An Interview with Gwyn Jones, Penmachno,
Situated within the beautiful Snowdonia National Park in North Wales lies the Welsh hill farm of about 70 acres owned by Gwyn Jones, Penmachno.
The third generation to farm Cae Llwyd, Gwyn grazes his sheep on the vast Mignaint range which stretches for miles and provides an exceptional 'training ground' for his dogs. A believer in practical experience, he uses his dogs for all manner of work, from pushing part of his 400 head flock of Welsh Mountain sheep up this range during the summer months to working the suckler cows and calves on the lower pastures of the home farm.
Born into the era of sheep dog legends J. M. Wilson, Jock Richardson and John Gilchrist, 'Gwyn Penmachno' emerged onto the trialling scene as a young lad of only 17 yrs.of age
Being greatly influenced by the teams of Jock Richardson with Wiston Cap and Alan Jones, Pontllyfni with Roy, Gwyn proceeded with determination to develop his own successful style of handling which has resulted in his winning the Supreme International three times. In addition to these successes, he adds to his list of accomplishments the winning of three Welsh Nationals, One Man and His Dog and three times winner of the prestigious Longshaw trial.
A quiet handler, Gwyn is critical of himself but is positive and flexible in his approach to training. He has the ability to get into a dog's mind to analyse how and why a dog reacts or responds in a certain way. He commands a very high standard from himself as a handler as well as his dog and attributes his successes to understanding, preparation and pure hard work.
I persuaded Gwyn to talk about his dogs and some of his views on training methods:
How did you get started in the trialling world?
I would have been about 15 or 16 years old. We were shearing and in those days everybody shared the shearing, moving locally from farm to farm. Bobby Evans, Pen y Bont, Penmachno was helping and they were all talking about him winning a trial at Betws yn Rhos the previous Saturday. Although my father always had work dogs, I wanted a dog of my own. I wanted to have a go in the trials that they were all talking about, although I had never been to a trial nor had I ever worked a dog before.
Bobby heard of a litter and my brother Wil took me to buy one of the pups. I paid £3.00 for a registered bitch and called her Wendy, after a dog that Glyn Jones, Bodfari had been running. I trained her myself and went to a few trials. I was so nervous at the first trial I entered in Betws yn Rhos that I couldn't whistle even though I had been practising so much that my chin was sore with dribbling. I won about 5 prizes that first year with my first being in the novice class at Ffestiniog.
One person that I was indebted to during those early years was William Jones, Llanferres. He was always there at the local trials to pass on his knowledge and advice, whether it was regarding a dead patch on the field, the awkward line of the cross drive or what to watch for at the pen. His advice was always very welcome.
Who gave you the most inspiration for your method of training dogs?
GJ I saw Jock Richardson run Wiston Cap at Chester in 1966. In my mind the dog was shear class and on superb command. I liked his method and style. Alan Jones also seemed to have the right method for his dogs with amazing precision.
You trained Bosworth Coon (34186). How old were you at the time?
GJ I was 19. Llyr Evans bred Coon himself and I had him when he was about 10 months old. He stayed with me for about a season during which we won a few trials together. He won his first open with me at the age of 14 months in Pwllheli.
He was a dog that had good balance, could judge sheep and had a good temperament. Being very stubborn and hard, he wasn't easy to train. I taught him to work clean and wide.
How old were you when you won the Supreme with Bill?
GJ I was 29 - it took me 9 years to get into the team.
I bought Bill at the age of 2 yrs. old for £150.00 from Dafydd Robert Owen, Llanllechid, Bethesda. Bill lived in the house with Dafydd and his wife and consequently pined when I first had him but eventually settled well. He would come out each morning bouncing around like a young pup until one day after he had been with me for about 12 months, he wandered around with his head down really 'digalon', as we would say in Welsh, which in a way means depressed. This continued for about a week. It was a few weeks later that I learnt that Dafydd's wife had died that very same week. I think Bill sensed it.
