The day was lovely, and the sun was bright, and so what does any sheep farmer want to do but go out and check the sheep and do maintenance? Well, OK. Not all of us, and certainly not as often as it needs to be done, but it was time, and the weather was accommodating. Our rams were due for their regulars.
This time through, we decided for whatever reason to not use the barn to corral and hold them. Don't ask me why... maybe it was just nice to be in the sun or maybe we were just hard-headed (likely!), and their position was convenient! My dog of choice was Benji this time. Many of his stories had happened in this exact same field and in this very spot. Somehow, it just felt like good old times come back to life again.
Benji and I share a special bond when it comes to work. When I open the gate and he knows that we are going to work, he will sing me his uniquely special happy song and dance a circle around my feet in anticipation. Then he settles right into my collected right-hand-dog. Down to business.
Just walking through the field beside me to keep me safe from suspicious rams is a delightful errand, but this time, I needed Benji for his incredible read and intuition on stock. And his reliable biddability. The wethers and rams were easily grouped together for John to check and do what needed doing. I stayed on the outside of the group with my dog. For awhile, you can count on just a presence of a dog being a distraction from trouble-making. This time through, that period was short. Apparently, the boys wanted to frolic in the sun that day also!
Benji is excellent at holding the sheep in a corner for us. Our needs were different for this chore though. Let me explain the complications: This was a very rounded and open ended field "corner" with a 20' section of trees before you get to an actual fence line. there were many easy routes of escape, and John needed the rams out in the open to be able to see and work. That is enough reason to have a very subtle and intuitive dog concerning pressure, but this time through, the rams were feeling rather frisky and like this sunny day was cause for play and celebration.... With my husband in the very center of the group! Yes - A barn would have been easier!
So picture my husband checking feet, giving supplements, etc. in the middle of rams wanting to mount whichever ram he's holding at the time, etc. Without scattering the group, Benji would have to manage to keep their undivided attention for John's safety. A difficult task indeed, and one that I had to manage to communicate. But Benji and I have learned to really work well together and understand so much about how each other moves and thinks - a true sign of what we want in our collies!
But this was to be a very delicate set of dance moves. Quite the challenge to our skill set. Of all our dogs here, Benji is most responsive to minuscule flock movements, individual animal behaviors, and my direction. The quiet calm before the brewing storm was easy. Benji set them in that open ended corner giving them lots of room to breath without giving them a reason to dash through the woods. We waited together while John started working through with the most difficult rams to start. The rams were a bit antsy, but Benji and I kept their attention by dancing carefully on our end to make sure they watched us instead of strategizing for other cantankerous activities.
Well, that all worked fine and dandy until John had completed work on the more difficult rams who were eager to bully anyone who was being held... and also putting John at risk. Benji was still not quite sure what was going on, as usually his job is just to hold these boys in place. I asked him to dance a series of up and back, lay and stand, a mix of eager and placid gestures in hopes of keeping the sheep confused... on their toes. In essence, bringing pressure forward not quite to the point of breaking up the group, and then moving back just enough for them to relax, but not enough to play shenanigans. Well, this certainly kept Benji and I on our toes! We watched everything so carefully calling on every skill of intuition that we could muster. He obeyed and then immediately was called off - pondering what we were doing and learning all at the same time. Benji danced away!
In the end no sheep was brutalized. John was able to complete his task safely. The big rams tried to break away, but Benji was able to put them back carefully without making the whole flock scatter in his gentle but decisive way. I think Benji really got the hang of "protect John and hold the sheep." I was drawing movements with my finger not even realizing what I was doing. Suddenly, I realized that Benji was following the drawings of my finger! He had figured out my chaotic directions and was working in synchrony! That is the wonder of Benji that we have here!!! I decided to stop drawing and told Benji it was up to him now. Bingo! He had it! No brusque or quick movements. He was the puppeteer, and the rams were his playthings! I stood back in awe.
Benji is not one for high praise for a job. It confuses him. Why praise a child for eating ice-cream? Benji's reward is working in the field with me. Still, I always thank him and talk to him. Whether or not he understands, he knows that I am pleased and that this is my way of telling him with a few special rubs and pats just where he likes them. Our job was done. Benji is as eager to call off for me as he is to work. "With Me" is probably his favorite command. And so he walked with me out of the peaceful pasture with the sun in all its glory.
