If today's herding trial was a horse race, Peekay would have had a clear lead at the top of the stretch only to lose to a hard closing charger by a nose in a photo finish. In order to earn a qualify score towards an American Kennel Club (AKC) herding title, one must obtain a minimum score of 60 (out of 100) as well as obtain a minimum of 50% of the points available on each of 6 obstacles. Today Peekay earned a score of 74, but failed to earn 50% of the points on obstacle #5, the center-line gate. Only earning 9 of a maximum of 20 points, Peekay failed in her quest to earn the AKC Herding Intermediate A-Course Sheep title by a single point.
Ouch. I admit initially I felt disappointed. I knew the cross-drive we executed was marginal. But I quickly was able to extinguish any negative feelings. Overwhelmingly I feel very good about our performance. There were lots of positives. We came oh-so close. I'm sure some judges would have given us the benefit of the doubt, and taken less off the cross-drive and we would have qualified. In any sport that is judged, there is always some measure of subjectivity. No two people will judge a run identically. In order to counter that, Peekay and I need to take it out of the judges hands. We need to execute all phases of the run where it leaves no doubt, even to the casual observer, that we passed. We didn't do that. It's not the fault of the judge.
But as I said, there were many positives today. Foremost, today was the very first time Peekay and I have ever set foot on this farm. She was a little cranked, but she always is at a trial. She executed and performed today just like we have done at countless times on our home farm in practice. She's now an old pro. Our training is no longer specific to locations. She can take it on the road, and I have confidence she can do it anywhere.
I also liked my performance. Starting off I felt a little nervous, but I quickly lost the butterflies and got down to business. I really felt that Peekay and I were in tune today working as a team. We were both reading the stock well, and anticipating.
We also kept things moving. There were no long pauses and therefore no time for the sheep to think about escaping. Our entire run only took 4 minutes and 44 seconds. I felt like I blinked and we were through the Y and Z chutes, and the sheep were in the holding pen.
Here is a blow-by-blow of our run:
1) Outrun/Lift/Fetch (15/20 pts) : The A-course at Hillard is a "clockwise" direction course, just like our home course in Watkinsville. From the handler's post, the exhaust pen is in the far left corner of the field. Assuming that the field's draw is to that corner, most handlers chose to send their dogs on the outrun in the "go by" direction. Peekay executed her outrun as good as any in practice. As she went down the field she angled out wide, not to spook the sheep. These sheep were a little heavy on the grain bucket, and it took Peekay coming in tight to get them to pop off and head down the field.
Hear I made a slight mistake. I was concerned about Peekay being too amped-up, and I banged my crook on the ground when she failed to execute a "stay" command. I really didn't need to do that. There was a note on my score sheep about watching my use of the crook. I'm sure at least 1 of the 5 points we lost was because of that. We didn't have too much trouble executing the turn at the handler's post.
2) "Y" Cute (13.5/15 points) This went just like practice. Peekay walking behind the sheep flanking the sheep in the "go by" and "away" direction on my command to keep the sheep on-line. The sheep were very good. They really respected my black-and-red GSD and were not looking to escape. Peekay turned them into the mouth of the Y-chute and before I knew it they were through and we were headed to the "Z".
3) "Z" Cute (14/15 points) In a matter of seconds it was over. As the sheep exited the Y-chute, Peekay already anticipated an escape and was in perfect position to defend a retreat. The sheep had no where to go but to the mouth of the Z cute. The flock were picking up speed, and Peekay was too. I barked the "walk" command as the sheep hit the Z chute, and she responded. The sheep sailed through and we were off to the holding pen.
I didn't know it at the time, but at the 1/2 way point of our run, we had a terrific score of 42 1/2 (out of 50), only losing 7 1/2 points.
4) Hold/Exam Pen (9.5/15 points) - When the sheep exited the Z - chute, they were breaking into a run. I was worried that they would shoot past the pen, and continue down the arena. Again Peekay was in the right position. She has so much power, she doesn't need to enter the Y or Z chutes to push the sheep through. With the sheep running, I simply gave her the "here" command. She picked picked up her pace and angled out towards me to cut off the retreat. The sheep stopped at the mouth of the pen. I walked her up slowly and the sheep went inside. We waited for the sheep to settle, and the judge to give us the signal that our hold was complete.
"That was a hold", said the judge. Now it was time to get the sheep out. The pen isn't very big. It's probably 6' wide by 10' long. The Intermediate class rules allow the handler to walk into the pen to assist the dog in getting the sheep out. It was my initial intention to walk into the pen with Peekay on my left hip. I would then have her sling shot around the inner walls of the pen. The plan was to have the sheep come shooting out, with Peekay on their outside, in full run to head them and stop them. However I changed my mind. Seeing how the sheep were reacting to Peekay, I didn't like the idea of bringing her into such close contact. I was afraid of unpredictable behavior. So instead I kept her outside the pen and sent her to the back wall. When I did that, one of the sheep unexpectedly popped out, leaving the other two behind. He tried to escape. Peekay would have none of it. Upon seeing this sheep pop out, Peekay stopped following my command and automatically began to cover the escape. The sheep was stopped just outside the pen. Luckily, the other two sheep popped out of their own, and joined their comrade. It wasn't pretty but we were still working a really good run.
Center-Line Gate (9 / 20 points) - As we moved down the fence to the "number 4" sign Peekay has to make the sheep turn 90 degrees to the left and walk across the center of the arena to the opposite fence. I tried to send Peekay quickly along the fence and turn the sheep. Peekay went on command, but I couldn't get her to stop fast enough. She ended up over flanking and the sheep zigged and zagged off line all the way across the arena. I didn't do her any favors by hanging back. I should have moved across the arena, ahead of the sheep within my "handler zone" to help draw the sheep across straight. In the end the judge didn't think it was good enough to qualify.
Pen ( 13 / 15 points) - After reaching the end of the arena, the sheep were already standing by the exit gate. The rules say that the dog must get the sheep away from the gate, and hold them such that the handler can open it without the stock being in the way. I new I had tons of time left, so I took my time and did a little training. I wanted to work on her walks and stops. I walked her up close, making a couple of stops along the way. I had her walk in and push them off the gate. To emphasis the point, that I had a hold, I opened the gate and kept Peekay in place. For a few seconds you could see that the sheep wanted to go through, but they didn't want to confront the dog. I then called Peekay back, and told her to stay as the sheep exited the arena. I closed the gate, not knowing if we qualified, but still feeling like we had a good run.
Frankly I let this one get away from us. What's done is done. Tomorrow is another day.
Again we demonstrated that we are moving up in class. We are so close to obtaining the Herding Intermediate title, I can taste it. Now, in less than 12 hours we'll get another chance. Hopefully we've learned from today's mistakes, and can improve.
Speed is good -- Walking is sometimes better. Let's go close the deal tomorrow "Peeks". It's an honor for me to be on the same field with you.