Willy Kinstry who shepherded next door to Jock Richardson bred him out of Nan, a bitch of David Murray's Vic's breeding and by Wiston Cap. A half brother to John Richardson's Mirk, he had so many owners names on his card that when I had him eye tested it had to be stamped on the front.
I had great difficulty stopping him in the early years and he was quite hard. In his first trial, I couldn't stop him so it was back to the drawing board. At his next trial at Felindre, he won losing ½ point. Like Queen he could get hold of his sheep, the further the run went the better contact he had with them.
Bill won many open trials including the North Wales at Llandudno where he and Nel won the qualifying sessions and then were 1st and 2nd in the final. Bill was in the first ever One Man and His Dog at Buttermere in the Lake District. If I remember rightly, David Shennan won it. I was very nervous and conscious of the microphone in my shirt and didn't shout loud enough to give Bill that extra command that he needed at the top.
In 1971 Bill and I qualified for the supreme but my nerves got the better of me in the final and I went to pieces. It was in 1974 after coming 2nd in the Welsh National and 1st in the National Driving that we qualified at Kilmartin. I was indebted to H. Glyn Jones, Bodfari and E. Wyn Edwards for their advice that I wisely and gratefully took. Consequently we came 2nd in the qualifier and won the Supreme and the Driving Championship. Bill was the type of dog who gave you confidence to win. He also won the Longshaw trial.
Bill was the sire of E. Wyn Edwards' Bill who was twice Supreme Champion and the sire of many good dogs.
Which dog do you consider the best you've seen?
GJ Without a doubt - Alan Jones' Roy (15393). He was a very solid, flowing dog, pure poetry in motion. In the Qualifier in Ayr he only lost 1 point per judge. Although the point system was different then, it was a superb run. He won 3 Nationals on the trot plus the Supreme in 1961 together with many big trials such as Hyde Park. As far as I am aware he is the only one to have won the National, the Qualifier and the Supreme in the same year.
What type of dog do you like?
GJ I have bred very few pups and do not favour any particular breeding lines. I tend to buy something just started, something that I like, something that catches my eye although I do have a soft spot for a medium to rough black and white. I like something with class but not very much eye, also a dog that is free, that has a brain and a method in its work, hence the preference for a dog just started. It must have a character, a personality and the ability to take the pressure of training; I also like a 'spark' in a dog. Their temperament needs to be good and they need to be happy in their work. I dislike sulky dogs and I cannot do with fighters or nasty ones,
How young do you like to start training a dog?
GJ That depends on the dog. I feel that pups should be allowed to develop their character and become not 'street wise' but 'generally wise' if that makes sense. I don't agree with putting too much pressure on a young dog too soon, that is, before it is mature enough to take it. This can result in a variety of bad habits such as: eating muck and chewing grass, use of tail, working sourly and even going off work all together. 'Patience is a virtue'.
It appears that Bill, Shep and Queen were quite a handful and somewhat hard. How did you get them to listen?
GJ When our dogs don't listen, it is usually because they are so keen and eager or perhaps they have a problem. All we seem to do then is fight them and they fight back. If we work them until they start to relax and the tension goes out of them and there is no need for them to fight us, then we start to get results. So patience, work and more work is the basic answer. As the dog learns its whistles, I start to quieten them down until the dog is almost straining to hear them. If a child is shouted and nagged at continually it will eventually acquire 'selective hearing'. Dogs, like children, can learn to listen given the chance.
Do you have training sheep or dogged sheep to train on at home?
GJ No! I might put a few lambs in a small paddock to start a young dog off or if I have a problem but otherwise I like to work in the open fields, just picking as many sheep as I need from the flock. They are all used to being worked by dogs and I like to take advantage of every natural opportunity and situation I can.
Life and work has become so hectic with everything needing to be done 'yesterday'. In my opinion this, together with the use of quad bikes to gather, is not doing any good for the working dog. First hand experience in shedding, general handling of sheep and turn backs in natural situations are far better to get the dog thinking about what it's doing and to learn.
Talking of turn backs - I have heard people gasp as you turn your dogs back. How does your turn back differ from the majority of other handlers?
