Attitude adjustment

Attitude…”If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”.  ~Mary Engelbreit

I had a recent couple of trial days with young border collie Tai that  sent me into my garden for therapeutic weeding and a glass of wine… and an attitude adjustment.    Tai is my first border collie and I’m still learning to live with this unique breed. The Border Collie Rescue web site states: “Training a Border Collie can be like trying to teach a nerdy child that likes to overanalyze everything – it can be frustrating and an exhaustive exercise in patience.”   Combine that with his strong herding instinct and I’m sometimes left scratching my head or worse, feeling anxiety and frustration creep up on me.

Here is a simple example.  At a recent trial, I was challenged to get him lined up at the start line and pointing in the direction we needed to go…Believe me, at home and away from the ring, we have brilliant line up skills.  But on this day (and for the first time at a trial) something kicked in and he picked a point in the middle of the ring to point toward…maybe the judge, not sure but what was for sure is that it wasn’t the direction we were heading.   I retried several times and each time he ended up in the same direction.  Not sure what to do (the judge would only wait so long), I led out, released him and sure enough, he missed the second jump.  This issue was repeated in most of our runs that weekend, although not always with a resulting error. Here’s where the attitude adjustment is important.  Yes, it was annoying that after all the training around this particular skill it would fall apart in this situation.  Yes, this is a skill that was straightforward for my shelties.  But really, he’s a dog, and oh yeah he’s also a  border collie.   He can’t help how his brain is wired.  He didn’t choose my home or this job.  I’m asking HIM to play this crazy sport with me and do it my way.  So it’s up to me to figure out ways to help him get it right.  Because isn’t that my job and my responsibility?

Attitude: “Learn to smile at every situation.  See it as an opportunity to prove your strength and ability”.  ~Joe Brown

My attitude adjustment is this:  Yes, I can have goals that determine our training and trialing,  but on each given day, let go of expectations, let go of ego, embrace the dog I have – with all his brilliance and a few quirks – and enjoy the ride.  Smile as we begin each run. Laugh when it doesn’t go as planned.  Celebrate each effort. Observe and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses for both of us. Problem solve. Train.

After reviewing the video of that weekend, Tai’s brilliance shown through and I could believe the words of so many of my friends that “Tai looks great!”.  Thanks for your support, by the way :-).   The next day was much more successful…I think we actually had a “q”, but what I remember most is that I enjoyed the day and sincerely celebrated each run with Tai.

Because I enjoy watching videos, I’ll include one here from an indoor trial the previous weekend…with an error that I did laugh at…something I didn’t expect but as it happened added proofing around tunnels to my training list.  You won’t miss it.


  • As always, very insightful. The stuff we all know, but once in awhile need a reminder about. I have a feeling there will be a lot of head scratching and a few glasses of wine in my future with Riptide, but that’s OK, because I am going to try my best to just enjoy the ride.

    And just like what everyone else says….Tai looks great 🙂

  • Kathy

    Great post, beautiful run!

  • Nice blog Anne. Border collies are weird but addicting of course, maybe it is that you are really never ever finished training them, whether it is their desire to learn something new, or a problem to solve:) You are the first of my “attitude” blogs to read today, I hope I get some inspiration to write one as well. I am waiting for my muse:)

    • Thanks Nancy! I am learning to embrace the BC quirkiness. I certainly knew about it before but living it is a whole ‘nother story!
      Hope you get to write a blog today. I wanted to link to the page, but couldn’t figure out how.

  • Sharon Normadin

    Very good advice Anne, thank you!

    In many ways, training a young Border Collie is akin to breaking a young horse. One is lured into a false sense of security in the earliest stages when all is going well. We pull on the left rein and the horse turns left, pull on both reins and they stop, apply leg pressure and they go forward. And with the young dog, we do the foundations, get the behaviours, add cues and get the response we want, and we are in awe of how well we have done, how smart and compliant our four legged friend is. With the horses, however, I learned that the responses are just the laws of physics taking over; I became aware that a complete connection to the brain isn’t there, and at any moment, chaos will reign. It’s an eerie feeling, hard to explain, when you realize they are just going through the motions and you really are not in control. Something unexpected spooks the creature, or it just decides it would like to run, or even explode into a series of airs above the ground. With the horses, also, as 3 year olds, they are physically less balanced, and they tend to be tentative about the added presence of a person on their backs, until they become more confident, and stronger, usually as 4 year olds.

