Let Us All Be Dog Wise

Dear readers, exciting things are happening. The first of which arrived this week - hand delivered to myself by Judith, the author.  A lovely gesture given it’s over an hour for her to get here and another back home again. 

Dog Wise, What We Learn From Dogs is a compilation of stories, well told through interviews with local, ordinary dog people who live and work with dogs. Each chapter touches on a different facet of dogdom - show dogs, detection dogs, therapy, police, herding, guardian, sled dogs… and what life lessons the individuals glean from their way of life with dogs. I’m pleased to have played a role in the books making by way of being a part of a couple chapters and utterly fascinated to have been asked to contribute a handful of pictures to the photographic edition. 

I view this as a proud start for myself, and a good start to future projects. Knowing Judith has been working on this book project for a long time and seeing her complete it re-ignites the candle flame of a wish to see a book of my own making take shape in the foreseeable future. 

The print edition of Dog Wise is available on Amazon now and the photographic edition will be available soon.  The photographic edition is soft cover and printed on regular, not glossy, paper - just so you know what to expect should you wish to purchase.  Either one or both editions of the book will make lovely Christmas gifts for any dog person in your life. 

Here's a snippet of what is in the guardian dog and herding dog chapters.

“Between the tearing of my eyes and the acres of rolling pasture I can hardly see the sheep, let alone the dogs. Then in the distance a huge, coyote-coloured dog appears.  A bear-shaped dog emerges from the terrain. One by one the guardian dogs materialize from the flock.”
“Arlette thought the guardian dogs had taught here more about the nature of dogs than any other breed. A lot of what she learned came from simply observing the dogs carry out their genetic purpose.  “It’s a rare thing to watch a dog live and act out its purpose,” she said. 
"Meanwhile, Rex and Jared were in silent communication.  Jared occasionally tossed out a word or a low volume whistle. "There," "walk up," and "enough." ... .. I quickly worked out two basic sheep laws: 'don't be last' and don't be first.' Breaking either rule resulted in instant sheep chaos -- which is where Rex came in."  
“In the dog’s world Arlette believes, the concept of right or wrong never occurs to the dog.  The dog hears the command, and knows what it means, but there’s something else out there that needs to be attended to.  In the dog’s mind, that’s not wrong.  “That’s a hard lesson to learn for people who think obedience is important,” she admitted. 

I’m going to attend the book launch at the end of October.  Although I am a voracious reader I have never been to a book launch before.  Exciting times.

Out To Graze

With the arrival of the fall season the flock has settled. There is less calling between ewes and the few remaining lambs. The sheep are often still lying down when I arrive in the morning and I watch them rise and head out for the days graze.  With increased predator pressure in the fall the ewes stay a bit closer together. 

Today they stuck close enough to each other that when a few ewes slipped the fence the entire flock left the pasture on a walkabout.  To our surprise the entire flock was wandering around the neighbours canola stubble this evening. 

As soon as we rounded them up and headed them back in the direction of the pasture the ewes showed us just where they had slipped the fence.  They found a spot where the wire was high due to a fence post that lifted out of the mud at the edge of a wetland.

Solo Photo - Getting Serious

A photo from summer time.  Birdie and Wren at the beginning of a disagreement.  Birdie not quite of age and assertiveness to make it last but all that has changed now.  

Being A Foot Soldier

Whenever I talk of moving the flock while on foot and then not always knowing where stock dogs are when you’re on foot our friend Bill never fails to remark that I need to start working my dogs from horseback.  I was tempted to follow that line of thought at one time and thats the reason we have two pasture ornament horses.  

But I know this now, I’m a foot soldier; I’m not into horses.  Well, I’m not into trying to fit horses into this already full life. I have plenty enough to love about what I do and I do like being on foot when I’m with the dogs and the sheep.  There is something very amicable and earthy about moving a large group of animals across this prairie landscape while on foot.  Losing the flock and dogs as they or I pass over a hill and meeting up again, every thing still in order. It is trustful, chaotic beauty at its finest.  And occasionally it's just plain chaos but those times make it the two-fold story that it is. 

By working on foot I’ve grown accustomed to checking with the flock to make an educated guess as to where the dogs might be.  BlackJack had a few turns at flock work this summer and it’s still up for debate whether he’s ready for this or not.  In this photo he’s working with Gibson (I like to work the youngsters with experienced dogs).  I happen to be at the front of the flock at this point; sometimes we're all at the rear, sometimes I'm in the lead; the dogs learn to work both scenarios.

I can tell where Gibson is by the shape of the flock.  See the smooth arc of ewes at the top, about centre and to the right.  Gibson is holding and wearing in that area.  BlackJack on the other hand is coming into the bunch up at the top, on the left hand side.  See the small spot where the ewes are all uneven up there.  If you biggify and look closely there is a black Kelpie head there.  

The Nature of LGD's Makes It So

A well liked photo on Facebook yesterday, perhaps because of the common expressions from each of the dogs which gives a certain solemn mood.

The dogs were not set up for the photo, in case you’re wondering.  I just finished with feeding them and was taking a look around seeing where the flock was at and deciding whether to stay and take photos or head in.  I looked this way and there’s these three sitting on the hillside, all contemporary looking.  I got a series of photos of them, each one with it’s own mood and story.  

That they remained there while I took photos was a big bonus.  At one point Tex shifts around and Lily gets up and I'm thinking the moment is over.  But Lily just moves over and sits again.  To fun and at the same time a bit bizarre that three dogs sitting strikes me as something to be photographed.  It's the nature of LGD's that makes it so. 

A Visit With Dogs

At the end of September I traveled a couple hours westward to help a friend do some sorting of a large band of goats and sheep in preparation for the trip home at the completion of a summer grazing project. 

I visited with Stuart last year during the graze and was keen to see his dogs again even if everyone was at the yards rather than out on the grassland grazing. There wasn’t much opportunity to get photos of the large group of sheep and goats given that we were busy with sorting but I did nab a chance to get a few photos of dogs when we were done. 

This is a large band of animals and there are five guardians and three stock dogs (also using both Kelpies and Border Collies).  

Being very polite and mildly social, this girl investigated, paced between me and the pen and then lay down here.  A second white-breed lgd is sound asleep off to the left. 

This boy bears a strong resemblance to our past dog Diesel.  He is a Kangal and is tied up for the night to assure he is around come loading time at first light.  A second Kangal dog is also tied. 

A crossbred LGD wearing a spike collar for added protection against injury.

Being so accustomed to black and tan Kelpies I'm taken aback to see a red one even when expecting it.  Met this girl last year as a pup. The two other stockdogs were tied up near the camp headquarters. 

Different place, different circumstance, different way of operation and yet so many things the same by way of the dogs alone.  There are many nuances of connection in this world - I'm thankful dogs and sheep are a main one for me. 

Fall Flock Photos

Just as I’m writing of how dry it is, Mother N decided to unleash a whole seasons worth of rain in one day.  The ewes have been rain washed and damn near spun out to dry in the wind that brought the rain.  They are unperturbed by it all though and grazing as usual.  The guardian dogs, however, looked a little mopey about the days events.  I think Oakley expected me to bring him home this evening. 

It was too ugly to take photos so you get shots from the day before. I love the colors at this time of year; not just on the trees but across the grassy landscape.  The grasses are turning a different hue as well and the wetlands look just lovely as the tall cattails begin to turn orange and give way to light coloured foxtail which meets the still green tinted grasses. 

A lingering fog, erases edges and contrast and creates a softness to the crisp morning, even in the foxtail which is anything but soft. I always wonder why the ewes bother to travel across it.  

Foxtail is one plant I cannot find a way to appreciate. There are huge spreads of it in each place where the water around the wetlands receded. On this day it matches the soft, foggy, fall scene and the Anatolian Shepherd who is also passing through.

The feeling of amazed abundance that was present when I took these photos still lingers in them.

Water Dogs

Through the summer the kelpies and the guardian dogs take to the water readily to cool off but sure can’t beat Hondo the Labrador Retriever for desire and swimming ability.  

With the cooler weather of the fall season our dogs have less attraction to the water so it will likely be next year before I find myself lulling around a wetland again, watching dogs and catching grasses through the camera lens.  Our wetlands changed quickly this year with the dry conditions and it's only the larger wetlands that hold any water now.  The pasture grasses are still holding on and providing feed for the ewes but we can definitely note the difference. The upcoming ranch year will be a year of adjustment.

View From A Prairie Wetland

One of the gifts from friends who are visiting is that they pull you into scenes you may not have otherwise found yourself in. 

Life seldom feels rushed or busy given that I take plenty of opportunity to sit on the prairie and unwind, and really, a pasture based flock is quite minimal to look after.  This past week, however, was a new level of busy, which thankfully, is not our normal pace of living. 

