I keep coming back to this one idea about succession and the order of things, that all my dogs are very good dogs, but how Jolene is getting a much better deal than what Merckx got. How Jolene would have been a terrible first dog but Merckx was a very good first dog, Ben would have been an even better first dog than Merckx but still probably a better fourth dog than second dog. Jolene is probably the perfect third dog, but time will tell more about that later. Strider was more of a monolith, I think he would have been about the same rock no matter when in my life we would have shared our time.
Everything with training stock dogs appears to be less and less about training dogs and more and more about my life so I can’t help but thinking that the same things goes for the people that I cross path with. That maybe as time goes by I will progress to be a better friend and husband to.
“I’ve always wanted to do the right thing by a horse, that’s never changed, its just that as my knowledge grew I’ve been able to offer the horse a better human being, as time has gone on.” – Buck Brannaman
When loading pens goes well and without a fight it is a thing of beuty.
I enjoy sitting next to the take out pens and watch the sheep and what goes on around them. They are much smarter and more sensitive than most handlers will ever realize. They recognize dogs and people, strangers makes them nervous. Some people’s energy does not settle sheep well. Too many people and much commotion at the pens makes them hard to work. When a new truck or four wheeler pull in they get tense, out of control dogs make them twitchy.
I like to feed the sheep whenever I can, I like them to trust me. I like Ben to work the sheep in the pens before the trial, sheep likes Ben.
There have to be a trust between you and the dog, between the sheep and the dog, between you and the sheep. The flock will tell you a lot about the shepherd and how they are worked in their daily life. Sheep that gets worked by nice dogs are usually wonderful to set, they are honest and trust you. Sheep don't go sour without a reason.
Sheep look at their guardian dogs for advice, if you can be friends with them the flock will have an easier time to relax.
The thing with setting is that you are often far from home, someone heard you like to set and they hired you. So you are surrounded by strangers and sheep you have never seen before and a pen you have no idea if it will work or not, but someone trusted you and relies on that you will get it done. When you trial you can stink it up and you are done in 10 minutes and you leave, when you are setting you have all eyes on you and your dog for as long as the trial runs, and it has to work. It makes me nervous, more nervous than when I compete, but it is also more rewarding when it works. Without a good dog you are nothing, without respect for the sheep you will not get it done.
Often you are not sure you can do it but you trust your dog and what you know you can do and you get started, some sets come out sideways and some sets don’t come out at all but you keep working at it. Some come out running high headed and you try not to panic and you trust your dog to know what to do and you help him when you can. Sometimes your dog use patience and sometimes they get slammed in a gate and you keep asking them to get back to work and they keep at it because they trust you. Together we are good, apart we are nothing. When setting for days it is as much about not jerking things around as it is about getting sheep out. It is very different to set 200 sets then it is to set 10, you have to make your dog last, use good judgment about what to save and what to let go. You are watching the sheep and your dog and they will tell you what works and you improve the details, slowly getting it right and straight. Your dog really wants this to work, he don’t want a mess and neither does the sheep, sometimes it is easy to forget that part.
Merckx is much better at this then I am, it took me some time and humble pills to get my head around that simple fact. He read stock better than I do, knows when to bite and when to be nice. If he can and I let him he will retrain a bad sheep for you.
Not everyone care for the finer details of setting. The worst ones are usually really good Open handlers, they are set in their ways and refuse to change the way they think. Too much dog, too much forward, pushing too much and fast. All you can do is to try to make it work, talking to them will not change their ways, they know it all. But sometimes you get to work with really great stockmen, people you can watch and learn so much from, it is beautiful when it works, a craft as skillful as elusive.
Susan and Merckx, two of the best setters I know.
Not all dogs are made for setting sheep, some have too much eye and some too much creep. If you want to set, your dog need to listen and be supple to the task. If you argue a lot and not getting what you ask for you are better off to leave your dog behind. Setout is not a good place to train or school your young dog. When you set you work for the team at the post, not for your own goals.
Most dogs are not as strong as their handler like to think they are, it is all that ego thing again. Most of them don’t lift from a position of power and confidence, they all have their own method. I believe it is important to helpyour dog find a method that fits him well.
I find it telling that for most handlers the options on the lift is always more and never less, when sheep move it is even more forward and not giving space and a safe place to go. If your dog is deep and comes forward with purpose you will almost never fight the sheep. You will not find many good teams that have a dog that slice in hard or not hitching up even when they can get away with it.
Most lifts works better if the handler are not saying anything at the top. Screaming your head of is not going to make your dog work better, only worse as you introduce doubt and confusion. It is easy to dislike the handlers when you set for a while. Most of the time I am on the sheep side.
