I got to the trial as they were giving out the prizes for the event. However, one of the Judges was a clinician and so I stayed to watch her work with the dogs. Honestly, I found this much more interesting.
There was a litter of Aussies there, and they were adorable. The breeder was keeping the blue merle boy because he was independent and adventuresome. I would have picked the red merle girl because she was also adventurous, but she was very people oriented. There was also a red tri that was incredibly timid and hid and cowered. It was fascinating to watch them.
A husband and wife pair had two young, started Aussie brothers there, both of whom were dynamite. The husband loved working with the livestock, and his dog was one of the last worked, and comported himself quite well. The wife was the first up, and she muttered and cajoled and pleaded with her dog, who blew her off quite handily. The clinician tried to direct her, but she froze up, and the clinician ended up dragging her around the arena by her jacket sleeve. There was some progress. Dispirited, she admitted to me later than she didn’t care about this whole mess, but she loved her dog and so she wanted to learn how to herd for his sake.
It was funny to see the difference between the working bred aussies and the show aussies. The working bred dogs were all small and quick, with smoothish, weather-resistant medium coats. The show aussie that stayed for the clinic was huge and fluffy, beautifully marked, but he just looked like a lab with a showy coat. Acted like one, too. He wasn’t really interested in the sheep, but gleefully snarfled up all the poo he could. When they DID get him moving on the sheep, it was merely to chase them, licking their butts, praying for fresh offerings. They let him “watch the other dogs work” to up his interest, which really consisted of him soliciting pets from the spectators and lounging on his back begging for belly rubs. I laughed at his inattentiveness along with everyone else and said: “see, he’s learning a new position. Now he’ll just lay there and wait for the poo to drop.” I think the woman was really feeling bad about his lack of drive. Part of me feels bad for the comment, but part of me thinks she got exactly what she paid for.
Interestingly enough, seeing these dogs in action resolved the aussie vs border collie question for me. Border collies all the way. Which is funny, seeing as how I had been leaning quite hard for the aussies. I just don’t care for a number of small things that make up the picture of what I want.
I came away with two things from the clinic. The first is to be quiet when working your dog. The clinician said it was imperative that people not have “verbal diarrhea” and to give single, clear commands. The second is to have your dog both trained to recall off of stock, and have a stop in the presence of stock before you really start working with anything else, period. Every single problem I saw in the ring was due to these two things being missing. Not that I’m an expert, or anything, but even to this rank novice it was screamingly apparent.
I guess I came away with one other thing: I’m totally and helplessly in love with real working dogs, no matter what their breed. Livestock guardians, herding dogs, working terriers, gun dogs, bird dogs, tracking dogs, S&R dogs, you name it: if it has a job and does it well, i think it’s a great dog.