HAVING A WORKING MINDSET - PART ONE
The first signs of Spring bring out new students to my farm. They find me on the Internet or get my name from friends. They want to know if their dog has the "Right Stuff" for herding. They arrive at their appointed time and jump out of the car eager to get down to work. The problem is, their dog isn't.
With vanishingly few exceptions the dogs barge out of the car pulling and lunging on the leash. More than one has erupted from the car barking at me, me set out dog or the stock with none of us anywhere near and certainly not showing aggression. The owners rarely discipline the dog for the aggression. The dogs then proceed to drag their owners about the farm investigating interesting smells or sights.
I generally stand and talk with the people before we start into the sheep work. I try to give them a thumbnail sketch of what we will be doing and try to get an idea of what they have been doing with their dog and what their goals are. I rarely have strictly house pets come out. The dogs that come out have been in a minimum of two classes of obedience and are often enrolled in multiple sports.
People work their own dogs at my farm. The first task that I give people is to walk over to the pasture gate with a loose lead. This can take anywhere from one to over five minutes. They have to keep turning around and trying again until they have some semblance of a loose lead. When they finally arrive at the gate the dog still looking everywhere but at them. At this point I am forced to ask them, "Do you think that your dog is in the right frame of mind to learn anything from you?".
Although I've used herding for this example, you can see the same problem in all the venues. In obedience you see the zoned out dog; not hearing the handler who is fighting to get his dog to focus as he walks up to the ring gate. In agility you see the dogs blowing the start line, barking mindlessly and hit/missing or trashing the obstacles. These are all too common pictures of dogs not ready to learn, not willing to buckle down and work.
Unfortunately this is not just a newbie problem. Teams that have been working for a year or more can still be mired in multiple commands/corrections before getting to the gate. There is a stream of babble coming from the handler on the way to set up. "Fido, here, her, here, GET over here!". This is a dog ready to follow instructions and learn? Or compete and win?
So, what IS a working frame of mind?