Sorting, tagging and loading lambs, house building frenzy, company, conference calls, female dogs in heat, hunting ducks - it all happened over the last four days and continues. I have barely given thought to the computer, let alone had time to sit down to upload photographs and type something coherent. 

Market lambs of appropriate weight were loaded out last week. The numerous other things going on at least kept my mind off the uncomfortable sadness that accompanies the selling of livestock which I have a very hard time with. 

With the concrete work and the timber frame up, the remaining work on the house build is now up to Allen and I.  We’re putting up wall panels and framing in windows and doors (we’re using SIP panels if you want to look it up).

The company connects with the hunting ducks.  Bill and Janice are visiting with a few kelpies and Hondo the Labrador Retriever.  We have greeted a few sunrises while sitting in the high grass of a wetland awaiting the waterfowl.  

Throw in conference calls, the extra juggling of dogs when females come into heat, plus people out to work stock dogs to tidy up any free bits of time and there you have it - a week gone by in a snap. It’s probably a good thing one never anticipates what busy weeks will really amount to. 

With doing this post I realized the one occurrence I don't have updated photos of is the house build.  I'll rectify that. 

Reflection Encore

Since I’m thinking of reflection photos ….

I was hanging around this wetland waiting/hoping for photo opportunities of a particular bird and/or the muskrats who are pretty active right now.  Wren and Tex pestered me for a bit when I first sat down and then wandered off.  They showed up on the opposite bank some time later.  

I was back at this wetland yesterday morning, waiting for muskrats once again.  As the prairie land dries and the water level shrinks, wide earth banks are ringing each wetland.  It will take the grasses some time to catch up and fill in.  

A Photo Published

Another happy occurrence.  Very pleased to have this photo shared on the cover of Sheep Canada Magazine.  I'm slowly spreading my wings.

Does the photo look familiar? You may remember a couple of the other photos taken at the same moment and shared on this blog here: Reflections of Ewe.  This is the second photo of mine that Sheep Canada published on the cover.  The first photo of the flock of ewes coming toward the camera appeared in the winter 2016 issue.

Maybe the feeling wanes after awhile but I hope not.  It's very satisfying to pick up a magazine and see your photograph on the cover, doubly so when the subject is what you have wrapped your life around.

A Surprise Letter

A completely unexpected letter arrived in the mail today.  

It came from the Canadian Cooperative Wool Growers, the company we send our wool to for marketing (minus what I keep for felting :-) 

We are recipients of the Certificate of Merit Award for excellence in commercial wool production in Canada. This is for the 2016 wool harvest as the 2017 Canadian wool clip is still being graded.  I think sixteen merit awards are handed out each year.  

I am grinning.  This simple act of recognition is a big compliment to this flock and to the helpers who pitch in each year on shearing day so that we may skirt and properly prepare the wool for shipping. I extend this award to each of them. 

We are going through the preparations for selling lambs and deciding on next years flock and changes needed.  That means we’re looking at things we don’t like in our flock and management of the land and sheep.  Receiving this gesture of recognition shifts that focus to all that is good.  It is very timely.  I am proud of this award. 

Bringing Them Home

Bringing them across the pasture.

Turning them in the yards to head to the barn paddock where they’ll stay overnight.  There are two kelpies just outside the photo, bottom left.  I’m about to send them along the fence line while I head off to the right to lead the ewes along a narrow trail between trees and toward the next paddock.  For the stock dogs going along the fence there is a lot of sheep pressure to work through given the length of it and the number of sheep. With a few head of sheep the sheep quickly peel off a fence and the dog gets relief of pressure (the sheep move away) but in this case the sheep cannot move away quickly given the close proximity of their neighbour.  It’s a lot of pressure for a dog to handle. 

Between large flock work and three sheep work the basic principles of work are the same, which is why we can do well starting dogs on a few head of sheep.  Yet because of these common and tough scenarios throughout moving a large flock that you can never practice for on small groups, the two working scenarios are vastly different for the dogs.  Many dogs who shine on three sheep struggle working large flocks until they gain the same experience that dogs who work large flocks have. And vice versa, dogs who work large flocks all the time have adjustments to make for precision when only working a few head.  Neither one better or worse, both in their element.  

This third photo is only a few moments after the second.  Can you see the two guardian dogs? Wren is pretty easy to spot moving against the grain as she is, Zeus is a little harder to find but he’s right near Wren.  Look closely.  Flat lighting as it is, I love this photo. 

