Sunday, April 3, 2016

When A Person and Their Dog Just "Click"

It has been difficult to blog this past year, because my world has been made considerably smaller and there just isn’t that much to share. From the days of wandering across the 250,000 acre ranch gathering cattle, gardening, milking and taking care of all my stock, I now find myself spending the majority of my time sitting in a recliner, a very good day being one where I can make dinner, or get laundry done.

The good news is, that my new medications seem to be working really well on my auto-immune issues and my biggest problem is weakness from the years of limitation the diseases have caused me. I haven’t totally given up hope, but I am also not convinced I will make yet another comeback. I dream about riding again and that is my goal, but it’s far off from where I find myself right now.

The Maremmas are still doing a fabulous job of protecting everything out in the pastures, I just do not see them very often because I cannot always walk that far, and once there, there is no place to rest. I can no longer get up from the ground by myself so it’s a bit dicey to go very far from the house.

Heath, the Sheppie has been my saving grace. He entertains me, keeps me company and makes my heart full…and of course, TheMan, who is the most wonderful husband, keeps me going with his unconditional love, a fantastic reflection of the God we serve.

At any rate, I am going to attempt to find a way to share my life in my tiny, self contained world. Once a master of multi-tasking, I am now terribly excited if I can complete a task without forgetting what I was doing. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least.

If you are looking for inspiration or practical information, you might want to stop reading now, because mostly I will just be sharing my thoughts, until such time as I can once again resume my regular life which is on indefinite pause.

Heath (The Happy Heathen of Shepherd’s Way) recently turned a year old. From the time he arrived as a tiny pup of 8 weeks, we began to engage in clicker training. I’d like to share a few things about this, as a surprisingly small number of people seem to be familiar with it. It involves using treat rewards and a clicker to teach, mark and guide behavior. The biggest thing about it, is that it is FUN for both the human and the dog/cat/horse/dolphin/whatever. It gives the animal a voice, results in tight bonding and an eager, biddable, happy student. There are a plethora of books on the market on how to apply it. For Heath and I, it was an extremely fortunate activity as it allowed me, while being largely incapacitated most of the time, to engage with and offer enough stimulation to satisfy a young, active puppy.

He had already learned to “sit” when he wanted something, as his breeder used manding to teach all the pups, by simply giving a treat every time she saw one sitting down. They quickly learned as a group, that their dinner bowl, etc. would be delivered once they were all sitting. Pretty darn cool. Once home with me, we put the spoken request (or if you must, the command) along with a hand signal for it.

By the time Heath had been here a month, he could sit, lay down, pick up his toys and put them in a basket, high five and a couple of other little things. It began this way:

I bought a clicker and put it on a string around my neck so I would always have it with me. I bought a roll of dog food that I cut a slice of each day and cubed into very small pieces.

Get Heath’s attention, and click/treat about 20 times (loading the clicker-only needs to be done at the first session) so he connects the click with the reward. After doing that a couple of times, overtime he did something I liked or something I asked for, I would click and treat. We would only play this game for about 2 minutes at a time, but we did it several times a day. Heath loved it, it gave him mental exercise enough to make up for the physical exercise we were not getting. He learned quickly to communicate to me that he wanted to play, so we would often do it at his request. To date, he knows more than any dog I have ever owned and more than I can remember to list. It has made him an absolutely devoted partner who is eager to please and makes every effort to comply with my every request. I have never had to correct him for anything, as the very few bad behaviors he tried out, were quickly nipped in the bud by redirecting him into doing something I could reward him for.
ie: barking at and attempting to attack the broom/vacuum

Instead of kenneling him or telling him no, it gave us an opportunity to work on his “sit-stay” which he had learned through the clicker play. He sat and watched as I swept or vacuumed and I clicked and gave him a jackpot of treats when I was finished. It was a totally positive experience and has served us well in a variety of situations while strengthening commands that are important. His “sit-stay” has become so strongly engrained, that when we are out with the chickens, rabbits, or sheep that a young herding dog such as himself would LOVE to run and chase and scatter, I am able to encourage him not to engage in that behavior by simply asking first for a sit-stay, as the critters either gather around him, or rush by. He gets high praise for it, once again, making him a confident, happy and well adjusted dog and makes me a proud and ecstatic handler.