GJ There are various ways of turning a dog back. Some turn back on a continuous flank and open while others turn back and flank. I try to train my dogs to turn back from a position that tells them in which direction the sheep may be found. This method takes consistency and practice and I never send a dog back without sheep there.
Do you agree with many of our fellow triallers that we should have more double gather trials?
GJ No! I don't. In my opinion, too many double gathers will create problems with some dogs turning back when they shouldn't. Yes! It is a tempting challenge to compete on a big field with a double fetch outrun but if we all want higher standards, let's get the basics right first. I don't think that the precision work on the 'standard' trial field is always what it should be, myself included. We should all be aiming for the perfect run with precision, accuracy and perfect control. We also need to slow the pace and get the dog to blend with its sheep.
Do you prefer a dog to lie down or to stop on its feet?
GJ When first training a dog, I insist on it lying down. This gives a more definite and controlled stop with no temptation to creep forward. When trained to stop properly and as training progresses into the more advanced stages, Yes! I do like a dog on its feet as I aim to work the dog with a flow. A lie down can be an advantage in relieving the pressure and tension in the sheep - for example: at the pen.
Do you believe that a dog can be taught to outrun in a natural way?
GJ Many dogs are taught outruns. My Shep dog was blind in one eye and tended to come in on his outrun so I taught him to use the boundary on that side until he became accustomed to going out properly.
The outrun is basically an extension of the flank and once the cast is right there should be no real reason why a near natural type outrun cannot develop. Consistency in training is the secret and with dogs being creatures of habit there are all manners of problems that can be solved in this way.
Can you tell us how you train an Out Run?
GJ Basically, as I said earlier, the outrun is an extension of the flank and that in turn must have a correct cast. In my opinion a dog should go to its place the first time and not be continually redirected although I do try to ensure that my dogs will redirect, just in case it's needed. I try to give them as much help as I can to go out in the right direction. The longer and wider the outrun, the squarer I set the dog up. The dog, with help, will eventually learn how wide to outrun and cast out just as it will learn how to judge distance, especially when working on the hill.
I always encourage the dog to stand and look for its sheep before I set it off.
How did you come by Shep (73360)?
GJ One day in 1973 while dosing lambs with my father, John Jones from Cornwall called in at the yard to ask about entering Penmachno Trials on the coming Saturday. He asked my opinion of his dogs and after showing them to us, I liked the half white headed one - it caught my eye. He offered him to me on 6 months trial but by the Saturday I had bought Shep for £70.00. He was a very stubborn and hard dog with no natural outrun or cast but had a wonderful personality.
When training Shep I decided to use double barrel whistles, for example: using the double barrel for a full flank and the single barrel part as a half flank. It wasn't totally successful, as I didn't get the instant response that I wanted. Using the half command caused hesitation so it was then that I started using a change of tone in my whistle instead and have done so ever since.
In 1982 I retired Shep on what some say was a winning run. He was 10 ½ yrs. old and had run hard but hellish well. As we came to the pen a sheep jumped over his head and went off. I felt that he was too old and too tired to carry on, so we retired. He was always good on a big place and qualified for the Team 4 times. He eventually won the Supreme at Lockerbie in 1976 and came 4th in 1978.
What is the basis of your method and style of working?
GJ It's a bit like driving a car.
The handler is the driver, the dog is the vehicle and the command is the steering wheel. The turning of the steering wheel is to reposition the vehicle to change its direction and the accelerator is to move forward to complete the manoeuvre.
The constant speed and smoothness of driving is similarly related to the flow and control that the dog has while moving the sheep. Stops, even emergency ones, are used only when necessary and there should be no cutting of corners.
When a dog turns square off its sheep, some believe that its contact with the sheep is broken - do you agree?
GJ Yes! I feel the contact must be broken to enable the dog to reposition itself to change the direction of the sheep otherwise the sheep will be pushed forward at the same time as the redirection. The flank command is to place the dog into the position in which it needs to be in to take the sheep in the direction required. The sheep shouldn't move until the dog moves forward to take them in that direction
Some dogs can become very stiff on their flanks if that contact is not broken and I like my dogs to be free. Sometimes the slowing of the pace to get a flow can create a certain amount of stiffness on the flanks through that increase in contact. I am training and running a young nursery bitch at the moment and I am very aware that this problem could develop as training progresses, so I am trying to keep her free and get her to flow at the same time.
