It’s About Progress
A line I am quite partial to is “don’t let perfection get in the way of progress”. I think this is a common trap for new people especially. A lot of the time, new people see the top dogs and get so focused on that level. Then they try to create that level of perfection after one day. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much. One thing they almost always do is not let their dog make any mistakes at the beginning. Normally, this results in making the dog so miserable that they either quit or look like they hate being out working. Or the dog has no idea how to react when things go sideways. It becomes glaringly obvious when a dog is faced with say, a group of wild lambs. The kind of lambs that want to go in four different directions all at once. The dog that was always held so perfectly typically stops and looks at the handler seeming to say “well that went to shit, now what?”. The dog that has been allowed to have freedom and has made the mistakes has seen this before. Mostly because that dog probably split a group before and was forced to fix their mistake. They probably made that mistake more than once. And through trial and error, you have trust in them enough to let them cover afore mentioned lambs. To me, training dogs is about maximum exposure. Putting them in as many and as diverse situations as possible as they improve. Of course don’t trail 500 ewes with a 9 month old and be surprised that it went bad. But don’t wait until the dog is perfect to trail those 500 ewes because you’re robbing them of the most valuable learning you can offer. Stock dogs are like most trades, there’s classroom time (work in a round pen or small arena) and apprenticeship (active working in practical uses). I’ll give two more examples of the pitfalls of perfectionists. First, your dog takes fiveever (a unit of measurement that is longer than forever) to train since the dog is never allowed to do anything. Because the dog is only allowed to work if step one is perfect, they never get to work. Whether that is the first step
of an outrun or the first step of a walk up. The second is when people end up wanting to quit because their dog isn’t meeting their standards. What most longtime handlers will tell you is the real hook of stock dogs is that perfection is a fallacy. The pursuit of the impossible is what is so addicting. You always have room to improve and filling in the gaps is never not exciting. The mark of a good trainer isn’t the ability to make any dog excellent. The mark of a good trainer is taking a dog to its maximum potential and knowing what that is for any given dog. That’s why I say that you’re out there teaching and not training. Dogs need to be guided to their potential, not pound into being something they’re not.