Well, many of you have asked when Lorna will be due to have her next (first) litter. I must confess that I have withheld information in hopes of not getting everyone's hopes dashed if we were not successful. What a saga this has been and totally unexpected!
We are happy to say that Lorna has passed our requirements for becoming a breeding dog here at the East side of Shepherd's Hearth (our kennel shared with the knowledgable and wonderful Kendy Sawyer!) Lorna is a wonderful farm worker, hunts vermin, watches the sky, even points and alerts to sick stock in the field!!! We've had Lorna's hips tested (PENN hip (Right DI = 0.38, Left DI = 0.36)) and she was also genetically tested per Embark panel (n/m CEA, n/m MDR1) to confirm that we will be hopefully creating healthy and helpful working and companion dogs. Lorna will be two years old this coming February and has already previously cycled.
Needless to say, this cycle around, Benji - our stud (PENN hip (Right DI = 0.34, Left DI = 0.33) and Embark n/n for entire panel) was eager to finally have an opportunity to do his job. Lorna, however, had different ideas. Some of you may recall that Benji sacrificed his studly appeal to a skunk in the grand gesture of saving our chickens last time Lorna was in heat. This time through, there was no excuse so far as we were aware. The most important window in the heat cycle is short, and we knew that now was not the time to just "wait and see." After chatting online and on the phone with a few other OTSC breeders (Thank you so much everyone!!!!!), we decided to go ahead and take more drastic measures to assure the best chance of this pairing taking place. Though it is slimly possible that a short tie took place without our intervention, holding for a breeding was clearly not going to happen, as Lorna was not in favor of the matchmakers' choice or perhaps desired to remain a maiden. Benji, though eager, is also very considerate and wanting to schmooze the relationship along. If Lorna would yelp at all, Benji would stop and come to check Lorna's face sniffing with big concerned eyes. Who could resist that face? Well, we know who!
And so, our new adventure involved driving 1.5 hours one way to the closest Reproductive Veterinarian Specialist which happened to be at Virginia Tech. We can claim that we drove uphill both directions in the snow a few times, but that is beside the point and perhaps, though true, a wee bit dramatic. Several questions and appointments later, we are left with a solemn figure of 80% success rate and with the knowledge that both Lorna and Benji were both more than accommodating for the vets to perform the side-by-side AI that had to happen. Apparently AI (at VT who seem to have better than the norm of success rates per their staff) with dogs is far more successful than it would be with sheep or cows. Can I get excited yet?
Needless to say, there is a lot of watchfulness of Lorna around here. How much is Lorna eating? Is she still hungry? (Don't worry... we know not to increase her intake at this point.) Should we measure her belly? Has her attitude changed? Lorna is always a hugging dog. So humbly sweet, ducking her head and hugging her body around your legs while she crawls into your heart with her most beguiling eyes. Is she becoming more intense in anyway or even more bossy? All these answers I hesitate to say aloud for fear of creating false hopes. But we can't help but hope!!!
Lorna's projected due date per VT and blood work tracking her progesterone levels would be February 15th - Just around Valentine's Day! It appears that Shepherd's Hearth may have another set of holiday pups... "may" I reaffirm to myself. And so, we wait together. Lambing will come first with plenty to distract us. When the exhaustion and main suspense of this is finally complete, we will have more solid answers about what Lorna may be hiding. In the meantime, hope but don't, wait but don't, pick names but don't, plan a puppy birth room but don't - We are so excitedly not getting our hopes up!
There's so much hype about moving into 2021 and bounding out of 2020. I get that! Our business has struggled also. I have teenagers who are not able to have a normal social life, etc. My 15 year old will be 16 before she can even get her driver's permit due to the DMV waitlist! My boys have pacified themselves with perfecting rubber-band hunting (of their sisters!), trying to snare turkeys, or other random and boyish projects. Lately, they've learned to tan hides which delights me to no end! But wait - is this suppose to be a list of the downsides?
OK, so reevaluating. The wool business has struggled, but I've had more time with my kids and enjoyed them more (as long as I can get off of marketing on the computer.) They have been able really dig into some deep personal interests like learning to paint with acrylics and oils or helping with construction projects in a more meaningful way. Peter is doing so, so, so much better in reading - a used-to-be-sore subject here indeed! We preemptively are pursuing some serious education in alternative health treatments to get an early start on careers. My eldest has taken on some serious sourdough duties - not one person here complains! John David was able to get his first deer this year, and Elizabeth and I have found some undiscovered common interests that have been delightful! 2020 was not perfect, but it was in many ways such a great respite and vacation from the "businesses" that we often think are so important. In fact - it was a "great reset" for us!!!
