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Chesney's Girl

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Disclaimer: This is one persons experience with starting one dog. It is by no means explaining to people how to start or work their own dogs. This is meant to share events with those who find themselves asking the question of whether they should start with an AKC person or find someone that does practical/USBCHA type work.


After a monumental working day with Chesney, I got to thinking... What would this little dog be like today if he was started properly and in the way I have been working him for the last two and a half years? I find myself asking this often.


A little background with the progression of starting Chesney. Now, I understand that 99% of people feel that 4-5 months is too young to start a pup, but to each their own (I've seen it work out both ways with many different training styles and types of dogs). Chesney was ready to work at this age. I started looking (it was a brief search) and found someone that was close enough to me, to make regular working and training visits feasible. The person I started with was from the ACK school of herding. I thought his person had good teaching qualifications since they had dogs with ribbons and titles! (We can all say it... "Ooooooo")


So beaming with excitement, I took my young pup out to "herd" sheep for the first time in either of our lives. Chesney was keen to work and looking back showed some really good stuff. Our "trainer" said that he would surely do well and that we should work up to being able to compete on the B course. For our first outing, I was thrilled! We went back a week later and my cautious thoughtful puppy I had brought out the week before, turned into a crazy mad man going balls to the wall mindlessly chasing. The trainer said this was excellent he understood that he needed to "work" the sheep. All I needed to do was get him to keep circling the sheep while I walked aimlessly around the arena. Wonderful! We were herding!


Looking back and seeing other dogs started properly, these first few lessons are CRUCIAL to forming good feel for their stock and avoiding detrimental habits. In the first few months with this trainer all my puppy learned was to be in continuous motion circling, wearing, and running to keep the sheep to me and together. Once I saw that Chesney was just becoming more and more unmanageable at these lessons, to where he had to be locked in a crate far away from the action to be functional on the course, I started researching.


Best move I made was to not be complacent in what we were doing. I wanted more than what these AKC folks were doing. We stopped going to see this trainer just 4 months after we started and I put Chesney up for the better part of a year. I had almost quit thinking about stock work with him until I came across USBCHA handlers, dogs and the culture. After a year of being laid up, Chesney had his first new lesson with a new mentality and goal. His exposure this time was much different, I had a stop on my dog and he knew that we were a team, and I was the captain. The first thing we did was move 100 MPH around the grass arena with my dog wearing back and forth, back and forth. Heck I was pleased we just kept things to a controlled chaos this first time, after all I didn't want to look like an idiot (too late for that though).


This new trainer (now I consider my mentor) told me to slow the dog down, do walk abouts to get him reading his stock, and make him walk straight behind his sheep, NO WINGING AND WANGING! What? I thought I spoke English, but this was so foreign to me that I didn't know where to begin.


That day, we had to restart. We restarted with bad habits formed from a bad choice in a trainer that is apart of unsatisfactory venues to compete in, in my mind all because of a lack of knowledge. Fast forwarding those two and a half year, I can tell you, Chesney and I have had more ups and downs, successes and failures, than one would care to experience again. It's taken that long to get to a place now where I can honestly say, all the hard work and time spent is finally paying off and we are where we should have been 2 years ago. However, habits die hard and because of a faulty start, when Chesney is pushed and his mind gets tired, he reverts back to lots of wearing and if let go would mindlessly orbit. I wouldn't trade this learning experience for anything though. It's made me a better handler, understanding when I need to help my dog, and step in, because he's getting tired or being pushed to his limits, I'm also grateful for such a forgiving first dog, one that's stuck with it through the many, many mistakes I've made.


With that said, I just wanted to explain to and share with people on these boards finding themselves asking the question of, whether they should compromise with an ACK trainer because of travel time or convenience, I would say wait, do more research and look for a person who does the type of work you're looking to do with your dog when they are finished. After all if its the kind of finished work you like from this person and their dogs, chances are pretty high that they can help you train your dog to do the same to the best of your dogs ability.

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It's great that you have taken the time to share your story with us. I am sure you are not the only one here who has this kind of story to tell. It is critical to have a dog with what it takes, and instruction that is capable and correct. You can't get very far without both.


I think we ought to note that there are people promoting themselves as working dog trainers with no connections to AKC who are not particularly competent.


Thank you!

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my dog did not have what it took to be a "real" trial dog, i figured that out pretty quick. but i wanted the herding experience so bad that i continued for two years with lessons, just to work sheep. with what i was spending on lessons and ahba trials(plus selling suburb home) we were able to buy a farm and did. the trainer that i started with has had success with trial type training and also all-breed style herding. i know some folks form strong opinions about training methods... and i was glad to have opportunity to get my feet wet, but you live and learn...

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I know pups are started at different ages but you can't throw out the fact your pup was, if my math is correct, almost two years old when you started him the second time. As you and many others have suggested, there are lots of things that go into starting a dog well. Maturity of the pup is certainly one of them. Perhaps the most important one. How much pressure the pup can take from both the trainer and the sheep. Your second handler might have well suggested putting your dog up for some number of months when you first started at 4 or 5 months.


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Thanks for the observation. The reason I said in my OP "to each their own" for the starting age of their dogs is because there IS such a variety of opinions based on training methods and the dogs being started. I'm aware of that. However, knowing my current trainer and knowing how keen my dog was at that age (when he was started the 1st time), he would have stated fine under the second trainers method (and now adopted as my own), as there really isn't much pressure put on a young pup just starting. Appropriate stock choice and availability is your first step to minimizing stress for a pup. Knowing the mental capacity of your dog (he was a very serious puppy) is second. I was lucky to have both a second time and regret not having it for the first.


This little story was meant for those who have questions about starting their dogs with people in the AKC venues or waiting/traveling to find a trainer that actually competes or trains for work that is more appealing and better for the Border Collie as a whole. The expectations between the two are staggeringly different and well worth the wait to get the most out of your dog.

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