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Donald McCaig

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Dear Sheepdoggers,


We haven’t taken down our trial course and the sheep are not unlike those at Belle Grove so Fly and I have been spotting for handlers tuning dogs for the Finals. Night before, we remove the sentimental flock from the field, split off forty or so trial sheep and bring them in. Next morning, soon as it’s light, we split these into two groups, pen the larger group and take the others to the setout pens. The setout pen was built specifically for trials so Fly and I can easily sort four from the flocklet and spot them. Good opportunity to drill Fly on unwelcome downs, unnatural flanks and the handy “stay”. The Dog School novices can watch the open handlers and ask questions. When it’s the novices' turn, Fly moves sheep from our handling lot into a long narrow lot behind the barn which isn’t much of a training ring since it’s rectangular, not round and ready to fall down. Consequently, when working novice dogs, open dogs are tied in the corners and weak spots in the fence where sheep can and will bust out.


One novice has been having trouble with a hot, hardheaded young dog and a top handler offered to take it into the “ring”. The hardhead dog had fully developed bad habits including but not limited to ignoring his handler, peeling off and trying to devour sheep. The rattle paddle was brought out and withal the handler/trainer’s skill (better than mine) the ring was swirling sheep, diving dog, rattling paddle and corrections. We hadn’t enough experienced dogs to guard the corners – you’d never use a novice dog - and this was maybe the best chance the trainee dog would ever get so I tied Fly inside the ring in front of the gate.


I knew Fly hates chaos, takes corrections meant for other dogs as intended for her and won’t work chutes if I’m using the rattle paddle to move sheep.


Hating the commotion she laid down faced away which meant that panicked sheep didn’t see her until they were on top of her – literally. Twice a sheep jumped over Fly.


Despite our shoddy ring, that hardheaded novice dog did start to come around. He has a better chance for a dog rational, richer, happier life. That's what we train for.


Fly’s been making incremental improvements. She’s not there yet, but she and I are better than we were. These days she stays with me when the going gets tough.


To timid, hypersensitive Fly guarding the gate of that training ring was about as bad as it gets and I was glad when the session was done.


You may recall Fly was the dog who quit working sheep because she couldn’t handle the training/life/trialing stress other sheepdogs manage.


So that evening, when we restored the sheep to their proper flocks and fields we did a little balance work without commands and if Fly wanted to grab a little wool, that was okay too.


I’ve heard it said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Maybe.


Donald McCaig

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