This coming 2021, whatever it may bring, I believe can be used to continue to strengthen the most important things. I love my family. We are thoroughly enjoying our new Orthodox traditions and the deep meaning and love and renewal that we find in them. Honestly, 2020 was perfect timing for endless seas of growth and learning more about love and what is important. You know, in the presence of these feelings, I am reassured that there are many reasons to be looking forward to the great 2021!
Ending Christmas is the beginning of getting ready for the next new exciting thing here... Lambing! Not to rush through Christmas at all, but we are preparing for all the delights afterwards to avoid planning during all our Christmas festivities.
So, first things first: This year we built new sheep feeders! These are from Premier1 plans and hopefully will eliminate soiled feed and much waste. We used goat panels and cut them accordingly to save on costs as shown in pictures, and we added plywood to the racks at the top (not in pictures) to help eliminate vegetable matter in the wool as well. Merry Christmas Sheep! Check mark.
Now for the lambs. We bought an old 70's style porch fence and rail made of iron to use across the stall entrance for a more reliable creep feeder. This will allow our lambs constant and easy access to feed and supplemental milk while limiting the ewes to their section in the barn. Motivated hungry ewe moms would have a difficult time pushing through and breaking these openings as they did last year on the cattle-panel gate opening that we fashioned. We have decided to stall our brown Finn ewes at night who are still a bit new to us here (though they've been here since last Spring!) New sheep always take about a year to really settle in and adjust to the new pastures, feed, altitude, etc. They are able to rejoin the rest of the flock during the day and graze, but we want to take no chances with these girls. Thus, our brown trio gets a bit more access to feed without competition in preparation for our first ever brown Finn lambs. So exciting! New bucket feeder nipples are being ordered in case we have the need, and the lamb sweaters are almost finished being sewn! We selected old woolen sweaters of the right thickness and size from the local thrift store and generally followed a pattern we found online (made a bit smaller for our smaller Finn lambs.) Lambing early means being prepared for colder temperatures. For our lambs, we find that wool is the solid choice for best warmth! No surprise there. The ewe moms are always curious about the different wool on their lambs, but have no trouble smelling just who is who. Merry Christmas lamb-to-come! Check mark.
And then sometimes there are Christmas presents that you would rather just do without. This is what our Cormo sheep Maura thinks! You see, we were gifted with some previously loved sheep coats. These coats help to keep fleeces from from extra falling hay, etc. Maura is one of the chosen ones. Maura wishes that we had not picked her out of the bunch, but alas, ugly Christmas sweaters and coats seem to be a thing of the past, present, and future!
On and beyond coats, we are lining the sheep up for more checks and copper boluses that are due. And the all important selenium which helps to really ensure strong lambs born! So far so good! The sheep have endured, and now we have winterized their barn. the open windows have been closed. Hay is stacked and loaded for the winter adding to the insulation. The breezeway is no longer windy, and heat lamps and new bulbs are at hand. Merry Christmas to ewe(s)! Being in the barn is a delight, and lamb checks will be soon following!
Well, Tansy and I have had some important discussions and testing of one another. I would expect this of any good stock dog worth its salt though! Turns out I am such a winner! What a great little pup she is turning out to be! Full of confidence, desire to please, grit-grit-grit, and just an open-hearted flurry of love and joy in a gorgeous package.
But before we landed on cloud nine, we did have some definite wrinkles to iron out. Tansy needs to totally trust us and build a relationship with us in not just easy situations. She is a very determined dog... that is for sure! We were struggling with some no-no's as soon as we turned our back. Testing boundaries. Not wanting to walk nicely on a leash. Needing physical help to complete commands. I think most if not all dogs go through stages like this. They are wondering who we are and what we are made of just like we wonder about our new puppy package. How do you win? Consistency. Love. Patience. Not harsh, but always firmly consistent. Always ask just one more question: Did I set my pup up for the best success? Does she or he understand completely what I am asking of him or her? Maybe most importantly - How is my relationship with my dog? Have I been putting the time in to be fun and loving and not just delving out instructions. Do I look into my pup's eyes to understand what he or she wants the way that he or she does with me? Recognized reciprocal relationship is the goal. We only continue to build and make this stronger every day and with every lesson.
