Trial/Ranch difference

Lately I seem to be reading more comments from people who think a “ranch dog” is better than a “trial dog”. Or a trial dog can’t do the job a ranch dog can.

When asked … I always answer with yes, no or maybe.

I’ve heard and seen people brag how good their ranch dog is and those trial dogs could never “get er’ done”. All the while … their dog is doing nothing except harassing the stock .. and they think that’s  a dog working “naturally” while those “trial dogs” have to be told every step to take.

I don’t disagree some dogs are started and trained on nothing but 3 sheep and total precision. They are never left to think, act, or work on their own. They become “little machines” with perfect obedience but can only work in “trial program” mode.  I’ve personally seen “those type” win a trial and then couldn’t exhaust their own sheep … because THAT wasn’t programmed into the dog (or the person apparently :@). Do I think that would make a good ranch dog – no. BUT, I also don’t think that makes the best trial dog either. It might look good as long as the sheep are cooperative but if sheep decide to bolt back to the set-out at 600 yards – “more than likely” that dog would never be able handle it. Those “type” of dogs usually don’t do well with big trials and “double lifts” either.

If you start training a pup for perfection instead of trying to “carve” a rough draft of the end “product” … what you end up with will be so thin and weak it can be easily broken. So, let a young dog BE a young dog — don’t try to start with finesse. However, it’s just as important you don’t let him “run amok”. If you train for nothing but all fast action and brute force you will have a hard time putting the finesse in later on. Sometimes novices seem to believe if a dog is hard running, chasing and biting the stock – that must mean the dog has power … usually its just the opposite.

A rough draft does not mean chase livestock with tail flying in the air. It means working stock with more push than what you need for trial circumstances but with calm purpose. It does not mean “anything goes”.  Neither people nor dogs process information or learn anything when their brain is in a frenzy.

A lot of people confuse a handler giving information to a dog (whistles to a dog) to making a mechanical robot. It’s NOT the same thing … giving information (verbal or whistles) is NOT necessarily making a dog “just” obey. Remember Information is power and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are trying to control his every move. Example: If you give a redirect on an outrun … you are giving the dog information that will make his life (and the sheep’s) easier. A cross over starts a dog in the wrong frame of mind and usually upsets the sheep. So, that “one redirect whistle” gave information that solved a lot of issues before they ever came up — for a ranch dog OR a trial dog. Sheep on a ranch don’t like to be “buzzed” by a dog tight on his outrun anymore than a trial sheep do. Might not bother them as much because they are so dog broke (or use to that particular dog but it IS still is unsettling).

Some novices also seem to be just as confused about pressure. They seem to think pressure/correction is all negative and thats not how they want to train their dog. Pressure (when done right) is nothing more than information.

However …. A dog needs to FEEL he can control the pressure … if he feels he has no say in the matter he will either give up or blow through it. He needs to know when he’s RIGHT pressure is OFF … when he’s WRONG pressure is ON. He learns that he is in control of that pressure by giving in to it.

The same can be said for information — it can be used to make you two a better team or used to control the dogs every step. It all depends on how you decide to use it.

I’ve always said it’s much easier to find a good ranch dog than it is a good trial dog – but there is no reason you can’t do both with the same dog if train correctly. It’s just easier to train for ranch work than it is trial work (basics are the same but you don’t need all the “bells and whistles”). Good top class trial dogs are not easily “come by” but I bet 90% make great ranch/farm dogs —  BUT I sure don’t think it goes “the other way”.


Candy Kennedy