Patrick Shannahan, Winter 2009
Eric JT Harlow
I first met Patrick when I was living near Vancouver, WA. He came out for several Clinics at a farm I was paying to work my dogs at. Over those clinics I could see that Patrick was a true talent, not just with dogs but also with their handlers.
Patrick is based out of Caldwell Idaho. He owns a working sheep ranch on irrigated pasture. Patrick has been working with Border Collies since the mid-1980s, and has won many trials both on a local, National and International level. Many would say even with all of Patrick's past achievements, he is more on top of his game in the past couple years then ever before.
I had a chance to interview Patrick over a series of emails. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
(Eric) It has been a little while since I was trialing much and therefore am a little "out of the loop". I was hoping you can catch me up on the current outlook for Sheepdogs and Sheepdog trialing as you see it.
(Patrick) Well, since you have gotten busy providing lamb for much of the country, Sheepdog trialing has continued to grow. We see more and more people looking into our sport, and most of them come from outside agriculture. They really enjoy getting to train and work with their dog on a higher level of communication than most activities require.
(Eric) Are the people that you see at your clinics changing at all? I mean are they getting further, faster with their dogs then before? Are the dogs you see getting better? If so, do you think the breeding that has been happening for sheepdogs to trial has changed the Border Collies?
(Patrick) The dogs are getting better. I donít see as many cross bred, or poorly bred dogs. Most of the dogs come from reputable breeders with the parents have good history of success. There are a few that arenít up to standard, but most dogs there can be trained, and most of the students are successful.
(Eric) Tell me about the dogs you have in your kennel
(Patrick) Well, I am very happy with the dog situation in my kennel. I have Riggs, who is one of the best dogs I have ever owned, and had the privilege of competing with. Andi, is a young Riggs daughter that has recently moved to Open. She is a dog that I think will be very competitive with some experience. I have 3 other nice Riggs daughters that I am working with and have very high hopes for. Then of course, I have a couple of retired dogs, and Rose, who is my go-to helper for young dogs and lessons.
(Eric) You mentioned you had several daughters from Riggs. Who are the mothers?
(Patrick) I actually have five daughters of Riggs at the moment, all from different breedings.
Andi, who has moved to Open and is out of Redtop Lana.
Java, who is qualified for Nursery and out of Bett.
Pi, who is out of Dill and has one leg of her Nursery leg qualified.
Liz, out of Rose (Rusty Childís Brad and a Val-Glyn daughter.) She is next yearís nursery.
Bella, who is out of Redtop Jill and is also next yearís Nursery.
(Eric) Can you talk a bit about Riggs and what his working style is like? What is it about him that suits your needs and handling style?
(Patrick) Riggs's is a dog that has been a team player from day one. He wants to please, and has a great ability to get sheep to like him. At first I thought he had some eye in his style, but the older he gets, the more that I notice that he is fairly loose eyed. He is happy to flank, but has enough eye to put the sheep on a line and stay. He also is very good at reading the pressure of the sheep, and not afraid to push the bubble, if the sheep arenít moving.
He is the smartest dog I know. He remembers fields, sheep, and sequences. He wants so much to please me. He is a great dog to hang out with. He is very mellow, but you can wind him up if you want.
(Eric) Some say that Sheepdog trialing has greatly improved the Border Collie as a breed. We screen our dogs for everything under the sun and put a lot of work into selecting the most sound and in some cases intense dogs. Do you think Sheepdog Trialing has improved the Border Collie as a breed? If so, in what ways?
(Patrick) I do think as a whole, the breed has improved. There are fewer dogs that have little talent. I think that the trials has improved the dogs in the sense that they do want to be trained. There are a few times I see dogs with raw talent, but have no desire to please the person who is handling them. Most of those dogs are in the past.
I do worry that in the world of modern medicine and finances, that we might be taking some of the natural strength and athletic out of the dogs. We now can medicate injuries, where just a few years ago, those dogs would not be able to compete, and therefore, not used as breeding dogs. I have always said that we were lucky that in our breedís development, farmers were not able to keep dogs that were not sound, and so they were out of the gene pool. I still today, would rather breed to a 10 year old sound dog that is still working without any clearances, than a 2 year old that has all the clearances imaginable. The 10 year old has proved that he is sound, and will most likely make a dog that is sound.
(Eric) If you had to leave tomorrow to herd a band of sheep (800-1000 ewes) for a month and could only bring (3) three dogs from your current kennel, who would those dogs be and why did you make that choice?
(Patrick) Riggs as he is very smart, and can figure the job very quickly. He has loads of talent, and wants to please me.
Rose as she is added muscle if needed. She has a great nature, and loads of want and try. She doesnít get upset if things go wrong, or there is lots of added commotion.
The next one would be Andi. She has good power and determination. Once she knows the job, she wonít give up.
