McCaig’s Advice to Novices

While the dog sport world might be filled with Gen-X and Yers who make their pets a significant part of their lifestyle, there are also a lot of younger folks involved in animal husbandry. One site that is catering to that market is Dogged Juniors:

Dog’ged Juniors is a website for kids who love dogs. Our members come from all over the world, and are involved in mushing, agility, disc, flyball, dock jumping, musical freestyle, herding, search and rescue, obedience, conformation, tracking, volunteering for local shelters, guide dog puppy raising, and more.

Our quest is to create positive experiences and support for junior handlers around the world. We are here to make a difference in someone’s life. By guiding kids to become more involved with their dogs, not only does the dog’s quality of life improve, but so does the kid’s. This keeps dogs out of shelters and kids of of trouble. We hope that our members will be involved in training their dogs twenty years down the trail, and if not, they will remember this learning experience and pass on to the next generation.

While the Dog’ged Juniors tareget audience is the under 18 crowd (I don’t suppose too many of them read this blog, or are allowed to), the site has great information for handlers of all ages.

One piece in particular is some advice from Donald McCaig to Novice Sheepdog Handlers that appears in the interview section:

Name: Donald McCaig

Location: Williamsville, Virginia

Farm Name: Yucatec Farm

Books You Have Authored: Nop’s Trials, Nop’s Hope, and Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men. A Useful Dog will be out next spring.

Can you tell us about yourself? The first thing to remember is that every expert was once a novice. The second thing is there’s nothing new under the sun. Stockmen have been breeding and training stockdogs for at least three hundred years before clickers and shock collars were invented. Nobody sensible uses either training stockdogs.

The Lifestyle

Why participate in herding? How can someone get started? There are two reasons to get involved in stockwork: you want to have fun with your dog; or you want to work livestock. If the former, many dog breeds will more or less chase sheep and most can be trained to stop on command. There are hundreds of instructors offering “herding” lessons and any number of events sponsored by the American Herding Breed Assn, the Australian Shepherd Club of America and the AKC. Find them on the web. You’ll have fun, your dog will have fun and you’ll probably learn a thing or two. Next, you’ll want an instructor. Traditional sheep and cattle trials are listed at www.USBCHA.Com. Attend a trial, and talk to the handlers. Most are willing to help novices and many give lessons and clinics.

What is the best breed to work with? If you actually want to work livestock, your choices are narrower. You’ll want a Border Collie, McNab or Kelpie. There are a few working Australian Shepherds but you have to know where to find them.


Can tell us about the training involved? Training and handling a stockdog is very easy and very difficult – easy because the dog is bred for the work and will, if you don’t mess him up, do the work in a rough and ready fashion. What’s difficult is that third species: the sheep, cattle, hogs or poultry you’re working. If you can’t read sheep, you won’t get far with the best sheepdog in the world.


When is a dog ready to trial? The scots say, a sheepdog is ready to trial when it has as many years under it as legs. They also say it takes ten years to make a handler. Half true – it took me that long. But as you get better you and your dog will have tremendous challenging fun in beautiful country locations, among some of the most dog savvy people on the planet. It’s a friendly country culture and everybody wants you and your dog to succeed.

Do you have any advice for a Jr. handler? And sometimes young people – those with horse or livestock backgrounds – abbreviate the learning curve. Derek Fisher ran in the top twenty at the National Finals Sheepdog Trials and Haley Howard competed at the World Trial in Ireland when both were sixteen.

Good luck, stay calm, and have fun with your dog.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.