Getting the Most Out of a Clinic

Getting the Most Out of a Clinic

Some clinics are wonderful experiences, some are utter disasters, and many are just a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of days. In order to maximize the chances that the clinics you enter with your dog fall into the "wonderful" category, keep the following points in mind:

Talk to People Who Have Worked with the Clinician Before
Most of the time you'll know someone who has worked with the clinician that you're considering before. How was their experience? Do they feel that their dogs benefited? Did the clinician spend about equal time with each of the participants? Were his or her suggestions clear? Was he or she fair to the dogs and respectful of the handlers? Did he or she tend to focus more on teaching the art of handling or on training the dogs to improve their skills? And, perhaps most importantly, were they sufficiently satisfied to return for another clinic?

Go to Someone's Clinic as a Spectator before Signing Up Your Dog
One of the best ways to decide if a clinician is right for you and your dog is to attend as a spectator before committing yourself. Some clinicians give many clinics throughout the year, and if you're lucky you should be able to find one within easy driving distance. If a clinician uses a good sound system or is willing to summarize what he or she worked on with an individual handler, it's possible to get a great deal out of a clinic as a spectator. Even without a sound system, it's usually possible to tell enough about the clinician's style to make an educated judgment about whether you would feel comfortable working in a similar situation with your dog.

Consider the Host's Facilities
Even the best clinicians will be limited if the host's field is too small for your needs, or if the sheep being used are either too dogged or not dogged enough. If the clinic is being held somewhere that you know to be inadequate, you might want to consider passing on the clinic: usually the clinician will eventually hold another one somewhere else with facilities that might be better suited to your needs.

Watch Other People's Turns Carefully
Don't make the mistake of only focusing on yourself and your dog at the clinic: you'll often get as much out of watching other people and their dogs as you will working with your own. If you're serious about the sport, you'll have other dogs to work with in your future, and those dogs might have the very same problem as some of the dogs in your clinic! You don't ever want to make the mistake of having tunnel vision about your dog and your problems: observing your fellow handlers will make you a much better sheepdogger in the long run. Make sure you understand what problems the clinician is trying to address with other handlers and dogs, and see how you can apply that to your own work.

Know What You Want to Work On With Your Dog
Try to come to the clinic with a definite lesson plan in mind: what problems are you having that you'd like help with? At the same time, be willing to be flexible: you might be convinced that, for example, the problem with your dog is that his fetch is always too wild and uncontrolled, and the clinician might see that the root of that problem lies in something else entirely, something so subtle that it escaped your attention. But it will always help the clinician home in on the problem if you can speak intelligently (and briefly!) to her or him about what you'd like to correct in your dog.

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up If You Don't Like What the Clinician is Doing to Your Dog
The golden rule is that clinicians know a lot more about training and handling than novices, but the platinum rule is that nobody knows your dog better than you do yourself. If you truly think that something the clinician is doing will be harmful to your dog, say so. It's usually best if you give the clinician's method a fair chance--you might be pleasantly surprised when you see something that you feared would harm your dog actually helping him. But trust your instincts in all cases: your first job is to do no harm.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
If you don't understand why your clinician is doing something, ask! And if you still aren't clear after it's explained to you, ask again! Don't be afraid of looking foolish: it's your money and your time, and you need to understand what the clinician is trying to accomplish so you can replicate it when you practice on your own. And nine times out of ten, the other handlers will be glad that you asked, so they can learn from your experiences.

Take Notes to Remember Key Points
When in doubt, write it down--you'll be glad you did when the clinic is over and you're sitting alone struggling to make sense out of everything that you learned there. You also might consider having a friend videotape your run, if the clinician allows it (not all do, so be sure to ask permission first). But whatever your method, make sure that you have a way of recording ideas and impressions so you can provide yourself with a clear picture of how you should follow up on what you learned when you're on your own.

Don't "Clinic-Hop"
Clinics can be enjoyable, and they also can be very helpful to your goals of becoming a good trainer and handler of sheepdogs. But, as the Greeks would say, everything in moderation: if you and your dog attend every clinic that you see advertised, the end result will almost assuredly be a very stressed dog and an even more confused handler. Go to a clinic, try out what you've learned for awhile, and then attend another one if you feel like it. Choose judiciously, spread out your clinic experiences, and you and your dog will be all the better for it.
When Ordinary Humiliation
Just Isn't Enough