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Donald McCaig
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Dear Sheepdoggers,

 

Some years ago I attended a Derek Scrimageour clinic in Minnesota. Fellow students included 2 other open handlers, maybe three pro/novice-novice/novice handlers and ten or so utter beginners. The second day of the clinic, Derek showed us how to do an International Shed. While IS techniques are useful on the farm* they aren't needed at trials except the largest, usually at the finals. My first sheepdog Pip never had to do an International shed in his life. *Even on the farm, gate cutting is so easy and habitual, in North America probably the only sheep farmers who use the techniques are those who trial.

 

In brief the IS is separating a number of sheep from a number of others. On the farm, when two flocks mingle or the rams get out with the ewes.

 

When I asked Derek why he taught these advanced techniques to utter beginners he said, "You don't teach for where the students are, you teach for where they get to."

 

He's right, but we sheepdoggers rarely do as he suggests. As horse trainer David Clark told me yesterday, horsebtrainers teach students a "platform" of skills which may not be immediately useful but become valuable in later stages.

 

What more usually happens in sheepdogging is either (a) a farmer buys a dog and depends on the dog's genetics, his own livestock savvy and many shouts to produce a dog that can more or less control familiar stock on familiar ground (No IS/:gate cut).

 

or (B) the learning follows the trial classes. (I use the Virginia classes for an example though they vary somewhat elsewhere.)

 

In trialing most aspiring sheepdoggers come out of agility or obedience. They begin with Novice/novice Outrun, lift,fetch wear(walking backwards with the dog holding the sheep to you) and pen. After they win in N/N they move into ProNovice which is the same trial with the wear replaced by a short drive so they learn to drive. Then they move to Ranch which is identical to P/N only bigger, so, if they haven't, they learn whistles. Finally they move into open which is the same as Ranch with a shed. If one glorious day they get into the open finals at a big trial, they face the International shed. Beverly Lambert has remarked that at some National Finals, the championship day some very lucky beginner is going to ask: "What's an International Shed?"

 

By this time their first dog is ready to retire because some of these skills should have been taught much early and much younger and can be. Scottish nursery dogs run our Open course, with shed at age 2 or 3.

 

Let me give a simple example: When I call my puppy to me, I do so with "In here!" and expect him to stop right at my feet where he is praised and petted. "In here" is my shed command.

 

David Clark runs backwards so that puppy chases him using his shed command. Dog comes through sheep like a bullet.

 

Our system of learning through the classes is wildly inefficent. We need a platform of techniques like these so novices can drive, shed, work big and yes do an International Shed in their first dog's lifetime.

 

Donald McCaig

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Mr. McCaig,

 

I've been reading these boards for months but have never posted. Sometime I'll introduce myself, but for now I would like to say that Derek Scrimgeour's response to you is well demonstrated in his videos. After attending his clinic in February and recently watching (again) his training videos, I am reminded that he clearly sets out a program for training very young pups the skills they will need later in trialing and extensive farm work. When he teaches "here" and "that'll do" he uses the same body language, movement, and commands that he will use later when trialing his dog or doing farm work. So when the very young pup is learning recall, he learns to come straight at the handler at a dead run (useful for IS later on), and when the pup is learning "that'll do" he learns to approach the desired side and swing around behind which later translates to flank work, etc. it's quite fascinating and makes so much more sense to train the pups in this way. So, I guess this is a shout out for Mr. Scrimgeour's methods and training videos, and a second to your thought that a platform of techniques is needed.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Derek's approach holds good whatever the discipline. Have a clear view of your ultimate goal; provide your dog with the building blocks it will need to get there and they can be combined in any way you want.

 

Showing a beginner what they can achieve can also spur them on. Plodding away on a need to know just now basis doesn't appeal to me at all.

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It always bothers me when a clinician or instructor only gives you help with the problem you have at the moment. It may not be the major problem or one you could easily fix, but I've seen those who only help you with the one problem. And they never get my money for a clinic again.

Re: the IS. Many years ago I decided to learn to shed, I found it a much easier and safer way to sort sheep. Somewhere in there a crazy huge wether crashed the gate while sorting and cracked a chunk out of my knee and I appreciate agood shedding dog

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Perhaps the problem they see at that moment would interfere with teaching what you came to learn.

