During my time in the sheepdog world, I have always been amazed by the calmness exhibited by many handlers when they walk to the post with their dogs. They walk out like they have a job to do, and nothing else. No nerves, not really, other than maybe those born out of a desire to win… but not the low down scary nerves novice handlers get which emanate from a deep concern that things could really go wrong, and I mean in the disaster sense (sheep running through fences, dog running amok, that sort of thing).
It has taken me some time to learn why the dichotomy between those who are calm, and those who clearly could use help in the form of either deep breathing or something stronger. I think I have finally learned what that is. It’s trust. Trust between the dog and handler. Trust, as defined in The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary: A basis of reliance faith or hope. Yes, that is it. For purposes here, I have coined an acronym for this “trust”, which is as follows: TRUST: Through Respective Understanding comes Smooth Teamwork.
When you are working with your dog, you get a feel for when your dog needs some direction, and when to let off on the control, and allow the dog to figure it out, which most times, they do without much guidance needed. We generally find training at home, or with friends to be an enjoyable experience, and so do our dogs. Nothing really egregious goes wrong, and progress is made. But, when we get to the trial field, those who have a bit less trust in their dogs seem to falter.
Trust can only be achieved when you and your dog have been through all manner of scenarios; have been there, and done that, to quote an oft used saying. You have to, every day, expose you and your dog to something new. Not just train what you are both good at, but challenge yourselves.
Respective Understanding, that’s when you can both be presented with a challenge and be able to pull out from past experience, what will work best at that time. For instance, when a sheep stalls at the pen. Does your dog know how to handle that? Has he/she been down that road before? Do you and the dog have collective experience to be able to know how much pressure you can put on that ewe? If you have been down that road before, you do.
Respective Understanding leads to Smooth Teamwork. You will both be able to basically know what each one needs to do without uttering a word. There are two teams who have personified this concept to me. Emma Court and Maia, and Warren Mick and Glen.
Whenever I saw Warren and Glen work, Glen would just walk calmly into the field with Warren, and be so cool and collected. Warren too. It was as if they were heading out to get the newspaper. When they would set up for the shed, same thing. They had an unspoken understanding, a trust, that it did not matter what sheep, or what field, it was just another version of the same thing. After they finished their run, there was no fal der ral, it was just business as usual. Glen would get a pat on the head, and he would have that glint in his eye that all Border Collies do- that they did a good job, and really, that’s all they ever want to do.
Emma Court and Maia- the epitome of coolness under fire. At the Finality farm trial a couple of years ago, Emma and Maia were one of the only ones to get a pen. These sheep were pretty tough. They gave a lot of guff to many teams, and they just simply did not want to pen. I am not sure, but I think the number of successful pens was on the order of less than one percent? Well, I watched closely when Emma and Maia got their sheep to the pen. I happened to have my camera with me. Emma had the gate open and Maia had them at the opening. Emma stood there so calm, and 100% sure that the pen would happen. It was as if she was watching the microwave count down to her popcorn being done… And, they got the pen.
Trust, without it, what do you have? Fear. But, all is not lost. Trust is something that happens without you really knowing it has. It’s like a friendship. Slowly, gradually, you begin to count on each other. And eventually, you know they will be there when you need them. It is hard to define, but when you see it, you will know it.