It's taken some time, well, to be honest, all of my life, to begin to see who I am in the whole scheme of what I call my life. Most of my life, well, truth be told is all of it these days, is centered around animals. I work full time with animals, I have my flock of sheep, dogs, one cat. As a kid I was around livestock, and of course house hold pets, and several of my first jobs were with livestock (horses mainly). For some reason, I got into agility, and stayed in that venue until I got tired of the increased competitive behavior of the handlers. I never really liked that part of the human condition. Don't get me wrong, I do like to compete and do well, but I know all too well, that that winning feeling is fleeting, and we are only as good as our last competition. I think my last trial in agility, I actually bagged a pairs run because my partner was *so* over the top determined to win. She sucked the life right out of that for me.
I then got into the sheepdog world, and started to see that there was a lot to this sheepdog work, wherein I could spend most of my time training my dog, which is what I prefer, and in the meantime add livestock to my life. As for most people, I believe having your own sheep makes it truly real for you, and you look at things differently. For some time I tried to keep doing the same sort of training with my dogs as I had earlier, but something about it bothered me. I was not letting the dog figure things out for himself, and it was very, well, dry. Dry for the dog, dry for me, and honestly, reminded me of obedience work (I also did that for a time before agility). Here is where my quirky bits appear... I *do* want to do well at sheepdog trials, and can if my brain settles, but I do not get a big giant high out of it.. it's weird. What I get a high out of at competitions, are the small things that go very well. Those are the things I remember. Dog catches a sheep trying to escape with deft ability, the dog and I handle the sheep at the pen in such a way, they pretty much blithely walk in. Dog finds the sheep in a field with thigh high grass. You know, that sort of thing. I am pretty sure this is not what the top hands in the country look at, but I have no idea!
This same attitude has taken over my training as well. Instead of breaking things down into "what I need to fix", I break things down into "that was very good", or "this needs a bit of work and we will get there". I am always an advocate for the dog, and sometimes that is at odds with the way that many handlers look at sheepdog work. I look at training a young dog as making music- we progress as we do, when we are ready. There is not a time table as to when the dog should be doing this or that. I think it's important to realize that most times, what we do is affecting the dog more than we think. A LOT more. With the frequency with which dogs change hands, it would appear to an outsider that there are many many bad dogs (no talent, weak, you name it) being bred in this country. I have to look at the statistics, and see how many are sold at about a year, and how many get to stay.. and I have to wonder were they all that bad, and what was so bad about them? Being that I do not breed, I don't know. I do know that I attach myself to my dogs big time, and maybe that is why I see things differently. Maybe I have just not been in this game long enough, who knows. What I do know, is that I would rather work and train dogs than trial, and maybe in doing that, do well at an occasional trial. I do not get enjoyment out of the social part of trialing, that is for sure. I would much rather be at my place, or at a small out of the way trial, then be a cog in the wheel of a big trial where the atmosphere is thick with tension. I hate tension. I don't like it in dogs either. When there is tension around me, I get tense, my dog gets tense and it becomes this thing wherein I just want to go home and re-set. I did that a lot last year. I need to find a balance for myself...
One of the things I have done to address this is to create the farm trials I plan to have, where we compete on courses we have never done before, and our brain is not necessarily on the perfect turn at the post or cross drive turn, but on "can my dog even do this?" Can my dog fetch sheep from two different fields opposite of each other? Can he then take them both to another field very far away, and handle them with aplomb, and then get them back to me, and then we separate them into the groups they were in? Can he? Will he? He's never done this before... scary times.. but hey, you know, sometimes you have to go into the deep end of the pool to see if you can swim... and when your dog DOES do this, and you HAVE completed the shed.. and the pen door has closed...your mind is not even thinking about that turn at the post, or that cross drive turn, your mind is reveling in the fact that this was nothing like you have *ever* done, and your dog did it FOR YOU. The high you will get from this will far surpass any conventional trial win, trust me on this. To walk into parts unknown, and have faith and have the courage to try and then be able to do it? Puts you on a whole other plane with your dog.
So, this is where I am.. I don't really jive with conventional trialing modes of operation, but I do appreciate good runs.. so maybe who I am is someone who is saying the same thing as everyone else, but in a different way. Sometimes we have to take the good parts of what we do, and eschew the others just because it works.
In closing, I want to share this, an except from an earlier post I wrote some years ago:
"They work simply because we ask them, they fear nothing, because there isn't time to do so, and in return, all they ask is that we allow them to stay, and do our bidding. Is there any better dog that that? I think not."