Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Quandary

This post is about something that I and others have struggled with for a while. It is not about me or my current dogs but dogs that I see and am acquainted with. [Actually it could have been about me, with Spot when he was young but for now at least Spot and I are getting along. I have had to learn several special and important lessons with Spot but that learning process is the topic of the "Spot's Progress" labeled posts over the past couple of years! :) It could have easily been about Chiefie and me, way back when.]

The quandary is this: a person buys a young dog or a puppy, or even breeds one and retains a puppy from the litter. Then when that puppy is old enough to start on the sheep, or even just "try it out" as we often do at 5-6 months or so, it is very apparent that this puppy is way "too much dog" for what is often a beginner handler, to handle and train.

Those first few works, or even the first couple of months of training, and the approach that is taken, are SO important.

And besides training the dog, what about the handler? He/she has to learn a whole new set of rules for  working with the super-keen dog.

What does this person do? It is a huge quandary. They don't know enough to know what to do, or who to ask to help them. They only know that the cute little puppy has suddenly changed into something they had not reckoned with. It is a super-keen, fast-flying, sheep (possibly eating)-machine. They are scared that the sheep will knock them down, with puppy flying right behind the sheep. It is all bewildering and happens all wayyyy.......... toooo fast.

Or, the puppy has something physically wrong with it, and after that problem is corrected, it comes "back" to its work with so much vigor that the handler is taken aback by the intensity that has developed. This was the case with my Augie, years ago, who had intestinal surgery to repair a problem that had apparently been brewing (but I did not know about as he was so stoic). After his surgical recovery, he came on like gangbusters, and eventually without the proper resources to help us, I quit trying to work sheep with him. :(

Even the more experienced, (for lack of a better word, "intermediate") handler like myself will take a step back and say "whoa...this puppy is not at all like the other few that I have started".  There might even be two pups in a litter who are night and day. One is easy, one is hard. The handler says, "I need help for the hard (for lack of a better term) one." But where to find it? There are trainers. How to find the right one? How to get into the rotation with someone who is appropriate?  Clinics are great if with the right trainer. Clinics do not, however, always happen in the right time frame or geographic location to help us when the timing is right for our pup. And what happens when the clinic has ended?

For some reason, I am often asked to help people find dogs or pups. I am not exactly sure why I am asked but I guess it is perceived that I can network with the sheepdog folks. :) It's something that I approach, now, very warily because then if the dog or pup turns out to be gangbusters, then in my heart I feel responsible (even though intellectually I know I am not as no one can predict how a sheepdog puppy is going to turn out).

Meanwhile, I have no answer. I know the trainers that I prefer and the methodology that I see working for me and that methodology keeps the dogs in contact with the sheep despite the pup's over-enthusiasm. I know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had to work with some of the greats in the sheepdog world, for Spot's advancement.  But it seems like over and over again, in the past year or so, I have seen and talked with folks who are experiencing this quandary. I am understanding in great degree, now, why people buy started and trained dogs, or even pups who have been put on the sheep at least a few times, to assess what their basic approach may be.

Totally unrelated, below is a picture of Coal that I snapped with my phone on the summer solstice, a few days ago. Coal was easy to start but not necessarily easily categorized as easy or hard to train. He has a lot of eye which for a beginner made him both easy and hard. We went round and round and even "to the woodshed" (figuratively - not literally) a few times. I had a really great trainer helping me with him - one of the very best in the world. I was not ready to learn everything that Bill tried to help me with Coal but we did get there.

Coal on the Summer Solstice, 2016

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