Sunday, February 22, 2015

Training Trifecta

A training trifecta, a triple play, a troika...

As I mentioned in the last blog entry, we have been so fortunate in our area, recently, to have three great sheepdog trainers who gave training clinics.  All three handler/trainers are considered masters of their craft, not just by me but I believe, universally in the international sheepdog community. I felt really lucky to be able to go to all three at least at some level. I spent some time asking different folks at the clinics, why they go to clinics, why they don't go to clinics, and so forth. The answers were all over the board, just as some folks prefer to take lessons from one trainer over another.

In early January there was a two-day RESDA-sponsored clinic with Bill Berhow. Later in January, Derek Scrimgeour was here visiting, from England, and there was a two-day clinic. And then in mid-February, Jack Knox was hosted at UC Hopland again, for three days. All three trainers are great. I can't really review what they did or said or advised folks to do, because I might misinterpret something for someone and I don't claim to be the mouth piece for any of the above. Since none of the three are vocal on the internet it is not right for me to put words in their mouth. But there are a few things I can say with confidence about them. Even though each has a somewhat different method (not all that different when you get right down to it), they all have something major in common that I do feel confident in saying, and that is that all three train and work their dogs in contact with the sheep. They all work the dogs in such a way that the sheep tend to train the dogs. They work such that the dogs learn in a fair fashion that makes sense and the dogs are never chased back off the sheep, out of contact. The focus is  always on the sheep and their movement and how to make that happen properly. To me, at least, all three handlers are encouraging to their students and are generous about communicating their vast knowledge to their trainees.

At the BB clinic, I could only go one day, and I worked Spot. It was a small group of dogs and only two auditors. At the DS clinic, I worked Spot both days and took lots and lots of notes; there were a lot of auditors. I did not count the auditors but I'll bet there were 15 or so, each day. For the JK clinic I audited only one day but also took a lot more notes. There were probably half a dozen or more auditors,  most of them repeaters, on the day that I went. I always save my notes and I have them from clinics going way back.

At the second and third clinic and in between, I asked around why people don't go to clinics, or why they don't audit more. I got a variety of answers.  I'd love to hear from people why they do or don't go to clinics and what they would like to see in clinics. Here are some of the replies that I got in person.

Some people have actual hearing problems that make it difficult to understand a clinician and thus, the clinic is of little use to them. This, I totally understand. Private lessons would be better, where the trainer and student are more one-on-one and the student can ask for things to be repeated if they were not heard. They might need to use radios when out in the field or something like that in order to help. Leading into this from the above problem, some folks have trouble understanding a clinician with a pronounced accent. This, I only sort of understand, because after a short amount of time a student should be able to pick up what is being said and done and follow along by what is done in front of them by watching. Still, some people feel this way and it is valid if they feel it. Staying on the audio topic, some folks prefer a clinic where they know that the clinician will be wearing a microphone during the training sessions, and also that the clinician will be sharing information in between each dog. Just my perception, but I think sometimes it is hard for the trainer to share what they have just done with some dogs, because they work so in the moment. So sometimes there is more sharing, or less sharing, in between dogs, and we have to accept this. What is so important to remember is that all the dogs are different. The learning is in the doing and by auditing and staying focused, we can follow along with what is done, at least that is my approach. I am always glad when the clinicians share after each dog but they really don't have to if I have been paying attention.

Another reason for not auditing was given by some, that they prefer to be working a dog and they find it hard to sit there all day and focus on the other dogs. Since I love to audit, this is somewhat hard for me to understand, but again it is valid because other people feel it. I do feel myself, however, that a person can learn a lot by watching and without that pressure of working one's own dog. I have gone back to my old notes from years past and used those ideas for new dogs of my own, or for other people's dogs when they have asked me to brain storm ideas with them for training problems.

Yet another reason for not auditing was that people either didn't care for that clinician or they had a perceived bad experience at one time with them, and they preferred not to go back. Since I had a very negative experience at a sheepdog training clinic many years ago, I do understand this. However my bad experience involved the clinician beating up my dog with a heavy wooden crook (before I stopped her from doing it, in shock). I don't think the bad experiences related to me recently were of this physical type at all; I think they were just people who didn't click with the method or the way it was communicated on that day. Anyway a bad experience does put a person off and it is hard to shake that off and give a trainer or a venue a second chance, so this is understandable.

I also heard from some folks that they would like to see someone different brought in, a point which I think was satisfied with the DS clinic (and perhaps why that clinic attracted so many auditors).
Still, I do feel that some folks missed a great opportunity to learn, by not going to any of these three clinics. On the other hand, I realize that even though many folks participate in this sheepdog activity, not all of them are driven to learn so much about it as I am, and I am sure there are folks who are even more driven to learn about it than I am! :)  Or at the very least, they have more time or resources for it than I do. So just as all the dogs are different, so are the handlers. I am trying to understand this and I would welcome any comment.

Coal auditing at the Zamora clinic, not by choice! :) He would rather be a participant since he can't take notes.

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