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Arena-format Trials


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#41 juliepoudrier

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Posted 28 May 2008 - 11:05 AM

I wish more people who had their dogs trained for USBCHA trials would attend these arena trials so that the people (not all of them of course) could see what good stockmanship is all about.

I think the biggest issue, at least for me, is cost. It costs more to enter one dog in the typical arena trial, although as entry fees rise at USBCHA trials, cost may not be as much of a factor now as it was a few years ago. I ran in one AHBA trial in the advanced ranch class, and I didn't get the impression that the other folks there cared one whit about the good stockmanship we exhibited, unfortunately. Most were so wrapped up in defending their own breed of choice that they couldn't begin to be open minded about other breeds. And I don't know how to say this without sounding snooty, but even the advanced classes aren't terribly challenging for a well-trained dog. I learned a lot about the strategy of working cattle from watching Roy Johnson run his dogs in arena trials, though.

His work requires a dog that can handle the pressure of small spaces. I know that there are areas of the country that still only require a dog to work out in large areas, but around here the dogs have to be able to work tight, if set up correctly arena trials actually can help identify a dog that naturally is capable of such work, I think...

It is kinda frustrating, I have a cattle group that is interested in some working demonstrations to be produced at an upcoming event, some of our members feel they want to wow the spectators with big outruns, double lifts, etc., while others feel we need to demonstrate real work situations that the people spectating face each day, small pen gathers, alley work, trailer loading...

I'm drawn more to agree with the folks that want to produce an environment simulating the work that is available in our area vs. what the dog was originally developed to do or a trial environement.


I don't quite qet the argument that dogs need to be able to do one or the other. I personally want a dog who can work in wide open spaces and small, tight areas. As for the demos, I don't see why you can't do both. Even the national cattle finals has open field work, as well as a chute and a pen. Maybe your farmer friend's cattle willingly come up to the pens where he needs the dog to work, but in many operations, the farmer will need the dog to gather the stock, then work the pens, chutes, load trailers and so on. I think it's a mistake to classify border collies as being able to do only one or the other type of work. They should do both. Even in the countries where the border collie was developed, the dogs needed to be able to "gather the hill" and separate out and hold a ewe and her lamb for treatment (close work), or load sheep, lambs, or rams on trailers, or bring them up to the pens at shearing time, and so on. It's the reason USBCHA sheepdog trials require the big field work and the close work (shed and pen)--the dogs should be able to do both with grace and under pressure. I'm sure there are operations that never require a big field gather, but that doesn't mean the dogs shouldn't be able to do it.

I think arena trials can be fun as long as people don't mistake them as being the only real work out there. I'm on an e-mail list where people own other breeds and trial them in AKC, AHBA, and ASCA, and they tend to perpetuate the myth that border collies are strictly open field dogs and that arena type trials are the only true test of real farm work, which just isn't the case. As I've said over and over again on that list, I don't go get a different dog when I need to do close-in work--the same dog who gathers the field is also required to hold sheep in corners for me to catch and work on them, push sheep through chutes, push sheep off feed bunks and away from gates, and scoop sheep out of stalls and other small spaces, etc. I think it's critical to start exposing young dogs to the pressure of tight spaces early. As long as you use sheep that are sensible, packed pen work, chute work, etc. can go a long way toward instilling confidence in a dog. Some dogs may always be less comfortable in tight spaces than others, but border collies certainly should be (and are) able to work in tight spaces without exploding from the pressure. I remember at a trial where I used one of my dogs to go into the small exhaust pen and go around the sheep to push them out so the set out person could gather them back up. The person who was watching, an experienced handler, was amazed at how quietly my dog went around the sheep in that very tight space. I just didn't get his amazement--I expect my dog to be able to do that well and still go trial at Edgeworth and manage the 600-yard outrun. In other words, the ability to do both is not (and should not be) mutually exclusive.

J.

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#42 Valhalla

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Posted 28 May 2008 - 06:25 PM

VERY well stated, Julie!
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#43 Albion Urdank

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Posted 13 June 2008 - 01:14 PM

Such materials that you request probably don't exist because training to negotiate formal obstacles runs counter to the spirit of how one should train a sheepdog, as most trainers will probably tell you. It makes the handling excessively mechanical. There's a reason why your trainer has his field obstacle free (you should ask him about why he does). That being said, one can aim for natural obstacles in a field or pasture and try to get the dog to negotiate those e.g. getting sheep to pass through a set of neighboring rocks, which might approximate gates on a trial course, but which of course are a much rougher approximation. The key thing is to concentrate on the sharpness of one's handling overall and be ready mentally for any situation that might arise, however unpredictable. And this should translate into being able to negotiate easily gates in an arena trial setting. Interestingly, ASCA judges tend to point a handler for over-handling the dog; so training to negotiate arena type obstacles might actually work to your disadvantage.

