Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “English Setter”

Nosing into Fall (or, my latest obsession)

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

Though it wasn’t planned, I essentially took the entire summer off from blogging (and writing of any sort, to be frank).  Here I sit, on the last day of summer (for the northern hemisphere) and thankful it turned out to be a beautiful day.  The weather forecast was for rain all weekend, and it started pretty much on schedule (per forecast) last night at dusk.  Let the mud begin, sigh.  Then this morning I saw a few peeks of blue sky through the clot of clouds.  Farley and Pal had their last nose work class for their beginning odor session and we headed out to the park with our liver treats, leaving an unhappy Daisy behind.  By the time class was over at 11:45 it was downright hot, the sun having been out in force for two hours.  Yay!

The boys did well in class, though the hides on the pedestrian bridge were extra hard, with lots of breezy air movement and the salmon swimming upstream in the creek below us (spawning season; we were working over a small tributary of the Skykomish River, which was a few hundred yards away). Pal especially gets distracted; his search word is “birdy” because he is.  And with his bird dog brain, it’s hard for him to concentrate on one task.  By nature (instinct/breeding), he’s hardwired to hunt, to have all his senses open and processing at once.  He’s filtering so much at once that adding birch odor (paired with liver treats I make using the excellent Squaw Creek Cattle Company beef) isn’t necessarily the primary target in his bird brain.  He’s a hunter, and once he’s locked onto a target bird he can and does hold point (and focus) for many minutes at a time.  Or, in the case of his most

Pal with his eye on something

Pal with his eye on something

recent target, hours – he’s playing some version of predator/prey footsie with an obliging Douglas squirrel in a maple tree on the other side of the fence.  He sits or stands in the same spot for what seems like hours (I can see him from where I type, he’s easily been there for half an hour now) fixed on his target and nearly unmoving (not at point, but definitely hunting).  The squirrel will chirrup at him on occasion, but mostly Pal’s just there watching stealthily (methinks Mr. Squirrel has Pal’s number).  So yeah, nose work for Pal can be a challenge.  But make no mistake, Pal is an AMAZING nose work dog, and when he’s focused he’s as good as they come.

Farley on a tennis ball search

Farley on a tennis ball search

Farley is also very good.  He’s old enough now that he can focus more easily.  Plus he’s more of a chow hound than Pal.  Pal likes his groceries, and eats like a champ, but Farley is more motivated by food.  When he gets close to the hide he will usually start drooling, and I often wonder if the slobber he leaves makes it easier for the next dog searching.  Far is very methodical, and also a little more bonded to me, so will often look at me when he doesn’t find the odor readily, expecting me to point to it as I do when he loses his ball in the grass or brush.  He’s obsessed by his ball, so has a lot of nose work practice built up in his many years of searching for missing balls.  He’s very thorough, and learned a long time ago to use and depend on his nose rather than his eyes (a dirty green ball in the grass is pretty much invisible to both of us).  This too, is where he has an advantage over Pal, who is still very visual in his hunting (birdy, indeed).  It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him work.

Miss Daisy, whose class is on break until October, is my best nose work dog, but she’s also two classes ahead of the boys.  She’s done container searches, interior searches, exterior searches, and vehicle searches.  Sometimes she’s a little distracted – she’s a very social girl and nose work isn’t necessarily her preference when there are people to meet and greet, and new best friends to win over.  We recently entered an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for birch (through the National Association of Canine Scent Work or NACSW) and I’m happy to say she passed, though it was a little dicey for a moment.  Daisy is odor obedient, no question, and has been ready to pass her ORT for a few months now.  When this girl hunts for odor (“giddyup!”) she is freaking awesome and it’s a sight to behold when she’s on task.

