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Australian trials


Liz P
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I am watching a video of an Aussie sheepdog trial and find myself wondering about a few things.

 

The handlers whistled constantly during the outrun but were not penalized for doing so. Why not?

 

The lift was taking the dogs several minutes. ???

 

The dogs all looked like purebred border collies, but they all carried their tails level with their back while running. While walking up or trying to get the sheep moving, they lifted them a bit higher and wagged them. It reminded me of a video I saw of pointing dogs with "happy tail." Is the Aussie border collie really that different? Or is there some local breed I haven't heard of before that looks like a border collie?

 

The "drive" involved the handler walking to one side of the sheep and the dog on the other. These were advanced level dogs. Why didn't the dog drive alone (why was the handler walking with them)?

 

There was no shed. Is it unusual to have to shed in Australia? Are there ISDS style trials?

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If you do a search you'll find a number of posts describing the different types of trials in Australia.

 

What was the video you watched?

 

Our trials here are vastly different to ISDS-style trials, and while there have been ISDS-style trials held here and there are people considering running them in future, it isn't a common type of trialling.

 

Our trials were developed independently and before the ISDS, so it isn't at all similar. Many of our early trials were held at agricultural shows, when people were already gathered in towns, so they're designed to be held on cricket fields and town ovals.

 

We have 3 sheep or arena trials, which are mostly border collies, and the rules for these differ from state to state. We don't have a national trialling body that sets rules- each state does their own thing, except for our annual Supreme, which kind of amalgamates rules from everywhere. Eg in my state you certainly do lose points for commands/whistles on the outrun- one point per command, and here you also will be disqualified for walking backwards or stopping while walking around the course, whereas in other states it's just a few points off.

 

We also have field trials, which are usually held in a paddock (ie field) and usually have different obstacles and longer casts (outruns); yard trials, which are just that- handler and dog working sheep through a set of yards; and utility trials- rare in other states but popular in my state, where the dogs work a few sheep in the paddock (field) and a larger number through the yards.

 

And then there's unofficial trials, which can have any rules- we've had casting trials (like the NZ long head), ISDS trials, mob-through-the-bush-with-few-rules trials, and then there's ANKC (like AKC), which isn't anything to do with our working sheepdog trials and few people do both.

 

The handlers whistled constantly during the outrun but were not penalized for doing so. Why not?

See above.

 

The lift was taking the dogs several minutes. ???

My dogs don't take several minutes to lift :lol: Wish they did...

We run on very light sheep (basically from large commercial flocks- is multiple thousands of sheep- we'd need about 600 sheep to get through an average trial here) that haven't been worked in small groups by dogs before, they are almost never reused (in my state, anyway), so they can be quite flighty, don't flock that well and aren't predictable with a dog or at all keen on people.

 

Our 3sheep courses are small- the fences aren't far away, and the lines are tight- a metre one way and you're losing points. Success in these trials involves "breaking the sheep in" during your run, ie getting them to walk quietly off the dog without losing too many points in the process. The most successful handlers tend to spend a lot of time bringing the sheep down the ground, breaking them in, so by the time they start the carry (the walking part) the sheep aren't trying to break as much and they will be easier to get around the rest of the course.

 

Having said that, I've watched a lot of 3sheep trials and I've never seen a decent dog take minutes to LIFT the sheep (except dogs that stick hopelessly, as one of mine has done, and then you just retire, no?). Minutes to bring them down on the draw, yes, but to actually lift? Would be interesting to know what video...

 

 

The dogs all looked like purebred border collies, but they all carried their tails level with their back while running. While walking up or trying to get the sheep moving, they lifted them a bit higher and wagged them.

All of them? Really?

Some dogs do that. There are some lines with kind of short tails that swing them up when they are turning quickly (which they do a lot trying to stop breaking sheep in our trials), and there are some dogs that hold them out straight behind- but that's more commonly seen in kelpies.

