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Tomorrow Tess and I will be going to our first herding clinic. She's 18 mo, has a selfconfident character and is biddable.


A month ago she did a kind of quick instinct test when we attended a trial. The shepherd's opinion was along the lines of "she's got the instinct, has no fears, is fast and energetic. You let me take her to my farm and I'll have her herding soon. Will have to tire her first, though, so she can learn to work".


What I got from that was that she was too excited and entusiastic (I did have to drag her away). Well, not good but it would be worse if it was the oposite. She does have a lot of obedience and self control training, maybe it will help once she gets she's to be calmer.


I was told there are 8 dogs, all beginning. Each will work for a short time and they will rotate along the day, so each dog works several times.


Can you please point out to a complete ignorant beginer what are the most important things I should do, and the most important things I should not do?

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Dear Mr. McCaig


Sheep dog trialing and bc herding is pretty recent in Portugal, I believe it started developing 10 / 15 years ago, when a bunch of farmers got interested in the complexities of working border collies. They started inviting english clinicians to come teach them, and still do. It's a small comunity. Last year was the first time Portugal had a national championship going, and the winner(s) got to participate in the international herding championship in the UK. There have always been sheepdogs around, of course, but not border collies, and the kind of work those do is much less complex than what border collies do at a trial.


To give you an idea, last month I attended a trial, it had 14 dogs registered to participate, all border collies, although the trials are all-breeds. I think the vast majority, if not all of the dogs involved in herding trials here in Portugal are bc's. So for this clinic I believe most or all dogs will be border collies.


I investigated the clinician, but I'm enough of a novice to not be able to have an opinion. He's a university teacher. He seemed also to be very respected by people of the millieu. When the clinic was anounced online, several people asked who the clinician was, and upon being told, said they would definitely go, so I assume that he does trial.


I get the feeling that, in Portugal, this border collie herding movement is being directed primarily at working in the farm, yes, but as importantly at trialing. That is to say, the vast majority of people attending clinics do have farms, but they are also interested in trialing, otherwise they would not atend clinics and make do with what they have known about sheepherding for many generations.


Hope this makes sense.

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Dear Ms. Serrano,


Thanks. Your clinic should be very much those here and in the UK and should be great fun for you and your dog. Often people attending their first clinic are so concerned with how their dog is doing/will do/is behaving they don't get full benefit from the other dogs who may have issues you'll need to deal with later with your own dog or perhaps later with your second dog. Try to understand what's going on with the other dogs as well as your own and if you can't, ask questions and if you haven't understood the answer ask a followup question. As a teacher the clinician should be used to questions.


There will be a tremendous flood of information at the clinic, more probably than you can absorb at one time. Expect to be working with your dog months later and say to yourself, "Oh! So that's what the clinician meant."


I don't know you but I am not a quick learner and if I'm to take away more than one or two "Do this at home" tips, I need to take notes.


Expect knowledge not immediate improvements- though you may get them as well. If you do get improvements remember that your dog has exceeded itself and hasn't fully integrated these new lessons into its understanding. Don't try to build further until you've integrated the newly learned at home.


Don't be disappointed if your dog isn't the "Star of the Clinic". His sheepdogging future will be written in your dedication and perseverance.


Good luck. I envy you your journey.


Donald McCaig

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Thanks so much, Mr McCaig.


I´m not a farmer nor do I have sheep. One of the first things I asked to people who farm and trial was if it made any sense to introduce a dog to herding if she wasn't going to do any real herding throughout her life. I was told that, as we do a lot of other different activities and training, meaning, she has a full interesting life, it would do no harm and would probably do good, reinforcing our bond and working partnership. If she was a stay-at-home do nothing dog, then it would not be advisable to start her on herding.


I expect to be able to attend clinics or maybe informal training as I get to know people, once a month or every 2 months, so it will just be a hobby, another activity we can do together. I would really love to have a life more "nature centered", though, so who knows... maybe when I retire I could get a farm... I love dogs, and working with dogs, more than almost anything else in the world, so it makes sense to me to try what she was born to do. Maybe sometime we will get to do this in a more meaningfull way.


I will take notes for sure, and learn as much as I can from the other dogs... and start making friends with people who actually own sheep :rolleyes::D


I'm very excited.

