Perfection vs Excellence: 4 High-Risk Mistakes to Avoid

In days of old, shepherds used to train their dogs for work, and the trials were an afterthought; the dogs that had the talent would be polished up so they could compete, but work on the hill was the priority.

Today, especially with dedicated triallers, they train for trials first and the work is an afterthought.

The good thing about training a dog for work is that he doesn’t need to be perfect. He can make mistakes and learn through experience and guidance from the handler, until he understands the task. This allows the individual dog to develop at his own pace, without a lot of pressure before he’s mentally able to handle it.

Generally, dogs take pressure better once they’re more than a year old. We usually start our dogs at about 10 months old and without much handler assertion. We focus on the basics, like going to balance point and wearing the sheep to us. We refrain from “training” but instead provide exposure at this stage.

With more keen or excitable dogs, it may include teaching them to lie down or dissuading them from rushing at the sheep or slicing.

Some dogs are ready for a bit more training at an early age while others need easy, loose training sessions for quite some time. For many dogs  it is once they get to 13-14 months old that they’re ready for more precision and disciplined education, which if the dog is talented enough, will lead to excellence.

The more perfection that is demanded at the start, the more chance of your dog not being able to handle it and the risk of detrimental consequences, such as:

  • you creating hard to solve problems (i.e. turntail, etc.)
  • your dog getting scared
  • your dog becoming master conscious
  • your dog becomes one of those “he never really got keen enough to train” (when in fact it was the method of training that caused the lack of keenness.)

How many of those, “not really keen enough to train” dogs have we turned around by following the MacRae Way principles of training….. probably into the hundreds by now!!

So what are some ideas of perfection that people strive for with their training?

1. Chasing young pups off the sheep to get the ideal circle and work a certain distance off of the sheep. 

At 12-15 mos. this may be ok, at 4-8 mos. old, this can be extremely detrimental including making a dog too wide, lose heart and try, or turn off completely.

2. Grinding a walk into dogs under 12 months old.

This can take the heart and try out of your dog. It is a bit  like someone standing over you at all times, continuously correcting every little thing that they might see as imperfect. How quickly would you get sick of that? Dogs do too!

3. Making sure every flank is the right shape. 

A lot of young dogs need to be left though a little tight , especially those with a lot of eye, if you square them off too quickly they can get very sticky, go “out of town”on their outrun or get to where all they want to do is flank and not walk on to their sheep.

4. Trying to get perfect flanks, while the young dog is just starting to learn to drive.

When a dog is just starting to learn to drive, if you correct the shape it will likely make him very master conscious. When your dog can’t see you, if he is worried about you correcting him, he might start not wanting to come in between you and the sheep, or he might try and go behind you or whip round the sheep quickly, some will even bust through the middle of the sheep, to get out of the situation.

With very few exceptions, when perfectionists apply their ideas of perfection to young dogs, they have many failures with dogs that otherwise would have been a lot better, keener and happier in their work.  Sometimes they may gain 6 months at the start of their young dogs career, but lose many years at the end, with their dogs peaking at 4-5 yrs. old, and then those dogs declining, never realizing their potential in their later years, (6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 years old).

Nan, Max, Star, and Cap all won Double lift International style trials at 10+ years old, with Alasdair’s Nan and Star both winning the US National after 10 years old.

Dogs are a bit like children, in that none of them are perfect, and if you require perfection at a young age you can damage their spirit and diminish their ultimate potential.

Learn how we foster enthusiasm and enjoyment when starting our young dogs, as well as how we set up our older dogs up for success in our Premium Content and Courses.

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