Starting out trialing.

Sheepdog trialing. I would never have believed that I would actually be doing it.  I remember many years ago seeing Trialing on the TV and wondering how on earth someone trained a dog to do that.  I decided that the dog must know where the sheep needed to go.  Then I wondered why the competitor had to give so many commands.

Anyway here I was, much later, trying the sport myself and wondering why. It certainly is challenging.  The best dogs are those with a strong instinct to work, but this can make them more difficult to train.  All they want to do is work and you must put some control over their instinct, otherwise the dog is working for himself and not for you.

This can take a long time.  Years in fact, to develop the experience to train a dog to high level. You can be lucky and start out with an exceptional dog or might be blessed with natural ability yourself. However for most of us it will take a fair while.  Many of us will start out with a pet or farm dog we happen to have which is not really suited to this type of work but later on down the track as we get more experienced we will be looking out for a dog that is bred for trialing or better style of farm work.  Going to trials and watching other dogs perform and looking at different bloodlines is a good way to learn. At trials people are more than happy to answer questions even though to you they seem silly, everyone has been at the stage that you are at and nobody is criticizing.

There are people who might criticize your dog on the day but generally this is not aimed at you but simply the fact that your dog couldn't handle those particular sheep. Everyone has different tastes in dogs and no matter how much you like your dog and his traits, they may not. As for the sheep, this is the most difficult part. 

At some grounds you will get sheep that don't want to go anywhere and will stand and face the dog stamping their feet.  This is off-putting for a young dog and even the more experienced dogs may have problems with these sheep.  At the other end of the scale are sheep that run in all different directions.  Once again an experienced dog is needed to handle sheep like these, a dog that can read the sheep, keep his distance and hold them together calmly and quietly.  These sheep can be difficult for a young dog and sometimes it is prudent at any stage to decide there's no way your young dog is going to work these sheep and leave the ground before disaster does occur. In between these types of sheep are sheep that will work well, but different sheep work well for different dogs, and even if one competitor had a disaster the next might have a dog that can handle the sheep well. 

There is no shame in retiring early, you will see a number of experience dog triallers often complete a cast with their young dog, decide that is enough and leave the ground. There is nothing to be gained in rushing your dog or trying to make a good impression, save him for another day,

If things have really gone wrong and he has split the sheep, put one or all of them through the fence or refused to listen to you at all don’t worry, there is always another day.

Do some more work on him at home and don’t take him out again until you have sorted out the problem. Sometimes things can be going well at home but fall apart at the next trial. Don’t despair. Young dogs get nervous and overwhelmed the same as we do. Too much pressure too early can put him off trialing, so praise him for trying and give him the time that he needs to get confidence.

Trialing is a humbling sport, and even the top handlers make mistakes. It can be difficult to predict what the sheep are going to do, which is what makes trialing so challenging. Learning to read your stock will help a lot. So talk to top handlers and attend stock handling clinics to help in this area.

I still get very nervous and it is something I must learn to deal with as it does not help me or my dog. I don't trial a lot though and it is time on the ground that will gain you confidence and experience.

And no matter what happens remember to enjoy yourself and and try not to take it all too seriously.