Kind regards,

Albion

My young border collie and I have competed in both beginner-level ISDS-style trials, along with ASCA (and other clubs') arena-format trials. It has been fun, and competition lets us know how we are progressing in our training program.

My instructor does not advocate "training to the test", and keeps his field mostly free of gates, chutes and obstacles of the type found in, for example, an ASCA trial. He does have a small pen in the middle of the field, which we practice from time to time. His practice field is much larger than the typical arena, so the dogs/handlers don't have the opportunity to get the "feel" for the positions and angles that will be needed to, for instance, begin the drive phase of an ASCA trial, and to negotiate the gates at the end of the arena from behind the handlers' line. My understanding and experience is that time/space are considerably compacted in the arena, and there is little of either available to correct miscues and mistakes. Arena trials may be somewhat unique in that regard.

So, my question is: do you have suggestions/advice for brochures, books, videos or other qualified material, that will provide trial tips for negotiating SPECIFICALLY arena style courses? I believe my dog and I have a portion of the skills (driving, fetching, maybe penning) required for open class ASCA trials, yet we don't have the opportunity, except at infrequent trials themselves, to put the skills all together into the whole package. It seems to me that reviewing training materials would allow my dog and I to fill the gap that we are experiencing in our training curriculum. I am looking for the "x's" and "o's" kind of material, much like a basketball/hockey coach might give his team just before the big game, and after weeks of drills and practice. "If this happens, then here are some ways to react....and if you do this, then you can expect that to happen", sort of thing.

I cross-posted this question to the General BC Discussion Group. The responses in the General Section are valued, but didn't go to whether written/video materials about arena-style handling exist, and where to find them.

I see other questions not related to specifically ISDS-style trials in this group, so hope this is OK. Thank you in advance for any suggestions and advice re: training materials you may be aware of. -- TEC



#44 TEC

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Posted 13 June 2008 - 04:05 PM

I have located via this thread several video tapes and DVD's that describe how to navigate typical arena obstacles. If others are interested in obtaining them, email me privately and I will be glad to provide the websites.

Experienced handlers by word-of-mouth describe numerous ways to properly complete arena courses that depend on the behavior of the sheep and lay-out of the course. Use of the "J" pattern to guide a packet of stock along a fence-line is just one example. The handler utilizing his/her own location to cover one side of a gate-against-fenceline obstacle is another scenario. In lieu of informal discussions, having written and recorded materials available makes learning more efficient, as the handler can review and re-review publications at the handler's convenience.

IMO, practice, observing others, along with reading/viewing qualified materials shortens the learning curve, just as a handler practices penning and shedding prior to entering a trial where those skills are required, while at the same time reading a good book chapter on those subjects to sharpen his/her skills. -- Sincerely, TEC


Such materials that you request probably don't exist because training to negotiate formal obstacles runs counter to the spirit of how one should train a sheepdog, as most trainers will probably tell you. It makes the handling excessively mechanical. There's a reason why your trainer has his field obstacle free (you should ask him about why he does). That being said, one can aim for natural obstacles in a field or pasture and try to get the dog to negotiate those e.g. getting sheep to pass through a set of neighboring rocks, which might approximate gates on a trial course, but which of course are a much rougher approximation. The key thing is to concentrate on the sharpness of one's handling overall and be ready mentally for any situation that might arise, however unpredictable. And this should translate into being able to negotiate easily gates in an arena trial setting. Interestingly, ASCA judges tend to point a handler for over-handling the dog; so training to negotiate arena type obstacles might actually work to your disadvantage.