If I got a chance, I would also bring Java, as she seems to have the knack of knowing where to be at the right time. She doesnít have the experience of the others, or the power, but she has a great sense of the job and what her role is.
(Eric) It seems the level of professionalism at trials is increasing at a rapid rate. What do you think of USBCHA www.usbcha.com, getting more involved with certifying judges, Course Directors, and trials? What I am getting at is, there are many people with their incomes coming from lessons, clinics, etc, these are professionals, should the USBCHA be doing more to insure professional standards at all trials under it's name?
(Patrick) That is a very difficult question to answer. I think for the most part, the USBCHA should allow the trials to run themselves. At the same time, there should be some noted standards that are expected and required. Once a trial has a history, most people either seek out that trial, or avoid it, depending on their past experiences with the trial. If it is a poorly run trial, the poor entry numbers usually take care of that type of trial. There are all different types of venues in our country, so it is very difficult to put them all in the same format. Judging is difficult, as there arenít enough qualified people willing to spend their time giving back to our community. There should be more judging seminars to help encourage people to become judges.
(Eric) Finger-whistles vs. man-made whistles. I know you support Rob Drummond's whistles (man-made). I use my fingers for whistling. I have always thought finger-whistling was the best because you can be very loud or soft. I know you have multiple whistles around your neck. Can you list the different whistles you use and explain your choice?
(Patrick) Finger whistles are preferred. If I was to spend the time learning to whistle again, I would use my fingers. I know I could at this point in my life, but I havenít spent the time it requires to learn. I tell people starting out that it takes the same amount of time to learn using your fingers as it does with the metal whistle, so you should use your fingers if at all possible. There is more definition with the finger whistle than with the man-made whistle. Finger whistles give you better communication with your dog.
(Eric) You support a new book out "Bobbie Andersonís book, Building Blocks for Performance". I was hoping you could give some examples of the books you suggest to young handlers.
(Patrick) Bobbieís book is great as it helps teach people how to raise a competitive puppy. It also helps develop a relationship between the owner and the dog that will last for years.
There are a lot of really great books on how to train Sheepdogs. I wonít give a specific recommendation, but I would read as many as I could. Many of the organizations have libraries so a person can check these out without having to buy each one.
(Eric) Follow-up what books do you suggest for experienced handlers that maybe need a tune-up?
(Patrick) Another book I have really enjoyed is ďNine Principles of Perfect HorsemanshipĒĒ by Don Blazer. This is a great book that has lots of good information on competing, training and developing a person for competition.
(Eric) Recently you wrote a really good article called "Recipe For Failure" http://www.patrickshannahan.com/RecipeFailure.asp. I think you captured what I felt when I first started out as do many new handlers. The best advice you ever gave me was to spend a little money and get a well-trained dog (I bought Sioux). I very happily trialed Sioux and went from almost giving up to a renewed excitement about sheep and sheepdogs. Can you expand on what you think it does for a handler to have a trained sheepdog or at least a well started one.
(Patrick) Well, I think most people donít have a plan on how they are going to learn this complicated craft. Having a well trained dog, takes some of the uncertainty out of the development process. Training and trialing a dog successfully, is one of the most difficult things that a person might do in their life.
That article basically talks about how a person really needs to find a mentor or have some type of plan to learn about working and being successful in training. It is very difficult to do on our own, without help and guidance.
(Eric) I feel like I may get in trouble talking about sheep since you and I have such different breeds of sheep now. I have big woolly Deboullets you have Katahdin sheep. The truth is that we both belong to a stinking brotherhood of sheep-people. I don't want to ask you such a broad question as how do we keep the industry going in America, but I am going to ask you anyway. What can we do as sheep-people to encourage the youth get into production? Do you think the Border Collie trials can be one way to increase interest and encourage more production?
(Patrick) I think the market of lamb is going to grow, but it starts at the local or regional level. Too many people havenít had experience in eating or preparing lamb. We see a big increase in people interested in knowing where their food comes from, and how it is developed. Some people are interested in raising and growing their own food, while others are interested in how and where it was grown.
Our sport has introduced quite a few new people into the lamb industry. Many have never tried lamb or wool, but now start to feel a sense of community. I am always surprised in our sheepdog friends of the person who loves sheepdogs, but isnít even willing to try lamb as a source of quality protein in their diet. Without the lamb industry, our sheepdog trials would have never come to fruition.
(Eric) Since we are on the broad questions, can you tell me a bit about where you feel you are in your professional career and trailing? What goals have you set for yourself for next year and the more distant future?
(Patrick) Another year has gone by and it seems that I am traveling even more. Although I like the clinics, trials and occasional judging, I am working at being able to stay at home more. I am trying to set up more weekends where people can come here at the farm and train and practice.
As far as the trials go, I find there is always another level to try and obtain. My dogs have really been great as far as helping me obtain many of my goals, but I still have more I can learn from them.