Making the Most of A Clinic

Make the Most of the Clinic Format!

By Lynn Leach
Downriver Farm
Australian Cattle Dog Club of Canada – Vice President
CKC Herding Representative
Herding Judge – CKC, AKC & AHBA

There are two reasons why people choose to attend a herding clinic. The first is to learn as much as possible in a few short days. The second is to socialize and make new friends that have similar interests with their dogs. 

Having sat on both sides of the fence in many clinics, I understand the importance of both. As an instructor, I can give a group of students more for their dollar in a clinic format than in private lessons. There is a lot of theory I go over when teaching skills and concepts. During a clinic, we can do this discussion once as apposed to 12 times during 12 private lessons. If everybody listens during the explanations, then we can have more time working stock for each dog. 

My goal when teaching a clinic is to give the handlers as many training ideas, tricks, and techniques as possible to take away and begin training their dogs. Dog training will go on for the life of your dog – it is the handlers that we are training during a clinic. In order to accomplish this, I like for the handlers to have time to work their dogs on their own, so that they will be able to practice when there is no trainer available to help them. 

At a clinic, each dog’s first time to the stock is when I assess the dog/handler team. This usually takes the longest. I offer suggestions and try to come up with a plan for one technique that will hopefully help fix one problem. This is usually your independent time with the clinician. Your second time to stock will be for the benefit of all of the other people in the clinic and be your practice time of the technique. This will test your understanding of the technique and allow the audience to question what is going on and why we are working on a certain skill. By using this format, each person will have one independent lesson and 10 group lessons each day. I repeat this format each day of the clinic. If possible, I try to introduce a different technique each day. Again, the goal is to give you enough ideas to keep you training for an extended amount of time – it is not to teach your dog all of these concepts in a few days. 

As a participant taking a clinic, I retain more information from watching the other dogs than I do when I am out there with my dog. There is too much going on when I’m out there with my dog and I get nervous, excited and frustrated all at once. 

I’d like to give you some tips that have helped me to get the most from clinics I have attended.  

  1. Take advantage of your time and the opportunity to hear the instructors. Take in as much information as your brain will allow. Some people find it helpful to have a notepad and jot down notes. 
  2. Keep an open mind and listen to all the instructor has to say. Pick the ideas you think will work for you and your dog, then give it a try. Remember that not all things work for every dog or every situation. Many times training reminds me of a doctor’s diagnosis – you try one thing, test it, and if it doesn’t work you try another. It’s a process of elimination – you start with the most obvious then get more creative after that. 
  3. Watch and listen to what is going on with other dogs. You may run into similar problems in the future, either with starting a new dog or when you are advancing in training with your present dog.
  4. Take the group discussion with you when you go to the stock for your turn. Often, several people in a clinic are working on the same technique. You will enable everybody to have more practical experience by staying with a group discussion format, rather than having independent theory for each dog as we go out to the stock. For example, with beginner dogs we often begin the same way – ask your dog to stay while the handler gets into position ½ way to the stock. We then release the dog, and from there begin working on our lesson. It can take up a lot of time to explain this 20 times (each time a handler comes into the arena to begin their turn).   
  5. Ask questions…If the instructor isn’t available while you are thinking of the question, ask someone close or write it down. 
  6. Don’t be shy or scared to try things; we are all here to learn. There is no such thing as ‘doing it wrong’ we are just getting ideas on how to ‘do it better’. There are so many things happening, and often very quickly. It is easy to get *lost* and impossible to remember everything!  I think that ALL beginners feel very awkward and uncoordinated. I promise you that this will get better, but only with practice!! 
  7. Each clinic will be what you make it – watch, listen and practice!
  8. If there is a run-order, make sure you follow the schedule and are on time.
  9. Learning is exhausting for both you and your dog, and is enhanced by being in the fresh air all day. Often, by the beginning of the last day, there are several requests to switch run-orders to accommodate people leaving early. The person organizing this clinic has worked hard to try to make everybody have a good time, and leave happy. When there are several requests for the same thing, it becomes very stressful, as it is obviously impossible to put six people out of ten first in order for them to leave early. In addition, if you leave ½ way through day 2 of a 2-day clinic – you are missing a lot of information which you have paid to hear. Most dog events are booked by the day; so if at all possible, please plan for a full day.   
  10. If you are organizing a clinic, try to schedule regular breaks to allow time for people to exercise their dogs and socialize with others. This will help to minimize repeated discussion. 

Pay particular attention to what the instructor suggests for a training technique with your dog. Often, I work through 15 dogs and when I begin the 2nd run in the afternoon, people will come out and not remember what we were working on. If this happens, then we may have to start over with the assessment instead of perfecting the technique and getting a good practice session. I recommend that you take notes as soon as you leave the working arena.

When you are at the end of the clinic, make sure you have a clear picture in your mind of what your training plan is. Set yourself a goal and make a plan on how to reach that goal. Hopefully, the plan will include the new techniques you have learned throughout the clinic, as well as others you have learned through your herding career. Remember that training begins with a good foundation of skills and builds from there. Some of the techniques you have been taught may be used well into the future, others you may be able to use right away. It is your job to create a plan that will work for you and your dog.

Happy Herding!

For more information on Lynn Leach’s training philosophy, training events or training videos please contact Downriver Farms, today!