It was a lovely evening of bringing the flock home. This morning we rose and the dogs and I headed out to move the sheep into the handling area and Allen and I commenced with a full day of weighing lambs. Kelpies are good and tired as are we.  

Pulled Off Course

I was pulled away from home for a few days this week to attend industry meetings.  I came home in the wee hours of the morning this morning.  After a couple gruelling days of tension filled meetings with difficult road blocks to overcome I feel drained.  

The morning check of the flock was a blur but by evening I was feeling more secure in the knowledge that I’m back where I belong and it’s all good.  

If I gained anything through this process it is reaffirmation that my purpose is here and if I’m looking for something deeper and more challenging perhaps that can be found within avenues and offshoots from this place, such as, writing, photography and artwork, and not in meeting rooms with tyrants.

I will say I held myself in good, calm stead throughout the chaos and likely balanced some of the tension - no doubt on account of the fact that I live, breathe and reflect on scenes like the one below on a regular basis.

A connection to the land is good for the soul and sometimes it's good to more souls than your own. 

Sheep on a Hazy Day

It is dry this year, the grass is dwindling and the wetlands are shrinking rapidly.  This flock is accustomed to moving regularly for grass and so the ewes are constantly looking to go elsewhere these days.

There is smoke and harvest dust in the air the last couple days.  Smoke is from northern forest fires in the province which  are not nearly as dire as the fires burning in British Columbia and in Montana.  Harvest dust is from all around us as neighbours are in the midst of taking crop off.  Each year that I listen to the buzz of harvest around us I grow more and more sure our decision to return this land back to grass was very good for us.

Sunset Sheep, Sunrise House

Still here. So much has happened with the house build this past week but regardless of the goings on, each day begins and ends with a check of the sheep and a visit with the guardian dogs. 

Day to day it feels rather like a dull routine that needs to be gotten out of the way, but once out in this prairie space there are constant reminders that bring my head up and stir my soul.  As this house build happens there is an unfolding of feelings and an unreal realization of all the choices and actions that have led to this creation.  I keep wanting to write that we are lucky but that isn't it - this does not boil down to luck.  This land, this flock and now this home, is built on years of life choices and all the other roads not taken.  This home on the prairie is becoming an extension of us and our view on land and life. As we partake in the building of it the totality of the connection between earth, plant, animal (domestic and wild), and human potential is taking hold.  I hope that we do this house and home justice.

This photo is from yesterday morning as the eastern sunrise catches the house. The house is covered with a tarp in the centre and on the backside where we have put up ceiling boards. This is to prevent rain/water stain on the new ceiling boards until the roof panels go up. The timbers will be fine to repel rain water. There is a branch at the peak on the left hand side.  After the raising of a timber frame, there is a tradition whereby the homeowner places a branch at the peak and thanks the forest for the timbers.

A Peak at Our House Build

 Timber bents being assembled on the slab foundation in preparation for raising later this week.  

A single progress photo negates the incredible amount of work that has taken place thus far - earth moving, pouring footings and frost walls, hauling and packing earth and gravel base, laying tubing and rebar, the concrete slab, the grinding/polishing, the staining … 

Our approach to this house is similar to our approach to this place.  Natural and organic; a home that lets the outside in and hopefully portrays our willingness to co-exist with our surroundings rather than overtake them.  Nothing grandiose but instead aiming for beauty through simplicity. 

The Interruption

You will have noticed the lapse in regular blog posts.  That is due to our house build.  The general process has been a whole lot of hurry up and wait and yet somehow things are coming together.  We are getting into a very busy phase now and are close to the timber raising (post and beam, timber frame house).  Almost everything else (fencing, hauling hay, fixing - always things to fix on a ranch, and computer time) is put to the side for the time being. 

Even the flock is on the back burner right now and yet it is the flock that grounds us in regular routine.  We get out to do the morning and again for the evening check but hardly give them thought in between.  It’s a good thing they’re grazing and are pretty self sufficient right now.  It will be time for another pasture move in a day or two but that is a pretty simple affair with kelpies to help as needed. 

The one thing I don’t put to the side is my daily walk on the prairie with my dogs.  That walk is essential to a good day :-) And when there is a lull I spend a few extra minutes on the pasture, sometimes with the camera but sometimes not. 

The old timer, 14 years and 11 months

Popular Posts