While traipsing across Germany and on to Gotland, Sweden this summer, we left our border collie, Kai, with a sheep dog trainer. Being 1 1/2 years old, he was eager to begin his journey as a sheepdog. With a summer full of moving kids to college, and visiting those afar, I had little time to work with him. So instead of him sitting around, biding time until I came home, I decided to send him for training.
We picked him up this week from the trainer’s farm in New York. Though Kai is our second border collie, I am still very much a beginner when it comes to training and handling a working dog. Our first border collie, ended up just being a family dog who worked at fetch more than sheep herding. She was aggressive in the field, and we were never successful at getting to a point where she could help us in the field.
We were so excited to see what Kai had learned with the trainer. Upon arriving to her farm, she took Kai into her larger training field to show us what the two of them had worked on the past 2 months. We spent the afternoon, talking, working, and talking some more about his skill, his strengths and weaknesses, and what the next steps should be.
The next day, the trainer worked with me and Kai together. I shadowed her in the field and then she let me take over, giving commands. At first, I felt a bit like a kid trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time, trying to remember my left from my right and Kai’s left from his right, and “away” meant to go counter clockwise, and “come by” signaled to circle clockwise. I fumbled with the livestock stick, trying to remember which way to point and how to use it to help Kai understand what I wanted him to do. I quickly realized that the dance that takes place between handler and dog, is not as easy as it looks. Eventually, the commands and movements began to come easier, and I had an inkling of the fun of working with a dog in the field.
To the experienced handler, I am sure this video, taken while working in the big field for the first time with Kai, looks like an awkward dance of fumbling along, hesitating, stopping, and stepping on toes. But give us time on the dance floor, and soon, we will be sweeping across the field in graceful movements.
More about border collie training: