The grass was green and the trees were beginning to bloom. The occasionally chilly breeze reminded us that winter was not long gone from here, but the coolness made it great weather for training dogs old and new with Gordon. Claire and Randy Sandbothe hosted a great clinic! Their wonderful hospitality and delicious food were enjoyed by all at their beautiful farm in mid-Missouri.
The April clinic provided handlers with an opportunity to work on whatever they needed to do in order to tune up their dogs and improve their skills for the upcoming trial season. We had a wide range of dogs and handlers attend. Some handlers were just beginning their journey with their dog while others worked on their precision as a team. Gordon was ready for all of our questions and problems. His skill at handling dogs combined with his knowledge, experience, and willingness to share all that with other handlers makes lessons with him priceless. I would not be where I am today without Gordon helping me. I know others from the clinic can say the same. Gordon is a gem!
Handlers from Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota, Iowa, and Tennessee traveled to Missouri for the clinic. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. And it was FUN! While I can’t go into details (what happens in at the Sandbothe’s stays at the Sandbothe’s), I can say the evenings were full of lively conversation, games of chance and skill (though the skill part degraded as the night grew old), and Irish dancing (oh, you had to see it to believe it)!
“What struck me about the clinic was how much fun it was. It was not just about sheep dogging, but also about building a community of great friends who support each other.”
“The journey of what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the Dance of Life really takes place – Barbara DeAngelis”
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.
We arrived on Friday April 13th at the McNutt Family Farm in Blue Rock Ohio for a day of lessons. The weather was glorious, warm almost up in the 80s! It was a lovely day with a nice warm breeze which was just right for training dogs. This day was a different variety of dogs from young ones and open dogs. Each handler/dog team floated in and out of their assigned time and it was a nice relaxing 😎 day. It is always a great atmosphere at the McNutt Farm with plenty of banter and lots of fun.
Saturday was the first day of the double lift clinic. With a small number of handlers, we could fit plenty of time in for each working session. The weather was a little cooler in the morning and heavy rain forecast for late afternoon so we made the most of the nice weather with an early start. This clinic was mainly about having control of the dogs and getting them to take your advice to you when they were lost. If you have proper control, you can direct your dog to the unseen sheep. Micheal McNutt has the ideal field as you stood on a rise so the dog could see the first packet of sheep on a right hand outrun. The dog had to run down the hollow losing sight of his sheep as he come up the hill on the other side. It was a tricky right hand as you had to almost direct your dog down the hill before sending or your dog would go too wide and completely miss the sheep. For some dogs, it was confusing to be asked to walk on in front of the handler. It just seemed unnatural for the dogs to do this.
You then had to pull your dog across before sending him right. This clinic was not for the faint hearted as you had to dig deep and really work WITH your dog. No time for mistakes! The dog then had to bring the sheep down into the hollow of the hill and have a blind turn back up the hollow to out of sight sheep. Gordon was on hand to help the less experienced dogs and handlers. But most experienced open dogs had to listen very well and figure it out for themselves. It was tricky: one wrong command and there was trouble ahead.
Handlers had to be quick to command and dogs really had to respond with the same quickness. For me, the most impressive dog of the clinic was Anne Spearman’s Ted. He was the least experienced of all the dogs and tends to worry some if things don’t go to plan. He seemed to be a changed dog. He listened well and took every command that Anne gave him to get him to his sheep. What a star! He never faulted and the more Anne asked of him the better he went. Anne and Ted are becoming a real team.
Sharon Allswede’s Ben was the smoothest dog. Such a quiet way with sheep: his turn backs were with ease. He soon picked up the routine of bringing his first packet and glancing across the field for his second packet. All the while being in full control of his first packet. Amazing little dog.
By the Sunday, Gordon made things a little more challenging with 3 packets of sheep. The weather was wet, very wet. We had no stop heavy rain all day, but it never seemed to deter these handlers. The first packet was 20 yards in front of the dog to the right just down in the hollow dogs really couldn’t miss them. They had to fetch them in front of the handler down the hollow and drop them. Turn back was up the hollow for the second packet. The third packet were in the next field; meaning handlers had to direct their dog through a gate to get to the sheep. Everyone managed to stop their dogs and walk them through the gate where the sheep were right in front of them. This gave the dog a choice of either hand out run. But Gordon said the handler had to direct them right handed. Almost everyone managed, it with little help from Gordon.
This clinic was about getting your dogs to listen and becoming team players. From my view, everyone seemed to really enjoy it. With less dogs, we had plenty of time at lunch with the white board and explaining things. Having this valuable time really helped handlers get the job done once on the field. All handlers and dogs worked as a team. It was a joy to see happy faces and handlers realizing what their dogs where really capable of when questions were asked and dogs delivered. And that’s what it’s all about!
