My Life in Sheep Years
Kate Eldredge

Introduction

I met Kate at the Hamburg Dog Obedience Club Herding Trial June 17th and 18th, 2006.  I was impressed with the fact that she handled three dogs with very different styles of work.  But the most impressive thing about Kate is how she treats her dogs regardless of their performance in the arena.  She has a thorough understanding of her role as their trainer and she treats her dogs with a great deal of respect and love. 

I asked her to write an article for our herding web pages as her writing ability is well proven by the fact that she has written a book on dog training for kids!  After reading the following article I am sure you will agree that Kate is one very talented and very intelligent young girl that will do well in the sport of dogs.

Karla Deithorn, AKC Field Rep.


My Life in Sheep Years

When I was 7, I got my beloved first dog, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Flash, Culdi’s Hearts On Fire VCD1 HSAs RAE NJP. Since then I have added two more lovely herding dogs, an Australian Shepherd named Tia, Hearthside In Focus VCD1 PT RE NAP NJP, at age 12 and Queezle the Belgian Tervuren, CH Chateau Blanc I’m Coyote Trouble RA TD HT NJP at age 14. I compete in every dog event available to my dogs, including conformation, obedience, rally, tracking, agility and herding.

Compared to other sports, herding is much more difficult simply because it requires an additional party that is neither human nor canine. Cows, sheep and ducks don’t care if you pass or fail (any that do would prefer you fail, and it had better be quick) and have no desire to be running around an arena. Training is also difficult as most people don’t have the means to keep any stock (the term for cows, sheep or ducks) at their house, though ducks are much easier than the others. Training facilities are few and far between. For me, the nearest trainers are at least 2 hours away in any direction. Luckily, since we have a small farm, we were able to get some sheep and ducks.

My first experience with herding was with Flash when I was about 8. She had finished her HT (Herding Test, the lowest level of AKC herding and just pass/fail) the day before with my mom, mainly because we were hesitant to send me, a little kid, in the ring with 3-5 large sheep and a young, crazy dog. But since she had finished the title and my mom had a conflict, I got to take Flash in. We qualified and later went on to earn her PT (Pre-Trial, the second level, still pass/fail).

HT and PT are very different from the trialing levels. In HT, all the dog has to do is take the sheep (or whatever stock you are entered on) across the ring between 2 cones in an organized fashion 3 times with a stop and recall at the end. 2 qualifying runs are needed to earn the title. PT requires you to take the stock in a U or J shape around the edge of the arena, turn around, and go back, passing through 2 panels each way. You have to have a pause on course at some point. Once again, only 2 passing runs are required for the title. You can remain at either of these levels as long as you please, whereas in the trialing levels you have to move up 60 days after completing the title. For example, Flash earned 2 HTs and at least 2 PTs. Tia has 1 HT and 2 PTs. Queezle, who has only gone to one trial so far, only has 1 HT and is moving up to PT for the next one. Whether or not you remain in HT for a while depends on your dog’s control on stock and how comfortable you feel with being in a larger arena. The jump from PT to Started (the first trialing level – also known as HS) is a big one, and it is best to become more comfortable with the ring size and work with more sheep before moving up.

All 3 of my girls work very differently. Flash is fast and bold, not at all afraid to read a problem sheep his rights. She tends to work a little tighter (close to the sheep) than is really necessary, and occasionally ‘forgets’ the meaning of, “Lie down.” She also barks almost constantly, which can be helpful with reluctant sheep, and not with flighty sheep that are terrified of her anyway. Flash also works ducks, which she enjoys. Ducks require finesse, and Flash has developed a very good Border Collie creep. As she likes speed more than anything else, she sometimes gets impatient with slow or uncooperative ducks. Flash has her Started Sheep title and is working toward her Started Duck title.

Tia works wider than Flash and quietly, which makes her an easier dog to work with overall. She doesn’t pressure the sheep quite as much, and the lack of barking keeps everyone a little calmer. Most of the time she is very calm or even uninterested, eating sheep poop while on a stay or if she feels I have everything under control. Every now and then she likes to spice it up a little, but generally just does her prissy little breed ring trot as we take the sheep where they need to go. For a dog that doesn’t usually like to get her paws dirty, she is a good farm dog, getting right in the face of our biggest sheep when he is being difficult and steering him in the right direction. I haven’t worked her on ducks yet, because for a while she didn’t consider them to be stock, but hope to sometime in the future. Tia has her PT and is beginning to compete in the Started Sheep classes.

Queezle is a happy medium between the others. She works even wider than Tia at a steady, ground covering lope. I have had to work with her a lot to get her to stop, as she feels it would be much more productive to run circles around the sheep and keep them in the same place. She doesn’t take nonsense from the sheep any more than Flash or Tia, and has excellent balance (keeping the sheep with the handler rather than pushing them past or allowing them to fall behind, also gathering in any that split off). Queezle has her HT and is now working on PT.

There are very few junior handlers that do herding. It is a challenging sport for both dog and handler, though more so for the handler because the dog has generations of herding instinct in its genes! I still have trouble remembering which command goes which way – I have trouble with left and right sometimes too J - and every dog is very different, requiring you to sometimes relearn how to teach everything! Even so, it is very rewarding to see your dog doing what it was bred to do, something that very few of the top show dogs today do. I am just as proud of Queezle’s herding abilities as I am of her championship and Group placement.  Whether or not any titles are earned, everyone should at least expose their herding dog to stock. Their instinct and intelligence is what makes them special, and it needs to be preserved.

 

Kate Eldredge