Sheepdog Trials and Herding Tests |

Sheepdogs usually are dogs that are descended from a long bloodline of dogs who are instinctive at the herding of livestock. Often these dogs are such breeds as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and the like. By far the most common breed to participate in this activity is the Border Collie.The Border Collie works in a distinct fashion. He will fix the livestock with an unblinking, almost hypnotic stare, while his movements will be closely coordinated and equally as hypnotic in nature. He can move with lightning speed when necessary but usually he will make his moves in a low crouching movement so as to avoid startling the sheep un-necessarily. He will crouch low, halt, crawl and move forward on command. Sometimes he will inch forwards or sideways only a bit at a time, dropping to the ground and stopping for long periods. His movements can also be lightning fast turns and dashes towards the livestock. He will also move directionally according to the wishes of the herdsman. More often than not, his moves are done without direction of any sort from the herdsman since he usually has been trained from the beginning to herd the animals on his own.All of the herding skill being brought into play is either because of his instinctive ability to work the livestock or because he has been so directed by the herdsman. The herdsman directs the dog with hand signals, low whistles or almost indistinct quiet commands. All this direction of the dog must be quite calm and performed without startling or sending the sheep into a stampede. Every move on the part of both the participants, the dog and the herdsman, is meant to achieve the end result of herding the livestock into a particular location. Every move is also calculated to avoid startling the sheep.Most sheepdog trials will use three to six sheep which will be released into a large enclosed paddock area. Observers may remain outside of the paddock during the competition and often there may be more than a hundred, for the sheepdog trials are quite popular spectator events. The released sheep will mill about as the herdsman comes in to the arena with his dog. When the trial commences, it is the job of the dog, with the occasional direction of the herdsman, to direct all of the sheep through or around several gates and into a final small paddock area, which will then be closed by the herdsman. Usually the event is scored not only on the time that it takes but on the appropriateness of the signals which are relayed to the dog and his response to those signals.Sheepdog trials are one of the most popular events at State and County fairs across the Midwest. Also they are almost always to be found at Specialty Shows of the various herding dog breeds.Many of these shows also hold what is known as a “herding test”, which can be quite entertaining to watch. The herding test is usually an event in which ducks or geese are used as the livestock. The dog must attempt to herd these birds without direction from his owner or handler into an enclosed area. It is surprising the number of dogs of herding lineage who are able to complete a herding test with flying colors, without any sort of direction. It is a testament to the purity of the bloodline and instinctive ability of the dog and successful completion is a coveted reward for a breeder of a herding dog.