I’ve been training border collies since I was about 14 years old. I started when I had a small flock of Suffolk ewes that I was raising for 4-H and FFA and I had seen a program on PBS that was about sheep and dogs. It featured the late (and GREAT) Gwyn Jones, Penmachno working his dogs Queen and Davidson Kirk. I had never seen anything like that and was immediately infatuated with the way these dogs could move a flock of sheep around! I told my parents that I was getting a dog and, after a lot of persuasion, bribing and blackmail I ended up with my first dog, Jim. He was a tough, tough, tough dog to train and handle but he taught me so much that, even though the lessons he taught me were hard learned, he remains one of my most influential dogs I’ve ever had.
THE BEGINNING OF THE MADNESS!
The first person who really was a positive influence in my life as a dog trainer was Robin MacGregor Brown. I looked at a puppy that she had for sale and she showed me the first trained dog I’d ever seen, the puppy’s mother, Midg. I had never seen a dog work like that, and didn’t know that it was really even possible. Since then, she has become one of my closest friends and continues to be one of my greatest mentors. She helped me start and train my first few dogs but really became so much more for me. Sometimes words just can’t do justice to a relationship… I guess this is one of those times.
Then in ’96 I went to my first clinic with Kathy Knox, which was very eye opening for me. I’ll always appreciate how she was able to look past me being a 15 year old kid with a 6 month old Border Collie and, instead, look at me as someone who was serious and determined to do the best I could do. As a kid in this sport you get a lot of things thrown at you that you aren’t ready to handle. But Kathy didn’t seem to even see that. She worked with me like I was jus another person. I’ll always be grateful for that. Thanks Kathy.
There’s been a lot of people that I’v learned from over the years including Patrick Shannahan, Bill Berhow and Karen & Rusty Child. In recent years, my main mentor(s) have become Alasdair & Patricia MacRae, Scot Glenn, Ricky Hutchinson, and many of my friends and family. This journey continues to develop in a way that I never would have thought. Being a dog trainer isn’t just about the dogs, its not just about the people, its about the greater element of doing the right thing, treating people right and loving the life you live. Living is for the living…
THE GOOD THE BAD THE UGLY:
My first dog Jim and I ran our first run ever at the St. Patrick’s Day SDT in Heppner, OR in March of 1996, and instead of bringing the sheep to me… he brought them to the crowd. Yeah it was pretty fabulous. But he was proud of himself… In retrospect I could have chosen an easier trial as my first. (The sheep at Heppner are notorious for being some of the hardest in the country) But starting out with things being tough wasn’t such a bad thing. It taught me a lot; like to never give up, to keep trying for what I felt was right and to pursue my goals even when they seem unattainable.
My beginnings didn’t live up to The Great Penmachno’s standards by any means but I was able to make my first few dogs pretty useful, which has always been my goal; the very least I can do is to try and make each dog, I get the chance to work with, be the best dog they are capable of.
There’s a lot of years between my beginnings and now that had a lot of impact on me. I’ve had some incredible high’s, like being the youngest person to ever win the Meeker Classic in 2000… I was 19, winning the Western Regional three times, and in 2017 being reserve national champion with a dog I bred, trained and handled; Goodwin Nell, one of the best dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. And I’ve had some lows that hit me really hard; Coming out as a gay man in this conservative world of stock dogs isn’t an easy path. It’s not an easy path for anyone really. For me, I gained the support of a lot of people who have since become like family to me, and I lost the friendship of others who couldn’t see past my identity and the perception of what that meant. Just for the record, it doesn’t change anything about a person when they come out other than you get to see the beauty that they’ve been hiding for so long. You now get to see the whole being of who they are rather than the filtered version that they’ve projected to the world for so long. Love is love, is love, is love… And, now more than ever, this world needs to celebrate the love we have for each other.
Its been incredible where these dogs and my life have taken me. All those years ago I never would have thought that I would have been able to do the things I get to every day. I’ve traveled all over the world to places I would never have even thought of because of these great dogs! I’ve met some of the best people on the planet, and am able to call them friends and loved ones. I’ve fallen in love with people, places, dogs and life in a time that I thought I had no love to give. And, above all, I get to work with the greatest dogs in the world, every day. Its a pretty cool thing. They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, that’s been my goal for a long time and its finally happening! To me, thats the pot of gold waiting for you when you follow your heart, because that is where your treasure lies.
Currently I feel blessed, every day, to lead this semi charmed life. I get to travel the world, see friends, be welcomed with open arms and spread the knowledge that I’ve gained over my life to so many people. But the best reward is seeing others gain an understanding and strengthen the relationships they have with their dogs. Thats the fuel that makes my engine continue to run.