Are you getting good advice?
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine...

Last month, I posted a question to people who are somewhat new to trials.  I asked them what they thought was the most difficult part of leaning our sport.  There were a few different answers, but most of them replied of the enormous amount of knowledge that was needed to be successful.  With that education, came the problem of finding someone who could help educate them in our sport.


I think that one of the most exasperating problems when starting out with dogs is finding a good person to work with.  There are many choices, and most of us have struggled and weaved our way through the complicated maze to find someone who we can comprehend their instruction


In the beginning, we receive all kinds of advice.  Some good, some bad, some from knowledgeable people, some from people just starting out as well.  Our task is to sort through the information and find out what is important, and whom we can rely our trust with.


I tell most people wanting to get started to go and watch trials.  Be an observer, and watch how the trial, people, and the dogs work.  When you see someone who you admire, appreciating how their dog works, and the relationship that they have with their dog, go to them for advice.  They may give lessons or clinics, but it may be a person who does this for strictly enjoyment as well. So, if they aren’t available to help, ask them whom they would recommend for help.


Most people in our venue are very giving with their time and advice.  Once you have found a person whom you trust and respect, then the next step is to work with this person.  Take their advice and incorporate it into your dog training.  Go home and work on your own livestock and make progress toward your next lesson or training experience


The last trial, I was talking to a trainer who also works horses.  We were talking just about this very subject.  She said, just like in horses, the people standing around the trial giving free advice are usually the people who shouldn’t be giving it. A professional knows that solutions are not so simple, and that there is usually more work involved. 


Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t get help or advice from anyone but your mentor.  But while you are just starting out, to keep things consistent, I would stick with my mentor or ask your mentor who else has similar methods of training, and whom else they would recommend to learn from.  Confident clinicians and instructors are not afraid to work with other clinicians or instructors.


One of the most confusing things that you can do for yourself and you dog is go get advice from too many people with conflicting styles. This is a very common mistake with people just starting out.  One trainer might tell you to lay your dog down, the other may tell you never to lay your dog down.  If you try to follow both trainers, you will be so conflicted that your dog won’t understand what the message might be.


Experienced handlers will tell you that our venue is a life long process of learning.  No matter how good we become, there is always more to learn.  To start the process of improvement, think about what path you need to take to reach your goals.  Pick those who you admire for education and advice.  Work with a mentor until you feel confident about your training and handling. Your goals and education will become more attainable because you chose a path that headed in a positive direction.