Sometimes commands are "poorly" timed. We ask our dog to do something right as a hawk flies overhead or child runs by. Do we ask obedience anyway? Should that "lay" (with an unspoken stay attached until we say "free") be maintained when a group of kids playing tag run by? Easy enough to answer if you imagine being in the pasture with a group of lambs or just in a busy city with a lot of traffic. If your dog trusts that you understand what you are asking of him or her and have its safety and ultimate best interests at heart, the relationship will continue to grow. Of course, all done on a long lead for easy corrections without so much effort on your part. Accountability. Your dog and pup will become more reliable, more safe, more wonderful to be around. Your pride and joy - and they know it!!! That becomes their strongest desire. This is our goal! When we have hit that spot, things tend to move very quickly.
To get Tansy past wanting her whims as opposed to what we were asking during training time, I decided to take her on lead out for a walk deep into the front field - new territory. She had been pushing on doing commands and maintaining them. Running through the garden as soon as our backs were turned seemed a deliberate demonstration of her Declaration of Independence. Not wanting to sit for pets, but jumping on people... especially guests. Important things to get under control before she grows bigger (which seems to be happening every day!) This field was rather large, and Tansy wanted to run uninhibited to find stock, etc. She knew that on lead, she is not to pull. A pull will result in a pop (notice I said "pop" not tug!) in the opposite direction as a reminder that we are connected and move in unison as one mind. This will be very important later in life when herding sheep and cows. We must do everything in unison and agreement! Foundations needed to be solidly made.
Well, Tansy had other ideas... very clever ones I might add! She's a smart one she is! On our walk, Tansy decided to try to "pop" me in the (according to her) "correct" direction. She would lunge with all her might and "pop," and I would "pop" her back my direction and just keep my steady pace as if whatever she did to deter me from course had absolutely no effect. I was impressed by her determinedness, but by the time we reached the bottom of the field, Tansy was more or less trotting beside my legs and more attentive as the easiest course of action demanded. Tansy also began sitting when we stopped and would look up to my face to read what we were going to do next. What a great start to partnership and communication!
Suddenly our horse came running up to check us out. I picked up Tansy in a show of protection. The horse would rather chase the pup at this stage. Tansy and the horse sniffed noses and my daughter led our big brown equine "puppy" off to wait till the lesson was complete. Tansy understood that I was protecting her not that she was afraid (Tansy is not really afraid of much at all that I can tell!) I think she certainly understood the sentiment though as she walked with me even better after this incident still sitting or laying every time we stopped. In just 10 minutes of very dedicated time, my role in her eyes had transferred from a game and a challenge to someone who she could trust and respect to follow through and protect her. We began to enjoy ourselves as we explored together smiling, and with me telling her about all the neat plants or even ploppings that polite puppies should really try to avoid on the ground. Tansy may not understand my words, but she certainly understood the tone, and that I was trying to bring her into my world even in the little things.
Suddenly, I was jolted out of our happy and peaceful world. Something happened that I had not counted on - the rams and wethers decided they wanted to greet us. Certainly not ideal! Well, it was time to put her training to practical use whether we were ready or not! In a show of confidence, I talked with Tansy and told her that now we were going to go after those rams to move them. We moved with boldness and Tansy's lack of fear convinced them. And much to my elation, when I asked Tansy to stop and lay (impulse control), she did! What a pup! She was carrying our world in her heart. I was so proud, but this was not the time to demonstrate. We were working. Together. The rams would still turn to come and visit when we stopped, so Tansy and I showed them more predatory behavior moving forward with quick and certain confidence. We were direct. The rams accepted their role and moved away. Tansy practiced another "That will do - let's stop now." And then again "OK Tansy - let's go get them!" In this manner we managed to make it back out of the field. This one very large and important lesson seemed to really solidify our relationship and understanding of the mystery of how things were suppose to work between dogs and humans. Tansy is gritty, but very much wants to make us happy - an ideal combo on the farm for us. She is a quiet learner - testing and learning from others. Efficient. Both beautiful and strong. So much was accomplished in just this one hard, but critical little lesson. I would say that this is where she and I started to make music together, and it has not stopped since!