I’m looking forward to these guys running their dogs this Open season and gaining points for finals sometime in the near future.
It is always an enjoyable time at the McNutt Family Farm. We would like to thank Micheal, Phyllis and Patti McNutt for having us . Especially thank you to Phyllis for her delicious cooking. It’s a real treat!
And to Claudia Frank (who couldn’t make it to the clinic) for her loan of the sheep for 3 days. We couldn’t have done it without sheep of course. Sending well wishes to Claudia.
We hope to see you all soon at a clinic, day of lessons or at a trial!
The 2nd weekend in April provided us with a bright and sunny weekend but some bitter cold winds. The afternoons were pleasant with the dogs and sheep appreciating being out in the sun.
Gordon’s plan for the weekend was a variation on the theme: be prepared for anything to show up on the course. This time, two drives! Not only did this require the handler to be present and focused (which way around the post THIS time?) but it also gave the dog the chance to really get in the groove. A couple of dog-legged fetches, funky pens and there you have it.
The first time through, Gordon said he was timing us with a generous 12 minutes on the clock. This amount of time helped people relax and not feel rushed while working the components of the course. He also said he would be judging our runs, but not in the normal way. Gordon would be “judging” us on how well we were helping/working with our dog. Were we “asking the right questions” and did the dog give the right answer. Were we getting what we asked for? How well did we treat the sheep? If something wasn’t right, did we fix it or just move on for the sake of finishing the course? These are all skills he’s teaching us so we can stay calm, focused and “in the game” when it comes to running our dogs at trials.
Gordon taught us some very handy tricks on how to turn the post and start the drive away. In the second round, he came out to help us get the hang of it. His methods helped keep the dog flexible, not bump the sheep and ease into the driving aspect of the course.
The first day, he gave us some very useful instruction on how to calmly prepare your sheep (and dog) to go to the pen. His method kept things calm and quiet. By the time everyone reached the pen, the sheep were more than willing to calmly walk in. With the odd group that didn’t want to go in, Gordon gave his expert tips on how to position the dog and handler to work it out. All the handlers that went through this learned a lot about what NOT to do at first, then saw the magic of correct handling.
The second day gave us more sunshine and a less bitter wind. We continued more of the same with dog and handler teams showing much improvement each time. The second day courses showed more small tweaks requiring changes in handling to keep us on our toes. Strange how just one small change can fluster the handler and the dog. But Gordon’s plan of keeping everything changing help the handler/dog team remain flexible and thinking.
The second day also produced a chute for the “penning” component of the course. The first day practice of calmly lining things up, made the cute a rather easy task with handlers knowing which side to stand on, dogs understanding to calmly wait while the sheep when through the chute (versus race to stop them). It was great to see dog and handler thoroughly understand their job with this task.
All the handlers and dogs were much improved at the end of the second day. Comments among handlers throughout the weekend were how lucky the group is to have such an expert as Gordon. His methods are to keep things calm, constantly evaluate the situation, respond with a plan (versus panic) and get your dog to “answer the questions you are asking.” We all had fun while learning, so the stress was low. Even the most nervous/anxious handlers commented how their nerves improved after these Move Forward clinics.
Merry’s lunches provided some much-needed WARM nourishment each day. The desserts were lovely and the conversation among handlers created a nice atmosphere of learning, camaraderie and a collective desire to “MOVE FORWARD!”
For a gallery of other photos taken at the clinic, click here. If you’d like any of these files sent to you, contact Tresa.
March 20th, 2018, we all hit the road for a 4-day clinic at Shoofly Farm in beautiful North Carolina
Arriving at Shoofly Farm, we were greeted by beautiful, sunny weather. It was nice to feel warm sun on us again. Friday and Saturday were the clinic days which had a different variety of dogs on both days. Handlers and dogs improved over the two days. Throughout the whole clinic, we had all levels of dogs and covered all aspects of training: shedding, look backs, and blow outs. The clinic and lessons were available to all levels of handlers from very novice to open handlers. Almost everything handlers asked about was covered in this clinic.
For the Novice handlers, Gordon gave them more confidence on handling their dogs. He helped to reassure them that is was ok just to let their dogs have the sheep. By handling their dogs this way it helped keep things moving rather than creating problems by trying to enforce a stop.
Lots of young dogs just starting with novice handlers are unsure of how to progress with them. By the end of the second day, the handlers had more of an idea of how to help their young dog move to the next stage of their training. It was nice to see very happy faces from these handlers.