 

For example, you may know how to teach a dog to be comfortable up close to sheep or teach it how to allow sheep to relax but it would be difficult to teach shedding if either of these were a problem during the lesson.

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I recall one of my first clinics with a open handler that I respect, he was demonstrating and teaching shedding to a large group of beginners. The reason? It showed why it was ever so important for a dog to work with you and not just bully the sheep around. Slicey flanks, dogs lacking in their development of rate and feel were all exposed giving everyone who was willing to see that what they allow today effects how successful they will be where they want to go.

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During Derek's memorable clinic, he went into a detailed instruction for me on how to do a pull-in, and my brain (while noting everything very carefully) vainly struggled to see the point, looking at my dog that was as tight and slicey as they come. That was 1 of May, and by November 6, we were at a trial (which in itself was surprising enough) where Bonnie's flanks suddenly billowed out, and I had to invent make-shift commands to bring her closer.

 

Concerning the OP: For me the platform is also given by Derek (assuming I understand your question), it has helped me focus training, and also to judge my dogs better.

 

These things are

 

1. Clean flanks.

2. Good pace.

3. A stop.

 

and I add Derek's

4. Here (which she teaches in a tiny puppy already)

 

The three elements had helped keep the right foundation in focus at every stage of training. Also, in the beginning, when I was overwhelmed with everything, it was - and still is - a good diagnostic tool when things go wrong.

 

And with my latest dog it helped me to be fair to her - she has a lousy stop, and because it affects her maneuverability, I would fall into a trap of thinking she is really bad, when in fact she has very good (natural!) flanks and nice pace. So two out of three is not so bad bad after all.

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The problem with one thing only clinics is you often don't learn how to progress. This is a real problem for the beginner. Often the majority of people at a clinic are beginners or have a basic problem. While they may not be ready and need to fix one or two things if they don't learn-aren't shown how to move forward they often spin their wheels til they can go to another clinic. I'd say today's trial handler more often than not did not grow up with a close working relationship with livestock and this adds to much of the problem with moving forward. However if one can only attend one clinic a year it can make for very slow progress if they don't know the next few steps, at least in theory.

 

Several years ago I attended a Bobby Dalziel clinic and really wanted to learn more about the turn back and IS. This was something I needed on the farm much more than for trial work. Since my bitch was due to whelp any day, she was way too slow to work for the shedding, so he had someone at the clinic, working a couple of dogs do the various stages to show me how it was done. Sure, I didn't work my dog, but I did learn all the steps he does for the shed and for the turn back.

 

But then I was willing to give up my working my dog to learn how to do something we were not capable of that week.

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......giving everyone who was willing to see that what they allow today effects how successful they will be where they want to go.

. I'd say today's trial handler more often than not did not grow up with a close working relationship with livestock and this adds to much of the problem with moving forward.

.

Apologies if Debbie and Pam feel that I have taken theses comments out of context.. But when I started I definitely I didn't have any stock sense. This meant I didn't understand enough to actually SEE the subtleties of the complex interactions between sheep, dog and handler

 

I certainly didn't really appreciate that 'what I allow today' would really effect how my dog would turn out in the end.

 

In my case, it has only been by making (a lot of) mistakes that I have learnt what I really want to instill in my young dogs. This is more than just teaching the ' basic mechanics' of doing different tasks..now I spend a lot of time ensuring they develop a good 'feel' for their sheep and that they learn how to control and modify their energy levels and movements to suit the stock and the situation.

 

Thinking back, I'm sure I was told that I should focus on these aspects, but although I tried to do this, I now realise that I didn't really address them with my first couple of dogs. So yes, we learnt how to get different jobs done (gather/pen/ shed etc), but while doing our work, we often would upset lighter stock because my dogs' energy levels were always too intense.... and this was often compounded by the fact that I didn't have the experience to be in the right place at the right time!

.

A broad platform of techniques that a handler and dog will need is no doubt helpful.. But IME stress-free shepherding also requires the individual to ''live and learn'.

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