28 December, 2010

New camera = new pictures

A well-meaning friend accidentally dropped and stepped on my old camera. So I bit the bullet and bought myself a new, affordable camera today. Here are my experiments for the evening just checking out the basics. I am sure the pictures will get so much better one I know the camera a bit more thoroughly, but for now you'll get the idea.

Stanley's face

Stanley checking out the camera

Also, the puppies had their first real bath with soap tonight, so here are some more puppy pictures.

Rave sleeping squished between his brothers

Ticking is appearing on Rye's toes

More ticking, this time on Rob's toes

Reba sleeping on my knee

Rave's eyes are open

25 December, 2010

Lucy's pups - Week 2

The pups continue to grow at an alarming rate! Here they are today, 11 days old, with Lucy for size comparison.

11 days old having "Christmas dinner"


Rye and Rave snoozing on the sofa

So I admit it, I have a small preoccupation (or maybe, addiction) to puppy paws.

Rye's back paws

Rob's back paws

Rob's back paws

Reba's front paw - ticking on toe

Well this week the pups have been up to all sorts of things. Today they started walking instead of just crawling, and Rave is working on opening his eyes. With my mom in town, we are taking plenty of photos. She brought them pink and blue baby blankets for Christmas.








Perhaps inspired by their gift, one thing the pups decided this week is they enjoy using their crate pad as a blanket. First they tunnel under, then they keep going until only their heads are peeking out and fall sound asleep.

Rave sleeping under the crate mat

Rob sleeping under the crate mat

Also, they all had their nails clipped for the first time. I'm fairly certain Lucy reckoned that to be my Christmas present to her (or at least to her teats).

First nail trim

The pups are also doing quite a lot of experimental barking and growling, and Stanley continues to make puppy noises back to them.


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Merry Christmas, Rye!

Merry Christmas, Rob!

Merry Christmas, Rave!

Merry Christmas, Reba!

19 December, 2010

Introducing Lucy's Pups

Deltabluez Lucy X Scott Glen's Don
Born 12/14/2010
3 males, 1 female

We always give our puppies litter names so they are easier to tell apart and we can quickly reference each pup for weights, etc.

Once a week I will update their blog with new photos and sometimes videos so you can see their progress.

Red Male

Red Female

Black Male

Red Male

17 December, 2010

Forever Remembered

Forever Remembered

11/4/1997 - 12/17/2010

I will write Paddy a proper tribute when the emotions have stabilized a little. Never have I had a dog with so many friends and fans. In a major way, Paddy has made me the person I am today.

Her passing was peaceful. I will miss her terribly.

04 December, 2010

Stanley amazes me every day

So I find myself often amazed by Stanley and his speech and vocabulary. While I always expected him to pick up new words, phrases and sounds and use them liberally, I underestimated his ability to understand and devise provisional constructs that demonstrate alarming clarity.

For instance, he appears to have a good understanding of names.
He knows:
Kappy (previous companion bird)
Trevor (previous owner)

And he knows a great deal of action phrases and questions:
Want some water?
Are you out of water?
Want to take a bath?
Step up.
Where are you?
Want to step up?
Want to go outside?
Want to come inside?
What time is it?
Quiet, shhhh.
Want a bite?
Want to pet?
Want to try it?
Want a scritch?
No bite. (came with that one)
Lie down.
Come here.
Come over here.
Come see me.
See you then.
See you later.
I'll be back.
Be home soon.
See you soon.
Then there are action words:
Bark, barking
Jump (no idea, did not learn that here)
Step up
Where is...?

He knows negative modifiers:



And exclamations:
Good boy!! (tweet!)
mmmm it's good!

And a variety of other phrases:
There you go
Don't worry
It's fine
You're fine
Pick up
Have fun with that
Not sure
Oh, ok
(at least 10 different laughter sounds)
Sounds good

And dozens upon dozens of beeps, water drips, animal noises, whistles, video game noises, etc etc.

He could certainly learn all of these things through mimicry. The strange thing is that once he learns a phrase, he deconstructs and reconstructs the constituent parts into new phrases we have never said. Phrases that make perfect sense from a grammar perspective.

For instance, he will add names to almost any phrase, in an appropriate way.
He already knew how to say "Stanley, step up" when he arrived here. He quickly learned Zora, Paddy, Lucy and "Sweetie" (what Bruce and I call one another) when he moved here.

He then began constructing new phrases, such as "Lucy, step up." We would never say step up to Lucy, she is not a bird. He just substituted the name in. Why not substitute another word, like "Water, step up?" I was completely astonished the first time I heard him say this. He does this all the time.

Another example: in the evening, we have to encourage Paddy to go outside as she is night-blind and does not like it. So while the rest of the dogs go out on their own, we have to ask her "Come on, Paddy, time to go outside."

Stanley soon began saying that. But what came next was very interesting: "Come on, Sweetie," and "Zora, time to go outside." Neither of these phrases are things we say at home. They are constructs Stanley made substituting names and other parts of speech appropriately into new language.