How do you produce a dog ready for the 'big trials'?
GJ That's a big question but it's basically down to preparation. Early in the year - say January - I would run them light in their training, not too much pressure, on good command and getting them fit both mentally and physically. As we get nearer the trials, the training is increased together with increased pressure on the precision work. It's finely balanced to prevent them peaking at the wrong time. Many people handle through their experience rather than preparation, I can't do that, I have to prepare.
Do you still get nervous at 'big trials'?
GJ Yes! - I tend to psyche the dog and myself up before I run. I like to go off on my own with the dog and I try to get us both on the same wave length and hopefully go out there in a perfect partnership. This helps us to focus on each other rather than the dog just focussing totally on the sheep. The surge of adrenaline and the total concentration I have required from myself in the past has often over ridden the nerves but has left me physically and emotionally drained.
What advice would you give a beginner?
To realise that we've all 'been there', many of us more than once.
Watch, listen and learn.
Be patient and don't start with too hard a dog.
Experiment until you find your own style and method of working.
Like your dog. We can't all afford top dogs so take your dog and what it has to offer and make the most of it.
Never be totally satisfied with the way you or your dog works.
Enjoy it and never be afraid of asking for advice or taking it; you can make your own mind up on what you want from it.
Have you any views on judging?
GJ In my opinion, what appears to cause an imbalance in the standard of judging is that not enough points are taken off for major faults and too many for minor ones. I know judging is not an easy task but I think this problem may originate from the way many judges split a section up with points for each part of that section. For example: The drives are marked out of a total of 30 points and if a major fault occurs in one part of that section the judge may only have allocated 6 points for that part in which case a maximum of only 6 points could be taken off. This might not be anywhere near enough to justify the fault. It should be judged as one section with 30 points as originally intended.
I also feel that there is a general lack of consistency between judges.
Back to your dogs; Queen must have been an exceptional bitch, would you tell us a little about her ( 152483)?
GJ I bought Queen when she was just 18 months old for £315.00. She ran out well both sides but was quite light on her sheep especially when lifting them. There was something about her that I liked.
She had a litter of pups and my mother called her a 'modern mum' as she was devoted to the pups for the first day and then all she was interested in between feeding them was sheep. I let her out into the yard one morning and I just popped into the house, only to come out again in time to see her coming from the field. She was carrying a lamb in her mouth obviously to feed the pups but followed by a very distraught ewe. I shouted at her, she dropped it and the unharmed lamb ran back to its mother. I suppose that's what you call survival and the 'hunting instinct'
After having the pups, Queen became very keen and pushy and was upsetting her sheep. I experimented and eventually found that by working her at a distance with her pacing and walking to her flanks, 'bending', she kept contact with the sheep, lifting and dropping the pace as needed without upsetting them. This method doesn't suit all dogs and shouldn't be trained into a young dog before it is ready. It takes a lot of patience and time, making sure that the dog is always happy and fresh in its work.
At the beginning of the season there were times when I would need to take Queen out 5 or 6 times a day for about 6 weeks before a trial to get her settled and get rid of the tension because she was so hot.
I think we were a good team and we achieved a lot together: She won the Welsh National once and came 2nd twice, qualified for the Supreme on 3 occasions, gaining 430 ½ out of 440 pts. in 1990 and went on to win the Supreme the same year with 618 out of 680 pts. She also won the National Driving, One Man & His Dog and Longshaw.
Have you considered doing training videos or even a book?
GJ No! not really as I don't find it easy to put what I do into words or onto paper. My methods don't suit everyone and if I did try to put them into words people may take them as the way that they must do it and in my opinion that is not the way to go about learning or training. It's fine to give a general guide to training and handling as many good books and videos do but people must realise that it is only a guide. Each dog and method is different as is each handler and style.