So you can see how this changes the face of the way you probably used to train your dogs. The difference in the dog is obvious, as their personality and exuberance is not diminished, resulting in a robotic automaton, but instead a happy, eager to please partner, who is able to find creative ways to communicate with you his wants and needs, while doing his best to comply with yours.

The other really great thing about it is, it can be used on a dog/animal of any age. Young or old. If you have a pet, give it a try!

P.S. as many folk have expressed an interest in trying this, I'd like to share that I got a pack of Karen Pryor clickers on as well as the book "Clicking With Your Dog" which is a great starter book. There are many others as well, and I would also like to highly recommend any KikoPup u-tube videos. I use RedBarn dogfood rolls (also from Amazon) because I can cut a slice a day into small cubes and it's not greasy so I can stick it in my pocket. Happy clicking! Your dog will love you for it and you will love your dog 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ed-ju-catin the Sheeple

Heath thought he got a bottle lamb for his birthday...

I can teach you somethin' neat!!

Now pay attention....

Watch closely! ....




Okay. Now it's your turn.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Happy Birthday to The Happy Heathen of Shepherd's Way

March 21, 2016

Today was the Heathen’s first birthday. I had a Dr appt in town, so we did a little bit of celebrating yesterday and today he got a plain doughnut in lieu of a cake. After running around and getting all our errands done, we took him to Texas Roadhouse for a steak dinner. Unfortunately, TheMan would not let me take him inside, so he didn’t have the pleasure of having all the wait-staff sing Happy Birthday to him, but I did get a steak just a little bigger than what I could eat and he got the left overs.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HEATH! You had some big paw prints to fill, after my dear, sweet Cider passed on, and  you have done it admirably. The huge gaping wound in my heart has healed and been filled and you have brought me laughter, even on some of the most desolate feeling and almost unbearably painful days. Every step of the way has been pure joy and you have taught me, as much as I have taught you.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

To recount a bit from the last post:

My last post was just before Christmas. The boss’ wife had come down to tell me that as a Christmas gift, they were going to have everyone’s carpets cleaned…I declined, because it is winter and with 4 dogs and a mechanic husband along with no back porch, mud is tracked in daily. I said thank you anyway, maybe sometime when they have the carpet cleaner come out in the spring.

We headed to town the next day to pick up parts for the ranch…which didn’t come in, so we had to spend the night. (Town is several hours away, remember. There are no ‘quick trips’) The next day we waited around most of the day and the parts STILL didn’t come in, but TheMan bought us a new couch, which was sorely needed as the pink leather one we’d inherited was not only unsightly, but uncomfortable as well…although the dogs did seem to enjoy it.

A neighbor came and cleaned the house, I caught the boss’ wife and daughter stringing up evergreen boughs and lights across the front of the house along with wreaths on the door and the girls snuck in and put up a fully decorated Christmas tree and some stockings.

The biggest shock was yet to come. Christmas Eve morning, while I was sitting in my PJ’s drinking a cup of coffee, there was a knock at the door. TheMan opened it and in comes the boss’ wife and her 5 grown kids with armloads of gifts to put under the tree. By this time I was completely stymied, wondering WHY they were going so overboard and how I was going to respond in kind…they all chuckled and carried on. I felt something against my leg and assumed it was one of the dogs…then I glanced up and saw my youngest son and his wife standing in the kitchen doorway!!! I have never been so flummoxed in my life. They live a 13 hour drive away and told me in February they couldn’t make it up this year because they had a Hawaii trip offered to them and only get a week off each year. I looked down to see it was my two little granddaughters hanging on my leg, not the dogs, and I was stunned. It was definitely the best Christmas surprise I ever had!