I am grateful for people that open up their homes and share their families with me, a relative stranger, and make me feel like at home.
I appreciate that for a short time I get to share food, laughter, prayers and their life.
People open up their hearts and share their stories, so much more interesting than reality TV. All these things that you can’t buy or take but one of the greatest gifts that can be given, friendship. I often get down on the world we are living in but take comfort in that there are good people out there, really good people.
I want to thank everyone that for a brief time put their regular life on hold to arrange these trials, it is a lot of work that is appreciated by all of us.
Now there is nothing left from my trip but laundry, memories, and the lingering smile on my face.
A big heartfelt thank you to Jamie, Lee, Laura, Mike, Brady, Dustin, Mindy and all other people that made this into such a rejuvenating trip.
Towards the end I was hoping that when he didn’t greet me at the door he had died in front of the couch, just like Zoe did. The last day when I called him to load up and go to the vet he didn’t come, I couldn’t find him and I was hoping that it was so. But eventually I did find him under a bush, sleeping, not wanting to be bothered. I had to lift him onto his feet and he was really happy to go for a ride.
Strider was a dog that was always close, always curious, always helping in his own way. If you where building things he would lay on the hammer. If you painted he would always step in the wet paint or get it on his head. If you packed the back pack in the evening he always knew that we were leaving early the next morning and slept in the door way. If you where cleaning he would lay in the hall way. Always staring at you in the shower.
Our other dogs told us what was going on, that something beyond old age were happening. Speck started to air scent whenever he entered the house, Merri challenging him over toys and treats. They all knew before we did.
He enjoyed agility, not so much the trialing but to train with Barbara was something he liked and had fun doing. I think he even have a ribbon in a box somewhere. I was not allowed to be near when Barbara ran with him; he always looked for my approval when I was close. Sometimes he would raise his nose, work the air for awhile and then look straight at me hiding behind a pillar from clear across the arena. His eyes meeting mine and I could tell how happy it made him that I couldn’t hide from him. Whenever Strider and I went to visit Barbara at a trial he always sniffed her out in no time. His nose and ability to work out scent problems was amazing and we spent a lot of time perfecting it.
On our last walk we got down to the corner of our block, he stopped, looked at me and looked back towards the house. I think that is when I knew we had come to our end. We have done some truly horrible hikes together and he had never once complained or asked to go back. The last four days I carried Strider up the stairs to our bedroom, I didn’t mind but Strider was not too happy about this, licking my face and complaining about this undignified way of traveling.
Strider was with me in a part of my life when I in many ways was lost. I think I was looking for a place to fit in, a connection to our new world and I found it with Strider and in the mountains. We had an understanding and respect for each other that I cannot put into words.
We are waiting for more results, desperately trying to find a prognosis that can give us 6 more months together, something simple, something not cancer. Outside the Vet Techs talk about the plans for the weekend, it doesn’t bother me, it just adds to the feeling that none of this being real, that we are really not sitting here with our dying friend on the floor, like a Monty Python sketch.
Strider was a much better herding dog then most people would see but his predatory side was always overwhelming. I never did manage to get past the stage of just protecting the sheep. The thing was that when I finally catch him he was so incredibly happy and proud of himself, he got them, he got every single one of those sheep. He even held them down for me; I was a lousy hunter in his eyes.
I am sitting on the floor and Barbara is sitting in the chair next to me, looking for answers in the ether. Blood test showing extremely low blood sugar, just about any other diagnosis then diabetes would at this point be terrible. But I already know, I can look at Strider and know that this time he will not come with me home, that this is our last time. For the first time I will be leaving my pal behind.
When we were out driving he randomly used to reach forward from the backseat and put his big head on my shoulder, if I scratched him just right he grunted and when done he licked my ear, face and glasses.
When Barbara goes to the bathroom we are alone and I say my good bye. Tell him all the things that he can no longer hear. How much I love him, how sorry I am, how great he was, how I hope this will be ok. How sorry I was about the times I had been unfair and harsh at him. How glad I am that we got to spend this short time together.
I remember when I made him that promise. It was at the lunch counter on Mt Adams, Our second night out and we had been up to Piker’s Peak but been turned around by strong wind before the summit. I was sitting against a big volcanic rock and Strider was lying in the tent, slight smell of sulfur in the air. No one else was on the mountain that day; up here he was my only friend. I was eating Salami sandwiches and blueberry soup. One bite for me and one bite for Strider. That’s how we always did things when we were out. I promised him that the day he no longer had happiness in front of him we would say our goodbyes. I promised him that this is how I always would remember him. I remember thinking that we would have days in our lives when I would give just about anything to have this moment in time back. Strider didn’t care about my heartfelt promise, he was more into finishing up the sandwiches, go to sleep and then maybe spend the night looking at the moon and do some soft mournful howling, Strider had the most beautiful sad howl.