Daisy at home with her sheep

Daisy at home with her sheep

For a dog of her skill level, an ORT is ridiculously easy.  In theory.  Besides her handicap at the other end of the leash, there’s also her Achilles heel of sociability.  At the ORT location, a dog training center about an hour’s drive south, we were led into the room where the ORT boxes were set up.  All the humans were looking at her but not saying anything, and not coming over to say hello.  She was a little puzzled at the quiet atmosphere.  I held her for a few seconds at the starting line, just like we do in training, then gave her search word.  She tugged me down between the row of flat boxes, one of which held a swab containing birch odor.  She gave a cursory sniff (I’m guessing) as we went swiftly past the boxes, not even lowering her head.  We got to the end and I stopped.  She continued pulling – the NACSW videographer was a few yards away, and sitting (an easy target!)– surely this was Daisy’s new best friend!  She then looked over at the judge, steward, and timer, pulling towards them.  She could win them over, for sure.  I held my ground.  She was losing focus fast.  I looked at the woman I’d mistaken for the judge and asked if I could say Daisy’s search word again (to get her back on track).  I was too nervous to remember that I could say it as needed (no permission needed).  Yes, came the reply.  “Daisy, giddyup.”  Nothing (the people spoke! (to answer me) Progress!).  “Daisy,

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

giddyup!”  She turned and sniffed one box in a cursory manner.  Then another.  We went down the row again 

At this point I was thinking “oh, well, not every dog passes, and it’s only $25…”  This about a dog who has found hides in places that left me gawping in amazement at her ability.  I gave her word again when, as we headed back, she seemed to have a different agenda.  At this, she lowered her head and sniffed, then nudged, one of the boxes nearest to us.  She nudged it again, nosing it across the floor.  With all her shenanigans, and the fact that this was only the third box she’d actually (noticeably) sniffed, I hesitated.  Was she just goofing around?  A paw slap and mouth crunch would be next.  Oh well.  I turned and looked at the judge and stewards.  “…Alert?”  YES! came the immediate and relieved-sounding reply.  This was music to Daisy’s ears and as the steward came over to me with her scorebook and time*, she was sure it was her chance to win over another Daisy fan.  Normally you treat your dog at source (the hide) when they find it.  Daisy had no interest in any liver when her new bestie was on her way over.  I kept her from jumping up on the woman and tugged her back to the source box for a treat.  I don’t remember if we ever connected treat to source, but we headed out the door with only one more obstacle, the steward at the door – “HiHiHi I’m Daisy!What’s your name?Don’t you LOOOOVE me?!”  Whew!  Now on to our NW1.  Gulp.

I’m going to take Farley and Pal for their ORT at the end of next month, but don’t anticipate this social rodeo with them.  Farley’s not a hugely social dog, and Pal is polite and demure.  Fingers crossed.

*You get three minutes to complete an ORT; Daisy did it in 46 seconds (that felt like three minutes), when it usually takes her less than 10 seconds.

Catching up

I haven’t been here in a while, and my last few posts were sporadic.  But no posts doesn’t mean nothing going on – far from it.  I’ve been busy, and distracted both consciously and unconsciously.  A lot has been going on here at the farm, and a lot in life in general.  Let’s start with the farm…

August turned out to be a nice month, with beautiful weather that included blistering heat (a local fund raising dog walk in town had me dripping sweat, literally) and a preview of fall at the same time.  I had the excitement of a new visitor to the property, too.  While I didn’t see or meet the visitor, it was obvious by the trail of destruction that I had a black bear come through one evening.  There was enough damage to the fence, and raids on the chicken feed, bird feeder and a check of the garbage bin (empty – I don’t fill it until pickup day), then the “calling card” down by the driveway gate (at first I thought “when did Cutter come down here…and what has he been eating?”) before I put it all together.  I’d heard the branches cracking as s/he tramped through the underbrush – for some reason I thought it was deer (which can be surprisingly noisy). The late night potty run had Farley out back barking furiously, but it was 18 hours before I realized he probably scared the beast off, mid-snack.  Good boy.

So, no more bird feeder, which is a huge attractant for bears.  I’m seriously bummed, as I’ve had a bird feeder up in every house I’ve lived since I was 10 years old.  But I don’t want to habituate a bear by providing and irresistible snack, either.  The birds will be fine – there’s plenty of food around for them; a feeder just brings them close so I can watch them.  I was getting Black-headed Grosbeaks regularly, and plenty of chickadees and Steller’s Jays too. 

