The World Sheepdog Trials have come to an end, and what an amazing experience it was. Dogs, sheep, mud, sun, rain, mud, wind, sweet hot tea, a potpourri of languages, a sea of rain coats and rain pants, mud, inspiration, amazement, wellies, mud, and dogs, dogs, dogs. You can learn more about them, and see all the results at 2011 World Sheepdog Trial.
The 16 dogs and handlers that ran yesterday in the finals were truly some of the best of the best. The sheep here are challenging: so reactive that my friend Peg who ran on the U.S.team and came over early to practice said it took her 3 days to be able to drive them in a straight line (and that’s saying a lot, she was on the World Team for heaven’s sake!). The course was a killer: with the first outrun about 450 -500 yards up a hill to the right, then the dog leaves those 10 sheep and “looks back” to run a half of a mile (yes, really, I”m not exaggerating) to the left to gather another 10.
Here is a dog bringing the first group toward the fetch panels (the sheep have to be brought in a straight line to the handler, through a set of free standing panels). You can just barely see where the second group of sheep are set out: count 4 trees from the left; the sheep are set out beyond the hill you can just see in the background.
Several dogs needed help from their handlers (in the form of extra whistles, each of which loses you some points), but all the dogs found each set of sheep. Then the 20 sheep were driven through two drive panels about 200 yards each away from the handlers. Then the fun began: 5 sheep of each 20 had orange collars on. For the “International Shed” as it is called, the team is to split out the uncollared sheep from the flock. Doing so takes an incredible amount of team work between the dog and the handler. The dog’s job is to keep the orange collared sheep back, the handler’s to split off the uncollared ones. Of course, the sheep haven’t read the program. You may get a collared sheep who is determined to join the others who have left already, or an uncollared one who is the lamb of a collared. You get the picture, it’s terrifically difficult. The handlers have to know sheep as well as their own species, and be able to know what the sheep are about to do before they do themselves. The dogs have to be both split-second obedient and also to make a great many decisions on their own. The pressure on everyone is enormous.
Here’s part of the shed with Serge van der Zweep and Eve (who came in 2nd). You can see how Eve is holding the collard ewe back. The already split off uncollared ones are off to the right.
Here Serge has manuevered the sheep so that an uncollared one is in the right position to split it off and he is moving toward it to push it off. See how Eve is still focused on holding the collared one back. A perfect example of teamwork.
If the shed was successful (often it was not, the team of handler and dog could spend 15-20 minutes in the attempt and then run out of time. At the end of the day the sheep got more difficult to work, and several dogs ended up “gripping,”which is an automatic DQ. None of the “bites” were seriously, one was actually no more than a muzzle punch, but rules are rules and regettably both US handlers were DQ’d because of grips. Tommy Wilson had a brilliant run going, and was almost done with his shed before his truly lovely dog Sly ended up in trouble at the last minute. Darn!)
If the sheep were successfully shed, the sheep had to be penned. Four judges added their scores together, and the overwhelming winner was a break your heart run by James McGee and Becca from Ireland. We saw the run in detail on a television special Sunday night (complete with slow mo, close ups, and fantastic camera work) and it was as beautiful a thing as I’ve ever seen. Best of all was the obvious love between James and Becca during an interview afterwards. They pure and simply adored each other, and it was a wonderful thing to see. As in all dog-related endeavors, not all the handlers are as kind to their dogs as I wish they were, but James absolutely glowed with his love for Becca.
After each run, field workers sent their dogs to pick up the sheep. We managed a good spot at a fence (not an easy task, since we were the only ones there without Wellies and had to wade through lakes of mud in our traveling shoes). But it was worth it, we had a good spot to watch and a great advantage point to get some photos of the ‘pick up’ dogs working the sheep off the field.
We’re off now for a train to London. What a switch that will be! I’ll write another blog when I can get back online with some photos of the area. The Lake District of northern England is drop dead gorgeous.
