Everyone pretty much knows my dogs are my family, for better or worse. Kind of like a marriage :) There is something to learn from each dog that becomes part of your family that you train up from a pup. That is what makes you a "trainer."
I don't expect to do well at all of the trials. I cut my losses, but grin big when one of them does well. And, I won't do consistently well because I don't have livestock. I know that and I'm okay with that.
That doesn't mean I don't try to keep up our skills. I do. We continue to learn together and I have been blessed to come to the PNW where my knowledge has grown about me as a handler and about my dogs.
Occasionally someone will offer me some advice. And, I'm pretty good about listening and digesting most advice. I get lots of good suggestions. I once had a renown handler tell me my dog wasn't a good sheep spotter. I took that with a grain of salt. He has never crossed over or missed picking up sheep at over 500 yards away. Not everything people tell you is factual. You have to be smart enough to sort the good advice from the poor.
First and foremost, I think of my dogs as "farm dogs." Secondly, we "trial" for the sportsmanship, competition, travel, and to be able to conquer new fields with different types of sheep. I was very lucky to have a small group of sheep to trailer out to the desert in SoCal during the winter months. This is where my dogs learned to "spot" sheep. Next important thing is to "bring" sheep. If I get DQ'ed for grips at the top, but my dog brings sheep, it is still a GOOD day. Maybe the next dog up can bring them without a grip. Possibly he has more presence and confidence. That still is okay. Each packet of sheep and how they are treated at the top affects the status of the start of the run. A bit of a crap shoot.
I know my dogs skill sets and my own as a handler. I have 4 open wins and some placements in the last year trialling here. Granted, the trials weren't huge, but the competition was excellent. It's like throwing the dog a bone; random reinforcement. It makes you want to try even harder. Yoko is trying hard for me. I overheard someone making a joke about her at the last trial. She may not be what other people are looking for in a trial dog, but that's fine with me. She will win again (when it is least expected) LOL
Pictures by Bonnie Block
Champ coming 4 years of age next year has a ton of potential. He has been changing dramatically this year from taking the reins out of my hands to gaining experience on tough range sheep, and now starting (again) to want to be my partner. Both of my dogs were nursery qualifiers and Champ qualified for the open finals last year, but was no where near ready. I will know when he is ready. And, if they are never ready for that level of competition that is okay by me, too.
Know yourself and know your dogs. I believe that's the bottom line. Don't be afraid to ask for help. But, be sure you know the person you are asking for help from. Sometimes it's difficult to judge a book by it's cover. Do your homework. Don't be afraid to speak up especially where your dog is concerned. When it stops becoming fun, find another sport :0)