In mid-August I added another canine to my pack.  Maybe not the smartest move, and initially I tried to find him another home, but he’s here to stay.  He’s another English Setter that I found on my regular Craigslist perusals.  He was in a home that kept him outside on a tether 24/7 and they realized it wasn’t the best for him.  I picked him up on a Saturday and had him neutered the following Friday.  The Rottweilers pretty much ignored him.  Farley didn’t like him.  The cats hated him.  But his effervescent personality fizzed through all of us and he’s here for good.  He just turned one year old in October and he and Farley run the property like nobody’s business.  I love watching them run, and love that they patrol things.  His name was Pal on his papers, but the people who had him were calling him Rascal.  I knew I wouldn’t be calling him Rascal as I’m a great believer in the meaning of names (the people who had him believed him a rascal, and he was…for them).  While I contemplated several names (Hadley being one), the one that rose to the surface was Pal (part of his FDSB registered name).  He’s Farley’s pal, and he’s a happy little sprite.  He’s all puppy sometimes, but a very good boy considering I’m his third home in less than six months (four if you count the breeder’s home, too).  We need to get into obedience training, but for now we’re just having fun. 

So I added little Pal to the canine gang; and he’s a great little guy, but I already have three dogs.  I’m moving rapidly into hoarder territory, it seems.  You do NOT want to see the chaos inside my house, but I’m nowhere near the feces on the floor, newspapers stacked to the ceiling, decomposed dead cat in the closet stage yet.  And no sign of that any time soon, either.  I jest, of course, but living with four large dogs and three cats in a small home really does test your tolerance levels.  The floors are almost never clean (especially when one geriatric dog has urinary incontinence, and the other sometimes forgets to finish pooping when he’s outside, and the two youngsters revel in dirt and mud, and running in the door with unadulterated joy fresh from a dip in the “pond” (swampy human-made version).  The cats add their two cents with grass puke and the occasional litter box “miss.”  Which all makes it sound as if things are worse than they are…or not.  I could vacuum and mop every day, but that’s too Sisyphean for me to deal with.  I keep up, but just barely.  And what’s a little dirt and hair between friends, right?

September brought five new mouths to feed.  Planned of course…sort of.  And by eating, they’re working to keep things in check.  I’m talking sheep, of course.  I had the pasture fenced off, with two gates put in – a local fellow, Rob, did a great job on the fence – and the sheep moved in at the end of September.  Three of the sheep were wethers from a gal just over the hill who just wanted to place them in a new home.  The guy who mowed my pasture in June told me about them and put me in contact with her.  They are Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and spent the summer at my friend Susan’s farm, mowing her steep pastures (too steep for the horses), and the pasture over her septic drain field (horses will compact and essentially wipe out a drain field).  They did a great job, but it was time to move to my home.  I knew I wanted Shetland sheep, and found a couple of ewes on Craigslist (Must. Stay. Off. Craigslist.).  I picked them up the same day we moved the boys from Susan’s, so I went from zero to five overnight.  And I love it! 

I can’t believe how “right” it feels to have them here, munching the pasture and blackberry brambles 24/7 (they eat ALL the time).  The three boys are fairly friendly, with Bo (yes, in my unimaginative naming I called him Rambo, because he’s most likely to butt the dogs) the leader.  Conan, the hornless one (scurs only, probably because he was castrated as a lamb), was named by the previous owner’s child.  I kept the name but I call him Coco – which fits him, as he’s the color of dark chocolate.  And the third is Curley, as his horns kind of flare out.  He’s the shyest of the three boys, but in that is tons friendlier than the older of the two Shetland ewes, Cinnamon (I’m telling you, no imagination – Cinnamon Latte, for her color, which is called moorit by the Shetland people).  She’s super skittish and keeps a good, safe distance away from me at all times.  The little one is Pebbles – named by the previous owners kids – and seems to be stunted.  She’s almost 8 months old and still only about as big as a Springer Spaniel.  She’s adorable, and makes more noise than the other four put together.  She’s pretty friendly, but has become more wary of me since I grabbed her one day to pull some blackberry vines out of her wool.  It was a bit of a wrestle and now she won’t let me pet her much.  Oh well. 

At any rate, they’re doing a great job on the pasture, and now I’m working on (well, I’ve hired Rob again) building a sacrifice or confinement area, to pull them off the pasture (in order to rest it and give the forage a chance to recover) and give them shelter from the weather, too.  Updates soon – promise!

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