Originally Published on Sheepdog-L, March 1999. Reprinted with permission.
Some novices may welcome a few ideas about what they might do before they run.

1. Watch the sheep during a very good run. Notice where the handler puts his (her) dog. It will tell you where the sheep want to go. It is not unusual for trialwise sheep to adopt a consistent strategy to beat the dog--heavy on one side so the dog is drawn into a position where he can't possibly cover as they bolt to the uncovered side for the exhaust. At the Blue Ridge one year, instead of a drive panel, the sheep were pushed up a nearly sheer twenty foot cliff. By the second day they'd learned that if they started up the cliff and paused the handler would send the dog around to catch them at the top and while the dog sailed around, they could come back down the wall and off the course. If this trial has such a danger spot, identify it and plan to deal with it.

2. 6 dogs away. Walk your dog, let him empty. Don't play alpha dog or insist on unusually good manners. Put him up.

3. 4 dogs away. Bring the dog to the fence during the lift/fetch. As soon as he's seen the sheep, take him away and put him up.

4. 3 dogs away. Step away from your friends and as the dog executes the course, mentally command it. It will improve your timing and may even help you remember your commands.

5. 2 dogs away. Bring your dog out to the fence again. Show him the sheep at the lift again. If he's nervy,keep him on lead. You don't want to be disciplining your dog moments before he takes his final exam.

6. Walk him away and keep him quietly with you (Don't blather at him!) until the sheep before yours are off the course. The trial organizers will be trying to hustle everybody along but I have never seen a handler dq'd because he was walking toward the course and I have seen dozens who came on too soon and had to withdraw because the sheep weren't off. That's no big deal, of course, unless your dog runs to the exhaust or your own mental preparations are destroyed.

7. Greet the judge, give your name and the dog's name. Take a deep breath. For the next few minutes those sheep are yours.