Another example: Lucy is often told to lie down if she is bothering the bird. Stanley quickly learned to say "Lucy, lie down." (which she ignores) But our other dogs are all trained to the word "Drop" for lying down. Stanley quickly began saying things we never say, such as"Zora, lie down" and "Paddy, lie down," and even, "Stanley, lie down."

For goodness sake, that sounds like demonstrated understanding of names to me... While it is clear he does not know what lie down means, it is clear he realizes combining the generalized concept of a name with it is correct. Intense.

However, there are some things he definitely learns by association. Magick went through a phase where she was very worried about Stanley. She still worries about him some when he does his crazy bird routine flapping and crashing his toys around with glee. When he would flap and crash, we would say to Magick, "It's alright, don't worry." Pretty soon, Stanley would say, "It's alright. You're fine, don't worry." right before he began his flapping routine.

So what? Well, he began communicating to us that he intended to begin his flapping routine. But even more, he added the central part of the phrase - you're fine - all on his own. He knew how to say "You're fine" separately, but we did not use that sentence in total. He constructed it, with correct context, all on his own.

In a separate example, he extracts meaning from listening to us talk. For instance, if Magick is barking at something I don't see, I will commonly ask my husband "What is she barking at?" To which he is almost always forced to reply "I dunno." ::snicker:: Then we will both often say, "Magick, quiet."

The other day, Magick barked and Stanley said, "Dogs, no bark!" We have never used that phrase, nor even the phrase "no bark" in our house. Mind boggling. Worse yet, he recently began making barking noises himself, followed by "Quiet! Shhh!" And perhaps worst of all, he will occasionally make a noise that never fails to make Magick bark. He has taken to saying, "No bark!" and then making the infuriating beep. Of course, Magick then barks. Holy cow.

I could go on and on and on about how much this bird amazes me, but you'd all be bored to tears. Suffice it to say I am really glad he does not have thumbs!

While I do not think he comprehends a majority of the speech around him, I am consistently astonished by the way he picks out meaning from everyday language, and then reconstructs what words he does have into phrases that largely make sense. Phrases he has never heard before.

Smart bird. Except when he tries to remove the buttons from the remote.

27 November, 2010

A Dog Without Faults...

All photos in this post by T. Graham, edited by D. Pagel

Faults are in the eye of the beholder, it seems to me. If your dog (or bitch) has no faults, I feel confident he or she is the first of a kind! I'd like to talk a little bit about how people describe stockdogs, what it could mean and what I think is sometimes between the lines. The content of this post is not meant to reflect any particular person or dog except me :)

Everyone prefers different strengths in a dog. Some like a dog with a "lot of forward" or "plenty of power."

Lucy lifting at Island Crossing

So what does that mean? Does it mean the dog can effortlessly move any kind of sheep, regardless of how tough those sheep are? Well what about wild Barbs or Katahdins? Will the dog who excels on Meeker range sheep be the same dog who does terrific on East coast Cheviots, West coast fine wool range lambs and dog-broke farm flock hair sheep? Is there such a thing as "too much" forward?

Well, I am a sheepdogging novice and in my eyes there is such a thing as too much forward - a dog who runs through the bit. Also too much forward for me is a dog who terrifies sheep and the sheep can not settle. I always wonder when people say they have a dog with "plenty of forward" does it mean the dog is quietly confident, or does it mean the dog moves sheep at MACH2 through the course without regard for the handler? When the dog is so intent on moving sheep that he or she can not work with the handler unless the handler is a singularly top hand, is that the right dog for most people?

Lucy on the fetch at Island Crossing

Some people like a dog who is fearless. Does fearless mean the same thing as "grippy"? Well, it can - depending on the dog and the hand. Again, fearless can mean quietly powerful and unafraid to walk into anything. Or it can mean tense, fast and will always move the sheep, but does the dog have to grip to do so? I wonder how fearless a grippy dog is. So many dogs grip out of uncertainty, lack of confidence, frustration, tension. How do we tell the difference? Experience and honesty.

One thing I really like in a dog is biddability and good listening. This should surprise no one who knows how much I love Lucy. However, I often hear biddable used to describe dogs who are, in fact, weak or frightened of sheep. If the dog listens too well because he is afraid to get into trouble, or worse, afraid to be on contact with sheep and so the handler need not compete with instinct, that can be a fault. Is my dog weak? She can be. However, 95 times or more out of 100 we will get the job done. Will she find the odd sheep she struggles to move at trial? Yes. Have I ever seen her fail to move something as a farm dog doing chores? Absolutely not.

So what about a dog who has a "lot" of eye? This could mean a dog who is straight as an arrow when it comes to lines and uses a method with a lot of eye. Or it can mean a dog who is sticky, clappy, falls into flanks or can't move freely behind its sheep. Then there is the "loose eyed" dog. Does a dog have to have a great deal of eye to get the job done? No. Is moderate eye helpful? Yep.

Lucy crossdriving at Island Crossing

Then there is the "natural outrunner." This is a thing of beauty to witness when it is accurate. Nothing nicer than seeing a naturally good outrunner grow into maturity. But is this a young dog who is actually too wide and will run fences by 3 years old? It could be either, or both.

