Texan’s story – learning the sheepdog trialing game the hard way.

By Jean Hydleman, Capel W.A.


I got my first dog Texan by accident by offering to take a dog that needed rehoming to dog training to teach him some manners.  After the third session I had truly fallen in love and so acquired Tex, basically to do agility and obedience with.


It was only a month or two later I found out that in my hands was a very well bred sheepdog and so I couldn’t resist giving it a shot.  Tex started off well, bringing sheep nicely to me in a small round yard and all other dog sports went out of the window as we both started to share an all consuming passion – working sheep.


Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue what I was doing despite a lot of help from people who did know.  I got scared when he started to head sheep and called him off, teaching him to short head in a matter of days.  I then went out into a paddock with him before I had proper control and within a matter of months we were both very confused and I had done a brilliant job of training a lot of bad habits into him.


While all this was going on my partner and my plans for our 25 acres of pasture went out the window and instead of putting a few cows out there to keep the grass down, we started a sheep hobby farm for Tex (but I would never admit to that in public).  In the early days if I wanted to bring sheep in and had a lot of time I used Tex and we muddled through it.  If I wanted it done quickly I went out with a bucket of lupins.


Fortunately I then went back to basics and with a lot of help from his breeder Carolyn Bell and then Murray Bell who got me started we started to get going again.  I then went to several schools run by Neil Kristiansen and suddenly all the bits of information started to fall into place and we made progress.


Being bull headed I put him on a trial ground too early and finished up yelling at him to get him under control.  Sadly he now thinks he is not allowed to get sheep on a trial ground although he is a great farm dog at home and does everything I need as far as moving and sorting sheep is concerned.  Because I started yard and utility trialling later he is now also getting some success as a yard trialling dog.


Could all of these mistakes have been avoided?  Maybe not all but some if I had actually had some sort of idea of what I had been doing when I first got Tex,  About two years after I got him I got my experienced trial dog Laydee and she has probably taught me almost as much as all the humans I had help from in the early days.  I have had a lot of fun with her and am also able to put into practise what I have learned from her when I am training Tex.


Too many keen new triallers have stuffed up, or at least had a hard time starting, with young good dogs.  If I could do the same again I would get an experienced dog that I can spend ground time with before training or at least trialling a new one.  I would also make sure I didn’t start trialling a dog until it was working perfectly at home and in at least two other locations and I would also get professional help from one of the many trainers recommended on this site.


It is easy to be wise after the event – it is also easy to turn round and say to those who advised me – sorry I was wrong I should have waited till I had got it right.  What is not so easy is to retrain a dog that you have trained bad habits into simply through not knowing any better. 


Tex and I have had a long journey together and I am glad I stuck with it – we still have an even longer journey to go.  I only hope that by reading this at least someone will avoid making the same mistakes as I did and will have an easier journey than Tex and I had and are still having.


Jean Hydleman