I must say I did enjoy my first ever trial, though as you say it was disappointing that not all handlers (or even just regular owners) were not always as considerate of their dogs as they could have been. I did experience the other side of the coin too, on Sunday I took Inka with me. He is a failed sheepdog, and can be anxious at times, but he made a few “friends” while we were there.
That would be my dream vacation..to see the World trials…or even the US National finals which happened to be this past weekend as well. I did get to see some of the Bluegrass Trial this year…I was truly awed by those dogs!!!
Just been watching the Final on MoreFour – that is a huge course, with some serious mud! There is a reason why the Lake District is green all year around…
Laura Atwood says
Just watched the finals at the Meeker Classic in Meeker, CO two weekends ago – same course, with a double lift and then penning the 5 sheep. Beautiful and humbling to watch these dogs and their handlers work together. My husband was fascinated too – he’s a wildlife biologist and loved watching what he called “the controlled predator/prey dance”.
I’ve seen bits and pieces on telly a few times over the years, but the only trial I’ve ever seen in person was a local one near me. Bless them, they tried hard and it was more than I can do, but it was sort of like if the only equestrian event you’d ever seen was the medal rounds of dressage at the Olympics and then you went to a local schooling show at We’ve Got Horseys! Farm. HUGE difference.
The whole time I was reading I kept thinking “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”‘ Maybe if the dogs just talked very sweetly to the sheep, they would pen themselves? 🙂
I’ve never had a Border Collie and will likely never run sheep, but I love seeing pictures and videos of them working! It’s truly a thing to behold, especially the partnership between the dog and the handler.
Some people love watching football or basketball, I love love love watching dogs herding sheep! Thank you so much for this wonderful report about the trials.
For those of you who are interested, a portion of James Mcgee’s 2010 run with Becca is on youtube. 2011 isn’t up yet, but look forward to seeing it! This clip from 2010 really gives a great idea of the setting and what these dog/handler teams are dealing with.
So lovely to hear about and wonderful to watch!
We only went for one day (Saturday) due to a concelled agility trial (working sheepdogs obviously tougher than agility dogs!) I was amazed at the skill of dogs and handlers – never been to a trial of this standard before – really inspired me to start working my dogs.
Patricia – How did you mange without wellies!!
Zowie! As a person who has never owned a herder nor ever even contemplated working sheep, I always watch the bits of sheep trials I manage to see with my mouth hanging open. Very different to the hunt trials that I’ve seen. That, I can understand, and if I wanted to hunt my dogs, (which I do NOT), I have at least a good idea how I’d go about training. It’s like the difference between watching a professional football game (the players are better than me by far, but I know HOW to play) and watching a professional acrobat (my mind boggles).
What a beautiful place and thrilling event!
How absolutely awesome to get to see this live! It must have been breathtaking to see these dogs, at the top of their game, doing what they were bred to do. I imagine the tingles I get when watching hounds scent…
Very cool! Enjoy London! It’s a gorgeous city.
Fascinating stuff! Thanks for the report and pix Tricia. I’d love to see a trail some time. I’ll have to keep an eye out for events here in WI.
I’m sorry you were there without boots! I had boots and managed to keep my feet dry and clean but it was difficult. Epic mud. I would have liked to have met you while you were there. I was there all 4 days and had a wonderful time, 9 days total in the Lakes District which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited.
I know you are on holiday, Tricia, but just in case you get involved in any dog stuff in London you may like to be aware of the absolute fury generated throughout UK dog circles by the antics of a new dog training and behaviour “expert” on national television – the BBC, no less! He is 21, completely untrained, unqualified and inexperienced, and “cured” a Jack Russell terrier with resource guarding issues by repeatedly shoving it away with his foot until it exploded, and then eventually shut down. For a summary of the story so far see: http://coldwetnose.blogspot.com/2011/09/one-show-foot-in-mouth.html or a quick browse of facebook will give a good idea of just how much reaction there has been to this.
Thank you for taking the time to describe this to us! It is a glimpse into an unknown world to me. You make it sound very interesting.