Now, to help with showing respect to new human friends, we took her to the parking lot when we stopped by the grocery store. We all took turns holding her on a safe long lead so she knew we all had the same idea of what should happen. Tansy saw company who wanted to see her... of course she sweetly wanted to jump up and try to lick faces - a big no-no. It this person were a toddler, the baby would have been flat on the pavement. We have elderly relatives that we want to be able to enjoy their visits to our home without fear. On long lead we popped Tansy backwards and asked for "Manners" - the word we have connected with desired behavior. We asked the strangers to please wait to pet her until she was sitting. After a few more rounds of this, Tansy was getting the idea. We creatively found a few other solutions where we could practice. I am so glad my in-laws could come for Thanksgiving and enjoyed how very polite and sweet Tansy was the whole visit through!!! How proud we all were and how much more love Tansy received for being such a very good and mannerly girl! I even think she understands this now and is grateful. When she really wants to see us, she will sit and lay and sit and lay and maybe even roll over! Who could resist!!!
As for the garden, peer pressure was of great help! Tansy was herded by her mom-sis Lorna in the proper directions constantly. Going to the garden ended up being no fun. And if Lorna wasn't there, we would often catch her in the act and snag that long lead and bring her out with a firm "No." Then time-out might happen if there had been too many repetitions. Funny thing: If Tansy's in trouble, both Lorna and Benji's noses are glued to the door outside. I know something's going on. I go to check it out and correct whatever situation might be occurring. Both of my other dogs want to make it clear that they are having no part of puppy shenanigans! It's quite amusing really! Now Tansy will lay with Benji constantly or check to see what Lorna is up to. She doesn't spoof chickens and is great with the rabbits. Even when a guest dog was walking through our garden, she refused to go in, but trailed the border. She is being so wise already, and I am so thankful!
Now Tansy goes out for sheep chores. She helps move them out of the barn trusting her shepherds. She watches my other dogs constantly and admires and learns. Once her lead was accidentally dropped and she started moving the sheep out without us. (This could have been dangerous for Tansy.) Yikes! "Tansy, come!" And she pranced right back to us!!! I was surprised she was so willing when she is so young. She constantly connects with eyes and faces, asking what to do. We do our best to explain back, and she always gets a "good girl" for even asking. The other day, Tansy met the barn cat and with difficulty resisted going to greet the cat with her usual puppy enthusiasm. Instead, she held a good and solid "lay." We were so pleased! When we walked up to the house, she came and tattled on this same cat who had run into the garden. Apparently, if Tansy shouldn't be in the garden, then cats should not be allowed to trespass in the the garden either!
A couple of other training tidbits - We like to point to food and say "Go get it!" as we toss it not too far piece by piece. This helped when we were in the sheep field obviously - a good introduction to sending out. So did our practiced "Leave it." when we needed to stop. The other thing we are doing is pointing to food that has been forgotten or missed saying "Here." This helps the pup to learn to look wherever you are pointing as good things generally happen! I love that we have made this much progress already! Obviously, I have lots of family helpers and that involves slightly different training methods, etc., but I think in the long run that this will only work for Tansy's benefit in training and versatility. She knows everyone's different rhythms and styles. She and Benji and Lorna are already heavily bonded. Funny thing... She even seems to want to please them. After all, no one likes to be tattled on! They all celebrate and share. Tansy has learned "Not your turn" (sit and wait) when it's another dog's turn for center-stage and pets. This seems to avoid a plethora of problems and makes owning three collies that much more of a joy. But who wouldn't enjoy playing and farming and loving and living together with a passel of these great dogs anyway!
Well, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and here I am sitting down to type and wondering how to express all that we are feeling here on the farm. Usually, we have family here for Thanksgiving. Our little fixer-upper farm is full to bursting! This year will be quiet. I am working on wooly projects hoping to help with expenses of yarn, etc. These projects are keeping me indoors - but soon there will be projects outdoors that will take precedence. The sun coming through the windows and hitting my arms keeps me grateful. My dogs' tails all wagging and happy to see me make me smile. My wonderful children helping and story-telling while they are working amaze me! Yes, this year was different, but still so good in so many ways. A year of focusing on what is most important.
