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Herding Lessons and Herding Trials 101--Questions?


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Hi all,


I currently do not use my BC for herding in any way as she is only five months old, but I would like to do this with her one way. I don't know at this moment if I'd like to compete with her or not; right now I'm leaning to just taking lessons and us learning it and doing it together just for fun, and to let her do what she was bred to do. After that, we'll see where we go. I'm not planning on doing anything with her along these lines for a few more years, just would like to learn a little about it now. Right now my husband and I share one vehicle and he has it most of the day, plus with him being in the Army we move around frequently; too often to really get settled in one area and into many ongoing activities for us as well as her. When he gets out in two years (if he does) is when I plan on starting her on lessons.


I don't know much about it; so if someone could please answer my questions, I'd appreciate it.


1. What is the difference in between the different experience levels and classes at trials: nov/nov,nov/pro, open, ranch, and any others I may have left out? Are open and ranch (and any others) only open to experienced teams or can novice teams enter them as well? Is it best for novice teams to stick to the novice class even if they're eligible to enter the other classes?


2. What is required in each class and what are the requirements to move up to more advanced classes? Are the sheep in the novice classes breeds that are easier to handle and ones that are used to being handled by dogs, and inexperienced ones at that? How many sheep are worked in the different classes?


3. What are the requirements, if any, for dogs to be entered? OFA checks, age requirements, etc. She is ABCA registered and has had all her shots with the exception of bordetella (kennel cough); but she's not currently OFA checked, nor has she been checked for CEA yet, if that makes a difference. Even if those exams aren't required, is it still a good idea for her to have them done, both for general purposes and to make sure she's fit to herd? Should she get the bordetella vaccine before going to a trial?


4. Herding terminology: come by, away to me, outruns, penning, etc. I've learned a little just from reading other's posts, but not much.


5. Putting aside travel expenses, what are the other expenses involved in lessons and trials? Lesson and entry fees, things like that.


6. What are the basic things you need to purchase for lessons or trials and any recommendations for certain kinds or brands? Whistle, shepherd's crook, dog gear, etc? Any certain products or companies recommended?


7. When will she be old enough to start lessons? Anything related I can do with her in the meantime? I've got a Kong toy tied on a long string and I bounce and drag it along on the ground and let it sit still sometimes; and even with as many speed and direction changes I make when it's moving, she can catch it every time even though I don't make it easy for her. When I keep it still, she's already creeping up on it in a herding crouch from several feet away and when I break away with it sharply to the side when she's almost on it, she'll break with it right away and get back on it. She has excellent eye and focus.


Any other advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance! Especially tips on how to gracefully handle being humiliated in front of many strangers because your dog chose to drag you through sheep poop or roll in it themselves, knocked the pen down and let all the sheep get away, etc. :rolleyes:

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I second Mark's recommendation of littlehats.net --it's full of the sort of information you're looking for. I'll take a stab at some answers, but if you went to see a trial it would all be much clearer to you, plus I think you'd find it very interesting. I forget exactly where you are, but I see there's going to be a trial Jan 8-9 in Carnesville, GA -- is that anywhere near you?


1. The different levels vary a bit in different regions, but here's a general outline:


Novice/Novice is the beginning class. Handler stands at the post and sends the dog to gather sheep about 75-100 yards away and bring them to the handler. Then the handler walks to and through a set of gates perhaps 40(?) yards away, with the dog bringing the sheep along and keeping them with the handler. After the sheep pass through the gates, they all go to a pen and the dog puts the sheep into it.


Pro/Novice is the next level. The course is basically the same, generally with a little longer outrun (125-150 yards or so), but after the dog brings the sheep to the handler, the handler must stay at the post while the dog drives the sheep to and through the gates, and then to the pen, where the handler opens the pen gate and the dog puts the sheep in the pen.


Open Ranch is the next level. The outrun is longer -- usually 200-300+ yards -- and after the dog brings the sheep to the handler he must drive them on a triangular course through two different sets of gates, perhaps 300-450 yards in all, ending at the pen, where dog and handler pen the sheep.


Open class is the top level. The outrun can be anything up to 600-700 yards (although shorter outruns of 300 yards or so are more common in the east. The drive and pen are the same as Open Ranch, but there is also a shed (or sometimes two), in which the dog must separate one or two sheep off from the others and take control of them so as to keep them from returning to the other sheep. The judge and course director set the course, and they can choose to incorporate elements different from these, but this is the standard format. There is a more detailed explanation of the Open course in the USBCHA rules here.


Note: There are some parts of the country where there are only three classes; there's no class called Open Ranch, and Pro-Novice is like a slightly easier Open Ranch course. There's also a Nursery Class nationwide, which is the same as the Open Ranch course but is limited to young dogs (roughly up to 3 years old; currently dogs born on or after 7/1/02 are eligible to run in nursery). There is no age limit in the other classes.


