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Awakening Herding Instincts

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Strafford, Vermont

The handler and his border collie stand in the field, waiting for their turn to run the course. Chairs and spectators line the dirt road that runs along the field. Border collies sleep under chairs or in the cool shade of a tree waiting their turn. At one end of the field, a border collie and its owner stand side by side. Without an audible sound to the crowd, the handler sends his border collie to find and gather the sheep high on a hill lined with maple trees. Did he murmur a command or was it the motion of his hand that signaled his dog to take off in pursuit of the small flock of sheep? The judges start their stop watches, and so begins this dog’s run at the sheep trials.

Steve and his dog wait their turn to run the course.

The Sheep Dog Trials at Steve Wetmore’s farm in Strafford, Vermont has become one of my favorite summer events. It is magical watching the way that the handler and dog work as one. Though most dog trials are held in an open field, on Steve’s farm, the dogs must run up a steep hill to the edge of the woods to gather the sheep and run them through the course. With a whistle or gentle command from the handler, the border collie gathers the sheep and runs them through a course that leads the flock down the hill, across a stream, through a series of gates and to a gathering pen. Judges evaluate each team for workmanship, skill, and speed. Each dog has its own style of working the sheep. Through the course of the day, the spectators learn how distinctly different each dog works the sheep, and that each trainer has their unique way of communicating with their dog.

Handler watches…
…while his border collie gathers the sheep.
Kai watches attentively.

This year we took Kai, our young border collie along to watch from the stone wall. Kai will not be ready to train with sheep for many months, but now is the time to arouse his herding instincts which border collies are known for. He watched with much interest as the dogs rounded the sheep up and brought them close. Every time a handler blew their whistle, Kai’s ears perked up and he turned to look at me as if looking to me for direction. All of these behaviors show his keen interest in sheep awakening.

The next sheep dog trial in VT will be at the Quechee Scottish Festival & Celtic Fair in late August.


One Response

  1. thecrazysheeplady

    I love watching our local dog trials :-).