We have formed our own traditions for many different occasions. This year, we will toast to what has been accomplished, how we have grown, the simple and rich things that we have and experience. We will be thankful for what we have to plan ahead with, our hopes and dreams, taking reality and making moments out of the ordinary and wonderful... sometimes even the sad things. This is life! We will take the time to cook, laugh, and sing together. I imagine some too-tight tap shoes will come out with a ukulele and shaker egg. If I'm lucky, Benji (our first Old Time Scotch Collie) will even join in the singing! The turkey frying will drive the dogs crazy! No doubt me too as I wait for the perfect first bite of crisp skin. As always, Mom's inspirational homemade cranberry sauce memories will color my pot to balance all the savory at the table. I am always joking about the crowdedness of the kitchen, but the truth is I wouldn't have it any other way!
My faith in our Great Provider and my family will encircle anything that I feel is missing. My belly will be full, but my heart will be bursting with gladness! The sheep will "baa" in the field in the morning calling us for chores while the roosters battle with their competing choruses. The peace of the Kerries slowly munching and wondering what the routine will be for the day will bring a certain placidness and contentedness. As my hands get cold outside, I will pet Hope and warm them on her reliably hot belly. No milking on Thanksgiving. That will have been done beforehand. What a life!
As I think about all these things I am already feeling an internal warmth of gratitude that is oh-so-easy to forget. How is it that so easily we forget what we have? The most important things are not tangible. It is with this spirit that I would invite you all to a most Happy Thanksgiving! One full of the "little things." Thanksgiving itself is almost here, but I wish to keep it in our hearts always.
Littlest Finnsheep ewe lamb meets smallest collie. Surprisingly, after a good sniff, they found that they had a lot in common!
This is a busy creating season for us... It was fun to see what the sheep think.
Tansy will get a special spot on our farm page. My goal has been to write about training Tansy so that other puppy owners or future puppy owners might glean some ideas from what we've learned! Both Benji and Lorna have had the same input to one degree or another. My style is rather eclectic, and though I've been asked to aid in some situations, I am not officially certified or schooled in any method. However, what we do here on the farm works really well for us! I've read many, many, many good books on dog training... and some bad. I've trained many different kinds of dogs also from Rhodesian Ridgeback to Staffordshire Terrier, Great Pyrenees, herding mixes, and more. Our Old Time Scotch Collies have been a joy and are easy to train. Tansy has been no different so far, and I imagine that we will post many installments as we make progress together.
Before I start, I would like say that if you expect your dog to have some grit on the farm, that you also should expect your pup/dog to challenge you on occasion. Fairness and asking and love go a long way with these dogs in communication and obedience, but occasionally, you will have to put your "foot down" and insist on your dog being consistent on commands as you are consistent in following up. Especially at the beginning as everyone is learning about this new relationship. Consistency is Key! Relationship is Key! Spend lots of time just loving on your dog and showing them that they can rely on you for direction and safely. Your dog will not turn out better than you are at making sure they understand your expectations. And we are training all the time! Whether or not we're meaning to! All important things to keep in mind.
When Tansy first came home with us, we let her settle and wander about some. Learning a new home and missing family and mom are hard. We took her around the property and talked to her as though she could understand so that she would learn our voices and heft to her new home. We right away started training at her mealtimes. The empty heart and spaces needed to be filled, and we started simply by holding a piece of kibble right next to our eyes and saying her name, "Tansy" with a smile and light and slightly higher voice. Even excitably if she was distracted. After all, her name did not yet mean anything to her! Of course, a hungry pup will look right for the kibble which gave us an edge. When you have this treasure, but then you don't give it to them, the wheels start turning. "Why?" Tansy questioned and looked right into our eyes beside the kibble. Immediately I praise her and give her the treat. In a circle we go with every member of the family doing the same act. And so the bonding begins and solid eye contact is established! (By the way, this can easily be done with older dogs that need rehabilitating as well.) Nothing significant will be accomplished without a strong connection and bond, and this is the best place that we have found to start! The eyes communicate so much more than we realize as we ask for tasks to be completed, or just are expressing how our dog's actions effect us. Perhaps this is part of why Benji and Lorna are less eager to work well when we are trying to film. "Is Mom happy?" "What's going on back there?" Tansy soon learned to bound up and look deep into our eyes even if our hands were other places. Good girl Tansy! She became a little less sad and started to give more hugs and watch faces more.
