A Primer on the New Rules
by Lori Herbel

The fall of 2002 has brought a few changes to the herding program. These changes have been sent to the herding fancy in the form of inserts to be added to the existing (white) AKC Herding Regulations booklet.

While some of the changes are minor, others have had more of an impact on the program. Within this article, the new amendments/clarifications will be addressed individually. All changes mentioned here are currently in effect.

Eligibility of Dogs

Previously, dogs eligible for the herding program were limited to breeds in the Herding Group, plus Rottweilers and Samoyeds. (These breeds from the Working Group gained special permission from the AKC after going through a lengthy process proving that they had a history which included herding.)

Beginning June 1 of this year, the AKC added to the eligibility list all herding breeds that are eligible to compete in the conformation Miscellaneous Class. At this time, this would include the French herding breed, the Beauceron.

Herding Instinct Testing

Added on July 1, 2002, the newest and most basic level of herding, is Herding Instinct Testing. A major difference between this level and the other five levels of herding is that this level offers a certificate rather than an official title. Dogs must still be certified by two different judges to have passed two separate licensed or member Herding Instinct Tests in order to receive their certificate.

The Instinct Test is held in a small pen, either round in shape or with rounded corners, which can vary in size from 50 x 50 feet, up to 100 x 100 feet. Livestock used can be cattle, sheep or ducks. The dog will enter the pen on a 6-15 foot long line. Before removing the line, the dog must demonstrate a stop (down, sit or stand) and a recall. Once the dog has completed this exercise, the line may be dropped for the dog to drag, or removed entirely. If the dog cannot exhibit the stop, the tester is not to allow the dog off-line.

Once the dog is allowed to approach the livestock, the tester will be looking for sustained interest in controlling the livestock. This can be shown by the dog gathering the livestock, moving the livestock toward the handler, or moving them ahead of the handler in a driving position. A combination of any of these styles is acceptable. Boundary testing will have the tester watching for a dog that also shows a tendency to honor a border while showing sustained interest in working.

Dogs that cannot show enough control to work the stock in an acceptable manner will be removed at the tester's request.

At first glance, this description gives the impression that no prior training would be required. Technically, this is correct. However, the requirement for a stop and a recall is often a difficult one for novice dogs, especially for those with a lot of drive. Herding instinct is strong, and even the highest trained obedience dog has proven that they can and will forget even the basics when faced with the choice to listen to his Master or his instincts! Exhibitors should take into consideration that that a dog that is removed for a lack of a stop and recall is not necessarily being removed for a lack of instinct. Should this happen, maybe a little preparation before the next instinct test would be in order, to reinforce the stop and recall while in the pen with livestock.

Staffs and Crooks

The shepherd's crook is a time-honored and traditional symbol of sheepherding. Used as an extension of the arm to direct the dog, the shepherd's crook, or staff, has in the past been required to be wooden or fiberglass. Following a change effective September 1, 2002, the AKC will also accept aluminum or composite as approved materials for stock sticks. Also added to the wording is the requirement that wooden sticks must not be splintered.

Placement of Obstacles and Course Times

Judges now have the authority to make slight changes to the placements of obstacles and adjusting course times if they feel such changes are necessary for a successful trial. While modifications may be made, the minimum essential elements required must be maintained.

Number of Dogs that Can Be Judged


One of the most welcome changes to the program may be the raising of the number of dogs a judge may judge in a day's time. Judges may now judge up to 50 runs per day instead of the previous limit of 40. Gone from the wording is also the eight hour a day limit per judge.

Many trials throughout the country have been filling their limits quickly and have had to go to the option of using the Alternate's List. This increase in the limit should help clubs not only accommodate more exhibitors at these trials, but can also utilize the extra profit that 10 more runs per day brings in.

It is important to consider the variety of Courses and Livestock that are being offered when a club considers the number of runs that will be offered 40 vs. 50. This consideration will allow the club, its judges and the participants of the test/trial to enjoy a successful event!

Pre-Trial Test Change

A slight change in the PT course now allows dogs at this level to qualify by working stock off the fence line. Previously, the regulations called for the dog to "move the stock´┐Ż.throughout the course". Diagrams included in the regulations book showed the PT pattern as a "J" shaped course, with the livestock following closely along the fence line throughout the entire run. As of September 1, dogs may now work the stock through the course with some work being out in the open, away from the fence. The controlled beginning, four gate passes, stop on course and repen remain unchanged.

Herding Test Clarification

A slightly different wording has been added to the HT description, directed to dogs that may not be exhibiting the proper amount of controlled work. Previously, the regulations stated that "Dogs, which constantly circle the livestock, will not qualify." The new wording, now in effect, states that judges are to non-qualify dogs that constantly prevent the stock from being moved in a controlled fashion. It also calls for the judge to NQ a dog that chases or harasses the stock.

Time Allowed for Cattle on Course B

Time limits for the Course B have in the past been non-stock specific. A ten minute time limit was allowed for the Started and Intermediate classes, with the clock being stretched to twelve for the Advanced class due to the larger size of the course. While these time limits will remain the same for sheep and ducks, the time may now be adjusted when cattle are used. At each level, one minute may be added to the current time limit for every additional 30 feet of outrun distance over the minimum.

A notice has been issued from the AKC that the official score sheets currently in use do not reflect this change in the time limit. These old score sheets will continue to be sent out to clubs until the current supply is depleted. Clubs are to correct the time limit on the score sheets as they are used. A correction will be made when new sheets are printed.

Intermediate Course B

Quite possibly the biggest change with the September effective date is in the actual course for Intermediate on Course B. Under the old rules, the course only called for one drive leg, through the first set of drive panels on the course. Once the livestock cleared this panel, the dog could flank around and fetch the stock back in a straight line to the handler at the pen.

The new course incorporates the use of the second drive panels at this level. The dog must still drive the first set of panels as they have in the past, with the handle remaining at the post. However, under the new rules, the dog must continue to take them across the field after driving the first set of panels, to also complete the second set of panels. The handler may leave his post once the stock clears the first set of drive panels, and may walk anywhere appropriate on the field to meet the dog and stock before proceeding to the pen. The second set of gates may be fetched and/or driven.

Suggested Scoring

Only a slight change in scoring was made on Course C, the tending style course. No changes were made to scoring on either A or B Course.

The Exit from the Pen is the first exercise on this course, and as the name implies, it involves removing the livestock from a large pen to begin the run. Previously, it was suggested that up to two points could be taken from the score if the gate opening was not guarded to protect the sheep, and to also keep the fence from being damaged as the sheep exited the pen. It did not specify if the dog or the handler were to do the guarding at the gate.

Under the new rule, the suggestion changes to a deduction (up to 2 points) if the livestock hit, bang or crowd the gate.

High and Reserve High in Trial

Another new addition to the rulebook is the statement that the same dog may not win both High in Trial and Reserve High in Trial in any single herding event. This has occurred in the past when a dog may have had the two highest scores on two different courses, or on two different types of livestock.

One High and One Reserve High in Trial

The current rulebook states that High in Trial and Reserve High in Trial are to be awarded for each type of livestock offered. However, due to the change in Chapter 1, Section 10,(B) Trials, Paragraph 4, effective September 1, 2002 only one HIT (High in Trial) and RHIT (Reserve High in Trial) is to be awarded. This revision was further clarified in a memo from William Speck - AVP Performance Events office.

Rulebooks are available in the AKC Online Store. An online version of the rules is also available.