Have you seen Babe? It's a movie based off Babe, the Gallant Pig, which I read when I was in elementary school. It was through this book and movie (and our family dog, Maggie, who was a border collie) that I learned about sheepdogs. Yes, I learned about sheepdogs at a very young age. And I believe it was all preparation for this weekend when Josh and I when to the Vashon Sheepdog Trials this past weekend at Misty Isle Farms.
Although I knew about sheepdog herding and that they did competitions (like in Babe!), I didn't know much beyond that. This weekend, my berth of knowledge on sheepdog herding was vastly advanced. Let me share some of this new found knowledge with you.
First, the sheepdog itself. Generally it's a herding dog, like a Border Collie or Australian Shepard (more here) who are naturally inclined towards herding. It's in their blood. With some training, you can get these dogs to herd animals (fear not, nobody gets hurt in the herding).
The handler, who is the dog owner, trains the dog to herd the sheep. The handler actually plays a big part in the herding because they are watching the dog and the sheep. The handler will give commands to the dog using a whistle, or sometimes yelling out to the dog. For instance, we heard them instruct the dog to "lie down" a lot to help slow the sheep and dog down in order to make the next move on the course.
For the competition, the dog must through the field, fetch the sheep, bring them through fences and gates, and then get in the pin, all directed by their handlers commands.
To start, the dog would run down the field to the sheep that were on the opposite end. As you can see, it's a large field. Probably why a whistle is needed!
Then the dog must round up the sheep and bring them back down the field and bring them through the gate. As you can see in the video, the dog & sheep were going pretty fast and missed the gate they were supposed to run through.
Once the group is near the handler, then they need to circle a tree, and then bring the sheep through two more gates - a gate on each side of the field. If only the dog's had the sheep's password - bah ram ewe!
After the two gates, they come back around to where the handler is standing. The handler picks two sheep, and the dog needs to sort them. Then they put the herd together again, and then round them into the pin. Here's another video where they dog and handler successfully get the sheep into the pin.