 

The wagging thing is still unusual here. People say it's much more common in NZ heading dogs- tail out behind them and doing a slow metronomic wag back and forth when showing intensity. One relatively famous local trialler has some dogs that do this- he came over for a clinic here and there was much comment on it. He's a Kiwi, and his dogs are from heading dog lines. I saw a couple of dogs do it at our recent Supreme- still uncommon and cause of some comment.

 

The "drive" involved the handler walking to one side of the sheep and the dog on the other. These were advanced level dogs. Why didn't the dog drive alone (why was the handler walking with them)?

We don't have a drive in our 3sheep trials. We have a carry. Handler walks a steady pace (no stopping, running, turning around) on a designated straight line, dog has to hold sheep in a corridor (usually 8-10metres) on their right. Sheep stopping + turning back, stepping one foot outside the corridor, moving more than a set distance (10 metres) in front or behind handler- points off.

 

The usual story is that the sheep we use for trials (usually merinos) are too difficult to drive. I don't know if this is true. We certainly drive in everyday work (although not usually small numbers), and it's in bigger paddocks. A friend of ours has trialled at a fairly high level in the UK and comes to help us with farmwork, and he drives with his dogs on our merino sheep, but again not usually in small numbers. The thing is that merinos straight out of the paddock, on a trial ground they often won't stick together and if you get a dog behind them they will often take off running in different directions. So most of our trial work involves holding sheep together.

 

In fact in our 3 sheep trials, if the dog ever crosses between the sheep and the handler (eg crossing on the cast, or at any other point in the trial), you're disqualified.

 

There was no shed. Is it unusual to have to shed in Australia?

We don't shed in our 3sheep trials.

 

Are there ISDS style trials?

See above.

 

Other differences you would have noticed are that we carry the sheep to obstacles (3 or 4, depending on state- usually gap, race, bridge and pen), and then the handler stands in a circle about 3 metres off to the side and is not allowed to assist the dog at all. If you wave your arms, or tap your leg, or shout in a way that the judge believes is influencing the sheep, you will either lose major points or be disqualified. The dog is supposed to be the only one influencing the sheep to go through that obstacle.

 

You can't progress on to the next obstacle until you've got all 3 sheep through, and you will lose points for every time the sheep so much as step around the sides of the obstacle.

 

At the pen, the handler is still in the circle, 3 metres from the gate, so no holding the gate and swinging it, waving arms to help the dog.

 

So lots of differences, not at all based on UK trialling. If you look at some NZ trials you'll find that they have a totally different system again- long heads, short heads, yarding trials, huntaway trials (zigzag courses- the dogs are supposed to bark all the way around).

 

Hope that helps.

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Here is a collection of a few clips from one of our arena trials. Just average dogs, people I know rather than a collection of the best of the best. Kind of shows the progression around the course.

 

ETA: just rewatched it, and wanted to clarify:

- the race is rarely handled that easily!

- there are a couple of dogs you'll see reversing off the sheep when their handlers stand at the post. That's on command- those pretty full-on dogs that want to come in on the sheep and are pretty intense, and their handlers have a reverse on them so they can relieve the pressure and allow the sheep to turn off them.

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I went back and watched it again. I was wrong, it's a "Short Head and Yard Trial" in NZ. I thought it was in Australia, but I had the sound turned low the first time I watched it and must have heard the location incorrectly.

 

3 sheep, outrun of several hundred yards, fetch, "drive" down a marked path during which they go through several sets of gates, then a pen. The lifts were very slow and involved the dogs taking a step forward, pausing and wagging their tails, taking one more step, wagging their tails again... This went on for several minutes before the sheep finally decided to move. None of the dogs barked; they all used eye (and maybe their tails?) to influence the sheep.

 

They only show the top 5 dogs' runs and they all had that tail carriage.

 

I am more curious about the difference I see in working style than anything else. I would almost go so far as to say they were a unique breed, closely related to Border Collies, but not quite the same.

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Thanks, mkj05, for that really nice explanation.

 

Just one question - you said that Australian trials predate ISDS trials. How about a little history? Where? When? This is fascinating. I have read some articles in the ISDS magazine about breeders and sheepdogs in Australia, and it's been interesting.