Heath was beside himself with someone to play with. He followed the littlest everywhere throughout the house. Even her older sister, who is not comfortable around dogs, played with him and he would jump up in her chair and smother her with kisses.

It was a great time, the girls and I made sugar cookies while their folks caught up on sleep from driving all night. We had great food and great company and it was the most memorable Christmas I think I have ever had.

Now it’s nearly February. Most of the ewes have lambed. Mr Potamus is beside himself as this is his favorite time of year. He just loves to fawn over the babies. One of the last two that were born has a damaged neck and has to stay inside with us so I can bottlefeed her. Her name is Fugly and Mr Potamus and Heath have been her champions.

I've had seriously bad writer's block, so I am just going to leave with a few pictures...

Sleeping partners. He sleeps too easily. He counts sheep but only has to get to "1"
The downside of having a bottle lamb. They can also use straws and steal your lemonade

Monday, December 21, 2015

Better late than never!!

Heath entertains himself watching tv

A rare and vicious saber toothed sheppie

A computer failure put me into forced silence for awhile. Add to that the fact that the dogs busted the antennae that allowed us somewhat of a phone service and it’s been pretty quiet here lately!

After months and months of unsuccessful breeding, the rabbits have finally kindled, so, after starting with the original 4, we now have 40. Funny how that works! I have learned quite a lot since having them.


First of all, there is no foundation to the saying: “breeding like rabbits” because they are not that easy to breed after all. It did take 5 months, and the purchase of 3 more rabbits and one of the original does still has not gotten pregnant.
#2 It is a good idea to buy and wear kevlar sleeves as handling rabbits will slice you up and leaving you looking like you’d wrestled with Edward Scissorhands.
#3 Boy rabbits can spray urine quite a long way in any direction they desire.
#4 You have to clip their toenails and sometimes even their teeth.
#5 They poop. A LOT!  3 oz of rabbit feed turns into about 4 pounds of poop and a half gallon or so of pee.
#6 Rabbit poop is AWESOME for the garden. Really, really awesome.
#7 Newborn rabbits look like used chewing gum.
#8 Two week old rabbits are really, really cute
#9 At 3 days of age, baby rabbits do a great imitation of popping corn.

It is going to be a fun journey, albeit an expensive one. TheMan encouraged me to purchase good quality triple stack cages, as I cannot make or repair homemade ones and he hasn’t the time. I don’t regret it, as they will last forever, fit nicely in the milk barn in the winter and can be rolled outside in the summertime. But it was a pretty big expense. I hope we don’t need anymore than we have already.

Mister, my geriatric Paint Horse, somehow managed to get his legs caught in a fence or gate. Swollen, sore and infected, I had to dig through stuff I haven’t  used in over a decade since I quit my training business due to illness. On with the standing bandages, and putting him on antibiotics. Good to know I still got it.

Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is only days away. We didn’t get to see our family, but that is normal since we moved here to Oregon. It’s just too much distance for any of us to manage more than one trip a year.

I have been remiss in making soaps and lotions due to my declining health. I am hoping to have a good spurt in the future so I can get everything made and my inventory filled up again. Meanwhile, I have spent most of my time in the house, alone. Well…not alone. Heath has kept me company every waking minute of my day and even at night. He has managed to surprise me often and makes me laugh daily with his antics. I’ve never known such a high energy puppy to be so easy to live with. If I am feeling poorly, he is content to play “click” and he is a very fast learner. He already knows more than any dog I have ever owned and he’s extremely eager to learn more. He is sort of my “recreation director”. He lets me know when he wants outside, back inside, when it is time to play click, or time to play with toys. A couple of times a day he jumps up on my lap for hugs and kisses and unlike any dog I have ever known, loves to roll over on his back against my chest and just be held, like a child. I cannot begin to tell you how much positive impact that has on my outlook. He is incredibly bright and a ton of fun.

