Vashon Sheepdog Trials
Every year, Western Washington says goodbye to the summer and ushers in the autumn weather with one of my favorite local events: The Vashon Sheepdog Classic. What a way to spend a day; on a green slope overlooking the rolling hills of Misty Isle Farm, on Vashon Island, watching border collies stride across the land and bring sheep back to their handlers from hundreds of yards away.
Given my profession and my deep appreciation of dogs as animals, there is not much I enjoy more on this planet than witnessing dogs doing what they were bred to do. In this case, border collies and kelpies herding sheep in a beautiful setting!
“The first sheepdog trials were competitions held between shepherds to showcase the talents of their canine working partners. This also allowed the shepherds and farmers to be on the lookout for talented dogs to bring into their breeding programs and further the talent of their kennels.”
Border collies are known as the smartest breed of dog. A fantastic work ethic, paired with the intellect of a dog who can troubleshoot and “think on their feet”, makes for a great working partner on a farm.
On the flip-side, many owners of herding breeds find that their high intelligence and need to work can be problematic when the dog’s intellectual and energetic needs are not met. You can take the border collie out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the border collie…so to speak.
If you have a herding breed (German shepherd, Shetland sheepdog, Corgie, Australian cattle dog, Australian shepherd, Border Collie, etc.), I recommend giving your dog an opportunity to express their herding instinct in a constructive way. You can actually take your dog to a herding trainer and test your dog’s herding drive with actual sheep (or geese, in the case of smaller breeds). Check out the Washington Stockdog Association for recommended trainers or ask your local breed club for the trainers they recommend for herding.
Different herding breeds herd differently. A border collie is bred to cover long distances and look for sheep far off in the distance and bring them back. Australian Cattle Dogs were bred to move larger animals (cattle vs. sheep), shorter distances and in tight quarters, so their herding behavior is different.