Herding livestock is one of the oldest jobs for dogs. There are many breeds of herding dogs as well as many styles of herding. For example, Schapendoes use a lot of fierce barking, movement, and body contact to get large livestock, or large numbers of livestock, to go. Stockdogs are used on many farms and ranches and mostly to work with cattle and sheep.

Today, herding dogs are also seen competing in Herding Trials all over the world. Quite often the people participating in this sport are not involved in the livestock industry but have an interest in working with their dogs to help preserve the instincts and abilities of the herding breeds.


Herding Instinct Test

The first step taken for most dogs and their handlers is to participate in a Herding Instinct Test. This test, as the name suggests, tests the dog’s instinct to herd. It allows you to see how your dog works, his drives, style, strengths, and weaknesses. During the test, a qualified tester will assess the dog and give you helpful information, tips, and strategies on how to work with your dog.

The Instinct Test is usually done in a round pen. This is to ensure that the sheep don’t hold up in a corner, making it more difficult for an inexperienced dog to move them. — Occasionally, however, a larger space is more suitable for some dogs who appear pressured in the small round pen. The dog is brought in on leash with the evaluator or tester taking the dog and introducing him to the sheep. The evaluator observes how the dog and sheep react to one another and will determine if and when the leash should be removed. The dog is encouraged to move to and among the sheep as the evaluator judges the dog’s actions.

During the Instinct Test, the evaluator is watching to see if the dog is non-aggressive, watching the stock, and controlling or trying to control the sheep’s movements. The tester evaluates whether the dog is “gathering” the sheep or trying to “drive” them. The tester will also watch the way the dog approaches the sheep; whether the dog likes to work wide or close; whether he barks or works quietly; if the dog is easily distracted or adjusts well to direction; how responsive the dog is to the evaluator; whether the dog groups the sheep or tries to split them up; and whether the dog has a natural “balance” on sheep.

Another variation of the Herding Instinct Test involves the use of five or six ducks as opposed to sheep. In this situation, the tester takes the dog on leash behind the flock and tries to encourage the dog to keep the flock together and move them at a slow, steady pace around the enclosure. Depending on the dog’s response, the exercise may be attempted off-leash as well.

Once a dog has had his instinct tested and has shown evidence of herding instinct, the next step is to find a facility and trainer. The trainer will provide individual instruction and attention to both the handler and the dog, and the training facility should have stock suitable for beginners as well as those who are more advanced.

The Herding Instinct Test is not a CKC recognized test and is open to all breeds, registered as well as non-registered.


Herding Trials — CKC Herding Level Requirements

The Canadian Kennel Club Herding Trials are open only to registered CKC dogs.

Judges determine the order of obstacles for each course. All trial levels require three qualifying legs under two judges and a core of 75 points, as well as the successful completion of each exercise. Handlers may not walk around any fenceline obstacles in these tests.

Herding Tested — HT (non-competitive class)

Two qualifying legs are required under two judges. Sheep are in the arena where the dog must pick them up in a calm, controlled manner. Once the dog has brought the sheep to the handler, the handler can walk around each obstacle, with the dog working steadily to keep the sheep gathered as they move around the course. The dog must demonstrate a brief pause, stop or down somewhere along the way. At the end of the course, the sheep are re-penned. The judge is in the arena and may walk with the handler or stand to one side. Judges may make suggestions, but may not handle the dog. No points are awarded.

Herding Started — HS

Handlers demonstrate their dogs’ skills in controlling the sheep on a fenceline and stopping when asked, even if “off-balance,” and their ability to take livestock out of a pen. There are three obstacles that the handler cannot walk through, and one chute that the handler can. The dog has to demonstrate a hold at the exhaust pen and then help re-pen the sheep.

Herding Intermediate — HI

The dog must take the flock from the pen, then dog and handler must wait until the judge feels the sheep have settled sufficiently, the dog is called off the stock, calmly and under complete control of the handler. Next, the dog is placed approximately 50 feet from the sheep to perform an “outrun,” where the dog leaves the handler and runs in a wide arc toward and behind the flock, to get the sheep moving toward the handler. The “lift” occurs when the sheep begin to move calmly toward the handler, with the dog moving in a straight line and at a steady pace. Obstacle work follows, after which there is a small drive using the fenceline to help control the stock as the dog moves them ahead of the handler in a straight line. Finally, the sheep are herded through a freestanding chute, held in place next to the exhaust pen, then driven into the pen to complete the test.

Herding Advanced — HA

There is a “take” pen, a drive and settle, a 150-foot outrun, lift, fetch, three fenceline obstacles, a free-standing obstacle and an exhaust pen. There is a handler’s line, which must run through the centre point of the arena in any direction. At certain parts of the test, the handler cannot cross this line but must direct the dog from the centre of the arena as the dog herds the stock around obstacles at the far end of the arena. When working close to the dog, the handler cannot walk through any obstacle. Dogs must work calmly and leave calmly when called off the stock.

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