By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine

I guess one of the most difficult problems I see in our sport at times, is the lack of commitment by the handler or owner. Not that they are lacking commitment to the sport, just that they are lacking commitment to the other half of their team---their dog.

In the past few years, the level of competition has increased dramatically. It takes a very good team to place, and a great team to win. When I first started running dogs, you could win even if you didn't have a great run. It is very difficult to win today unless you and your team partner are both on the top level.
That brings me to the main subject. It seems that with all the increased competition, everyone would like to find a way to get to the top as quickly as possible. That isn't a bad thing, it is just that most of us are only looking at one half of the problem. We are looking only to our dog as the problem of getting to the top. We fail to recognize that we are the most important part of the equation.

So, I see many very good dogs and potential teams being broken apart, because the human side thinks that they can find a new partner easier, than working with the partner that they have. And, I have to admit; sometimes that is very true. Dogs and people don't always suit each other and sometimes it is better for both parties to work with different individuals.

But in many cases I see when I am giving lessons or seminars, is that someone wants to win so badly, that they don't have the foresight or patience to wait for the partnership to develop so that they can win. They start blaming the other partner and don't look at the most important part of the team…themselves. They are ready to sell off the loyal partner in search of a new "magic" partner that can bring them immediate results and prizes to take home.

When I am working with someone, and have studied their dogs and their situation, I tend to look in the long run of what might develop with their dogs. Many times it takes years for dogs to develop into the Champion that they have potential to become. Dogs that are strong in nature, or independent in their thinking, often don't really mature until they have been on the trial field for a few years.

I find that if I hear them complaining about a certain dog, and that they think it should be doing better, most of the time it isn't working better because of the fact that it isn't being handled right. I had a good friend tell one time that he both loved and hated training dogs "because it not only showed his strong methods, it pointed out his own weaknesses. His weaknesses slapped him in the face every day that he trained." That trainer will go far as he is willing to look at himself. Most of us are not willing to look at our own weakness.

So, in this complicated equation of trying to have a great team. I find that far too many good or even great dogs are parted with in search of a great team. The handlers are not willing to look long term or even at themselves, they want immediate results. Personally, I try to point out to the handler and team of their potential, but if I find that they have a history of blaming the other, or not being patient, it probably best that they find another team member. It makes me sad at times, seeing the dogs blamed and parted with, but I don't want them to have to live out their lives with someone who they can never make happy.

When part of the team is not committed to the other, how can there be strength to carry both the good and the bad? If every time you second-guess if your team member was trying his best, how can that make a positive statement on the relationship? I know that there are days that my dogs are not working up to their potential, but at the same time I know that they have good days and bad days. If I want some of those good days, I must endure the bad ones as well.

I am not saying that if you have a dog that isn't talented on sheep, that you shouldn't find it a new home. But I am saying that if you started with a team dog that you thought had talent, and still has talent, you should commit yourself to that team. You can't imagine the amount of times that I have heard that someone is unhappy with a dog, and then one day they place well at one trial, so they decide they will keep the dog because of the placing. That team still doesn't have much of a chance as the handler is still riding the fence, just staying on longer because they happened to do well at one particular trial.