My German Shepherd and I are learning how to herd sheep and he works so differently than the border collies the trainer has. Once when I was having difficulty figuring out what I was supposed to be getting my gsd to do, she let me work one of her dogs and it was one of the highlights of my life! The natural, primal instinct of the dog and how it relates and reacts to the sheep was amazing and being a partner in that process was such a unique experience. My poor guy is suffering from my learning curve. Thanks for these photos!
Fjm, I just watched that. OH MY GOD.
Show me where Jordan Shelley lives. I’ll go to his house and whenever he tries to eat I’ll come by and take his plate away and see how HE reacts.
The sad part is that resource guarding is usually one of the easiest things to cure with positive methods. We used the “I’ll come around and give you yummy cheese while you are eating!” method and it worked in about 3 days. Mind you it was a puppy, doing typical puppy food-bowl guarding that often happens if they’ve been fed in small groups. Harder with an adult dog but the concept is the same and you have a dog who not only doesn’t growl, but is perfectly thrilled to see you come by his food dish.
Patricia thank you SO MUCH for giving a glimpse of stockwork to your readers and (hopefully) the behavior community. I am so sorry you didn’t have your boots, but that is all part of the experience, right?
I am happy you enjoyed yourself and hope that you’ll continue to travel and see other stockwork events as they are all over the US thanks to the hard work of volunteers in ASCA, AKC, AHBA & USBCHA.
And Cindy – BC’s are what is referred to as an Eye Dog where GSD’s, like Aussies are typically Upright Workers. So there is a serious learning curve as they way they use pressure is different. For you to learn how to read your stock is a huge step in the right direction. 🙂 Have fun!
I don’t want to hijack the thread, Beth, but if you keep an eye on the Cold Wet Nose blog spot and follow the facebook links you will get some idea of the uproar!
chloe De Segonzac says
I love to watch herding trials. The precision, the understanding of dog/human/sheep. It is beautiful. the trust needed to train such a dog, the effort of understanding cross species.
Recently there has been some huge controversies in the dog world. The idiotic article titled ‘Will the dog eat my baby’, The horrible trainer who threw a muzzled dog in a wall, and a new ‘Cesar Milan’ type trainer ie dogs want to take over, we must show them who’s boss.
How can we be clearer and help our dog friends in spreading the word about the long term success of positive training. Could you address these issues? Thank you
Chloe, oh yes, “those issues!” They’ve been going on ever since I started in dogs (and long before) and I’ve spent my life’s work trying to address them. We just have to keep modeling humane (and effective) training, write, speak and get the word out as well as we can. We need more “TV-ready” positive trainers, given that television has such power. Victoria Stilwell is a beacon of light in a dark and dim pool of trainers on TV, but we need more like her.
chloe De Segonzac says
You are so right about the tv!
I’ve heard lots of people compare this guy to Cesar, and honestly I see no comparison. I’ve seen Cesar handle resource guarding many times, and I’ve NEVER seen him do anything close to this. I have seen him do hand-feeding.
I also think that some of the critics of Cesar fail to give him credit for some very important things he’s done. He stresses exercise over and over to people who have dogs as surrogate children and accents to their decor. He also talks a lot about the importance of structure and on how to meet the needs of the dog. He does a lot of work educating people on how to give housepets “jobs” to keep them busy. He talks about the need of dogs to socialize with other dogs and learn from them. Yes, I agree that many positive trainers talk about these things too, but sorry to say a lot of them were not doing a good job getting that message out there to the general public; they were often only speaking to people who were already dog-savvy.
The other thing that a lot of critics seem to miss is the number of dogs he had on early on who had been to multiple trainers, most of whom recommended euthanasia. Having known a very nice dog who was euthanized for out-of-control dog aggression, I can honestly say that if Cesar had offered to show up and work with the dog, the family would have jumped on it. Two other well-recommended local trainers refused to even work the the dog, as is often the case with real aggression (as in attacking to kill, not posturing). There are very few trainers out there who take on purposeful aggression.
What this guy on the BBC did is not even dominance-theory training; it’s teasing a dog til it reacts, then punishing it for that. This is NOT an old-fashioned method, it’s dog abuse, and even most of the dominance-theory trainers have spoken out against this BBC guy.
