Questionnaire by Teri Kassa
(Kay Spencer, editor)
The Finals are the only ASCA stockdog trials which require contestants to qualify for entry by earning points via scoring well in trials throughout the previous year. The Finals thus pit the top winners from different regions against each other. Placing in the Finals is a tribute to the hard work, skill, and talent of each team. This article was developed from the replies to a questionnaire sent to all the Finals placers in 2008. Photos are of the dog but are not from the 2008 Finals, by and large.
Chris is from Ridgefield, Washington, and this is his fourth Finals. Two of his dogs qualified this year,his male K-J Pincie Creek Lil Red Syren (Sy),and younger female K-J Pincie Creek Ruby Red Kiss (Ruby). His placements were Reserve and Third on Cattle with Ruby and then Sy, Seventh on Sheep with Ruby, and Ninth on Ducks with Sy. Both dogs are red merles, full siblings bred by Carol & Lyle Gerken. Their sire is Pincie Creek Osceola's Kyoti and dam is K-J Burnt Mtn Black Bear Shelby.
Chris feels that a Finals level handler must have great stockmanship and sportsmanship. He says that Roger Stevens has been the biggest influence on him in terms of getting to Finals level handling ability. He tries to remember to "let your dog work!" when he is in the heat of competition. This year, his favorite moment was winning the first round of cattle with Sy. His worst moments were when he was unable to pen the ducks and the sheep.
On the dogs' side, he believes what counts is pedigree and biddability. He loves all his six Aussies and would own no other breed or bloodline. "Next to my wife & daughter, they are my best friends!"
Sandra lives in Germany, near Frankfurt. This is her second Finals with her dog Solo (WTCH Slash V Han Solo RD DNA-CP), a solid dark red male bred by Terry Martin. His sire is Slash V Rufus and dam is Slash V Cajun Key. Sandra and Solo's placements this year: Reserve Champion Sheepdog; 6th place on Cattle.
Reflecting upon how she has gotten to Finals level, Sandra mentions the many hours spent watching trial runs on video and in person. She watched training and trial videos of Border Collie trials and ASCA Stock Finals over and over. She carefully observed how different people accomplished what they happened to excel in, for example penning, and then went out and tried to do the same with her dogs. Many people helped her along the way, "and I do not dare to mention some because for sure others who were part of it too would be left out".
In terms of what makes a Finals handler, Sandra says, "Don't know. Probably the most important thing is that you can (compete with) your dog and keep fighting even though it seems that you have lost. Don't think about the bad stuff your dog did a moment ago during your run but forget about it immediately. Go on and do the best you can. Maybe it will be enough for a good placing. You never know in a competition like that."
Her favorite moment from this year's finals? The first go-round in Sheep, which Solo won with a 115.5 score. Her worst moment was in the second go-round in Cattle: "the cattle went through obstacles 1 and 2 perfectly, and headed in a straight line directly toward the center pen . . .. and then they all split and ran. Whew."
What makes a Finals dog? "They need to be a true stockdog, bred to work stock and nothing else. They need to fit your personality and you need to make a team. In order to really work stock you absolutely need a dog you can trust in. No way to go without the dog's ability and stock sense."
"Special about Solo is his tremendous ability to rate and move stock. His dedication and heart, which enables him to do whatever I ask from him in all difficult situations. He just never gives up and will always give me 150%. He will never quit. And it was pure luck that I got him. Many will know this story by know, but he was the only solid male in three litters. I wanted a solid male . . so I took him. "
Jan hails from Bow, Washington. She and her dog Royal (WTCH HC Chuckanut Royal Secret AKC ASCA CD RA RTDcs PATDsc HXAdsc HS RS-O GS-O, JS-E DNA-CP) were the Cattle Dog Champions this year, and Royal also took 6th on Ducks. Royal is a black tri male bred by John Clack. His sire is HOF Bell Star Gator, and his dam is Kacy.
Jan names Rachel Vest and Bob Vest as the two people who were most influential in her path to Finals, both in allowing her to have Royal and in helping her in training. 2008 marked Jan's fourth consecutive Finals. Her favorite moment? "At the end of my second run, one of the judge's comments was for me to stay focused and have Royal under control in order to stay on the path to winning. I took the comment to heart!" Conversely, her worst moment was getting a 'thank you' on Sheep for gripping. They were very challenging sheep. "I wanted to bite them as well so I didn't blame him. But I should held on to him harder."
