April 26-29 Gordon Watt Clinic Part of a Rich Tradition
By: John Seraphine
Here at Heatherhope Farm, near Sycamore, Illinois, we have hosted Gordon Watt sheepdog clinics since 2007. The last several years we have hosted two four-day clinics a year, both in late April and early November. In all that time we have built a solid core of regulars, and we have welcomed newcomers to both the world of sheepdogs and to Gordon’s approach to training, and it has been a delight to see dogs and handlers improve, and everyone going away wanting more.
This year’s clinic, April 26-29 was no exception. Eighteen students, of every level of experience, gathered from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. We had two students whose dogs were practically raw to sheep work. Their owners soon discovered what all of Gordon’s regulars know, that it is essential to keep a dog away from a small round pen and into an open field—especially when they can start out with a master of sheep-dog-handler choreography such as Gordon. Dogs that were running helter-skelter and scattering the sheep one moment were soon finding themselves in a comfort zone where they could feel their sheep, listen and learn. These new students went away committed to following up with Gordon and helping their dogs rise to their potential.
Another thing Gordon’s regulars have learned is that he is uniquely dedicated to seeing each of his students improve, and he is wonderfully gifted in helping people polish their more experienced dogs. Once students adjust to Gordon’s Irish ways of kidding, and his often colorful language, they understand that he is helping them see the big picture of where there dog is now, where it is going down the road, and what they need to do to help and not hinder the journey.
An obvious bonus with our clinics is that the community of students that has coalesced has developed a grand personality all its own. My wife Connie lays out the food for breakfasts, snacks, and lunch; and we do dinner together with Gordon most evenings. The banter is always laced with both laughter and genuine insight into dogs, shepherding, competition, and many other miscellaneous things. And the regulars among us are so comfortable and confident that they easily keep newcomers from being strangers for more than a few seconds. Time and again we hear, “Thank you for making me feel like I belong.”
Dogs, sheep, learning, caring conversation: what more could you want? Thank you, Gordon, and thank you clinic participants, for helping to build a rich and rewarding clinic tradition at Heatherhope Farm.