Friday, May 25, 2012

Sheepdog Field Trial

We spent a couple of days last week at the Bluegrass Classic Sheepdog Trials in Lexington, KY. Held at a large city park, it was an ideal location, even if there were soccer games going on all around.
Trials are designed to simulate activities encountered on a working farm. Each dog starts the course with 100 points and points are subtracted each time the handler/dog team falls short of the standard for that task.

The Gather
 From a point 400 yards from where the sheep are being held, the handler sends the dog in a wide arc to a position behind the sheep. With a command of "Away to me" the dog runs right in a counter-clockwise path,
or with "come bye" runs to the left in a clockwise arc. The outrun is worth 20 points.

The Lift
From a position behind the sheep, the handler walks the dog forward to put the sheep into motion. The object from this point is to move the sheep in a straight line to the handler standing at the starting post. The lift is worth 10 points.

The Fetch
 The fetch is a 400 yard drive bringing the sheep through one gate to circle around the handler at the post.
The fetch is worth 20 points.

The Drive
In the drive the dog herds the sheep in a triangle from the starting post through a gate on the left,
across the field in front of the handler,
through a gate on the right and back to the handler. It ends at the shedding circle, seen in the foreground as a series of sawdust piles. The drive is worth 30 points.

The Shed
The handler cannot leave the starting post until the first sheep enters the shedding ring. He then walks to the ring and together with the dog attempts to separate one sheep from the rest and hold it briefly.
Success! The shed is worth 10 points.

The Pen
 The course concludes with the dog herding the sheep into a pen and the handler closing the gate. Often the shed and pen steps are reversed. Penning is worth 10 points.
Standards emphasize "quiet, firm, steady control" of the sheep, moving them at a steady pace in a straight line from point to point without excess commands, or circling sheep. We were unable to stay for the finals on Sunday, which involved a "double lift," that is, two batches of sheep that were gathered and herded through the rest of the course together.

It may be an acquired taste, but I am fascinated by working dogs and can sit and watch for hours on end. I've taken friends to trials who were bored and restless within an hour.  But when there's an experienced handler with a well-trained dog on the field, I think I must look a lot like this fellow!


  1. I'd love to watch a competion like that. That fella in the last photo is concentrating so hard! Beautiful dog!

  2. I have been known to watch a field trial on television with as much interest as my husband gives to football. The movement of the sheep into the gates amazes me. They hold them occasionaly at the Agriculture Center in a nearby county. I've got to get over there. Nice photographs!

  3. We went to one of the a few years ago -- amazing! We have had a series of Border Collies but on;y one was actually trained. Such intense dogs!