No fences. No electric prods. No ropes. Just dogs. Doing what they were born to do: herd, gather, sort, move, fetch, drive and hold livestock.
For centuries, dogs have kept watch over the herd for us. Herding dogs will herd anything that flocks: ducks, geese, goats, sheep and cattle. Many of their names are familiar and obvious: border collie, shepherd, sheep dog, cattle dog, mountain dog.
As herding dogs are used less and less on farms across the U.S., herding trials continue to preserve and develop the herding skills and other useful functions that many dogs were originally bred for.
Since 1989, American Kennel Club (AKC) herding competitions have used standardized tests with artificial simulations of pastoral or farm situations to measure and develop the characteristics of herding breeds. The purpose of using dogs to herd is to keep the livestock calm and confident. In order to do that successfully, the dog must maintain control of the stock and the handler must have control of the dog. In other words, the dog knows "how" and the handler must know "when and where." Trials test that relationship through prescribed courses and various obstacles.
In Minnesota, there are several herding clubs and trainers to help owners condition and train their dogs to compete in herding trials. A good place to start investigating the sport is the Great River Stockdog Club of Minnesota, www.greatriversdc.org, an AKC-approved livestock herding club that sponsors all-breed herding dog trials featuring sheep and ducks. The group also hosts seminars and other fun activities for dogs and their owners.
To find out if your dog has the chops and instincts for herding, beginners can contact JoAnna Yund, the owner of Training Camp, Inc., www.trainingcampinc.com. Along with one-on-one lessons, Yund has developed a classroom seminar, Herding 101, designed to help owners understand the basic principles of herding including terminology, training, and the roles played by the handler, dog and livestock.
The allure of taking on such a time-consuming and difficult canine sport is allowing your dog to heed its call of the wild. "I got into doing herding with my first border collie because I wanted to do something that he was born to do," Yund says. "The sporting people have known for a long time that it is very rewarding to take their dogs out hunting. It's just really special to watch your dog do what he was born to do."
La Donna Seely is a volunteer for A Rotta Love Plus, www.arottalove.org, an award winning rottweiler and pit bull rescue, adoption and education organization.