There's no rule to prevent a novice from entering Open Ranch or Open, but it would be silly to do so, because once you and your dog have run in a higher class you can't move back down to a lower class. The basic etiquette is not to enter a class higher than you and your dog can manage without risking mistreatment or undue stress to the sheep.


2. Generally, you move up to a higher class when you feel you're ready to move up. Some local clubs require, in trials they sanction, that you must move up after you've won or placed highly in a certain number of trials. Trial hosts generally try to have easier sheep for Nov/Nov and sometimes Pro/Nov, but it's up to the trial host -- not all can do that, or choose to do that. In all classes, the dog generally works a group of 3 to 5 sheep.


3. There are no registration requirements for entry, and no health check requirements. Usually the trial host will require rabies and parvo vaccinations, but that's up to the individual trial host, and some may require more. I've never heard of anyone requiring bordetella, and I wouldn't bother with it. I don't think OFA or CEA checks have much direct applicability to trialing (except at the finals, where eye exams are required) -- you'd do it or not do it for other reasons.


4. "Come by" tells the dog to move clockwise in relation to the sheep; "away to me" tells the dog to move counterclockwise in relation to the sheep. Everything else is pretty self-evident. Oh, except "that'll do" is a recall; it means stop what you're doing and come back to me. The outrun is when the dog runs out wide to get behind his sheep; the lift is when he takes control of them and starts them moving; fetching is when he brings them from where they are toward the handler; driving is when he moves them away from the handler to somewhere else; penning is putting them in a free-standing small rectangular pen; shedding is separating one or two sheep off from the others.


5. Entry fees are determined by the trial host. Figure $15 to $25 for the novice classes, and about $30 to $35 for open, but it can certainly vary from those ranges. Fees for clinics and lessons vary too much to be very specific.


6. Equipment is very minimal. You'll need a collar and leash. It's good to get a whistle, because it takes a while to learn to blow it, but no reason not to start with a $3.00 plastic number. A crook or a white stock stick is commonly used but is really optional, at least at first. If you get a crook, the lightweight sweet chestnut ones are fairly inexpensive. Most of the time I use a PVC pipe bent into a crook shape -- also very light, virtually indestructible, and you can't beat the price. Trainers vary in the training implements they like to use -- long lines, rattle paddles, boogie bags, etc. You might as well wait and see what the trainer you go to prefers. Whatever it is, it won't be expensive.


7. You could give her a try on sheep at 10-12 months. In the meantime, the main thing you can do is to work with her a lot so that she knows what a correction means and responds appropriately, comes when she's called, and is generally responsive to you.


Nothing will prepare you for the humiliation you will encounter. Just think of it as character-building.

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Hi Mark and Eileen,


Thanks for the Little Hats link. I've already looked at it and there was a lot of good information on there; so I'm sure I'll be referring back to it quite often.


Eileen, that was some very good information, thank you. It was what I needed to know, I'm going to print this post out so I can have it to refer back to as well.


I looked it up on Mapquest and Carnesville, GA is up at the top part of the state. I'm near Savannah down at the very bottom of the state; close to the GA/SC border. It's a five hour drive, but maybe we can work it in to go to it; or find one closer to us in SC to go to. If we do, I'm going to take Lily so she get some exposure to the sheep and dogs working sheep by watching from the sidelines. Her sire and dam both work cattle, to the best of my knowledge she hasn't seen any sheep, just cattle and horses.

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We haven't gotten any here yet, just lots of rain and sleet. My mom lives near Atlanta and we went up there for a few days before Christmas, it snowed while we were there. I'm surprised it hasn't snowed yet here though. It's pretty chilly here too; the average night temperature lately has been 22-35 degrees.


The thing about winters in the South that makes it feel so cold and miserable is the humidity; it's that wet cold that sinks into your bones. I've never liked that about living in the south; I prefer the drier cold of Colorado winters over here.


Thanks for the link; I'm looking at it now.

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Not yet I'm planning on calling Joel tonight to set something up for Thursday (hopefully) and we'll go from there. Most of the dogs are getting a workout playing ball games with Renee's brother. Duncan should sleep for a week or two after we get home.


Any news on Sam's farm hunt and farm sale?



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Randy and I are driving to Cumberland tomorrow to look at a log cabin on 70 acres..supposed to be all open and gently rolling...Let me tell ya though, realtors can cram a whole lot of different things within those parameters I am finding...Some lady called from CA, apparently her dad or granddad was born here on our farm and she sounds pretty hot to get it, but again you know how that goes...Hows the vacation going?

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