As far as we know, there’s not really a nationally recognised route to becoming a qualified pet dog trainer (though there are NVQs and the APDT) so it’s theoretically possible for a well-meaning dog enthusiast to book themselves a community hall for the evening, and charge an entrance fee.
At least, that’s our interpretation of various emails that arrive here from people with pet collies with supposed behavioural problems.
More alarmingly, it seems that, if a dog’s problem is too complex, time-consuming or challenging for that trainer to cope with or understand, the eventual response is to “Leave, and never again darken my doorstep.”
It’s not exactly helpful, is it? Though I can imagine that sometimes trainers might feel it’s easy enough to train the dog – but teaching the handler is quite a different matter!
The same applies to sheepdog trainers, of course.
We’ve recently been very surprised to be asked if we could recommend a named sheepdog trainer who, apparently, was trained by us.
It’s not that we’d ever try to deprive anyone of making a living, and it’s not even that we’re worried about competition. Quite the contrary, in fact. We’re keen to see sheep herding become as popular for collies as Agility and Flyball are, so the more who are involved, the merrier in our opinion.
Our concern is for those people who may attend classes with this trainer and be put off the whole activity by a bad experience. The individual in question has certainly attended a handful of training sessions with us – but with just one dog. Admittedly, the dog became fairly competent but in a very limited way. The dog showed a natural aptitude with sheep and was virtually a model student.
Anyone who knows dogs is aware that every single one is an individual and nowhere is this more critical than in sheepdog training. Moderate success with just one (easy going, naturally talented) dog surely cannot qualify the trainer to teach others.
Anyone who’s attended a group training session with us (or anywhere, I’m sure) will be aware that there are as many different problems as there are dogs, and that dogs vary widely in their response to sheep – from the indifferent to the indefencible.
To handle an unfamiliar dog, and guide its handler to making progress with it, while protecting the sheep from unnecessary stress and injury is skilled work and demands a background of considerable experience.
All we’re suggesting is that, if you find a trainer near to you who offers sheepdog training, you check out first what sort of experience they’ve had and roughly how many dogs they’ve trained. I wouldn’t insist they’re successful sheepdog triallers, but they must be able to work with a range of dogs. A personal recommendation is always best of course, but not always possible.
The risk of training with someone of limited experience is that, in the event of your dog not working well right from the start, you may be told that he/she will never be any good. This isn’t fair on either of you, but it seems to be common practice amongst pet obedience instructors and we’d hate to see it spread.
A good sheepdog trainer should be able to explain clearly what methods they use, and then prove the methods work by demonstration.