The good news is that he has now been dropped from the show, following universal condemnation of his methods (well, except for some messages of support from friends and teenage girls, and even those were thin on the ground). The bad news is that he does not seem to understand why there has been such an outcry, and will therefore continue to “treat” dogs. Roll on certification!
chloe De Segonzac says
BTW great article in the Sept/Oct Bark mag. Really enjoyed it and SO perfect right now!
Ellen Bass (a great poet) also had a wonderful poem in the same issue.
chloe De Segonzac says
Here is a link to the fabulous and funny video made for LED lights. Sheep herding game.
Rachel Simpson says
It was thrilling to read your account of and see your pictures from the World Sheepdog Trials! I just wish I could’ve been there to see it, too. I did get to watch the National Trials from Carbondale via webcast over the past weekend and that was quite exciting to watch, too. Your friend, Alidair MacCrae, took the honors there, Trisha, with Star. He and his wife, Kathy, did quite a bit of commentary for the live webcast, too, which was interesting to hear.
I have a young border collie, Pete, and he and I are both in training for sheepherding. It has been quite a challenge to learn! Pete, who is 17 months old, is doing quite well. Me, on the other hand, well, I feel like a complete klutz out there, and I’m afraid that because of my inexperience, that I am confusing the heck out of the poor little guy! I am planning on doing some volunteer work at a farm with handlers and sheep to gain more experience and learn to feel comfortable working with them. I watched Pete work with my trainer, and it was so beautiful to watch that young guy, it literally brought tears to my eyes. I don’t want to mess that up. If you have any helpful suggestions, they sure would be welcome!!
As for the guy on the BBC show, I went to the Dogs Today website and read the first post about the couple that tried to use the same methods on their dog and how their grandchild ended up getting bit and the dog was put down. This sort of thing just makes me burn! I can not tell you how many times I have talked to people who have been bitten after trying the Cesar Milan roll technique. It’s disgusting, and very frustrating. It is a good thing that so many spoke out against this guy and they are taking his segment off the show. Good riddance!!
@Amyinseattle- you are so right! Stosh watches the BCs work and at home he tries to imitate them when we’re playing frisbee- he crouches down low and drops his head into that staring position, it’s so funny to watch. He’s very gentle with the sheep but he works a lot closer, sometimes even bumping them with his chest. I think that’s good advice, I do need to spend more time learning the sheep.
Rachel, don’t worry, we all feel like idiots when we start trying to work a dog on sheep. Best advice is to practice WITH someone who knows what they are doing and uses humane and effective methods [so it sounds like you’re doing just the right things!] Next, work the sheep yourself! You really can’t work well with a dog until you understand the sheep, so try herding them yourself as often as you can; it’ll teach you to start looking for their ‘intention movements’ so that you can read where they are thinking about going. It all looks so easy when the big hats do it, but juggling the activity of 3 species in real time is like playing 3 dimensional chess with rocket ships! Everything happens SO FAST! You’ll get used to it (or more so anyway, I’m still in the process!)
Rachel, I’ve been doing agility (not as hard as herding) and I know what you mean about feeling like you are holding your dog back. When I learned to ride horses, you always learned on a made horse and no responsible person would pair a green horse with a green rider. But of course dogs are so different, often only working really well for their primary caregiver, and when we take up a new dog sport we are learning right with our dogs.
I sometimes feel a bit bad because Jack could be competition-level now in agility, easily, if he had been paired with an experienced handler. But such is the learning curve, and my learning curve is definitely steeper than my dog’s. Last classy I nearly ran into the tunnel myself. Sometimes I’m still trying to get my own legs uncrossed while my dog is taking random obstacles, saying “aroo, A-rooooo” and wondering when the heck I’m going to tell him where to go next.
Have you ever been to the Montpelier Fall Festival and Sheepdog Trials at Montpelier Station, VA? One of the events in the book, Nop’s Trials. A very good weekend in the beginning of October. It’s today and tomorrow.