After eye contact, "Come" is easy - sometimes even taught at the same time! Eyes lock eyes at name and bounding to get treats and connect is the heart of many puppies. Tansy was no exception. "Come" is an absolutely crucial command that will be reinforced consistently for a long period of time here. This command saves lives, and it is important to be consistent from the beginning. Here is where I will introduce a line for Tansy to drag and keep the treats handy. In fact, right after receiving her, Tansy learned to drag a line. Dragging a line allows the trainer to correct most consistently with the least amount of negative impact. We all know that chasing a dog will only teach it to run, and I know that I cannot easily catch a dog no matter what the age! I never want a dog to think that moving quickly away from me is positive. And although it can be tempting depending on the trouble, never scold a pup that readily repents and comes to you when called! This is the last thing the pup did and it should be positively reinforced. I love lines for training. Tansy will not always wear her line, but she will be using this line for awhile. I can do a little tug if she does not respond to "No" when headed to the trash can, etc. And as a sidetone, puppies like to chew! Chewing the line is never OK. I will gently pop the line so it is uncomfortable in the pup's mouth and have an alternative in hand to offer her instead. Bones are great!
Now to manners. Something important to start out with in the same way as you would want them finished. Rebecca, Tansy's breeder, had already worked hard with these pups using Puppy Culture. Tansy already knew that being polite was important, but we were new people and everything was a bit overwhelming. Tansy knew that a fist above her head often held treats if she would only be calm and sit. She also knew that this was the best way to get pets and love. Lorna, however, did not come with that extra step ahead, and so we taught her from scratch. An easy thing to do! Let the pup smell the treat in you hand and raise it up ever so slightly until the pup lands in a natural sitting position when reaching for the treat. If the pup tries to climb your hand for the treat, remove the pup and gently say no. It is amazing how quickly "Sit" can be taught when you pair the word with the action and immediately give the reward when their bum hits the ground. Timing is everything!
One thing that we have learned to do differently from most. We always immediately pair a command with "Free." (We learned this from a book called Dog Training with the Touch.) With young dogs, this word immediately follows the command. As they get older, I will stretch the time between "Sit-Free," "Lay-Free," etc., asking for the pup to remain in requested position until the I say "Free," spreading out the fingers of my hands like they are mimicking an explosion - sort of like the explosion of energy from the pup after practicing being still for a time! This exercise is easier to do with a second person at first especially. Make sure you have your line on the pup so that you can efficiently put your pup back in position when learning. In essence, we never say stay with the common usage! Actually, this method is so, so, so much easier for a pup to understand in general also and gives far better results as far as we have seen. This allows the common "Stay" to be much quicker learned with far less confusion on pup's end. I will begin to give the treat after releasing pup from the position. "Free! Good girl Tansy! That was a long sit!"
Lay is next in order. Long sits are hard on the body. It's important to add lay for will-power endurance and to have something new for the pup's mind to switch between. This one is a bit tricky. I really, really, really like the dog to think that this movement is the pup's idea. It is a submissive move and one that feels like a challenge. I have found that I always get better long-term results if I ask for a lay and wait for the pup to figure out what gives that "instant" reward. For lay, I will have a flat hand with my thumb tucked under holding the treat. I try to say the word only minimally as I want the dog to not expect that much repetition is required for obedience. This is the beginning though. Some repeating and extra communication efforts will be required. I take my hand and bring it flat to the ground in this new position. (Gradually, later I will have my hand in a higher and higher position until she understands this hand signal while I am standing.) Tansy sits like a good girl, but doesn't get her treat. Hmm, she thinks. She smells and tries to push her nose under my hand which remains on the ground. She paws. This obviously needs more thought and effort. Tansy decides to get on treat level to get a better view and figure this out.... As soon as those elbows and rear hit the ground the treat appears and we lavishly praise her! There is a bit more wait time to this command as Tansy is a bit stubborn sometimes. But her lead will not allow her to leave until she fulfills her instructions and a solid "Free" following. Soon enough Tansy gets the gist and lays and sits and stays ("Free") like crazy. Eating is fun! Three meals a day. Three training sessions a day. What a life! (Not everyone can do this many. I have found two to be sufficient also.)