She believes that someone who has a stock background and can read livestock is going to have an advantage in Finals competition. And, it is extremely important to have working team relationship with your dog. "When Royal and I go out there I know that he holds his end up and I hold my end up." A Finals dog has to be a team player; a consistent dog that has the heart to step up to the plate with the most challenging of stock. Trusting my dog, allowing him to control the stock, and me telling him where we are going is always my motto. Royal sometimes has his own ideas."
Royal is not just an excellent stock dog, but is special in other ways. "Royal is great dog to live with. He is my best partner every day and goes to clinics and helps teach others about herding. He loves to play all the games that I like to do, so we do it all: working stock, Agility, Obedience, Tracking and just play ball."
Steve is from Estancia, New Mexico. He believes this might be his ninth Finals. He ran two male dogs, his blue merle homebred Talon (WTCH Legends Teewenot’s Talon RTDs PATDsc DNAcp) who is by HOF WTCH NT Connected Lucky RTDsc DNA-CP and out of HOF WTCH Diamond S Legends ROSY RTDs, and Edi, another blue merle, bred by John Grainger. His registered name is WTCH Grainger's Everredi Legends Edi RTDs PATDsc DNA-CP, and he is by HOF WTCH Vests Bell Star Gent RTDs and out of HOF WTCH Starstuffs Blocky Butt Bailie DNA-VP.
While Talon didn't make the top ten, Edi did well, garnering 3rd in Sheep, 8th in Ducks, and 8th in Cattle, giving him the High Combined score for the trial.
Steve believes that becoming a successful Finals level handler takes years. "It's just like your dog that you're working, there is no substitute for experience. It's important to trial in as many different places and on as different stock as possible. The stock at the finals is normally much more difficult than what most dogs and handlers are used to. Try to really test yourself and your dog’s ability prior to going to the Finals.
"Qualifying is really not the point of going to the Finals, in my opinion, but rather, truly having the experience and ability to be competitive once you get there. The pressure that handlers put on themselves can directly affect the dogs and their performance. It is important to be able to be consistent throughout the three rounds if you are successful in the elimination round. If you have a bad run you must put it behind you, so as not to affect your next run.
"Experience is gained through lots of miles and hard work. Handlers hoping to go to the finals would be served well by working with someone who has handled at that level polishing their handling skills. Oh yea, having a really good dog helps any handler's success. I have been blessed."
So, what makes a Finals dog?
"For me, it's a talented instinctive dog that can take the pressures of training and traveling and competing and still be up, and not get sour. I find for me male dogs are normally better trial dogs. They seem to be better able to take pressure and fit me. This probably different for everybody; it's kind of a personality thing."
Highlights of this Finals for Steve include seeing old and new friends and getting his young dog through his last sheep run without gripping out to win the High Combined for the Finals. On the down side, he was terribly sick the first day, and felt very disappointed in not making the cut in anything with his seasoned dog, Talon. "I felt I let him down with my handling."
"I try to say as little as possible when I am trialing and let my dog make the decisions until he makes a mistake. Remember, I said try. I was not very successful this year as the sheep were very challenging and frustrated the dogs, making them want to grip. I had to crank a lot harder than I wanted to keep them from gripping, with only 50% success. My seasoned dog gripped. When I am trying to keep things together I will calmly talk to my dog during the run with a soft 'good boy', just to let him know that I am still there and I am happy with what he is doing. Most spectators would never hear it."
In conclusion, Steve has a little advice for Finals — or any — contestants: "Try to keep things in perspective and remember to have fun. Remember the judges are doing their best to keep everything fair and consistent and respect them and their decisions. Be a good sport and support the other contestants."
Linda lives in Georgetown, Texas. Her blue merle male homebred Eli (WTCH Winslide's Phantom Warrior Eli CDX PATDcs RTDcs DNA-VP) took seventh in both Cattle and Ducks and ninth in Sheep. His sire is WTCH Twin Oaks Winslow Breeze CDX PATDcs RTDcs RS-N JS-N RV-O DNA-VP and dam is WTCH Twin Oaks Toluca Star Rockin'B PATDcs RTDcs DNA-VP. This is Linda's eighth Finals in a row.
Memories of the 2008 Finals: "Most of the finals is a blur to me, but one moment that stands out was right after my dog gripped and was thank you'd. I was leaving the arena and Chris (Caldwell) came right up to me and gave me a hug and an 'I'm so sorry' talk that was so unexpected but wonderfully empathetic! To me, that is what makes our Finals so special, when the people can come together." Another great moment was winning the 2nd go round on cattle.
Her worst moment came just before that hug, when she realized her dog had gripped,
"for the first time in a trial! I hadn't seen it happen, so I was sort of shocked."
