The "JOAN OF ARC" Complex

About the need to help your dog at herding trials. The same attitude should apply at other types of working trial.
This article originally appeared in the Northern California Working Sheepdog Association quarterly newsletter.

The "JOAN OF ARC" Complex

("Chained to the Post")

by Pam Green (copyright 1995)

Several hundred years ago , a young woman was shackled to a post with iron chains and burnt to death. It must have been an agonizing way to die. Ultimately Joan of Arc was recompensed by being made the heroine of a book by Mark Twain and of a play by George Bernard Shaw, as well as being canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church.

Today we sheepdog handlers march ourselves out to a post and stand there as if we were bound by chains of iron. No matter how badly our dog may run or how much trouble he may get into , we usually remain "chained to the post". It can be an agonizing way to go. Unlike Joan, we don't come out looking heroic. But unlike Joan, we have a choice about staying at the post, "burning" in humiliation.

Yes, folks, we have a choice about staying at the post. We have the choice to cut ourselves loose and go to help our dog or to correct our dog. And we should do so !!

At a "fun day" or "practice trial" it is always permissible -- and commendable -- to leave the post and turn the rest of the run into a good training session. To improve the dog for next time is the heart and soul of the purpose of such events.

At a real trial, the situation is less clear. It is always permissible to leave the post to catch the dog and retire from the run, and it is highly recommended to do so the momment things get too wild & wooly. But it's up to the judge to what extent a handler can leave the post to help, correct , or train the dog. In my view, time permitting, this should be allowed and encouraged. The points would stop, of course, but the handler should be allowed to go out and re-settle the dog into a better frame of mind, then perhaps, time permitting, complete the next section of the course in "training mode" and then retire. I would suggest that this subject be raised at the handlers' meeting so there would be no misunderstandings.

In any case , when your dog gets in trouble -- or into "deaf dog mode" -- he won't get out of it on his own. It will only get worse and worse. But if you promptly leave the post to remedy matters or to retire , you will avoid "burning up" the past six months progress in training. That should be all the reward you need.


Footnote :
"In a real trial" refers to trials under ISDS (International Sheepdog Society) or USBCHA (United States Border Collie Handlers Association) rules, ie what most people think of as "Border Collie trials" though in fact they are open to all breeds. At these trials , if you leave the post you usually are ending your run and you certainly are taking yourself out of competition. But if you are clever about it , often you can get in just a bit of help to your dog or get in just enough correction to do some good. At the smaller and less formal trials, the judge may allow you a bit more latitude.
At herding trials under AKC rules, ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America) rules, or AHBA (American Herding Breeds Association) rules, it IS permissible for the handler to leave the post or other handler's area and go closer to dog or stock in order to help the dog or to have greater influence over the dog or in order to influence the stock. The point penalties for doing so will almost certainly prevent you from getting a qualifying score, but the judge will not terminate your run for leaving your assigned area. In these trials at the lowest level there is no limit on where the handler may move but at the middle and upper level there are limits.


In other types of working trial, there can be situations in which giving extra commands or moving your body in some way may help a confused dog to understand what you want or may give the dog encouragement or may let you get your dog back under your control. Doing so may forfeit your score or merely lower it, but it will help your dog to do better at future trials.


site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 9/13/07 revised 9/13/07
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