Work Smarter, Not Harder
By Patrick Shannahan

Being hit by the trial and training bug, I think some handlers or trainers have gotten the wrong message. Thinking that if they work a lot, that success is bound to come. They spend a great amount of time in the field with their dog, assuming that more work, means eventual success.

Unfortunately, I think they are misunderstanding the situation. Many times, more work just makes busy work. Sometimes, it is even solidifying the mistakes and problems you have. And although there is a slight amount of teamwork that might get reinforced, for the most part, it is wasted valuable time.

What they need is to work with a plan. They need to develop a strategy to get better, working on aspects of their training that need improvement. Setting up situations that will challenge both the handler and the dog. They need to go out each day with small goals of training or work, and stick with them. Once the goals are accomplished, they need to move on and set new goals.

A couple of years back, I wrote an article called, “Get out of your comfort zone.” It stressed that we need to work on the substandard parts of our training and handling, and push ourselves to work on uncomfortable aspects of training. Unfortunately, I still see

Handlers doing lots of undemanding work, and showing very little progress on the trial field.

Nearly 10 years ago, I looked at my dogs and my training, and questioned where was I the weakest as a handler and trainer. I recognized that my fetches were the weak part of my training, with most of my dogs running over the top of me and not really responding in a way that would help our course and our score. So, I was determined to change that and worked on it, improving a bit each year, and now feeling comfortable with both my training and handling.

Going out and training what you are good at does not improve you or your dog! Going out and training on the poor parts of your training and handling will make you better. That doesn’t mean you cant ever work other parts of your training, it means your focus should be the aspects that need work, not the parts that you are already good at.

I don’t know Lance Armstrong, or his training routine. But I can bet you that he doesn’t train by going out and riding a fun, undemanding ride each day. He looks to where he can improve, and focuses on that aspect of his training. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t take a leisurely ride occasionally, it means that he looks on what can make his race better, not easier.

Another misconception is that all dogs benefit from more work. There are many dogs that actually become lethargic, or not sharp, by working too much. If you have a dog that is trained, keeping them fresh and sharp, involves knowing your dog, and what will make them perform at optimal performance. Some dogs need lots of work, others need to be kept in shape, and worked occasionally.

The one aspect that is sometimes hard to balance is the fact that the hander or trainer needs more work and experience, but the dog does not. Many times it is a fine line, working the dog so the handler can get experience, but not working so much that it is detrimental to the dog. Each of us needs to learn the needs of our dog, and balance it with our needs for training and experience.

No body has ever told me that working, training, and a trialing sheepdog is easy. Many people have told me it is the most difficult activity that they have ever attempted. If we want to be really good with our dogs, we have to acknowledge that our work needs to be tailored to improve us, not to keep the status quo.