Kind regards,

Albion


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#45 Albion Urdank

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 05:20 PM

No doubt reading a training book or consulting a video can help in a general way to improve one's skills. But ultimately it's about the handler learning to read the sheep and to react sharply in any, unpredictable situation that may present itself, and to refine the dog's natural ability to read the sheep and to exercise that skill independently (though helpfully in partnership with the handler). I don't do arena trials, only field trials. I think that practicing making a gate, or a particular contour of an arena, is a mechanical exercise in the extreme that does a disservice to the sheepdog and what it is natually about. This would also include practicing penning or shedding prior to a competition, because in those phases of work the sheep and the field pressures will be very different than at home and will call for their own particular approaches. In fact, practicing these things before a competition can produce a contrary effect and backfire. Again, the writer should ask her trainer why he doesn't believe in "training to the test". Seems to me that she's looking for a way to get around the professional advice of her trainer.

Albion

I have located via this thread several video tapes and DVD's that describe how to navigate typical arena obstacles. If others are interested in obtaining them, email me privately and I will be glad to provide the websites.

Experienced handlers by word-of-mouth describe numerous ways to properly complete arena courses that depend on the behavior of the sheep and lay-out of the course. Use of the "J" pattern to guide a packet of stock along a fence-line is just one example. The handler utilizing his/her own location to cover one side of a gate-against-fenceline obstacle is another scenario. In lieu of informal discussions, having written and recorded materials available makes learning more efficient, as the handler can review and re-review publications at the handler's convenience.

IMO, practice, observing others, along with reading/viewing qualified materials shortens the learning curve, just as a handler practices penning and shedding prior to entering a trial where those skills are required, while at the same time reading a good book chapter on those subjects to sharpen his/her skills. -- Sincerely, TEC



#46 Liz P

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Posted 14 June 2008 - 07:07 PM

I have been in these sorts of trials. At one such trial, the sheep needed NO help getting out of the pen. NONE. And you know what they did when they got out of the pen? Ran to the exhaust. On my first run, I decided to not allow that sort of stuff, and downed my dog out several feet in the path of where they wanted to run. This worked quite nicely, but I lost points because my dog did not go in the pen. Now, what is good handling/stockmanship?


I had the same experience, lost points for not doing the course as described when doing it the way they wanted me to would have resulted in sheep bolting down the field. At that same trial a woman was running her dog, not a BC BTW, with no down that could not control itself around sheep. The group was running all over the course, crashing into stuff. While sorting the sheep into different pens the handler turned her back on the dog to open a gate and the dog took down a ewe and left a long gash in her side. I had that same group of sheep a few runs later, with a replacement ewe, and they worked just fine for me.

I ran in an AHBA trial in VA judged by Roy Johnson. It was very pleasent and the judging comments fair and helpful. I did not stay for the lower classes and instinct testing so have no idea how that went. I just enjoy working my dogs on sheep whenever I get the chance.

#47 Albion Urdank

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Posted 15 June 2008 - 02:22 PM

It's complicated. The trial establishes an ideal test, a standard that may be higher than one may find in a work-a-day situation. But at the same time, it's supposed to measure good stockmanship. The true aim of the trial is supposed to be to find the dog who will make the best worker. So if the ideal standard is clearly at variance with the common sense, practical approach, such that it undermines the point of the work, then it is up to the judge to make the right determination. Sounds to me that Kelpiegirl and Liz P each did the right thing in that situation, and the judge should have commended them rather than penalized them. In that other trial in VA Liz had in Roy Johnson, an experienced stockman (and USBCHA cattle dog champion) serving as judge, and no doubt for this reason Liz found his judging comments "fair and helpful" and her overall experience at that trial pleasant. So alot depends on the judging (as it does in usbcha venues), but it may also be true that arena type trials tend to create exaggerated and unrealistic pressures; best to see them for what they are (early stepping stones for young dog and novice handler), and make the transition as soon as possible to field trials.

Albion



I had the same experience, lost points for not doing the course as described when doing it the way they wanted me to would have resulted in sheep bolting down the field. At that same trial a woman was running her dog, not a BC BTW, with no down that could not control itself around sheep. The group was running all over the course, crashing into stuff. While sorting the sheep into different pens the handler turned her back on the dog to open a gate and the dog took down a ewe and left a long gash in her side. I had that same group of sheep a few runs later, with a replacement ewe, and they worked just fine for me.

I ran in an AHBA trial in VA judged by Roy Johnson. It was very pleasent and the judging comments fair and helpful. I did not stay for the lower classes and instinct testing so have no idea how that went. I just enjoy working my dogs on sheep whenever I get the chance.