The natural outrunner is often also described as having naturally square flanks. Is this a dog who stays off contact and just gets wider and wider if the sheep lean on them a little, or if the dog doesn't understand what the handler wants? Does the dog flank square in neutral positions, but naturally negative flank when pressure is increased slightly? These are important questions.

Then there is the dog with "plenty of feel." A dog with natural feel who can rate a variety of different stocks well and a dog who is liked by a wide variety of stock is a great thing. I love seeing a dog who can treat a wide variety of sheep with keenness and sensitivity in equal balance to produce a good working relationship with stock. But can "plenty of feel" sometimes mean a dog who is weak? Yes. If a dog has too much feel certainly that dog can end up being weak, concerned about pushing too hard on sheep, and certainly can be a dog the sheep stop easily.

Setting up to shed at Island Crossing

So what is my perfect dog? My perfect dog would have quiet power on a variety of stock without being frantic or difficult to control. The dog should be willing and happy to listen, but able to (and ALLOWED to... separate soapbox) make decisions on his or her own. Moderate eye, enough feel to be sensible without being weak. Stamina is also incredibly important - both physical and mental stamina to the task and unlimited willingness to try a task even when it is frustrating. The dog should be compact and athletic. I'd like a dog who can work all day, but be just as happy to relax in the house as needed. It is worthwhile to note I mention very little about conformation: that is because I do believe in form following function. If the dog can do everything I've mentioned here, it will be sound of body and mind.

So how do I get such a dog? First, choosing carefully. Second, taking the time to develop a meaningful relationship with the dog. I really do think this matters, and I know some will argue me about it. I'm not interested in arguing, but I am entitled to my opinion.

How is such a dog made? Well breeding is a big part of it, or so it seems. A trend I see in breeding is people breeding to a dog with "opposite faults." This means breed a weak dog to a very strong dog, or a loose-eyed dog to a dog with a lot of eye, a dog who, a dog who is a little too good to a dog who is a little too bad. I sometimes wonder at the wisdom here. It seems to me genetics is a lot more like painting stripes than mixing paint. I feel like I see individual traits of each parent come out in pups, rather than muted/combined versions of these traits that are new and unique to the pup. If we have a can of red paint and a can of white paint, we could paint red and white stripes along the walls, or we can mix the cans together and paint everything swirls of pink. It seems to me a I see a whole lot more striped dogs than pink dogs ;) While that can, and does, happen, it just seems more common that a pup will express a unique combination of traits similar to each parent. Again, my experience here is limited, but I have been paying close attention and trying hard to learn. This is where I am today. I wonder if it makes sense to double up on strengths in more moderate dogs? I don't know the right answer.

So why am I concerned? Well, with Lucy's puppies on the way, all of these things are worrisome to me. Ultimately, I hope to produce some quality sheepdogs but also dogs with a generally excellent temperament who are healthy, sound, well-built and good family pets. It will be interesting to see how they turn out - perhaps they will prove me wrong! Luckily it will take a few years to know, and by then this post will be ancient history.

I would be interested in your comments and feedback about how people describe dogs, or a description of your perfect dog.

23 November, 2010

14 November, 2010

Canadian Journey

In the middle of October I ventured north to Canada, making an epic drive to Alberta and back with dogs as my copilots. It was a relaxing and fun trip, and I did stop and take a few pictures along the way.

By the time we got home, we had logged over 1600 miles, and crossed the Rockies 4 times in 1 month!

We drove through FLAT Eastern Washington...

We crossed the border at Eastbrook. This is the scenic loop lookout on the US side of the border crossing. The border guards were confused by my license plate, and gave me trouble heading both directions over it.

With Sandpoint and Eastbrook behind me, and Moyie, Fernie and Cranbrook ahead, I set my eyes on the km/hr gauge and drove on.

We started climbing into the mountains...

And we passed through numerous small and not-so-small towns along the way.

And crossed the Rocky Mountain summit at Crowsnest Pass. Crowsnest lake is very beautiful and we stopped to go for a walk at the rest area each direction.

We began dropping down into Alberta, and were rewarded with views behind us of Crowsnest Peak.

Soon we passed a MASSIVE rock slide called the Frank Slide. The Frank Slide occurred in 1903 and dammed the Crowsnest River, as well as destroying a mine, most of the mining town and taking a number of lives. The slide is really stunning in its magnitude. You can learn more about the Frank Slide including seeing some amazing panoramic photos here.

Once in Alberta, we discovered that just like the US East of the Rockies, it is FLAT. This is the view of the Rockies from the Alberta side.

I consulted the directions in my pocket and finally turned off the highway 13 hours later onto a winding, gravel road...

And arrived at my destination... the intersection of several gravel roads in the middle of the flatness. The stars were amazing here...

And we saw the friend we had come to visit:

Photo by Jenny Glen

We hoped to return with some precious cargo, and indeed a different kind of photo was taken 2 days ago to find out if we had.

I am pleased to report we are expecting a litter out of Lucy, by Scott Glen's outstanding male Don. Her ultrasound confirmed her pregnancy is progressing normally so far. The puppies are due 12.14.2010. Keep paws and fingers crossed for a healthy pregnancy for Lucy and the safe arrival of beautiful babies before Christmas!