Last weekend, I had the privilege of watching a herding trial at Double M Stock Dogs in Mayer, Arizona. I love watching these highly trained working dogs display their athletic ability. According to the American Kennel Club, “The purpose of the competitive herding trial program is to preserve and develop the herding skills inherent in the herding breeds, and to demonstrate that they can perform the useful functions for which they were originally bred.” With help from their handler, the dog will guide a group of sheep, goats, cattle, ducks, turkeys or geese through a course in a set period of time while judges watch. After the performance is over, the dog is treated to a dip in a water tub to cool off.
The exercise starts with the dog waiting quietly for instructions. At the handler’s signal, the dog runs away from the handler to the stock and then gathers them into a compact group. In a controlled manner, the dog brings the animals back to the handler. Now the handler and the dog work together to move the animals through a series of obstacles. Sometimes the pair work together to hold the animals in place or split an individual from the group in what is called ‘shedding’. These dogs are so intelligent that they understand the difference between moving clockwise with the command ‘come by’ and counterclockwise with the command ‘away’. A more detailed description including terms and definitions can be found at The Straight Poop.
Many different breeds of dogs like to herd. The most common ones I see in Arizona are Border Collies, Australian cattle dogs, Australian shepherds, Australian kelpies and Catahoula leopard dogs although there are many more breeds that can herd. A complete list can be found at the American Kennel Club. For obvious safety concerns, deaf and/or visually impaired dogs are excluded from herding trials. Besides the AKC, more information can be found at: American Herding Breed Association, Australian Shepherd Club of America and National Cattledog Association
There’s even a fun blog about herding called Herding Dog USA!
The dog in the picture is Danny, a purebred border collie. Danny is competing in the advanced level of herding. Although he is good with sheep, he prefers herding geese or ducks. Danny came into the trial needing one more point in two days of competition to attain his Herding Champion title. He clinched his title on Saturday and then went on to win High in Trial on Sunday with a score of 99 out of 100. Congrats to Danny, his handler/trainer, Molly Wisecarver and his owner, Judy Schrader!