Novice Trialer - Pup or Trained Dog?

by Joyce Geier (first published OBCC Newsletter 1996)

*Photo credit to Kris Kiviaho and Lynn Johnston

Seems like there's a great debate about novices to our sport. Not that there's much to debate; they're wonderful, we need more! Welcome aboard!

But rather, whether they ought to start with a trained dog or whether they should train their own. It seems that people are immovable in their opinions. But how can there be only one answer?

Yes, if you start with a trained dog, you could be saving time. But that depends on the dog, doesn't it? One novice acquaintance of mine spent good dollars for a trained dog from a very well-known trainer. Unfortunately, the dog didn't have a stop, crossed over all the time, and really sliced at the top. It did, however, know its flanks and was bomb proof in that area, and would drive anything to Kingdom come. Almost 2 years have been invested in training the dog - or rather retraining it - anyway.

And yet another novice acquaintance, after wrestling for a few years trying to train the dog they raised, went and bought a well-trained Open dog. The progress here has been remarkable and the most often heard comment is “Should have done this years ago. We're just not set up to bring a youngster on right.”

There also seems to be a position that says you can buy a trained dog and not have to learn anything about training. This I find interesting. Even the best handlers are always training their finished dogs. It might not be obvious, but there is tuning, and proofing, and reminding, and filling in the inevitable minor imperfections that exist. It has been said “the other man's training lasts six weeks” and the people who say it are wiser than I'll ever be. How can there be only one solution to this dilemma? Some people just simply enjoy training, and have access to stock and space; and some people just enjoy the bond that comes with raising and training their own. Some people learn more about handling by training their dogs. If a novice starts with a well-bred pup from nicely working parents that have natural ability, and picks a pup that wants to work with people, and if they make the effort to consistently work with an experienced trainer, there's no reason they can't be successful with this route. These cases are not uncommon.

On the other hand, some people don't like to train, or don't have the time; some people want to know what they're getting (ability, soundness and the like); some people simply don't like all that puppy foolishness. Some people learn more about handling by being able to focus on their actions instead of the dogs. If a novice takes the time to find a well-trained dog that works for them and if they make an effort to work with an experienced trainer, there's no reason they can't be successful with this route. And guess what? These cases are not uncommon either.  

But it seems to me that some things apply to both situations

  1. know what you want 
  2. be realistic about your abilities and situation 
  3. take the time to learn from the experts  
  4. shop wisely 
  5. keep practicing to make perfect.

You and your dog will not do well until YOU learn how to handle well. Know when to cut your losses. If a dog - whether purchased or raised from a pup - doesn't meet your needs, then move on. You will never make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Although you could wind up with a nice sow’s purse if you work at it. But is that what you wanted?  

And above all, be honest with yourself. If it's not working out, then do something differently! Find what will work - for you. And isn't that really the answer? 

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