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3 sheep, outrun of several hundred yards, fetch, "drive" down a marked path during which they go through several sets of gates, then a pen. The lifts were very slow and involved the dogs taking a step forward, pausing and wagging their tails, taking one more step, wagging their tails again... This went on for several minutes before the sheep finally decided to move. None of the dogs barked; they all used eye (and maybe their tails?) to influence the sheep.

 

They only show the top 5 dogs' runs and they all had that tail carriage.

 

I am more curious about the difference I see in working style than anything else. I would almost go so far as to say they were a unique breed, closely related to Border Collies, but not quite the same.

Well, they're a weird mob, the Kiwis. Can't account for taste :P But then I'm still bitter about the World Cup... :lol:

 

Seriously, those were probably New Zealand Heading Dogs. A quick google can tell you more about them, but as I understand it, all fetching type eye dogs in NZ are known as heading dogs. This includes pure imported border collies, locally bred border collies, and locally bred dogs which may or may not be a distinct variety. As I said j my earlier post, Kiwi dogs are more likely to have a distinct style, more upright and often with the metronome tail. Some NZHDs have a distinct look, often leggy tris with wedgy heads and typical style. Mudpups has a thread in the photo section about her new pups, whose father is a NZHD. But having said that, I know some pure border collies from NZ, and some heading dogs of long NZ breeding that look and work basically like our UK bred dogs.

 

The NZ site has details about their types of trials, huntaway and heading dog. You'll probably find tight courses and judging details account for things like the whistling and slow lifting. My impression is that NZHDs are often quite strong and direct dogs, might be straight casting and relying on direction, because of the terrain. NZ training methods can involve some rather different stuff, like pulley systems for teaching straight lines on flanks etc. I know they also have a few ISDS style trials running now, not sure how many.

 

A couple of Kiwis, one running for Australia, ran NZHD types in the previous World trial, and you can find the video clips online. They did pretty well.

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Thanks, mkj05, for that really nice explanation.

 

Just one question - you said that Australian trials predate ISDS trials. How about a little history? Where? When? This is fascinating. I have read some articles in the ISDS magazine about breeders and sheepdogs in Australia, and it's been interesting.

I'm on a Palm device and still can't cut and paste :unsure: so hard to give you links... But there's a good little summary of some early trials by Barbara Cooper on the WKC website.

Does this work- WKC history

The first recorded trial here was supposed to be 1871 at Young NSW, won by Brutus, an imported dog whose descendents became kelpies.

 

Of course we still don't have a national standardised system of trialling like that coordinated by the ISDS for the UK, but it works for us :)

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That's a very interesting site, well-written, and full of information.

 

I think, as stated, that formalized trials were probably pre-dated by informal, local events - or maybe even just something rather spontaneous. Most everyone wants to prove their dog "the best", I am sure.

 

The history of the working-bred dogs, and of the trials, is fascinating. Thanks!

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Ok, I found some info on Heading Dogs. I think that must be what the dogs competing were. Very interesting to see the differences and similarities in working styles.

 

The wagging tails still do make me laugh though.

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That's a very interesting site, well-written, and full of information.

 

I think, as stated, that formalized trials were probably pre-dated by informal, local events - or maybe even just something rather spontaneous.

Oh yeah, I'm sure. But I think the dates of those early recorded trials help explain in part why we haven't just modelled our trials on the ISDS version. Someone asked me that a while back why, when the ISDS have provided such a well-known and accepted type of trialling, used internationally, would Australia not just use that- and was it just that we're proudly/pigheadedly independent in everything? The answer is probably more that by the time the ISDS was formed, we had a 35 year history of trials, and then there was the different logistics of holding trials here in the early decades. I guess the same probably applied to NZ.

 

It's fascinating, isn't it?

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Here's a NZHD competing (with well known and very successful Kiwi handler Bernard Arends, for Australia) at the 2008 ISDS World trial. They missed out on the final by one place I think. His other dog, perhaps his best at that time, was injured before she got to compete, but she has the rudder tail and does a lot of the slow wagging. They don't all do it, and usually only at certain times.

 

Jim Wilson also for NZ made the finals, also with a NZHD.

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