in the pen with the sheep under control, not barking and responsive to people.  Also, I really thought there was no way that would happen unless I was in there with her.  I just had a feeling.

Lesson day!  We approached the round pen.  I told her to “lie down.”  She did, sheep in sight and all!  Alicia opened the gate and she and I went in while Picky stayed put.  I called her in and instead of running straight to the sheep, barking, she walked up to me cautiously.  I told her to lie down again and to stay.  Alicia and I walked toward the sheep while my precious baby girl stayed in place, eyes darting at me, then the sheep, me, then the sheep.

We could have stopped there and I would have been fine; proud.

“OK Pickles, go get your sheep.  She didn’t flank, like a good Border Collie.  She ran right up to us and the sheep, but at least she stopped when I told her to.

She was excited and unruly, but she didn’t bark non-stop like previous times and she could be called off.  The problem was….when we called her off she would calm down but she would heal next to me, not try to gather the sheep.  At one point she did run behind the sheep and we ended on that good note.

Pickles had two more jaunts in the round pen that morning.  We ended with her trying hard to figure out that the trainer and her rake meant that she was not supposed to be right next to her mom, me.  At the end of that last jaunt she trotted behind the sheep, as we backed away.

As the trainer schooled her on boundaries she looked confused at times and her face kept no secrets:  she was clearly trying to figure it out what we were wanting.  And just when we started to wonder if the pressure was too much she would sit there…and wag.

Pickles isn’t going to easily become a herder.  But she makes us all smile and laugh when she tries.  She’s sort of like me and high school Physics.  Always a struggle…but a pleasant surprise when a test is passed.

Pickles, on a plaid flannel sheet in the comfort of her living room

Day 2 – Lessons from the bed of a truck

When we last left our heroes (Frank and Pickles) they were making themselves at home in the fields of New Mexico.  Frank was herding sheep and Pickles was watching the action like a strange little farm groupie.

For the most part, Alicia’s first day of trialing was done at 8:00 am, so we were thinking we would just sit down and watch the experienced handlers at the Open field.  But the gods of herding didn’t plan it that way and we found ourselves stuffing our dogs in a kennel and being wrangled onto the back of a pick-up truck to work as the judge’s helpers for the Open Ranch trials.

No one was more upset about this than Pickles.  I could hear her barking from across the farm and almost had to leave with her, as our judge didn’t want my dog upsetting the man in the office right next to their kennel.  He was tallying the scores for the entire trial, so I was advised that he needed to be happy and I might have to silence Pickles.  Turns out, he was so immersed in his work that he didn’t even know she was whining and barking and said “Leave her there. It’s not bothering me.”  Pickles eventually quieted down.

So, meanwhile, back at the Open Ranch runs:  Judge Bonnie had Alicia scribe for her and I was keeping time.  Each run was 8 minutes long and we were there from about 9 am till 2:30 pm with a 30 minute break for lunch.  But we hadn’t brought lunch as we were planning on leaving around noon after watching a couple hours of Open runs.  There were Kashi bars in the car, but learn from our mistake:  if you don’t eat all day then you eat a melting Kashi bar with a warm bottle of water in 100 degrees heat….you WILL get sick.  And you will throw up and you will have to leave George at the sheepdog trials to do your math.  George won’t mind, but she will get a sun burn.  But it couldn’t be helped.  We weren’t prepared to be sitting in the sun all day.  Always expect the unexpected, I suppose.

Boo, one of the Border Collies who competed in Friday’s “Open Ranch” but was also part of a very reliable “set-out” crew when not running the course.

Despite my sunburn and Alicia’s heat sickness, spending a few hours with a judge is never a bad idea when you’re learning about trials!  Bonnie knew I was brand new to the action and that Alicia was a young person that was obviously going to be heavily involved in herding, so she just flat out explained everything to us.    “Here’s why I did this…”, “when you’re trialing make sure to remember this…”

The three days at the trial I felt really out of place most of the time, but I really didn’t feel weird asking Bonnie stupid questions.  Seemed like she liked getting stupid questions, actually.  One little tip she gave me after discussing Pickles’ health problems and my lack of competitiveness in regards to trialing:  Don’t trial to win;  do it because you and your dog have fun.  That makes sense, as neither Pickles nor I have been called phenoms to date, but we do love it and we are both obsessed with sheep now.

Wow, I really wanted to write about my new crush today, but I’ve said too much already!  My next post will be about Rio, a Border Collie who stole the show and the hearts of the ladies on the back of the pick-up truck.