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

Balance

W balance 3 small

Balance is a term used by sheep dog handlers, but I find myself thinking of its value in so many other contexts related to dogs. In sheep herding, "balance" refers to a dog's ability to place itself exactly where he or she needs to be to take control of the sheep without frightening them. It refers to two things really. One is the distance between the dog and the sheep. Too far away? -- no control, no pressure. Too close? -- forces the sheep to run away in a panic, or to turn and fight. Just right? Exactly at the point at which the sheep will turn and move away from the dog without panicking. The other aspect of balance is side to side, left to right. For example, does the dog stop at exactly the right place on an outrun to move the sheep directly toward you once he begins to walk Read More

Best. News. Ever.

ST PAV Pen 2012

Today, it's all about the farm. I had a blog written about the effect of acoustic environments on us and our dogs, some new products available for us to use to calm our dogs, and some new results of "calming" music that Katie and I have seen with our dogs. And then I erased it all with one key stroke. I'm sure that has never happened to you.... So I'll save that topic for later (and promise to catch up in the next month or so on other topics I've promised you, like exercises to calm the sympathetic nervous system, and the methods of the clicker versus no-clicker study ). Right now I have to get home to the dogs and work on the talk that Karen London and I are giving at the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior next week in Phoenix. So here's the second half of the blog, 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

The Wolf in the Parlor

True confession: I haven't finished the book The Wolf in the Parlor. I might not, at least not in the near future. Here's why: As I said in my last post, the author's thesis is that "people and dogs, around 12,000 years ago, linked their evolutionary paths together and evolved socially and physically to take on supportive roles. He argues, according to the reviews, that humans lost some of our brain power because dogs took over those functions, and dogs lost some of theirs because we became their protectors and nurturers." It seems downright churlish of me to stop reading before I read for myself the full extent of his argument, but what I've read in the first 60 pages has put me off a bit. I mentioned earlier that the thesis itself sounded a bit simplistic, but I love speculation and Read More