Working Dog Diary

Working Dog Diary is a series of essays which reflect on the stockdog journey of Kay Spencer, the owner of Working Aussie Source. Previous chapters are located at the bottom of this page:

2005-2006      2007      2008     2009     2010     2012     2013     2014

Chapter 206: Control The Feet

I have a young Kinder goat named Christabel. She was born and raised here, and was treated like the other kids, but contrary to the presently popular belief that personalities are mostly a product of environment, she was born squirrely and nervous, and so she has remained. I find this irritating, as it can make pointless work for me, as a few days ago when, at dusk when I was closing up the barn against the predators of the night, Christabel shied out the door as I walked by, and then was too spooked to come back in.

She can't be called nor caught, and a dog wasn't handy (nor necessarily a good idea), so I picked up a long twiggy branch and started walking after her. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, but the idea formed as I moved around and watched and felt her reactions. She ran in a panicky, almost blind way when I approached. If she was in a corner she feinted back and forth and then bolted wildly in a random direction.

I thought, well, if you want to move, then move. Whenever she stopped, I waved her in a direction with my stick. Now I was concentrating just on her moving in the direction I intended. Sometimes I blocked and turned her, but I never hurried or tried to scare her, she was doing all that to herself.

After about five minutes she was ready to stop. But I made her keep going. I didn't want her to decide how to behave, I wanted her to feel that I was making the decisions. She wasn't running nearly as fast, and she clearly wanted to stop. So I blocked her, blocked her the other way, and again, like you would a green stockdog you wanted to catch, and finally she gave up and stood there. I stepped closer, she tried to run around me, I blocked, blocked, and she gave up and stood there. I reached for her collar and she bolted.

I started all over with the 'if you want to move, then move' routine. But she was done being the panic queen. It wasn't nearly as rewarding, somehow, if it was imposed on her. Once around the corral and she stood again. I reached for her collar and she stood, and I led her quietly into the barn.

So, what was I doing there? I wasn't even sure myself. I only felt instinctively that I needed to control something, and since she was running, I worked on controlling that. Not stopping it, because that would be opposing the direction her energy was going, but just ... controlling it. George would say, "own the feet." Want to run? Fine, but you must run in the direction I choose, and as long as I choose.

The next day I went out to George's. George thought Hope was ready for the big field, and she was, with a set of rather doggy sheep. I had given up trying to fix all my stupid handling mistakes at once, and focused on one, which was the way I scooped and reached with my stick instead of moving from my center with my stick "growing from my chest". "Pick her path beforehand -- make her go around that green patch when you send her -- don't settle for less," George told me, and once, I even managed to do it completely. She is still boring in too much, and I know it's my handling. I need to own the space, own her feet, and I don't quite have the knack of it, with the dog.

But a few days later, I was out in Kam's big field, with my own sheep mixed with Kam's, which are mostly weanlings. A friend of mine with a couple of well-trained Border Collies had met me that morning there. I had offered him a chance to work light sheep in a new situation in exchange for helping me train my sheep to fetch better.

He worked the sheep in the orchard, a relatively confined space, for awhile, and then went out into the open field -- about thirty acres -- with them. Once they were settled out there I sent my dog to gather them. How nicely she did! Not a true lift, but at no time were they out of control, and a just lovely fetch, rating on her own, tucking in the ends, waiting for the stragglers.

My friend commented on how calm Hope is when working, for such a young dog (she is barely over a year). I was pleased with the compliment, but later I reflected that I am not sure Hope is calm when she works. It would be more accurate to say that she is highly self-controlled. She does not charge in blindly, scatter the stock, and then race around to clean it up, like so many young dogs. There is no overestimating how useful this trait is in a herding dog. The livestock don't get upset, and neither do I.

Hope is more relaxing and fun to train than any dog I've had. She's so instinctively right most of the time, and when she isn't, she's easy to correct. We have a long way to go, but for once, I can almost see the path there. Just control her feet.

Archives Through 2006

Ch 1: That'll Do Ch 28: Pigs With Feathers
Ch 2: The Good Shepherd Ch 29: Stockdog Book of Virtues, Part 1
Ch 3: The Original Aussie Ch 30: Stockdog Book of Virtues, Part 2
Ch 4: Finding Bonnie Ch 31: Perseverance Furthers
Ch 5: Grit Ch 32: Duck Wars
Ch 6: The Border Collie Snob Ch 33: Baby Driver
Ch 7: Of Hobby Herders Ch 34: What Is A Breed?
Ch 8: Sherry Ch 35: Getting My Goats
Ch 9: On The Road Ch 36: Tule, Melba, and Snowdie
Ch 10: Green Dog, Green Handler Ch 37: One Morning
Ch 11: Out of the Playpen Ch 38: Quiet and Slow
Ch 12: Cows Ch 39: Hard Times
Ch 13: Trial Watching Ch 40: Rethinkings
Ch 14: Other People's Sheep Ch 41: The Not Boring Day
Ch 15: Taking To the Hills Ch 42: Being There
Ch 16: When Show Dogs Herd Ch 43: The Fate of the Farmdog
Ch 17: Back With The Cowboys Again Ch 44: Further Adventures With Goats
Ch 18: Bonnie Gets A Job Offer, Part 1 Ch 45: The Wasps
Ch 19: Bonnie Gets A Job Offer, Part 2 Ch 46: Taking Time
Ch 20: The Joy of Panels Ch 47: Sheep Shopping
Ch 21: Circles Ch 48: Me and Time Magazine
Ch 22: Ad Astra Ch 49: Trust
Ch 23: Sheep Church Ch 50: Bonnie Gets Another Job Offer
Ch 24: Be Prepared Ch 51: Fourth Clinic
Ch 25: The Point Ch 52: Right Dog, Wrong Dog
Ch 26: Ranchette Blues Ch 53: Winter
Ch 27: Post Mortem Ch 54: Versatility

