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Sheepdog Trialling for Beginners

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Hello Everyone,

 

I'm interested in learning more about trialling.

 

Can anyone point me in a good direction to start learning about trialling as a sport, books videos?

 

Would people suggest this sport as a recreational weekend activity with their dog?

 

Thanks,

 

Matt

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Hi. Your best best would be to look at the USBCHA website (www.usbcha.com) and look at "sheep" then "upcoming trials." Find one in your area (that is a relative term--can be a couple hour drive), and go check it out. There you can talk to people who are generally very friendly and helpful and can give you lots of info!

Hope this helps,

A

ET: Oh--and it can be a weekend activity, but first you will need to find a mentor and take lessons....that is often a slippery slope :-)

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Thanks!

 

My dog is about 15 months. Is that too late? Will it make it harder to train him? He doesn't comes from working lines. He isn't purebred either Mom was 100 percent border collie but dad was a mix of Australian Shepard, German Shepard and Collie.

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Lots of folks compete in herding competitions for fun , it does take a lot of time and discipline to train. I know dogs that were started as adults and do reasonably well. there are different venue options but it is most dependent on how talented/ how much natural ability and instinct the dog has. It can take some time to figure that out, maybe a year, it can be a long haul.

There are herding clinics across the country to get your feet wet. What state are you in?

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In my opinion it is doing things backwards.

If you goal is stockwork, you should the go and find a good dog prospect, from good working parents. Difficult enough...

Any obedient dog can walk behind some overdogged sheep, but you state your goal is actually trialling.

Of course, nothing stops you to try him out, who knows what hidden talents he has, but I would personally not put the effort in starting such a dog. And then I am talking about his iffy pedigree in regard to stockwork. His age is fine for starting such training.

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I tend to agree with Smalahundur on this one. Remember that it would probably take more money, time, frustration, and effort to try and get a dog that is not bred for it to even respond reasonably to working stock, than it would to try it what many people consider is "the right way". And that is most often to get your feet wet by going to trials and observing, finding a mentor, getting a trained or retired older dog to teach you the ropes under your mentor's (and other good instructors' - like clinicians) guidance, and eventually, when you have a good foundation, to consider a pup or young dog to bring along yourself with your mentor's, etc., assistance.

 

The dog you have could actually be terrific but the odds are really stacked against that happening in anything but the most simple and dog-broke sheep situation, as was mentioned. Plus the breeding of your dog includes several types of dog whose "working" behaviors are quite contradictory so while your dog might be useful in a small way on a small-holding, perhaps, the goal of the trial field is most likely way out of reach, even at the very lowest levels.

 

It's kind of like buying a horse - any horse of any kind, will cost as much to feed, etc., but will most likely never make you a good "specialist" horse (barrels, hunter, etc.) like a horse bred for the job you want to do. You'll have all the input but most likely not much satisfaction in what you get for a finished product. But a good horse that's bred and trained for what you want to do, will not only be less frustrating, but will also be your schoolmaster, too.

 

Best wishes!

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Is it silly to try him out?

 

How expensive is it on average?

 

Whats the best starting point, not necessarily for my dog, more for me, to learn the COMPLETE basics of trialling?

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The best starting point is to find a good mentor and, if you can, an older or retired trained dog to teach you.

 

There are good books and videos. One of my favorite books that explains the basic ideas is Talking Sheepdogs by Derek Scrimgeour. Some folks would recommend Vergil Holland's Herding Dogs: Progressive Training and others like Bruce Fogt's Lessons from a Sheepdog. Some libraries one or the other of these last two. If you belong to NEBCA (North East Border Collie Association) they have a good lending library.

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Is it silly to try him out?

 

How expensive is it on average?

 

Whats the best starting point, not necessarily for my dog, more for me, to learn the COMPLETE basics of trialling?

 

 

The best way to go about it is to find a mentor, attend trials and watch other people work dogs with a trainer.

 

The thing to know about sheepdog training is that you can't learn it from books and video any more than you could learn to drive a car that way. The only way to learn to drive a car is to get in the car. The only way to learn to train a dog is to train a dog. BOTH go ever so much better with a good instructor.

 

Also, a dog of such mixed breeds as yours could be awkward for a beginner to learn with because his instincts will be an extremely mixed bag. Border collies, Australian shepherds, German Shepherds and collies all work in different styles, so there's really no telling what hodgepodge of urges or reactions he may come up with. An accomplished trainer might be able to teach you to help him go around sheep and fetch them here and there, but there's no telling how or if the working instinct may manifest.

 

So, I think the thing to ask yourself is whether you want to invest the time, money and possible frustration of trying to train a dog with a totally mixed bag of genetics. And also ask if it would be fair to the sheep if all he really wants to do is chase or run mad circles around them and bark. That is traumatizing to the poor sheep!

