Jump to content
BC Boards

Happy Trials!

Donald McCaig

Recommended Posts

Dear Sheepdoggers,


Fly's history: Born in Ireland 6 years ago, sold to Scotland, worked a Hill Lambing (more difficult than most trials), sold to a trial handler. Fly was timid and

crate protective and when he dragged her out she bit him so he beat the hell out

of her after which she quit working for him and no matter what he did for months

WOULD NOT work sheep. Brood bitch: 3 litters in four years. Sold Fly to a top

American handler who trialed her all over this country and did well with her but

sold her to me (sucker! - but I needed a trial dog) when she kept biting

her husband and started quitting at trials.


When Fly came to our farm, she was a whirling dervish basket case, bit

everybody (including me), not housebroken, escaped back to the house on walks,

filled the bedroom with noxious gas, was allergic to everything (especially reasonably priced kibble) and wouldn't work sheep. Nope. When offered the opportunity, Fly'd run back to the house,



Although Fly has become mannerly enough to tolerate stranger petting in motel

hallways, and is the best sheepdog I've ever had - at home, on friend's farms,

anywhere but sheepdog trials where, after 14 consecutive RETs last

week she got around twice.


She hates sheepdog trials which she associates with too much pressure, too

much disapproval and not having a home and failing to please. Inbye, shedding and penning she's fine.

Outwork (no commands) flawless. But at a distance the minute she starts getting

commands the heart drains out of her until - usually on the crossdrive

she just quits and holds the sheep against a fence or fetches them to my feet.


Her problem's a first for me and she's six which is not the happiest spot on the

sheepdog learning curve. But I'm interested in retraining her - so interested

that I haven't bought a second trial dog because if I did I'd give in to my love

for the beautiful run and however I'd justify it, I'd quit on Fly.


Sheepdog trials are stress and the more important trials are stress squared.


So, at home I've set up panels and at gradually increasing distances she puts 3

heavy sheep through them - 15 minutes 6 days a week. At home, where she's

happy, I give as many commands as I need and failure is not an option.


At trials, I give the fewest possible commands to just get her around. If she's a little off-line, ok. If

she's at a panel where quick hard commands are the only way to avoid a miss, I



On trial grounds,I give her as much freedom as possible letting her wander about,

visiting other handlers and dogs - far more freedom than most handlers give.


Last week, for the first time at Steve Godfrey's lowkey South Carolina trial, Fly was happy

and she got around and hit a few panels and got a shed. Lousy scores but a

whole lot better than quitting on me.


At home, where she can take it, I'm building better habits on a simulated trial course. At trials I'm using freedom and low stress to make her happy to trial where (my

theory goes) I'll gradually increase the commands (and stress) until she runs as

well away from home as at home.


We'll see. If she wasn't brilliant away from trials I wouldn't bother and if I

had to win I'd get a different dog. But, after thirty years at this foolishness, Fly's

teaching me something new about training a sheepdog.


Donald McCaig

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear Sheepdoggers,


Robin wrote:

I wondered if you had tried setting up a course at home like we talked about!


Not a full course, just one set of panels but Robin's tip was very helpful. Many thanks. I don't know how this will turn out and Fly's next trial will be after flying across country STRESS but I'm cautiously hopeful.


Donald McCaig

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...