back to top

Archives 2007

Ch 55: Wool Ch 79: The Glorious Unknown
Ch 56: Hot Fences, Steep Pastures Ch 80: The Good Breeder
Ch 57: Reading Stock Ch 81: Something Comes In A Box
Ch 58: The Black Day Ch 82: L Bar J Oya Ty
Ch 59: Goatwifery Ch 83: Center Pen Novice
Ch 60: In Search Of Ch 84: More About the Boy
Ch 61: Mediocrity and Its Discontents Ch 85: Limiting Factors
Ch 62: Gambling Ch 86: The Tale of Tails
Ch 63: Lent Ch 87: More Fun With Livestock
Ch 64: Conservation Ch 88: The Tortoise
Ch 65: Ranch Trial Ch 89: Adventures With Ty
Ch 66: If Wishes Were Horses Ch 90: Center Pen Tantrums
Ch 67: The Holy Quest Ch 91: Learning the World
Ch 68: A Sea Change Ch 92: Homeliness
Ch 69: Long and Winding Road Ch 93: New Pasture
Ch 70: First Do No Harm Ch 94: Dog Games And Choke Chains
Ch 71: The Silver Bullet Ch 95: Cat Tails
Ch 72: Getting Serious Ch 96: Coyotes And Decisions
Ch 73: The Superior Horse Ch 97: Oor Bob
Ch 74: What's In A Name? Ch 98: Ty Goes To Kindergarten
Ch 75: The Grindstone Ch 99: A Little Help
Ch 76: We Head North Ch 100: Pygmalion
Ch 77: Olympia Trial Day One Ch 101: Healing
Ch 78: Bonnie Wins A Big Ribbon

back to top

Archives 2008

Ch 102: New Year's Resolutions Ch 119: Rehab
Ch 103: Stepping Out Ch 120: Freedom
Ch 104: Stormy Weather Ch 121: Goats and Wildfire
Ch 105: Sacrament Ch 122: Ty's Progress
Ch 106: Stop and Stop Ch 123: Kelley of the Triune
Ch 107: Living In The Past Ch 124: Timing
Ch 108: Sheep At Last Ch 125: Gratefulness
Ch 109: The Five Stooges Ch 126: Cool Stuff
Ch 110: Greener Pastures Ch 127: Helper Dog
Ch 111: A Day Out Ch 128: Goose Wrangler
Ch 112: A Peaceful Heart Ch 129: Partnership
Ch 113: Teen Angel Ch 130: Teachers
Ch 114: First Kids Ch 131: Courage
Ch 115: Disaster Ch 132: Our Cougar
Ch 116: Nervous Nanny Ch 133: Widening the Circle
Ch 117: Pushing BackCh 134: My Posture Improves
Ch 118: Milk and EggsCh 135: The Seeds

back to top

Archives 2009

Ch 136: Intention Ch 145: Carter Clinic, part one
Ch 137: Following Fear Ch 146: Carter Clinic, part two
Ch 138: Ty Junior Ch 147: God Talks About Wool
Ch 139: Being Nice Ch 148: Sour Milk
Ch 140: Don't Shoot Ch 149: They're All Collies
Ch 141: Carpe Diem Ch 150: O Canada
Ch 142: Chore Dog Ch 151: My Sad Happy Hat
Ch 143: Dream of Green Ch 152: The Lovely Bonnie
Ch 144: Ashes and Grace Ch 153: Romantics With A Cause
  Ch 154: Leaving Home
  Ch 155: Conclusions

back to top

Archives 2010

Ch 156: Who's Talking? Ch 172: Bits and Pieces
Ch 157: Animals In Time Ch 173: My Other Dog
Ch. 158: One Sunny Day Ch 174: Travelogue Part One
Ch 159: When To Fold 'Em Ch 175: The Drizzly Jamboree
Ch 160: The Forgotten Ch 176: Cowdog 101
Ch 161: Doglessness Ch 177: Top of the World
Ch 162: The Quotidian Ch 178: S.M.S.S.
Ch 163: Inklings Ch 179: Covering
Ch 164: Dreamfarming Ch 180: Bonnie Hero
Ch 165: Smart Sheep Ch 181: Ty and Jay
Ch 166: Teachings Ch 182: Goats and Gates
Ch 167: Big Blue Progress Ch 183: Good Night
Ch 168: Virtual Herding Ch 184: And Thank You
Ch 169: Temperamental Journey  
Ch 170: North and Back  
Ch 171: Animal Family  

back to top

Archives 2012

Chapter 185: New Directions Chapter 192: The Right Breed For You
Chapter 186: The Half Inch Chapter 193: Ruthlessness
Chapter 187: House of Corrections Chapter 194: Tova The Belpie
Chapter 188: No Fear Chapter 195: See Saw
Chapter 189: Setbacks and Sorrow Chapter 196: The Corner
Chapter 190: Music Lessons Chapter 197: Floating Observer
Chapter 191: Just Some Stuff  

back to top

Archives 2013

Chapter 198: Spring at the Farmette Chapter 201: Following A Feel
Chapter 199: Hope  
Chapter 200: Hope Grows

back to top

Archives 2014

Chapter 202: Invitations  
Chapter 203: Reminders  
Chapter 204: Hope is One
Chapter 205: Finesse  

back to top