Linda believes that what makes a Finals handler is "someone who can read their stock well, and understands their job in the trial as well as the dog's job. They need to be able to deal with the stress of a competition at that level as well as be able to deal with new and different stock. A good handler also needs to be able to know when to trust their dog . . . I just go out and do the best I can with what my dog gives me that moment. I know what he can do, so it's just trying to get him to be calm enough to do it."
A Finals dog "needs to have been trained to a level higher than our A or B courses. They need to be a team player and listen to the handler. They need to read their stock well and have a keen desire to work always. Obviously they must be a good stock dog with great instincts!"
Eli, besides being a Finals quality dog, is Linda's security detail. "Eli is the proverbial protection dog when he is in my car or at the ranch. When traveling, I know I am well protected. Once we are off his territory, he is reserved, but a very affectionate dog to other people once he knows I approve of them. He is great with other dogs and loves children. He is always ready to work, no matter how hot or cold or rainy. I can rely on him to be there no matter what. When we come back to the house, he is happy to just lay by my chair and be near."
Bjintze, like Sandra Zilch, made the long trip from Europe to participate in the Finals; he is from the Netherlands. His little homebred black bi, Bets (WTCH JJ Betsey RD) came in fourth on Ducks and 5th on Cattle. Both her parents were also bred by Bjintze and his wife Anneke De Jong; her sire is WTCH JJ Stinger RD RTDcs and her dam is HOF WTCH JJ Skip.
Bjintze feels that getting to Finals was a journey he made mostly by himself; "my dogs have been my teachers." He adds that he was helped by using common sense, and an occasional video tape of himself trialing
and training. He tries to just consider the whole thing as another trial and do the best he can. He does point out that to get to Finals requires a lot of financial sacrifices, a good farm or ranch sitter while you are off
doing trials, and it helps to have a spouse who shares your passion. This is his second Finals.
Bjintze's favorite moment of the 2008 Finals was his center pen on Cattle during the first run on Sunday morning. His worst (like more than a few Finals competitors this year) was the judges' 'thank you' on sheep, which came on Saturday.
Does he have something like "trust your dog" that is the basis for his training and
Bjintze replies: "Trust your dog IS my line, however, the dog should also trust you. Sometimes a dog misses something and then it is important that you are able to override things as they go. This can only work if trust is a two way street. The dog and you should be a solid team."
For Bjintze, as for the vast majority of working Aussie owners, Bets is far more than a stockdog, she is his friend. "She is just my little girl, a talker, a mouse and rat catcher, a judge and
jury in the pack, a good judge of character on people, a nurse when other
dogs have wounds, and a great companion."
Roger has a farm at Pincie Creek in Dothan, Alabama, where he has raised cattle for 42 years, and where he primarily trains his dogs. His male, Mic (WTCH Pincie Creek Chief Micanopy), was the Champion Duck Dog this year, and took 8th in Sheep. Roger is also proud of his Nationals Trial work this year; at this trial, which consists of not only the 20 finals dogs but about 40 to 45 more advanced dogs, Mic won Cattle and placed in other stock, and also won WTCH High Combined and also High Combined overall for the Nationals trial. Roger's Open dog, Pincie Creek Hank, won Open cattle and placed in other stock and won High Combined Open.
Roger describes Mic's physical qualities as "Body longer than tall with good muscle and powerful jaws. Deep chest & spring of ribs for stamina. Good steady movement to work long hours." Both Mic and Hank, who are full siblings, are homebreds, their sire being Pincie Creek Osceola and dam, Free Spirit of Pincie Creek. "These two dogs do real cattle work every week and a lot of the work is on green cattle. They keep you out of trouble and are my best buddies and make me laugh."
Roger has competed in about eight Finals, and for the last six years his dogs have won something in them. In his opinion, a good Finals handler is "one who has lots of stock experience, trusts his dog and can stay calm even when the going gets rough. One who doesn't whine when someone else has a good run, but rather congratulates that person." When he thinks about who has been most inflluential and helpful to him in terms of stockdog handling, he names Gary Ericcson, Bob Vest and God.
He feels a Finals-quality dog must have " the instinct to work on his own, to read and control stock without (the handler having to give) much direction. A Fnals dog, like a good farm dog, does not need to be mechanical, because you can't tell them everything they need to do. Most people don't breed for that anymore; some never have and never will. Most of these people can not compete with you so they try and find ways to get you out so they don't have to compete with good working dogs. If you have a Finals with just sorry dogs then you have a sorry Finals.
"When I train and give clinics the two most important things I stress is let your dog work and trust your dog. When things get tough keep your mouth shut trust and let your dog work; that's why we breed these dogs to have instinct."