Putting On A Sheepdog Clinic

Putting On A Sheepdog Clinic

by Kate Ash, DVM

Originally Published in American Border Collie Magazine, May/June 2003. Reprinted with permission.

The Clinician

Good communication skills are the most important asset for the clinician. An individual may be a talented handler, excellent trainer and successful, visible competitor but if the ability to successfully communicate their thoughts is lacking, it will be especially difficult for novice/inexperienced handlers to understand the concepts.

Either enroll or observe a clinic conducted by the clinician. Observe closely and decide if the communication skills, knowledge and style of the clinician match your expectations for the type of clinic that you are planning on hosting.

The Facility

The field needed for a clinic is really dependent on the type of clinic and, the level of handler and dog that will be entered in the clinic. For example, if the clinic is beginning dogs and handlers, smaller enclosed areas (like a round pen) will probably be the most needed as well as calm, well-dogged sheep. On the other hand, if handlers and dogs are more experienced, then a bigger field to accommodate working on outruns, driving and even double lifts will be needed. Ideally, both kinds of fields and sheep should be available. In addition to the normal equipment of panels and pens, cones and flags are also useful if the clinician has exercises that will use these tools.

Adequate parking for vehicles is important. Space for camping is important, although not absolutely essential. Keep in mind though, that convenience for the participants will keep them coming back to your facility every year. Have at least one port-a-potty (depending on the number of participants and observers) and make sure that the toilet paper gets replenished!!! ( :<))) )

Unfortunately, the weather does not always cooperate. It is important to have some shelter available (either from the sun or the rain). If it is really cold, it is nice to have a fire going to warm the handlers.

In order that everyone learn from every handler's participation in the clinic, it is vital that a sound system is available that will project what the clinician is saying to the handler on the field to rest of the participants and observers that are sitting on the sidelines.


Tracking expenses is important. The largest expense will be the cost of the clinician. Be clear about what the total cost will be for the clinician. What expenses are included in the fee? Will the clinician stay with the host or stay in a motel? Other expenses may include the port-a-potty, refreshments, food/refreshments for the clinician, and additional help with sheep set-out/handling.

Be sure to check with your insurance agent (and/or the organization sponsoring the clinic) to make sure that you have liability coverage in the case of a problem. Make sure that a waiver is signed for every participant and observer. Require that the participants dogs be current on vaccinations, internal parasite control and flea control. I have never required written proof of this, but certainly that is an option.

Provide lists of motels and restaurants to the participants. You will have to make a decision about what to do about meals. We have done both: provided meals for the participants or had participants provide their own meals. Planning meals for the participants definitely adds time and expense to the clinic. If restaurants are reasonably close, I would recommend that participants provide their own lunches and the hosts provide coffee, tea, hot chocolate, donuts and muffins in the morning. We usually go out as a group on the first evening of the clinic. This gives the participants the opportunity to interact with the clinician in an informal setting.

Take care of the clinician. Make sure they have refreshments-coffee, tea, water or soda as needed and time to themselves for rest.

Depending on the format, discuss the maximum number of participants with the clinician and set the fee per participant accordingly. Depending on the capacity for the facility, you can also allow for observers. Collecting the fee for the clinic can be an issue. Booking spots and then having last minute cancellations is the nightmare of any clinic organizer. This is my current recommendation: Be very clear on your entry form that the spot is confirmed when the clinic fee is received. This will stop people from stating that they want to reserve a spot in the clinic, never sending the money and then "canceling" at the last minute. Trust me, it happens!! Give a date after which no refunds will be made unless the clinic spot can be filled with another participant.

Post the running order for the clinic early where it is visible to everyone. Be flexible. Make sure the next participant is ready to go. We usually start earlier on Sunday, allowing people to get on the road earlier. Also, we usually schedule folks with longer driving distances earlier in the day.

Advertise early for your clinic. Utilize Sheepdog-L, ABC magazine, Working Border Collie and local Border Collie Associations. Initially, we just got on the phone and called fellow handlers about our first clinic. Now, we are on our sixth year of Alasdair MacRae clinics. We have our own e-mail list and then use Sheep-dog L for filling last minute cancellations.


We have hosted training, handling and judging clinics. Our first clinics were training clinics, where the focus was on dog training, not handler training or competing in sheepdog trials. Then the focus began to switch to some handling issues. Finally, we hosted two judging clinics. Here, we videotaped every participant and then reviewed the videotapes later and thoroughly discussed the scoring issues. This year, the focus was back to training/handling.

Be sure the clinician knows and is comfortable with the format that you have in mind.


Picking the date of the clinic can be a very tricky business. We have had the most success with clinics scheduled early in our trial season since people are anxious to tune up their dogs. This puts them around late March to early May. Obviously, this depends on your geographic location. Check with participants and find out what weekends are open.

Expect the unexpected

Dal and I have been very lucky over the years. But, it is important to be prepared to anything!! For example, what if your well runs dry the morning that the clinic starts? (This happened to Colleen Croxall when she hosted a Scott Glenn clinic). Or, what it the clinician or hosts gets ill prior to the clinic. Things may have to be adjusted/cancelled/ rescheduled quickly.

When Ordinary Humiliation
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