Herding Trial

Last weekend I competed in an AKC herding trial with both of my younger dogs, Maggie and Idgie. The trial was lovely, well-run and organized, the weather was sunny but not-to-hot, and the Whidbey Island farm where we stayed is always gorgeous. I love the drive to get there too. It’s a very nice weekend for camping in the trailer, and I rarely miss that trial because of it.


My dogs, however, didn’t perform as well as I might have hoped. Of course, it always comes down to one’s training; there is nobody to blame but the trainer! J


I ran Idgie on two different sheep courses- an open field course, and an arena course. She had nice outruns in the open field, but was way too pushy on both courses, moving the stock too quickly, which causes her to struggle to control them. And, she was “slicing”, or cornering too tightly, instead of offering nice “square flanks” where the dog’s turning does not affect the livestock’s course. Idgie ended up only passing one out of four runs, and her score was still not that great (though vastly better than last year at the same farm, so I guess she IS improving in some ways). But, I’ve hardly worked her on sheep in the last six months, so I guess I just need to brush her up on several things. She did call off nicely, every time, which I do appreciate. And, as always, she covers well—she will not lose an animal, which is something that many other handlers and other-breed owners cannot say about their dogs.


I only put Maggie on arena ducks, because she is struggling with flat outruns right now, as well as being able to listen to and process my commands while simultaneously using her brain to read and respond to the livestock. She worked hard on the ducks, and almost passed on Sunday. But, the ducks were very dogged from being worked at multiple trials during the season, and they were challenging for even the most experienced dogs.


Maggie does an excellent job of thinking on her own, she does not need me to tell her where to be or how to respond to stock movements, and she naturally gathers livestock together and moves them towards me if she is not given any instructions. Through much of her runs, I had few comments other than “good dog, wise choices.” I have worked hard with both dogs to teach them “intelligent disobedience” which is to override a command from me if they perceive that a different action should be taken. This is an important skill for a Border Collie, to be able to cover livestock in an open field, they cannot wait for us to tell them what to do or which way to go.


But, in young dogs, sometimes, they can take this freedom too liberally, it takes a long time to learn (and teach) good judgment. So, Maggie is going through a phase of using too much of her own judgment, and very frequently overrides my commands to push the stock in a direction I don’t prefer (usually she resists moving them away from me, as her gathering desire is very strong). So, we will have to work on that too. She is such a stylish worker though, I really hope I can craft her into a good trial dog.


So, I have my training work cut out for me. Hopefully getting my own sheep will really help. My fencing is just about done, so I’m staring to shop, hoping I can buy eight or so ewes in the near future.

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