The radio fence has broken somewhere and the Maremmas finally realized they were no longer being contained as there is no beep, vibration or shock when they approach the fence, so rather than allow them free access to the ranch again, they have spent more time with me, while the sheep hang out in the small corral with Mister. These two big polar bears are just as affectionate as ever, happy to just lay on the couch next to one of us, where we can rest a hand on them. It is almost hard to believe such sweet and laid back dogs could so quickly become lethal in the face of a threat. I can’t imagine ever living without them, though they are very different than Heath and our relationship is different as well. Everyone is satisfied…well that is, to a point. There was only room for Heath and one big Maremma on the couch, so TheMan bought us a beautiful leather sectional and behold! We all fit! I am now on the hunt for a good throw on cover in black to keep on it, so they don’t damage it and also, so all I have to do is lift it off in order to offer a clean place for company to sit. All in all, it was a great investment. I have been totally enjoying it.

With my back and hands affected so badly these days, housekeeping is a challenge. We already live in a house with large gaps in the doorways and windows and overtime the wind blows, it brings in dust and leaves. Add to that 4 dogs, a husband who works on greasy tractors and trucks most of the time and having a plethora of critters, it just gets plumb out of control. Well, the boss’ family and a couple of the ‘neighbors’ took that into account. Mind you, I no longer work and am no longer able to help out or do anything nice for anyone on the ranch. We came home from a 2 day trip to Boise and as soon as I stepped through the front door, after our late night arrival, I knew something was up. The house smelled different, (it actually smelled good!!) and I noticed there were new door mats both inside and outside. In our absence, they’d had the floors scrubbed and waxed and the carpets cleaned. I was speechless. The next day, one of the neighbors showed up and told me she was instructed to clean the whole house and that I was not to argue, or help out. It has been overwhelming to be the recipient of so much love and consideration, but the ranch family is amazing. This weekend, TheMan went to California without me, because it is his Mom’s birthday. I would have gone, but my pain levels have been pretty bad lately and I didn’t think a 13 hr trip in the pickup both ways was going to be a good idea, so I opted to stay home. I heard a banging outside in the early evening, and assumed the kids were doing something at the cabin across the way. I mean, who and why would anyone be pounding on our house? Then I heard giggling and more pounding. I finally stepped outside to see that the boss’ wife and daughter had hung real pine and cedar garland and strung lights across the entire front of our house, along with a fabulous smelling wreath on the door. This evening, one of the girls drove down and took me up to the house for coffee. It was nice having a different view than the one from my living room and the stormy sky outside contrasting with the pristine white snow on the ground and blanketing the trees and equipment was breathtaking. We spent a couple of hours drinking coffee and sharing good company and they drove me back home. I walked into the house to find…a fully decorated Christmas tree!!

I had stopped decorating a couple of years ago because it is just the two of us and it is too difficult and painful to my back,  hands and shoulders.  But this year we have a beautifully decorated house and yard, thanks to the ranch family. They have done so many things for so many people throughout the years to SHOW the love of Christ in action.

I have no idea how to show my appreciation for all they have done for us, but am basking in the results of our beautiful clean house and Christmas spirit.

May you all have a similar experience and feel loved throughout the coming year.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Maremma LGD's and Other Sundry Things...

It's been busy around here, more or less. Heath is growing up fast and showing what he is made of. 
I've always made him stay in the yard when I went out to feed, because he is too little and I don't want the sheep to hurt him and blow his confidence, or see him kicked by a cow or horse. Plus he loves to pop his front feet at the laying hens and make them run off squawking.
One afternoon, the Maremmas were in having a day off. I didn't see Heath sneak past me. They did though. He made a bee-line for those sheep and they made a bee-line to intercept him. Mr Potamus put himself between the sheppie and the sheeple while Bruno distracted him, offering himself as a sacrifice, being chewed on and abused, for the sake of his honor.
Potamus stood between the sheppie and the sheeple

blocking Heath's access to the sheep, which he has now forgotten

...because he is busy gnawing on Bruno...

...but they haven't forgotten him...

and Bruno brings him back to me...

