Herding is, as one might suspect, one of the oldest organized dog sports. Herding trials were common long before there were any kennel clubs or "purebred" dogs. There are many types of herding dogs that were used for many types of stock and conditions. Since this web page is a shrine to a Border Collie, this little dissertation on herding will be heavily focused on the Border Collie style of herding.
Most "Border Collie" (International Sheepdog Society, or ISDS) trials will have certain elements in common. There are usually different skill levels to compete at, but this is not always the case.Judging is based on how well a dog and sheep negotiate the course and a maximum time (course time) is always in effect (usually between five and ten minutes).
Runs/courses are judged in sections. Each run/course will usually have some or all of the following obstacles:
The path the dog takes to get behind the sheep at the beginning of the run. For advanced dogs the sheep can be placed as far away as 800 yards. The outrun path should resemble a half-pear with the narrow end toward the handler and the wide end behind the sheep.
On longer outruns there are frequently shrubs, small gullies, and other obstructions that can make it difficult for the dog to find the sheep.
|Lift||The lift is the part of the run that immediately follows the outrun. The dog is now behind the sheep and makes initial contact with the sheep. The sheep should move away from the dog in a calm, controlled manner and should not appear to be panicked or frenzied.|
Now that our hero has made contact with the sheep (the Lift), he or she must now "fetch" the sheep in a straight line to the handler. The dog must keep the sheep on track even when they try to veer off to other locations, and the whole thing must be done with calm and control. The sheep should not be panicked.
Once the sheep and dog get to the handler the sheep and dog must pass behind the handler and move on to the Drive.
|Drive||The dog now gets behind the sheep and "drives" them away from the handler and through the first drive gate, then through the second drive gate, and back to the handler.|
After the fetch gates the sheep are usually "settled" at the handler (allowed to pause for a moment). The handler and the dog will then work together to split the sheep into groups. One group the dog will take away and demonstrate control of.
Which sheep should be separated, and how many should be separated will be announced at the beginning of the trial. Sometimes the sheep to be separated will be marked, sometimes it will be at the handler's discretion
|Pen||The two groups (if a Shed happened) of sheep are reunited. The handler then goes to and opens the pen. The handler then holds onto a rope attached to the pen's gate for the rest of the obstacle. The handler and the dog then work together (the handler is not allowed to move from their spot) to negotiate the sheep into the pen, whereupon the handler closes the gate and the watching crowd politely claps.|
|Single||The sheep are let out of the pen and one sheep, specified by the judge, is to be split from the rest. Once separated the dog must demonstrate control of the sheep.|
Different herding levels will have different requirements.
Novice-novice is for novice dogs with novice handlers.. The outrun is usually no more than 100 yards. The handler may leave the post to "wear" the sheep to the Single Panels. The Pen is sometimes replaced with simple "settle" of the sheep at the post.
Pro-Novice is usually a shorter out-run, shorter drive, and no shed or single. Pro-novice is open to novice dogs and handlers, Open dogs with novice handlers, and Open handlers with novice dogs.
The highest skill level is usually Open. This level is open to all dogs and all handlers. The handler/dog team begins competing at this level when the handler feels ready for it. Prizes in the Open level frequently are trophies and cash.
Nursery is for young dogs (under 30 months). The course is very similar to Pro-novice.
Ranch is somewhat new. It is somewhere between Novice-novice and Pro-novice in difficulty.
There are no titles or qualifying needed to enter or leave any of these levels. The honor system is used (as is the humiliation system) to make sure that someone is competing at the proper level.