Sunday and Monday were lesson days, with most handlers staying on from the clinic and some new handlers attending. Lessons had more open handlers where they were working on the final touches for trialing. Over the four days, we just had one day of snow early morning by mid-afternoon the sun arrived and snow went home. It was truly a most enjoyable clinic with a great setting and lovely people and dogs.
Every single handler went home very happy and with lots of home work.
Thank you to Robin French and all of the handlers that came out to the clinic and lessons. We hope to see you all again soon.
What a beautiful weekend for our March 2018 move forward clinic
The sun shined on us all weekend.
Most handlers arrived Friday with time for a lesson before the clinic.
This clinic was to designed to help handlers and dogs of all levels that have competed at trials. It was great for handlers which needed help with the finer details of getting around a course.
Kick off time was 8am Saturday morning.
With the morning session, Gordon set up a straight forward course for all handlers and dogs to run just like in a trial situation. Each run was timed.
We didn’t have a judge but a very observant clinician.
Five sheep was set on a tub of corn to keep them settled so each handler had a fair chance. Sophie was doing set out with Tic and they stayed with the sheep till the dogs had contact with the sheep just like at a trial . Gordon and other handlers watched closely.
What was strange was that even though it wasn’t an actual trial, most handlers seemed nervous and it showed a little on some runs with late commands, wrong commands and even no commands. As everyone took their turn at the post, Gordon and other handlers watched in silence until everyone had their first run of the morning.
When everyone had taken part on the course, Gordon went through each run in detail asking each handler where they thought mistakes were made.
Gordon has an unbelievable memory! After 13 dogs ran, he remembered each run in great detail and pointed out what went wrong and of course most faults had to do with some handlers being a nervous. We adjourned for lunch giving each handler time to reflect on their faults. Of course the dogs hardly did anything wrong only by doing what their handlers told them.
Merry put on a lovely spread for lunch spaghetti and meatballs, salad and some handlers donated cakes for dessert.
The afternoon session started up again this time Gordon stepped to the post with each handler making some more nervous and some relieved. Gordon helped with the crucial timing of commands on the dogs making the handler react quicker to situations that came up. Most of the handlers had the same issues, timing on the lift and the first half of the fetch. The majority of handlers had decent drives but almost everyone had trouble at the pen. Gordon helped with smoothing the dogs out around the pen which helped keep the sheep calmer and making them easier to pen.
Sunday morning started again with the sun was shinning on us making it so nice to sit in the sun while watching.
A small course change with just a slight dog leg fetch. Nothing that challenging but causing a few problems for some handlers keeping sheep on line. Most dogs of course wanted to bring the sheep straight to the handler and it was up to the handler to tell the dogs which line they were taking without letting panic set in.
Gordon watched and stepped in if he felt anyone needed help. Almost everyone manage to get around without Gordon stepping out onto the field.
After everyone had ran, each run was discussed again, seeing much improvement in handling. Handlers seemed much more relaxed and their timing was better and therefore, dogs were much calmer with the sheep.
Sunday afternoon session saw big improvement. Handlers looked more confident walking to the post with much more purpose. The were making sure everything was in order before sending their dogs. Almost no one needed help until entering the shedding ring. Gordon stepping in to help most handlers at the shedding.
Pens were much more relaxed and controlled handler and dogs working as a team. It was nice to watch. It really was an enjoyable weekend.
I’m sensing everyone took home information about their dogs they never knew before and how to handle many different situations with them. Please feel free to leave a comment on the comments page. It’s always nice to listen to what handlers take home from these clinics.
Looking forward to seeing most of you at the next move forward clinic April 7/8 weekend.
Our next clinic is the puppy/ young dog clinic March 31-April 1 weekend .
One of my favorite clinics. Love to see the young ones starting out and how they progress in just 2 days.
Check out the Gallery for more pictures from the clinic.
Earlier in February, we left cold, snowy Wisconsin headed for Florida for the first trials of the season on the 17th. After the long drive and change in climate, it took our dogs a while to get used to the new setting. Temperatures were hotter than usual for February in Florida too.
C54 C54 is a 2 day trial for both Open and Pro-Novice dogs. It has a big outrun and testy sheep. All of our dogs managed to have respectable runs for the 2 days. Storm placed 4th and 8th out of the 70 +/- runs. Monday, was the day for the Pro-Novice dogs and it was still a big distance to outrun for these youngsters. The sheep were rather testy for these dogs with lots of draws creating several tricky pulls. Ava managed a beautiful outrun, lift and fetch but had trouble on the drive away when sheep pulled hard to the exhaust. This left Ava feeling she had to stop them from running off, so we retired gracefully. Lyric managed a very respectable run and got them penned! Good job Lyric.