The staff keeps telling him what a nice dog he is with baby voices, I know they mean well. But it is pissing me off. Strider is not a cute little puppy that needs baby talk. He is a magnificent dog and a great friend and they just don’t know how great he really is. I am judgmental but I am pretty sure that they have never spent a long night to cold to sleep talking to their dog while the wind and snow is blowing outside the tent and still think it was a great night because you spent it together. They have never had a dog like Strider.
Right at the start of a track you present an article with scent from the person you try to find, that way your dog can sort out where the track is from all other human scent in the city. A good article is something like a T-Shirt or underwear. Socks are no good because the shoe tend to color the scent. Strider was always excited about starting a track, talking, barking and going on. When he saw the article he liked to bite it, toss it up in the air and shake it really good. Maybe a predatory thing to do before he started the hunt. It was often pretty embarrassing to return something slobbery and torn when a volunteer had offered up a piece of undergarment.
He was not happy, too many people in his space, I just wanted everyone to leave him alone. I wanted to take him back to the car and just go, go to a hill under a tree and just be free, Strider and me, feel the wind in our face and everything would be alright again. And in all this the surreal interruptions of the things we have to do in our human world, sign the bill, make decisions, sign the consent, can we let him stay like this for the injection.
Strider was not always an easy dog to work with; nothing was ever just because you asked him to do it. It was either because you told him to do something with authority or because he wanted something. Everything was precise, if you told him to not chew on the right black shoe he would never do that again, but the left shoe was still ok to shred. He tore a couple of metal screen doors to pieces, a solid wood door got broken down, door jams, cars and kennels was also on the list of destruction. He was a very good dog, but not easy. I have never been as pissed off at anything living as I been with Strider, I loved that guy with all my heart.
On the wall there is a poster on glossy paper of a kid with a happy healthy dog that is running in a park. On the floor my whole world is falling apart but I have to keep it together, we have to let him go. We cannot fail him now, we owe him.
I almost never had to keep track of where he was on our hikes, he was always around. I only lost him once on a glacier; he had slid down a steep ice sloop under a cliff. When I finally found his track he was just sitting there very calmly like he always knew that I would find him. I always got him home safe, except on our last visit. The feeling of betrayal is hard to overcome. I know it would be his last trip and he trusted me when I lifted him into the car.
Barbara and I stand up, we both just want to run out of there, I turn around to get his collar and remember the feel of his wet nose and still warm fur against my hand. As I walk out the door I turn around and look at him one last time, lying on the floor, Strider is no longer there, Strider have left us.
Strider and I had an understanding that when you get old you don’t have to be pretty and smell good, no need for silly obedience just because, we were just two good old friends. Some folks gave me crap about it, but Strider and I were ok.
That night I lay awake in bed, couldn’t sleep, planning to leave for a dog trial at 2AM. Not because I really wanted but because every moment with my dogs suddenly felt more important. There is something missing in the house, a presence that are no longer there, Barbara feel it, I feel it and Merckx feel it, Merckx is walking from the closet to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the closet, looking, also grieving.
He never cared for meeting strangers on the street or getting petted by kids. He would never protest but you could tell he was thinking it was a waste of time. Unless you were visiting our house, then you would be his best friend and a part of his pack. When you left he would be sad that his new friend had to leave. He had a sense of family and care for everyone that none of our BC’s ever had.
We did not fail him at our last task, to let him pass in peace and be there with him when he took his last breath.
He was a fast dog, the fastest dog we had, easily outrunning the BC’s, both in stamina and top speed. Until it was time to turn, Strider turned like an old American pickup.
We are slowly cleaning away the hair and blood in the house from Strider. His smelly old couch where he used to sleep at night has been put out on the street, renaming the blog, from a practical standpoint it is all so easy.
Strider was the best puppy raiser you could wish for, gentle and terrifying all at the same time, once raised by Strider they would respect him forever. Strider was a true leader, he never got into fights, he didn’t have to, his presence was always enough.
At home Barbara and I think out loud. I wonder who is next, maybe the cat. I hope we have many years before we are here again. The house feels empty, it is like a universe that has lost a huge body of gravity, and everything is just floating around trying to find its new orbit. Late at night when I let the other dogs in I often find myself linger a couple of seconds extra at the door, waiting for one more.