Once again, the Maremmas demonstrated their unique style of protection and independent thinking. Instead of attacking the pup, which they knew was mine, they blocked and redirected his attention, thereby protecting my sheep, and my pup, while still accomplishing their objective. These same dogs that were so careful to cause  no harm don't hesitate to take on a cougar if it tries to breech their perimeter.

When they aren't actively preventing calamities, they engage in a lot of playful wrestling...

Notice there are never any teeth showing. They have always been careful not to injure one another, but the play is still rough and very fierce...

My son and his wife and six children came for a visit. It was GREAT to see them all and I especially enjoyed the weekend. They stayed busy doing target practice, riding around to see the ranch, feeding calves, putting shelters back together, moving meatie chickens, bathing Scottie, doctoring and marking sheep, and taking down the greenhouse, along with other things. 

Heath loved having the kids here and was especially taken with one little girl. It made his day when she would wake up in the morning and come to see him.

They actually wore him out. First time we've ever seen it....

All in all, it was a very good month.

I ruptured my bicep, so it will be a bit more difficult to do things for awhile, again, but Heath has been pitching in and helping to put the 54 meatie chickens away in the shed at night. One was injured when she was moved from the brooder to the shed, as the other chicks all piled up on her and she has difficulty walking or balancing now. He has been very disturbed by this, and yesterday, to my surprise, he went out and got her, and brought her to me in the house. She was none the worse for wear for his having picked her up and carried her all the way in here and is currently residing in a small rabbit cage in the house where he can feel satisfied she is doing ok, although she is not likely to survive as she gets bigger and gains more weight.

He's been doing a bang-up job taking care of the little flock in the back yard. However, I had to draw the line this morning, when he decided to separate the small "bonus chick" that was sent with them, who is a barred black and white and does not match the others. He then attempted to carry Magoo, the blind duck into the house. I've been trying to explain to him this is not an avian hospital and we do not segregate our chickens...never a dull moment here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It's A Girl!

SushiMoo had her calf. It was another heifer and she is HUGE! That's good though, since Sushi had no problems delivering her and she'll be for sale. I just call her "Big'Un".

TheMan has been leaving the house at 3:30 am every morning lately to rake hay, so I have to go out and feed by myself. After situating the rabbits, feeding the bottle calves, letting the sheep out, saying good morning to Bruno, I went thru the gate to feed Sushi and my old Paint horse who is in the next corral over. I noticed Mr Potamus was laying in Sushi's corral but didn't think much of it. I fed her and wondered where she'd hid her calf...after all, the corral is 90% dirt now, so I figured she must be hiding behind the weeds towards the far end. I walked down there, but no calf. I looked around thinking maybe she'd gotten through the fence into the next pasture, but realized she wasn't bawling and neither was Sushi. At any rate, I knew Mr Potamus would protect her, wherever she had gotten to. Still, it bothered me that I could not find her. As I walked up to say good morning to Mr Potamus who was still in the same place (this should have been a red flag, as he ALWAYS gets up and comes to greet me, with his whole body slowly wagging) I noticed an old tire I had put over a large hold he had dug a year or so before...we call it his "man cave". Through the tire, I saw a small face with large, frightened eyes. Somehow, Big'Un had slipped backwards through the tire and was stuck underground in Potamus' mancave. He lay by her just keeping her company. I moved the tire and after some effort, managed to extract her from her dilemma. She was a bit stressed, but none the worse for wear.

57 meatie chicks arrived today and I am still waiting on the rabbits to kindle. I'm not even sure they are bred, since it has been so hot this summer and I am no good at palpating, since this is all new to me. I am hoping and praying I don't flare on processing day as these chicks are going to be a large investment. However, as they are not nearly as reactive as laying hens, they may serve to teach the Heathen not to chase chickens. He's very good about the ducks, but they aren't as erratic.

