Both Sides Now by Cindy Mendonca

You’ve entered your first AKC trial away from home and you’ve practiced the course for months. You get to the trial site. The course is reversed from the one you’ve trained on! The run goes nothing like your practices. What happened? You and your dog have been “course-trained.”

Just as Judy Collins sang about looking at clouds and life “from both sides now,” we need to look at both sides of course-training. Some people, usually new to herding, feel the advantage is that their dogs learn the course faster, making them more competitive. If you never trial outside of AKC or away from home, and if (a very big “IF”) the sheep are well-schooled and totally unflappable, then this might be the way to train.

But for all the advantage course-training seems to confer, there’s another side. Beardies become used to routine very quickly, whether it’s chore work or a trial course. They can become “know-it-alls” and refuse to work in the opposite direction or take commands that don’t make sense to them. This makes it difficult to move between herding programs with their different course designs.

So, how do you train your beardie to be flexible? The short answer: keep your training flexible. No matter whether you train in an empty field or one with a course set up, work in both directions. Train obstacles individually and out of sequence, not just from the way they’d be done in a trial, but from the way you worked them in previous training sessions. Flexibility builds teamwork. You and your beardie will be successfully working “both sides now” and always.

© 1999 by Cindy Mendonca.

This article originally appeared in “Bagpipes”, the Bearded Collie Club of America’s monthly newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the author.