About the Herding Dog
Britain has long been home to the herding dog. From Neolithic times, through the Roman Empire occupation and up to the present day, herding breeds have always “pushed” livestock over British terrain. Early herding dogs were large, powerful animals that, while rough with stock and difficult to control, nevertheless displayed an instinct to gather sheep.
In the nineteenth century, the need for a more versatile dog, one with a gentler temperament and a more malleable nature, became apparent. Small farmers, who could not afford to feed several dogs, required one that could not only gather sheep with a keen eye but also swiftly hunt game and sniff out sheep buried in snow. Dependent to such a large extent on his dog, the farmer also needed the animal to develop a close working partnership based on cooperation, affection and respect. Because this dog would work far afield from his master, it would also have to possess sensitivity to the human voice, whistle and gesture.
Several breeds were introduced into the strain of these early herding dogs. Fleet of foot and quiet by nature, the Whippet added its specific traits to the herding breeds. To provide a “good nose” and a “strong eye,” pointers and setters were also bred with the herding stock. Eventually a dog possessing superior athletic ability, a light and quick movement, a canny livestock sense and a tractable temperament sensitive to a handler’s will but independent enough to work without constant direction emerged from the crossbreeding. In 1894, in Northumbria, was a mediæval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, Adam Tefler introduced the first of what would become known as the modern Border Collie.
Photo courtesy of TK Inc.
The Border Collie’s ancestors appeared in the United States during the mid-eighteenth century as working companions to immigrant British farmers. As early settlers moved farther west, so too did the herding collie.
In 1849 gold was discovered in California, and miners’ camps sprang up throughout the west. Wildlife food sources were soon depleted. To provide meat to these camps’ residents, herders on horseback and their hard-working dogs moved large numbers of cattle and sheep to lucrative western markets. Recognizing that the vast Plains’ grasslands and the Rockies’ lush mountain valleys would allow extensive grazing operations, sheepmen from the Scottish Borders area imported their sheep, collie dogs and native herdsmen to support an emerging sheep ranching industry. Since the herders were paid in land, sheep, cash or a combination, they were progressively able to actuate the American dream of land possession.
As these immigrants exchanged sheep herding for sheep ownership, they employed other nationalities, notably Basques, as contract herding labor. Today, in Colorado, South American herdsmen, primarily Chileans and Peruvians have replaced most of the Basque shepherds. Yet while the human element in the American sheep industry may have changed complexion, the talented Border Collie has remained constant. The breed continues to flourish as the dominant working herding dog in the United States.
Photo courtesy of DKH Productions
THE BORDER COLLIE
While the Meeker Classic welcomes any herding breed, the Border Collie predominates. Physical appearance has no strict standard. You will see smooth, medium or rough-coated dogs. Colors are black, black and tan, and reddish-brown, all usually with white markings. Although appearances may differ, the working style of the Border Collie is distinctive. The dog moves with its head low to the ground, its hindquarters high and its tail tucked between its legs. This unique position exhibits the very traits inherited from the Border Collie’s ancestral breeding.
This dog was bred to gather, not drive, sheep. Hence, it works calmly and swiftly without barking or nipping (Whippet influence), unlike some other herding breeds. The intense gaze or “eye” (pointer/setter influence) wills the sheep to obey. Bred to “clap” or face the sheep head-on with its belly close to the ground, the Border Collie controls by imitating the stance of a predator. The successful dog combines all these characteristics to elicit respect, not fear, from the sheep. With its flock under control, the dog herds with calm precision, lightning quick reflexes, an uncommon intelligence and an innate desire to please. Keep these points in mind as you enjoy the fieldwork of these amazing dogs at the Meeker Classic.
For more information on Border Collies: http://americanbordercollie.org
HISTORY OF DOG TRIALS
Conventional wisdom has it that the first trials were held by farmers testing the mettle of their dogs. The earliest recorded dog trial, however, was on October 9, 1873, in Bala, Wales. Three hundred spectators braved the wet and cold to witness a Scotsman best all other competitors, who were Welsh in a contest with few rules over a course reminiscent of a steeplechase. Trials quickly gained popularity with the first Scottish trial in the early 1870’s and the first English trials in 1876. In 1906 the International Sheepdog Society was founded to bring organization to the trialing world and to “improve the breed of the collie with a view to the better management of stock.” Rules for the course accordingly were adopted that showcase the skills necessary for efficient stock management. After World War I, the term, “Border Collie,” was adopted to distinguish the working collie from the show collie.
The first record of American trialing was at Philadelphia’s 1880 centennial year celebration. The first U.S. “official” sheepdog trial, however, occurred in 1928 in Bennington, Vermont where 1500 people gathered to watch a competition among seven dogs. Event and attendance numbers have risen dramatically, especially since the United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association, formed in 1979 as a sanctioning body for US and Canadian trials, adopted rules similar to those of the International Sheepdog Society. Stockmen and spectators alike have discovered the challenges of the new sport at hundreds of trials now held throughout the year,across the US and Canada. The National Finals, sponsored by the United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association and the American Border Collie Association, is run annually to select North America’s champion herding dogs.
Photo courtesy of TK Inc.