Asher Dell Farm Tuesday was the start of 3 days at Asher Dell Farm. This is a much smaller field and very well dogged sheep that just loved to stand at your feet. This made it hard to get them away from you on the drive away with the younger dogs. Ava still had trouble with her driving away and was determined that her sheep weren’t going anywhere she didn’t feel was right. Lyric sorted it out and put a score of 81 taking first place in the “ranch” class. An early finish this day meant we were off to a trip to the ocean. This was very much enjoyed by all!
Wednesday was the start of Open at Asher Dell. In this small field, the clever sheep knew every inch of their field, therefore every escape route too. If you gave them an inch, they certainly took a mile! This made it very difficult to shed. The first runs were about getting our dogs used to these sheep as in Wisconsin, we never came across this issue. Shedding was difficult for most. Also, these sheep were put around the course a fair number of times adding to their confidence in besting the dogs and handlers.
Flo put up a half decent run with 4th place out of 59 runs. In the second round of Open on Thursday, we saw our dogs starting to figure out the sheep and we all learned their shedding tricks. We managed to take 3 placings: Flo with 3rd, Hawk with 2nd and Storm at 8th out of 65 runs.
That’ll Do Farm Friday brought a whole new trial at That’ll Do Farm. New trial – new challenge. This trial brought very fit hair sheep that taught one wrong move from the dog and they were gone! It was a racing match around the field! First up were our young dogs in the ranch class. Ava, with her quiet and calm actions, managed to get the sheep settled giving us a 3rd place. Lyric drew a set of runners which took off on every turn. Gordon retired gracefully.
Saturday brought Open 1 and it was a real “luck of the draw” on what sheep you got and how quietly you could lift them. The sheep were rather challenging to the set out crew as they had lots of trouble holding them in place until your dog arrived. The exhaust was close to the field pen and the handler’s post. With this BIG draw, if you weren’t on top of the issue, the sheep easily made it to the exhaust gate. If you DID manage to hang onto them around the post, the drive away was the next challenge. They’d just go back to the holding pen. If your sheep were on-line, you couldn’t miss the gate, as they’d run straight through. These sheep were a real test of dog and handler skills.
For Open 1 (out of 76): Hawk was 3rd, Storm was 5th and Reba was 9th For Open 2 (out of 79): Hawk 1st, Flo 7th, Storm 14th
Now we are back home after 9 days of trialing. Wisconsin welcomed us back with warmer weather, red-wing black birds (a sign of spring here) and sunny days.
The first “Move Forward” clinic is in the books. Friday, Cedar Stone Farm experienced a large snow fall so we were wondering how we’d get into the clinic field. Not to worry, a driving path and parking area was cleared by the time everyone arrived in the morning.
The clinic is the first of three focused on sharpening skills relating to trialing. Gordon intently watched each dog/handler team run the course he had set up. After everyone went, we gathered as a group and he prompted each handler to objectively review their run. He then gave specific tips on how to make each run more successful. There were lots of “ah ha” moments as Gordon drew diagrams on the white board and explained why he made the recommendations he did.
With the deep snow on the clinic field, the dogs and handlers got the chance to learn how to handle sheep in those conditions. The handlers all commented that when there was deep snow on their own properties, they tended to not work the sheep as much. This was another learning opportunity as we saw the sheep (and dogs) gravitate to the paths created by the “side by side” or the previous run. Handling this was a new experience for most and Gordon gave expert advice on exactly what to do to keep the flow but allow for the conditions.
The sheep were a great mix of willing participants and some not so willing to walk through the snow. Again, Gordon told us to “not complain about the sheep, just handle it better.” He gave tips and tricks on how to handle the sheep that didn’t want to trudge through deep snow when paired with some sheep that didn’t mind. We all committed his tips to memory!
Each handler/dog team improved with each run and as they stepped off the field, lots of smiles in the successes they were having.
The lunches were awesome and filled everyone with warm food so the cold temps really didn’t seem to bother us.
Everyone left the two days happy with what they learned, looking forward to the next clinics and feeling excited about the upcoming trial season.
Gordon’s continued support and expert advice was well received by all!
Thank you to Merry Russell and Cedar Stone Farm for hosting.
Our trip to Colorado was just incredible. The journey was so breathtaking and the weather was glorious. What can we say about Gordon and Storm! What an achievement; first time on Range sheep; first time at the Nationals and so happy with the results of Reserve Champion. Talented handler and very talented Storm handling his sheep with ease. Storm never faulted, he just trotted them around the course like a day out for a stroll in the park. Looking forward to next year’s Nationals.