    I’ve observed similarities in training young dogs, especially Border Collies (granted, I’m only on my second BC, and only the 4th dog ever that I’ve trained from puppyhood, and the cattledogs are a story in their own). Once we’ve got the foundations, behaviours and cues “established”, so we think, we get a few great performances and feel that we have arrived, and are ready for the fine tuning that will make for the future Masters challenges. While we are aware of teamwork and “connection” with our dogs, and believe that we are connected, in reality I think we have only connected with a surface of their intellect, and are far from in control, like with the young horses. As they grow, their neurological connections are also growing, and changing, We begin peeling back layers of their cognition, like onion skin. Actually, THEY begin peeling back those layers, and some of what they learned is lost, at least temporarily. And of course factors there include the distraction levels, the dog’s lack of generalization, all of which we do attempt to train for. But I do believe that there is much more going on, when we find that we don’t have the dog at trials that we have at home.

    I love your attitude, the willingness to take it all in stride, to regroup, do the therapeutic gardening and wine. And go back to the drawing board and continue to train. I’m just adding the thought that it’s not due to holes in your training, necessarily; the development of the brain of the young dog is still taking place, and total understanding and connection just isn’t ready yet. This is one reason why I’ve never understood the drive of many people to get their dog competing at 18 months (or even less!). The very good trainers, such as yourself, do end up successful even if they start the dogs fairly young, because of exactly the attitude you have expressed here. It’s frustrating, though, to see the less adept trainers who have started their dogs too young and seen some early successes, start to have “failures” at trials, and don’t recognize the need to go back, train some more, and wait for nature and maturity to give them a complete package. They continue to trial, and have angst about “lost” startline behaviour, contacts or weaves, failure to read their handling cues, when in fact what they thought they trained, very early in the process, may have been lost in temporary memory storage.

    I’m learning patience with Kindle. He is well behind Tai in his skills. I’m so anxious to get him out and start trialing, but he is letting me know that not only is his brain not mature enough, I still have a lot of work to be doing. Posts like yours, and comments from Tracy on one of her other students who just completed a very successful debut, are helping me establish my own impulse control.

    Enjoy the wine, and the journey.

  • Elisabeth Hammer

    Hi Anne! Another good read…thanks.
    Tai is a beauty……
    I love the way you expressed how what you are doing with Tai brought you to a place of thinking…adjustment as you said. My dogs often do that for me too…..sometimes when you least expect it. Hope to meet up at some point….Thanks again for the blog! It’s always a pleasure to read.

  • I enjoyed your post! I grew up with Border Collies and have competed in agility with two. Love them! Then I got a Sheltie puppy (she turned two years old last week). I found her very challenging because her Sheltie quirks weren’t anything like my Border Collies’ quirks. It has certainly been a journey but she has made me a better trainer.

  • KT

    “Yes, I can have goals that determine our training and trialing, but on each given day, let go of expectations, let go of ego, embrace the dog I have – with all his brilliance and a few quirks – and enjoy the ride.” –Brilliant! Thanks.

  • Very well stated Anne. We all need to let the dogs understanding evolve and thoroughly enjoy the journey!

  • You make so many good points and have reminded me of many things I find so easy to get in the heat of the moment. My dog isn’t a border collie but her “spirited” personality is full of many challenging quirks that as a green handler I find incredibly frustrating at times. But no matter what happens out there, she is my dog first. Agility always will be something we do together but it will never define our relationship.

  • stewiejrt

    Very good points about attitude! I run a Jack Russell Terrier, and know about proofing tunnels, LOL! You need a sense of humor with a Jack. Thanks for the reminder to smile and enjoy every run!

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