Barbie & Willie, Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Barbie in woods

I originally called this post "Barbie's Not Always a Nice Girl," but then I thought about what the title would look like on Google and the kind of people who'd click on it. Hmm, not really my "brand," as they say. I thought though, that you'd be interested in yet another interaction between Barbie, my cantankerous, lead ewe and Willie. Barbie, as you may recall, is the only sheep who has ever seriously challenged Willie. She won a few times when she had three-week old lambs this spring, literally chasing Willie away, her anvil-like head down and ready to bash Willie into the ground. He ran away like a frightened chipmunk, because Barbie was serious, and because we all know she can be a witch, and because well, he's just not the bravest dog in the world. That's partly why I love him so Read More

Willie & Trisha Back to Work

Some wonderful things to report today. The first is that I had a restful and relaxing vacation. I saw lots of friends, gardened, cooked and got back to working sheep with Willie (more on that soon). I took an entire three weeks off, which felt terribly indulgent, but also desperately necessary. The last two years have included many wonderful things, but they've also included some major challenges, including Jim's snapped bicep, surgery and recovery, my badly smashed knee, a summer raising a puppy who was (and is) better off another home, the death of Jim's sister, moving his mother to Madison three weeks later, the out-of-the blue death a month later of Jim's brother, Willie's shoulder injury, surgery and year-long recovery, and a raft of my own health problems that I've been fighting in Read More

Teach Stay with “Body Blocks”

Working Willie on sheep in preparation for tomorrow's trial reminded me of the first time I made a connection between the way Border Collies herd sheep and dog training in general. As you all know,  BCs control sheep by what I call "space management." They don't bark, rarely bite, but "take the space" away from sheep in the direction they don't want sheep to go, leaving only one route open for the sheep to move. It's a bit like the way sculptors define their art: the work is as much about the space around the sculpture as it is the object itself. When you learn to work dogs on sheep, you  learn a lot about managing the behavior of another animal without any physical connection. Dogs have no leashes on sheep, and dog handlers have no way of physically effecting their dog's behavior Read More