Herding Trials for Dogs

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.

danny-2The 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!

danny-and-molly-5 More information about Molly and the Double M Stock Dogs can be found at www.doublemstockdogs.biz or going to her Facebook page.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.