Friday, March 27, 2009

The View from the Top

And it's certainly not what you think! But first, I know a number of you are waiting for updates on a bunch of stuff, but you'll have to bear with me a little while longer. I'll get to it, but for now I just want to make some quick comments on dog trialing before I go park myself in front of the TV to watch Moonlight.

I often set sheep for trials. I enjoy doing it, whether paid or volunteer or in exchange for some entry fees. Working at the top really does give you a whole new perspective on what dogs do at a trial. Yep, it's a real eye-opener.

The one huge fault I see over and over again is dogs who do not have proper outruns at the top. Instead of going nice and deep so they can walk in and have a nice lift, many dogs slice off the top of the outrun. Some come at the sheep straight from the side; others actually get behind their sheep, but barely. Today, the sheep were not being held on feed, and yet they were amazingly tolerant of plain bad work at the top. Of the 10 or 11 nursery dogs who ran, probably one-third actually were nice at the top. That's a very small number.

And this problem isn't just confined to nursery dogs--I see it a lot in open as well. In fact, I can pretty much predict whose dogs will be right at the top since there's so few to remember! Here in the east we use a lot of farm flocks and an unfortunate consequence of that is that we often need to hold on grain. The problem with grain is that the sheep tend to bury their faces and no dog can get a good, true lift. But a worse problem is that the sheep don't tell on all those dogs who are so bad at the top. The converse of this is that the dogs who are actually proper at the top of their outruns get no credit for being so. And that's a shame.

Of course the other down side to this is that when the sheep don't tell on the dog, all those handlers whose dogs are less than stellar at the top have no real way of knowing, unless the outrun is short enough that they can really see what's going on. At a distance it's hard to tell just how far back your dog is. Whenever I get the chance, I ask the set out person if they remember my dog and if they can tell me how things went at the top. If it's a big trial and the set out person doesn't know your dogs, you might not get much feedback. But my view from the top indicates that most handlers would be okay to assume that their dogs aren't right. I always make a point of telling handlers when their dogs are particularly good at the top because I think it's a nice thing to hear from the setout person.

So all you trialers out there, please pay attention to what your dog is doing at the top of its outrun. You might be surprised to find out that your dog isn't nearly as good there as you think it is. And although circumstances at various trials might enable your dog to get away with it, sooner or later that poor work will come back to haunt you.


Kathy said...

I agree, Julie. I have spotted at the top often enough to realize that a lot of dogs come in flat across the top. I try to always insist that my dogs go deep and then walk up on the sheep.

DeltaBluez Tess said...

I see that all the time. When I setout or when I judge....the grain set sheep are more forgiving but the range ewes are not. The sad part is when the dog lifts offline the handler tries to blame the sheep or the setout crew.