My First Dog
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine..

In the Northwest, we have had a number of great dogs. I can remember when I started with sheepdogs, there were some really famous dogs that had quite a following. Rob Lewis's Lass, Ric Rudolf's Shelly, Jon Carter's Bru, Al Zuppan's Risk and the famous litter from Hubbard's Val that included Flint, Liz,& Lad. These are great dogs that the whole sheepdog world would talk about with great respect and admiration.

Recently, I have had a number of new [ABCA] members who have seen that Hannah had won the top dog award three different times, ask me about my famous dog.. I smile as I write this as she wasn't famous or even looked at much when we first started. Hannah was a dog that took a while before people noticed and appreciated her work. Nobody paid much attention to her until she started winning in the open class on a consistent basis, even though we had a very successful pro-novice career.

Hannah was my first real Border Collie that I had purchased as a work dog. At the time, I wasn't interested in trials, and only wanted a dog that could help me with my sheep. After a long search for a working puppy, I found Betty Maddux in Wilcox, AZ. She picked out my puppy and had her shipped to the Boise airport where I enthusiastically picked up my new sheep help.

There wasn't much for formal training in our area, so much of our work was done on a trial and error basis. I was able to attend some clinics, but most of the help came in the way of an older dog that I had purchased after Hannah named Toss. Toss was also a very good dog, that was consistent in his work and gave me a good idea in what a sheepdog should strive to be.

As I said, we didn't have much help in our training, but luckily Hannah was very forgiving in my mistakes. I can remember throwing her at six months of age in a pen of 50 lambs to work and expecting her to take control of them. They couldn't have paid less attention to her as she was trying to get them to move to balance with me. I was extremely frustrated with Hannah at the time for not taking control of these non-dog broke sheep. I laugh at my stupidity as I would never expect a young pup to be able to handle that situation now.

Luckily, Hannah was very natural in her outrun and flanks. She squared herself off naturally, as I didn't have a clue as to what square flanks were. I just wanted her to go the direction that I asked each time I gave a flank. Her outrun was natural from the beginning. I can remember only a few mistakes that she made with her outruns, that she knew much better than I where she should land to pick up the sheep. Stopping her was probably the biggest problem as she always thought she knew the better pace to bring the sheep.

I started to trial Hannah at about a year and a half of age. She seemed to like the challenge of the trials, and would never become upset or nervous about performing. She wasn't an instant success at first, as she needed to learn more about different types of sheep and how they need to be worked. I didn't realize how good she was until I had some famous people from outside of our own area tell me that there wasn't really anything better to be found. They would be happy to buy her if she was for sale. It is then that I really got some confidence in our team and moved her up to the open class.

Photo of HannahAs I said before, we weren't an instant success. Many trials we would go home defeated because one of the two of us had made an error. She could be quite determined in her ways, which is a problem if you don't have the same goal in mind. It wasn't until later that I learned to compromise with her that we started having great success. She hated to stop on the fetch….absolutely hated it. I tried and tried to make her stop. It didn't work. And if I did succeed in making her stop, she didn't run the course with the same vigor. It wasn't until I learned to compromise with her, and just made her slow down on the fetch that we started doing well. She wanted complete control on the fetch, and I compromised and gave her most of the control as long as she was reasonable and workmanlike.

Even when we started placing in the Nationals, I was still rather naïve in how good Hannah actually was. Somehow I thought we were just lucky when we placed 13th in our first Nationals. We started doing well in trials both inside and outside of the Northwest. In '94 we finally peaked at the right time and won the National Finals in Lexington, KY. It was a day that I will never forget as I was so proud of the way that she had worked on those sheep. It wasn't until later in the day that I discovered that we had done well enough to take the title, which was at that point the largest sheepdog trial held in this country. Another time that I was really proud was the time that we had done so well at Scio the year that they held the Purina Banquet. I was quite happy that my friends in the Northwest could see us compete against some of the top teams from across the country and end up winning the weekend.

Hannah has also made her mark in the genetics of some of the sheepdogs in the Northwest. I bred her to several different males, and I am blessed to have some of her daughters in my possession. Many of her sons and daughters, and now grandchildren and great grandchildren are making their mark in Northwest sheep dog trials. Her strength and determination are something that I will always be looking for in my next dog.

A few years back, I had a young person looking for a dog come to me and ask about puppies. He was very educated and knew that he wanted to get something good. After a discussion he said that most people had told him "That it really didn't matter what pup he picked out at first, that you always ruin your first dog." He said that he didn't want to ruin his first dog or any dog. I was happy to point out that my first dog ended up being a National Champion and that he shouldn't listen to the negative comments.

Since I lost Hannah last year, I have missed her more than most people can imagine. It is not only at the trials in which I would know that she would excel in difficult situations, but at home where she had grown to be a big part of my life. Hannah wasn't the most personable to strangers, but we had a unique relationship in that I was able to give her the respect that she needed and she respected my needs as well. I had all the faith in the world in her ability and she trusted me to put her in situations in which she would succeed. Her last few years were very enjoyable to me as I watched her mature into a dog that people would want to watch and take notice. She became a running partner with me and I enjoyed those times as well as many others that I got to spend alone with her as my dog.

Now that her time has passed, I look with great appreciation to what she has given me. When we start talking about the great dogs in our organization that have passed, I will be proud of the contribution that Hannah was able make. It will be quite some time before I find a dog with the amount of talent that Hannah was able to express. Hopefully, I can use the experience that she gave me to help make other great individuals that she can also be proud of...