We went to some spectacular places together, but I don’t think that he never really cared about that. He was just happy that we where together. He was just as happy the last couple of walks we did around the park as he was high up in the mountains. Take your friend for a walk, break some bread and share your thoughts, it isn’t more complicated than that. Before long you will wish that you had taken the time.
Is it ok to carry the box in at the same time as the groceries?
I wonder if those are the specific ashes or if it is just the generic ash mix from that day. I always envisioned myself burying him high up on a mountain, with a pick ax, in a snow storm, something epic. It didn’t work out like that.
His box is now sitting next to Zoe’s and Maddie’s boxes on a shelf in the living room with his collar and SAR harness. Kind of feel like the last scene in Star wars when the 3 “dead” Jedi’s watching over Luke.
Sometimes late at night when I let the dogs in there is a brief second right before I close the door when in my mind I still wait for Strider to trot up on the deck.
Yesterday we put Striders couch out on the street with a free sign on it. So that’s it, practically speaking we are done.
Strider at Dry Lake
Behind the facade the old socialist folk-home are still shining through the cracks, slowly dying, desperately holding on to the idea of the perfectly engineered society. A community school and a union card, the old proud signs of a good life now replaced by the lesser goals of a trampoline and heat pump.
I feel a strange desire to fit in, to slowly sink back into the grey faceless mass of perfect mind numbing content and no outliers, to be embraced by the suffocating blanket of belonging to the greater good.
This is where I become who I am and I can never go back, where I come from is no longer there while my roots still are. Was it ever there or was it nothing but a dream and a figment of my memory?
At times all of this troubles me.
Odensbacken a mile away, home?
We will butt head later I am sure, but not now. There will be a time when what I ask for is not up for debate or interpretation, but not yet. Right now Jo’s head is too consumed by the sheep for me to communicate with her without being too harsh. Right now I can only guide, not much more.
Fuzzy? You try to walk backwards with 25 knee knockers, whistling your open dog and working a Mint puppy while taking photos with an iPhone in low light and see how good your photos turn out.
The first time you start a puppy everything is typically overwhelming, everything is moving and the information to process is abundant and diffuse. It is not easily explained or something you can study in a book or a video, but once you get your head around it it is one of the most natural things you will ever do with your dog. I think you have to feel where to go, know what is right, not process and think about your next step. This is where it is easy to ask for pace, downs and stops, not because that is what your pup needs but because you want to feel order and control. This time around I will go with shaping the chaos, embrace the speed and encourage forward.
Jo and I have been in the round pen twice now, I don’t like the round pen, no space for the dog to feel, no place for the sheep to go. I love the first time in the bigger field with more sheep. The first time we did it with a short lead and using Merckx as a backup dog (I love my Merckx). Second time just me, Jo and the sheep, this is the most natural my puppy will ever be, not tainted or shaped by my training.
"Big Bro got lil sis back"
I don’t teach my dog unnecessary things, I want the page to be blank when we start on sheep and write the knowledge in the right context. What we work on at home is building a relationship, some people might call that lazy, the thing is that there is a lot of things that goes into that part and it is much more critical to me than obedience or games. First I did not understand what all the big hats where talking about when they explained this to me, I think I just start to realize that part.
My first lay downs are asked for when we are on sheep, just using placement and light pressure, no treats or clicks, no high pitch “good dog” Just a step to the right, removal of pressure, indicating a side and back to work.
Me left, Jo Left. Me Right Jo Rig,,,,, nope guess we are doing a slice, “Heeey nooow” me backing up, giving space and then left, Jo left, putting it back together, always forward, always moving.
This is the fumbling start of our team, Jo and I. And I think this is the beginning on a long and beautiful friendship.
“The road may bend out of sight at times, but I know what lies ahead: the faraway horses.”
― Buck Brannaman
There is something about working with your dog that is hard to put into words. Not talking about practicing for 20 minutes 3 days a week but actually working together for long hours getting something done that neither of you possibly could get done on your own.
When I do, it fundamentally changes how I see my dog. From something I train and fine tune for points, often with frustration and nit picking, to a partner and equal, someone I rely on and trust. Not many people have the opportunity to experience this and I feel very fortunate that I sometimes can.
Now we are back in the city and my working pals spend the days behind a fence, in a crate or on a leach, the contrast is terribly unfair and it makes me sad to see. I want more of that feeling of harmony and purpose; it makes me want to be a rancher. It is a romantic dream, an out of reach utopia.