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

Stay Training – Phase I; Willie’s First Herding Dog Trial

willie in trial 11-10

Thanks for the discussion about the use of Body Blocks for teaching Stay, and to re-iterate a comment I made, they work equally well with dogs of all breeds and sizes (but you have to be a bit quicker with some breeds and with small dogs).  If your dog is getting around you to the left or right, then you might be too close. It's herding dogs that taught me that you have more control at a bit of a distance than if you are right up close. I got away with being quite close in the video in the last post, because the dogs were relatively easy to block, but if you are having trouble, try backing up a bit. It's also a great way to learn to read dogs (what body part moves first when a dog starts to get up?) and to perfect your timing. I mentioned in last week's post that the video showed me Read More

Lessons from Herding Dog Trainers

star alisdair sharpter 2010

Ah, lucky me. Last week I had two half hour lessons with Alisdair McRae, who I used to call "the Tiger Woods of Herding," but well . . .  you know. Alisdair won Open on both Saturday and Sunday at the Portage Trial this weekend, which is pretty much par for the course with him. He is also a clear and kind teacher, and he understands herding dogs as well as anyone in the world. I write this because my lessons reminded me of the universal importance of creating a win for our dogs, and the universal difficulty in always knowing how to do that. I wanted to work on my timing; Willie and I are doing nice outruns and fetches, but our drives look like zig zags instead of the lovely straight lines we are all attempting to achieve. I felt like I was always one step behind, and never able to react Read More

Authentic Happiness; New Lambs

I re-read Seligman's Authentic Happiness this weekend.  Ever read it? Seligman is one of the American Psychologists who decided to focus on mental health rather than mental illness, and yeah for him I say. I'm writing about it here because it got me thinking about our happiness and our dogs. In the book, Seligman asks us to determine our "signature strengths," and suggests that the road to happiness is to do what you are good at and what you love. (He has a questionnaire in the book to help you decide your strengths. Mine include Curiousity and Love of Learning. I'm not saying what my weaknesses are!) So here's my question related to dogs: Is that true of our dogs as well? Is their happiness, at least in part, related to having an opportunity to do what they love and what they are good Read More