Just returned from the Labor Day Sheep Dog trials, sponsored by the WWSDA (Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association). It was very fun hanging out on the hillside, looking out over the course, watching these dogs do their work. Their work is to herd four sheep from far, far away through several gates, following the whistled and shouted instructions of their handlers, who are required, for most of the event, to stand on a sort of podium. The dogs are then required to herd the sheep into a pen, then the sheep are let loose from the pen, and the dog is supposed to herd them into a the nearby "shedding circle" in the grass and shed two of the sheep away, while keeping the other two inside the circle. This is supposed to get all finished up in 11 minutes. There are judges who award points or subtract points for missing gates, good speed, power, penning, etc. I don't have the scoring down, but it's got to be frustrating for the handler and the dog. I'm not sure what the sheep think. Annoyed perhaps?
Anyway, in one of the early trials, three sheep went on through a gate, but one refused to budge. So dog and sheep engaged in a stare down while the other three sheep trottted off. Finally, the dog nipped at the stubborn one, and got her to join the others. In sheep herding there are specific commands such as "Lie Down", which means of course that the dog needs to lie down so as not to "drive" the sheep so hard causing them to miss gates, or even worse, scatter so the frantic dog has to try to collect them. Occasionally, the handler would get so frustrated, they'd shout at the dogs things I shout at my own dog like: "What are you doing?" One guy got so frustrated, he through his shepherd's crook at the dog. I found that unpleasant. The later handlers and dogs seemed more in sync. The dogs were obviously more experienced and moved the sheep well, usually with few commands from the handlers. (If I ever figure out how to post pictures to my blog, I'll post some that I took today with my new camera)
A bunch of great friends from Quaker Meeting and from the eye pathology lab joined poodledoc, jr. and I for an entertaining day! If you've never been to a sheep dog trial, I recommend it. But, be sure to bring sunscreen. I didn't and it's the only thing I haven't enjoyed today. Silly me.