 

I'm sorry if we aren't being very encouraging, but really, mixed-breeds like that don't usually enjoy a great deal of herding success. Genetics like that just aren't likely to form a good working instinct. It may well be that he'll be just as happy doing other active, outdoorsy things with you. After all, being with you is probably what he loves best. :)

 

~ Gloria

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Thanks everybody,

 

So it seems the best option is to find a herding clinic nearby and start getting involved. If it seems interesting and something I would really enjoy the best option would be to start looking for a sheepdog from good working lines to train with.

 

I understand that it isnt fair to the sheep to have some wild barking dog scaring them. It also isn't really fair to the dog to get him into something that they really aren't excited about. Like Gloria said, just being with me is probably what my dog loves best and he is already really happy doing active outdoorsy things.

 

I guess the best option is to wait until I get my next Border Collie ;)

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You summed it up excellently!

 

That said, you can audit clinics normally for a small fee and learn a lot. You can go to trials and meet people, learn about the work, and even volunteer (there are always jobs that don't require experience, just willingness to help). All of this will help you build the connections you will want before you start looking for a dog so that you are ready to proceed and progress when the time comes.

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I know quite a few people who began herding with a less than ideal dog, be that a mix or a rescue or a purebred bc. They learned by attending clinics and lessons as well as doing other things with that dog. Some just enjoy occasional herding, a handful of times a year. Others LOVE it and decide to pursue it so their next dog is bought with that in mind. Many a sheep farm was begun because of a Border Collie and many sheep caused livestock producers to get a Border Collie. I would rather someone explore herding for a bit first and see if its interesting, doable with their lifestyle/situation, location...and then get a working bred dog and find out in 2 years they have lost interest.

 

Most likely not the norm but I often let those coming for lessons take one of younger dogs into the round pen just to get a feel for things. Sometimes they want to come help with chores and see the dogs really work. It is a bit of the blind leading the blind for a novice handler to start working livestock with a pup, especially if they do not know stock. It is always easier to learn a ton with a dog who knows herding already.

 

Is a mix breed the Ideal herding dog, nope. Is is possible to learn things with that dog - sure is. Sometimes the more difficult dogs / less natural dogs teach us things that we not learn with easy ones. There are dogs that are never good enough to work in a big field or compete but we can learn with every one.

 

I agree the place to begin is with mentors, clinics ect but I would also say with the right instructor and sheep you might be surprised what you can accomplish with the dog you have. There are ways to introduce the dog to stock so things go well and are more controlled so everyone stays safe.

 

Learning to use a working dog well is a life long journey -it is as much about your relationship with your dog as it is the dog's instincts. You have to begin the road to see how far you can/want to go.

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You summed it up excellently!

 

That said, you can audit clinics normally for a small fee and learn a lot. You can go to trials and meet people, learn about the work, and even volunteer (there are always jobs that don't require experience, just willingness to help). All of this will help you build the connections you will want before you start looking for a dog so that you are ready to proceed and progress when the time comes.

 

I have a question about looking for a sheepdog. What are people opinions about finding a sheepdog? I know the dog should either be an ISDS or ABCA sheepdog and its best to see the parents of the dogs working etc. but I have a list of breeders who seem very reputable. Some have even been feature on a TV series called countryfile and have written books/made movies about herding. Is this a sure way to get a relaible working dog or is it better to meet and talk with people and see where that leads?

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Are you located in the UK/Ireland? Countryfile is a BBC show so I wondered your location.

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Here's my take as a relatively new handler but now trialing and working up to open class hopefully in another year or so. I have three dogs....one from sports lines, another all border from a mix of really nothing lines, and the third, an ISDS bitch from very good lines. All are young from 2.5 to 4 years.

 

Sporter collie was tried on sheep with approximately 20 sessions but he has zero sheep sense and has become my sports dog as he was meant to be.

 

Dog #2 is super keen for chasing sheep but instinct to herd is pretty much non existent. Still trying to make something of him with lots of round pen training but it's probably in futility.

 

ISDS bitch is a cracking little girl that I took over last Fall after having been already started and we are now trialing together in Nursery and Novice.

 

With your current dog you could find a trainer and they will help you determine if your dog is a prospect or not. I would just assume he's not but it will confirm it in your own mind by giving him a good shot at it. A good trainer will let you know as well. Also, this is a good chance for you to get in the pen as well. There is no substitute for hands on experience.

 

Don't be in too much of a rush to get your next dog. Like any investment, due diligence is prudent. Invest in training videos, subscribe to the ISDS Sheepdog magazine to learn the lingo and to get a feel for what's out there. Attend as many trials and training seminars as you can... even if you don't have a dog, yet. There are never any guarantees that a pup you get will be a trial level dog but the better you can narrow down the variables the more chance you'll find the dog for you.

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