#48 TEC

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 04:10 PM

I don't quite qet the argument that dogs need to be able to do one or the other. I personally want a dog who can work in wide open spaces and small, tight areas. As for the demos, I don't see why you can't do both. Even the national cattle finals has open field work, as well as a chute and a pen. Maybe your farmer friend's cattle willingly come up to the pens where he needs the dog to work, but in many operations, the farmer will need the dog to gather the stock, then work the pens, chutes, load trailers and so on. I think it's a mistake to classify border collies as being able to do only one or the other type of work. They should do both. Even in the countries where the border collie was developed, the dogs needed to be able to "gather the hill" and separate out and hold a ewe and her lamb for treatment (close work), or load sheep, lambs, or rams on trailers, or bring them up to the pens at shearing time, and so on. It's the reason USBCHA sheepdog trials require the big field work and the close work (shed and pen)--the dogs should be able to do both with grace and under pressure. I'm sure there are operations that never require a big field gather, but that doesn't mean the dogs shouldn't be able to do it...

....Some dogs may always be less comfortable in tight spaces than others, but border collies certainly should be (and are) able to work in tight spaces without exploding from the pressure. I remember at a trial where I used one of my dogs to go into the small exhaust pen and go around the sheep to push them out so the set out person could gather them back up. The person who was watching, an experienced handler, was amazed at how quietly my dog went around the sheep in that very tight space. I just didn't get his amazement--I expect my dog to be able to do that well and still go trial at Edgeworth and manage the 600-yard outrun. In other words, the ability to do both is not (and should not be) mutually exclusive.

J.



Nicely put. Border Collies are general purpose dogs. In my view, some are trained for pen/chute work, others for out-work, and those like my dog are trained for both extremes, in order that she can help me with whatever needs to be done. I have one herding dog, and she is expected to provide broad utility.

I had a similar experience to yours about utilizing my young dog (at that time) to fetch sheep from a small enclosure. I was fortunate to get instruction from an experienced shepherd, one who highly values dogs trained to do general farm-work. The unshaven old-timer pointed to a big field, and quietly said in a questioning manner, "Your dog can no doubt outrun the length of that field and gather those sheep?". I replied that, "I would like to think she could bring them in properly". His quick response: "Well, we're not going to do that today". He asked me to have my dog enter a small pen, and fetch the sheep out. The old gentleman gave step by step directions about how to train that manuever, by going into the pen with her, and walking with her at my feet around the perimeter to get behind the sheep wedged into one corner. I listened politely, and when he was finished, I asked whether I could just open the gate, give her a flank, and send her in, as I believed she could handle it. Having no objection, he indicated that was OK. I opened the gate, gave a flanking cue, she promptly/calmly walked-in hugging the side fence, turned at one corner, and scraped the sheep from the other corner where they were crowded. With no outward reaction, he merely said, "Ok, let's go over here and work on something else". It was just expected. To be fair, she had been doing that exact maneuver for months, but since my friend didn't ask, I didn't volunteer. Currently, the same finely built Border Collie who does nice fetches of 100's of yards, along with cross-drives, confidently walks into a crowded stock trailer, sometimes to the surprise of others, and without any sign of fear or grip, using her position/eye and simply expecting them to move she peels the sheep away from the side-wall, exhausting the trailer in an orderly way behind her, as she makes her way to the front. Now with that said, a word of caution to those who are learning (aren't we all?), that in my estimation, a dog should not be sent into a pen/trailer that is so full/crowded that there is really nowhere for the stock to move, even assuming the gate/door is open. An animal could be injured in such a circumstance, unless you are confident based on experience with your dog and stock, that they will begin to exit as the dog flanks along one side-wall/fence. Train it in small steps, to build yours and the dog's confidence.

In my view, training a Border Collie to work close-in is fulfilling to the dog. That kind of work is as much a part of their DNA as work on the "hill". Much of pen/chute work is exacting and precise, requiring a well-trained calm/kind dog, a dog like a Border Collie. -- Kind Regards, TEC
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#49 Pam Wolf

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 04:33 PM

Arena trials often skew the balance in a dog, especially those that encourge the use of a fence line for moving the stock. And as has been said, a dog with presence cann't get behind the sheep in most arenas.

Over the years and watching and participating in arena trials (more common in some areas than others)You cannot test balance and finesse on light sheep as a general rule, you can only test push, biddability and training and as such are often decent formats for cattle trials.

To Jodi Darling, thanks for acknowledging my remarks in your signature.

Along the way it seems I have become a shepherd rather than a sheepdogger




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