Patrick Shannahan, the 2010 USBCHA National Champion, has been working stockdogs for nearly twenty years—and raising sheep even longer. Hailing from Caldwell, Idaho, Patrick runs a commercial flock of Katahdin hair sheep. In addition to giving clinics and lessons at his Red Top Kennel, as well as around the country, Patrick is a regular contributor to the Working Border Collie magazine. He notes that his main goal “has been to provide good practical work dogs for the livestock industry.” As we close out this series, we’ll hear about how the current National Champion has been preparing to defend his title at the 2011 National Finals!
Each year, I plan on going to the National Finals. It is a trial that is unlike any other. Great sheepdogs are confirmed, and handlers are tested each and every run. It is different than some of the other large trials, as this is the trial that all the great dogs and handlers make a point of attending. There is a heightened sense of pressure, as each of the contestants are working hard to make the final day.
But success at the Finals does not start at the Finals. It starts many months, even years, in advance. Having a great dog is one thing; knowing what to do with a great dog is another. Experience in both handler and dog can play a large role.
Since the 2010 Finals in Virginia, life on my farm has been about the same. I am still doing many of the same things I do each and every year. The older dogs got time off from training; the well-started dogs got even more training. And, the pups got their first taste of what the purpose of their lives may be.
There aren’t many trials in our part of the country in the winter or spring. We had some local trials, and I chose to run only my young dogs in those so I could help with judging and setout. Our first trial came in March, and I didn’t get to another until the first of May. June was busy, going to three trials, and, finally, one last trial in July.
It isn’t that we wouldn’t love to trial more; it is that difficult to attend the trials and earn a living at the same time. Since the dogs help me earn a living, I must be gone most weekends to give lessons and clinics. Sometimes the dogs are able to travel with me, but most times they must wait until I return to get to practice and work.
Since last year, I have continued to try to keep the dogs in excellent shape. Even though we weren’t seriously training on sheep, keeping the older dogs in shape is important to their physical health. It is also a great way for me to spend some individual time with them while I work and focus on the younger dogs. Sharing large amounts of time with my best dogs helps develop the teamwork that is needed for success.
A few times a week, I take the Open dogs running with me. Usually it is on the road, near my home, but occasionally I get to trails in the area for our runs. I like to have the dogs running right next to me at a fast trot or a slow lope. The distance varies, but I like to have them running from thirty-five minutes up to an hour and a half.
So, our 2011 trial season is about to end. With Riggs, who has experience and enough points to get to the Finals, my goals were to run him and continue to develop as a team. I will try to work on my handling and hope to get into a few double lift competitions to improve our skills in that area before the Finals. Riggs is eight and will start to change as he gets older. I will have to keep my eyes open and make necessary adjustments in my handling if he slows down or changes because of his age.
With the two inexperienced Open dogs, my first goal was to get them qualified. Neither had a large number of points in May when I started to go on the trial circuit. Java had only been in one Open trial, so we needed to work especially hard with her development. Andi got some great experience last year, and I think she is ready to make her way to success this year in the Open. Hopefully, they both can get into a few more trials and place with some points. Both Java and Andi made it into the double lift finals at Big Willow this year. It was great experience for both.
When it was time to send in my entry, it was a relief to have three dogs qualified for the two Open spots. At this time I entered Andi, as she has the most practice of the two younger dogs. She has the best shot of success pairing with the experience of her father, Riggs.
Nursery is also a big part of the Finals that I really enjoy. I personally love training young dogs, and most of the dogs I start usually end up making Nursery prospects. Occasionally, one needs more time than their Nursery year to develop, and, if I think they might fit me as an Open dog, I am willing to wait on them.
This year, I have one Nursery dog, Abby, and she happens to be a dog that isn’t from my breeding. She is working well at this point, but she needed those trials in June and July to get some experience on the trial field. She looks to make a nice Open dog someday, so the Nursery program will help build her experience and training to possibly fit into one of my Open dogs. Abby belongs to LJ Estes, an old friend, and will be staying here at our home after the trial.
My plan for the past fifteen years of competing at the National Finals is to try and peak at the Finals. That means having the dogs in their best shape, mentally and physically. So, it means going to some trials, getting experience for both the dogs and myself, missing a few big trials (as it might cause them to peak too early), and then working to make each run at the Nationals count toward getting into the final day.
I am sure one of the big questions that people might ask when reading this might be, “Do you feel more pressure this year, since you won last year?” I can honestly say that I do not feel more pressure. Certainly, it would be great to repeat last year, but winning a National Finals is something that no one can take away from you. Winning the Nationals was a goal when I first started, and winning it again will continue to be a goal for many more years.
When I arrive in Carbondale, my objectives will be the same as in past years. First, make it into the semi-final round. If I am fortunate and get into the semi-final run, my next goal would be to make it into the final run. I don’t look too far ahead, as anything can happen. At the Nationals, I take each day and try to do my best.
I look forward to the time at the Finals. I hope to get reacquainted with many of my old friends and hopefully meet a few new ones this year as well. I really appreciate the camaraderie of our sport, and the appreciation that we have for our dogs, livestock, and fellow competitors. Hope to see you in Carbondale this year.
After making it into the finals at Soldier Hollow over the Labor Day weekend, Patrick is currently home getting the dogs a bit of rest and working on a few last-minute changes before heading south to Carbondale.