Lastly, I will add roll over. Roll over may seem like a silly command, but when my dogs are older, if I ask them to roll over, I know that we are all cheerful and have a great relationship. It's a position of trust. Tansy has a head-start. Benji will turn and roll for every treat he can get! He may have missed his calling as an agility dog. Tansy has watched Benji, but is still not sure that she wants to do such a silly and effort-filled action that leaves her vulnerable. I will point my finger with the treat tucked under my other fingers and draw a circle. "Roll-over!" We show her the smell and try to have her start from a laying position following the finger in a circle. Sometimes helping hands are required. She soon gets the idea, though patience is needed. Cheese makes it all worth it in the end!
Now adorable Tansy will roll over just for fun and, I think, to enchant us! Tansy has one weakness besides cheese. The laughter of children! She cannot resist a giggle or heartfelt burst of mirth! She will leave anything including cheese to come and join in the fun and laughter! She will climb to tell you she wants to be a part, to be full of the same joys together. She will smile big and hug you all over in her own very special way. I think Tansy has learned to roll like a tornado without being asked just to make us all laugh and smile. We have learned a lot together and have a long way to go, but who could ask for a better start! Good girl Tansy!!!
Pictures of Tansy learning good impulse control after getting closer to mastering a solid "lay." Notice, she is wearing her lead though! The chicken is not quite so amused.
This year, fall came at the same time as all our roving from the mill! Thank goodness our yarn came in earlier so that we could enjoy the dyeing process a bit less hastily. I've never done an online fiber festival before and am not sure what we can expect. We've had hand-dyed Finnsheep roving hanging on the exercise machine, warping board, neatly nautilused on the mini indoor trampoline, just anywhere that would be safe to dry and stay clean. To some it would look messy, but to me, it's like decorating with hope and joy - memories!
The kids have been helping. They are diligent in weighing amounts and looking for any extra vegetable matter to pull from our roving as we carefully lay the wool out to dye. I always have a dye buddy or gal. We pick and measure colors together and delight in what happens when we add hot water to dissolve. Often, we mix our own colors and record our recipe in the "Dye Notebook." I am enjoying watching them enjoy this more than anything else I think. My youngest, Peter, will carefully take the dye specific potato masher and carefully move dye past the boundaries to where we want it. I am amazed at all he has picked up and how careful he is to not agitate. John David, my next oldest, is my expert rinser and hanger. He is great with keeping the faucet turned on the the right spot to not give any change of temperature. John David is fortunate to be the first one seeing the roving out of water and semi dry from the salad spinner that we use. I think this keeps him motivated to enjoy his job. Elizabeth and Arianna, my second and first born, help with the actual dyeing and laying out. I love that we all get to enjoy this process together! My husband, of course, gets main cheerleader position which is much needed. Second eyes are most helpful. I think our feeling of greatest success is when no one can decide which yarn or roving is their favorite!
In the meantime, I don't have as much time as I would like to spend enjoying leaves or inspirational colors out of doors. The sheep and I don't get to visit as much, but we get to enjoy a Shepherd's Harvest and color in different ways. I hear the "baa's" and still can't resist all the time. I love to go to our closest set of Finns - my growing Spring ewe lambs. They always draw me to them. Somehow sheep born on the farm are so much more hefted and confident in their love and belonging than sheep that are brought in. They know who they are. They know their land and shepherds.
All of my Finnsheep are one flock owned by multiple little and big shepherds. This time through as I visit the Spring ewe lambs, I find that Cornflower and Maimie are especially attentive and happy to see me! All the girls come to visit, but these two tell me how much they have missed me. They lean in for more hugs and scratches. Elizabeth, my daughter, is with me, and Cornflower has been raised by her. She has rubbed Cornflower's belly from day one. She has lifted Cornflower to sit to practice for shearing and lifted hooves just to help her Spring lamb to be used to such routines. Cornflower thinks that all of this is lovely. More ways to be petted. And her naturally short Finn tail wags full of joy anytime a hand comes back in the petting or scratching rhythm. I watch my daughter loving on her ewe while I pet Arianna's lamb Maimie. My joy is so full and beyond explanation!
Yes, it's those joys and memories that we bring back inside with us. They run through our hands and back up to our hearts as we feel and measure our lovely sheep's gifts of wool. Those memories and joys are what paint the colors in our rovings and dyes, as we smile and laugh together about our visit to the lambs and our hopes and dreams for them. I hear another "baa" through the window, and my heart swells. Shepherding in the way that we do is not a particularly lucrative business. I do not know what to expect this year especially. But I do often think that we are the richest family in the world!
This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.