We dispatched "Old Ugly" who was one of our 'alarm clocks' and the hens are much happier. He had really torn them up, ripping most of the feathers off of their necks and backs. At first I thought maybe it was mites or parasites, until I realized the roosters weren't missing any feathers at all. Already in 2 days I can tell a difference in the health of my hens.  Having more than one rooster is never a good idea. In fact, the only reason I still have one, is because I'll be incubating the eggs next year. We'll be whittling the numbers down to 6 chickens this winter. DummyDuck is sitting on another huge clutch of rotten eggs. I have yet to work up the courage to remove them after the last debacle. Meantime, the other mama duck is taking care of 7 babies that survived from 2 different clutches. The drake had been killing them so I evicted him. Last I saw him, a chicken was chasing him across the pasture so either he has found new digs, or fed himself to the ranch dogs. No way to know for sure.

The sheep are fat and lambs needed weaning a long time ago, but so far, we haven't got it done. We'll be picking up a new ram next month, so that will be nice.

The Happy Heathen has been a source of daily entertainment. He's so smart and so crafty that he has both myself and the man in stitches most of the time. Lately, he's been stealing my shoes. I got up the other morning to just one shoe and told him he had to go find my other one. He just sat and looked at me defiantly. I argued with him, but of course, he never changed his mind that I could see. I stepped out to get the milk replacer for the calves and saw my shoe around the far corner of the house. Resigned to having to walk across the wet lawn to get it, I went in and finished making bottles. I opened the door to find my shoe on the doorstep. I thanked him profusely for bringing it back. Yesterday morning, again, I had only one shoe. I went through the same routine with him, but instead of sitting and staring at me, he would wag his tail and jump on the bed. I was irritated as I could not find it anywhere. I figured I would have to go feed barefooted, which is no fun here with the sharp rocks and stickers. TheMan rolled in just before I left. I told him about my shoe and he said 
"I thought I saw it on the bed this morning"

Sure enough, it was stuffed underneath the quilt. Very funny, Heath.
I was late getting up this morning so my little K9 alarm clock bounced up on my chest, pinning me and giving nose and eyeball kisses until I relented and got out of bed. If I am not up by 8 am, he will torment me until I am. I honestly am more attached to him than any dog I've ever owned and that is not said lightly as I have had some amazing dogs that meant the world to me...but Heath has made me his whole world. He doesn't beg for me to throw something or even to pet him, he climbs up on my lap several times a day just to 'be'. I don't know if he is fulfilling a need he has or not, but it sure does a lot for me. He learns at a phenomenal rate and has an almost sinful amount of personality. I rarely shed a tear anymore for Cider as Heath has come so far in healing my heart.

Heath meets SushiMoo

Heath meets the sheeple

A conversation with Thyme

That doesn't take anything away from the Maremmas. They are just as amazing and wonderful as ever. Just the other night, I was trying to get Sushi in, while her calf was only 12 hours old. She refused and so I decided to wrangle the calf in so she would follow. I kept a close eye on Sushi as often newly fresh cows can become aggressive if you get between them and their I never saw the big black baldy cow coming at me, until I heard Potamus bark. He raced in between us and took the hit. She knocked him off of his feet and began crushing him with her head. I let go of the calf and began screaming at the cow, looking for something to hit her with and I tripped and fell next to Potamus. Bruno charged in and held her back until we both could get to our feet and out of the pasture. I was afraid Potamus might have some broken ribs or internal injuries, but he seems to be fine other than bruising. We did manage to get Sushi and the calf confined and that is where they will stay until I take her calf off of her to bottle feed next week.

Best of all, my oldest son and his family are coming for a visit. I can't wait to see them! The grandkids and foster kids will all be here and I hope I can make it a special time for them. I am pretty sure that homemade ice cream and flaming bananas is gonna be on the menu.

Looking forward to the cooler days of Autumn and hoping the fires are all out soon. Most of the PNW is on fire and the smoke in the valley has been pretty bad at time, although we are fortunate none of the fires are too close to us. Most of the ranch crew is gone though, with all the heavy equipment helping to fight fires from California to Washington. Praying for the safety of all concerned and for better days to come.