Instinct testing….a time of anxiety, of excitement, of hope…..and that’s just the human! What about the dog?
Some dogs are naturals at their first test. Others become possessed by demons. Still others “shadow” the handler and never seem to notice the sheep. It’s not knowing what will happen that drives the owner crazy. His own inexperience in this setting can create an internal conflict that the dog may sense. The dog will take its cue from the human. If the handler is uncomfortable or fearful, then the dog may be, too. If the human wants desperately for the dog to succeed and pushes too hard, the dog could shut down from the perceived pressure. Oddly enough, both the “demons” and the “shadows” may lack self-confidence and may be confused as to what the handlers want. The “shadows” may also be so well-behaved in other areas that they need permission and positive encouragement from their humans to break loose to do what should come naturally.
How can the human help? The best thing to do is to go into the test arena with no other expectations than just to relax and walk around the pen. The tester/trainer is there to handle the stock and keep things from getting too wild. The owner can then mentally release his dogs from the controls of normal life and let things happen naturally.
© 2000 by Cindy Mendonca.
This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”, the Bearded Collie Club of America’s monthly newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the author.