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Mr McCaig gives excellent advice, especially about the wealth of information that will come your way and the fact that you may not really understand it all until months later.


As it is your and your dog's first time, you may find that during your own slot, everything moves very quickly and it is really hard to take things in...so yes, definitely listen to what is said to the other students during their sessions. Also watch the different handlers' body language and see how the dogs and sheep respond to these.


Whilst standing on the side, you may find your dog gets very excited watching others work. If she is very distracting and you cannot focus on what is happening on the field, then consider putting her away and get her out a few minutes before your own session is due to start.


I hope you and Tess both enjoy your day, .If you get the sheepdog handling bug, you may find that it changes your life,

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Thanks, Maxi.


Yes, I do expect not to learn a lot, if anything, when it's our turn, and to learn a lot more by watching and listening to others. As you say, when it's our turn everything is fast and confusing at first. I've found that to be true on other dog activities seminars too, if one wants to learn one must focus on the work of others, not only our own.


Tess will have to stay in her crate when not working anyway, as she will be at the very last phase of her season. I was told she could attend no problem, but she can't be out and about when not working.


I did notice, when we went to watch a trial, that when we first arrived she didn't bother about the sheep and only wanted to go play with the other dogs. Then at lunch time she was briefly introduced to sheep and in the afternoon I found I couldn't have her watching the trials with me, she would get very excited with the other dogs working.

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Can you please point out to a complete ignorant beginer what are the most important things I should do, and the most important things I should not do?


Remember that you can learn as much -- or more -- from watching the other dogs and their handlers when it's their turns. In my experience, it's such a whirlwind trying to pay attention to all the things that are happening and the instructor's input when it's your turn for training that it can be a rush of sensory input and you'll walk away wondering just what actually happened. As you and Tess mature in your work it'll slow down and be easier, but those first few times can be overwhelming.


The other thing is that even though your dog may not be working like or having the same issues as the other dogs at the time of the clinic, there's an excellent chance that sometime later something will happen with your dog that will be like someone else's experience and you'll be glad to have that other person's instruction to fall back on.


Have fun. This is such an exciting stage for both you and your dog. :D

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Have fun!


Oh, and one thing that helps me - tempting though it might be to make new friends, I try to move my chair away a bit so that I won't get sucked into conversations. I listen to what each handler and dog are working on, and what the clinician suggests. Then I try to watch to see whether they're implementing those suggestions the next time they work (it helps to take notes, as Donald suggests - do it for all of the handlers, not just for yourself).


Plenty of time to socialize over lunch, but the extra "lessons" from watching other handlers work through their (and their dogs') issues are golden!

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The clinic was great fun, we loved it :)


That said, Tess did not do well at all, and I think I'm being kind when I say that. Over the top excitement, not much confidence, not much instinct. We ended up only working on explaining to her that sheep don't equal mad dashing around and snarling. But, on the third time she worked, there was a marked improvement in her attitude towards the sheep, and that made me happy.


First two times it was with her both out and inside the pen, on a line. Third time it was a very small pen with 3 sheep and Tess on the outside. and she did manage to run clean circles around it without dashing in at the smallest pretence, and to just stand facing them with calm and a lowered tail, and she responded well to my signals for changing direction. Clinician said she wasn't afraid of the sheep, but she was excited, unsure, and when defied thought atack was the best defence. But she never made actual contact, partly because she wasn't allowed, but also because when it came to it I think she quickly realized she wasn't that keen on attack.


I learned a lot, although not much on actual herding, but that was to be expected. I loved watching the other dogs work and listening to the clinician's comments. And it was great to be with a bunch of border collies, I hardly ever have that opportunity and it really helps in helping me understand her.


So my homework is to get her well used to be calm and centered around sheep. Not that easy as I don't have access to sheep... gotta make some new friends. And I'll definitely keep on attending clinics and we'll see how it goes.


All in all, it was a very good day and we both had fun, even if she was definitely not the star of the show. And the clinician did say something several times that made me a bit proud. He said, "that dog has a very strong bond with you". That made my day, as it's what we strive for, although it meant he had some issues working her as she wouldn't work for him, and when he would tell me to take over I didn't know what I was doing :rolleyes:

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