I was talking to someone the other day. They were telling me about a pup they had placed. They were pleased with the placement. As we talked about what made them happy the subject of work vs training vs trialing came up.
Uh Oh. The dreaded conversation.
This is one of those questions that does not truly have an answer. At least one that will make everyone happy. There are so many ways of looking at this; and so many opinions of how it should be looked at.
Let me tell you what I think…
I think we should first look at what makes the dogs we like great. For many of us that is the work they have been required to do for generations. This could still leave room for conflict because there are many out there who have dogs that have been selected for many generations strictly for trialing. So, let’s look back a little farther. Before the trialing it was about getting things done with the livestock.
The first thing we need to look at is can they get the work done. Again this is subjective. What is the work to do? I was asked a number of years back to write an article about how I select dogs. I turned them down. My reason was, what I am doing now does not require the same dogs as I once would have needed. Their response was that I still know what I think was important.
I never did write the article. They were correct however. The things that I will look at are the same now as they were then. I see those things better and have added to the list but the core of what I want from a dog is the same, need it or not.
I think that is the key. Whether we need it now or not, those core traits are what made the dogs what they are. If we discard them we lose the dogs that we enjoy. There are lots of examples of this but that is a whole other subject (with close to as much controversy).
The only way to prove that those traits are still there is work, miles and miles of work. People often talk about how dogs of years ago did not have the issues they have now. I do not think the issues were not there but the work kept the dogs that had them out of the gene pool (for the most part). As the work has became lighter more of those dogs remained in the breeding pool.
The problem is many people that have stockdogs do not have the work. A few acres is not enough work to prove a dog. When we do not have the miles for our dogs to gain experience we have to teach them. This is where training comes in. When we don’t have the miles we train.
People talk about real work over training. If you do not have enough work, how does the dog learn? you have to train. What time and experience will not work out, we have to train. We like our dogs to learns on its own because that fixes the lesson in the dogs mind stronger and faster. However, we do the dog a disservice if we do not teach our dogs what the work will not. The less time your dog gets on stock doing work the more you will have to train.
Then there is trialing. It is a common perception that trials are where we test and prove our dogs. I think this is far from correct. We trial to show what our dogs can do, not to find out what they can not. If we are using trials to find out what our dogs can not do we definitely do not have enough work. That, or we do not understand the work well enough ourselves.
If you are looking at work only, you can get by with a different dog then if you are trialing. A dog that is required to get a job done often needs to be a little independent. They need to be willing and able to make good choices to accomplish the task that is set. A good trial dog needs to be a little more willing to take command quickly. The working dog needs to take command but can not rely on it. In most working environments, if it takes a second or two longer to take it, it is not the end of the world. If the dog has good experience it is often doing it before we have a chance to give the command. That same few second delay on command in a trial dog can be the difference between winning and losing.
This argument will go on because what one person considers work is a drop in the bucket to another. What one person considers training another may consider just part of getting the job done. People that do not have the work are going to try to use trials to prove their dogs.
Because we don’t have the same requirements of work we have to accept that, the selection and how we use and teach our dogs is going to be an individual decision. What will work for one will not work for another.
I want a working dog that is selected for the long hard days of ranch work that can trial. The ground between the ranch work and the trialing, I will train. There are people that I think it is better that they select the trial dog and train the difference to accomplish the work they may require done. But again, I will leave you to decide which is best for you; that’s personal.
If you deal with people that do not have the same thoughts as you on this subject, smile and nod; then go work your dogs. Leave the discussion behind there is not a win to it. Let your dogs work speak for you.