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Thunder Bay holds its first CKC Herding Trial in October 2001

 Herd: Assemble, Channel, Collect, Direct, Gather together, Group, Guide, Funnel, Round up, Steer

The dogs have been herding in their sleep all winter – paws twitching tails wagging as they count sheep while they lie next to their master’s bed.  The Master’s simple phrase “Good Night Robin,” makes Robin jump from her deep sleep – “Did you say Go By?”  Then she realizes she was only dreaming of summer and green pastures.  Tomorrow she will help with winter chores – bringing water to the sheep, and giving them their hay and grain.  But she will practice giving the sheep “the eye.”  None will dare venture too close to the paddock fence if she can help it.  When summer comes again, she’ll be ready.

With spring around the corner, herding enthusiasts are already busy planning trips to herding trials across Canada, dreaming of the next title they will earn on their dogs.  2002 marks the fourth year of the Canadian Kennel Club’s Herding Program, which is growing in popularity across Canada. 

Lynn Leach is a CKC, AKC and American Herding Breed Association herding judge.  Eight years ago, she began work with a committee that set out to draft the CKC program by reviewing the existing herding programs in North America and interviewing as many herding judges, officials, trainers and enthusiasts as she could.  The committee tirelessly logged thousands of hours to coming up with the CKC’s all-breed Herding Program.

Noted CKC conformation and obedience judge Sue Ailsby supported the work of the committee by waving a magic wand at her computer and turning the organized thoughts of the committee into official CKC Rules and Regulations. The program became official in January 1998, provides one non-competitive test and three trial levels for registered dogs to earn herding titles on sheep, ducks and cattle.  Sue Ailsby is still a member of herding council.  Tanya Wheeler who hosted the trial is a representative for Northern Ontario and there are other members on the CKC’s herding council representing regions across Canada.

Last October Tucker Creek Farm owned by Tanya Wheeler hosted the first CKC Herding Trials in Thunder Bay Ontario on October 6th and 7th.  The breeds represented an excellent range of the dogs seen in herding trials – Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherds, Bouvier, Collies, and German Shepherds.  There were dogs in the non-competitive Herding Tested class as well as entries in the trial levels, at Herding Started and Herding Intermediate. Most of the people entered were students at Tucker Creek Farm, where Tanya has instructed herding classes for the past seven years.  Every single dog entered in the whole weekend earned its title making it a complete success for everyone involved and a thrill for the judges who were very impressed with the calibre of dogs they encountered on a chilly October weekend.

Tucker Creek Farm spared no expense for the first CKC herding trial in Northwestern Ontario, by bringing in two judges all the way from British Columbia for the weekend and offering four official CKC trials. This allowed exhibitors the opportunity to enter all four trials with the hope of earning a title if their dog earned the right number of qualifying legs under two judges!  The judges were Lynn Leach and Shelley Fritzke.  Lynn Leach is one of the proud parents of the CKC herding program and the only person left of the original committee and Shelley Fritzke is a herding exhibitor and trainer of German Shepherds and owner of the first German Shepherd (“Cheyenne”) to earn her CKC Advanced Herding title. 

Dust flew last August as truck wheels (what else do herding people drive?  OK maybe a few vans.) drove up and down Tanya Wheeler’s driveway with completed premiums until a total of fourteen dogs was reached.  This may not sound like a lot of dogs, but when you consider that each dog will run a group of three to five sheep twice a day, consider the facilities that have to be provided by the host.  It was decided that each dog would run three sheep, and days in advance, the sheep were sorted into nice working groups and marked with coloured sticks. 

Volunteers led by Kathy Wyman and Brenda Flett offered to work as stock handlers keeping the sheep moving from pen to pen and into the arena, watch the sheep for any signs of stress, keep them in the shade and keep them watered.  Before the trial, I trailered some of my own sheep 50 kilometers from my own farm to serve as the “flighty sheep” for the intermediate class, since I had Border Cheviots that were less “sticky” than Tanya’s wonderful “dogbroke” sheep.  Timekeepers offered to work alongside the judges and record time and recorders offered to keep track of the judge’s comments and keep score as they watched the dogs work the sheep.  Others worked tirelessly to ensure the arena was regulation size and helped Tanya’s husband, Pat Courtenay build course obstacles – straight line freestanding obstacles, a “Y-chute” and extra pens for “exhausting” or penning the sheep at the end of a run.  By the night before the trial, excitement had built and exhibitors were all on-site to greet the judges.  Pat and Tanya’s daughter Madison also whipped up goodies for breaks and delicious lunches for the exhibitors.

Something I have discovered and enjoyed about herding is its informality, harkening back to a time when herding was a practical exercise – done “for real” – ending with a meal of pork and beans around the fire with cowboy poetry and tall tales around a campfire.  Many herding judges and clinicians, and indeed some of the founders of the sport of herding, bear a strong stamp of their livestock and farming roots, with colourful language, stories, but also with their innate knowledge of training herding dogs and dealing with all manner of sheep, cattle and other “critters.”  Sadly, as time goes by, many of these people are being lost to us.  While she was here, Lynn Leach commented that one of the projects she is working on is to capture the wisdom and memories of the “old-timers” to whom we owe so much. 

I attended a herding clinic last year with Roy Sage of O’Sage Aussies, Applebee Oregon.  Roy Sage is regarded as one of the best clinicians in the sport – I likened him to a “dog whisperer” after he did wonders with my German Shepherd Thorn!  Thorn looked like he was Roy’s best ol’ bud after fifteen minutes of quiet body language in a round pen, with Roy letting Thorn know that he was the boss.  Thorn was doing Roy’s bidding at a barely audible command and wave of the staff.  A good working dog is happy to work for a shepherd who is in control, but will take over if it thinks you don’t know one end of your sheep from the other!  

At the end of the clinic, we were gathered around Roy Sage on Tanya’s porch as he provided us with his final words of wisdom, when he decided he would treat us to an impromtu poem that he composed about the weekend he spent at Tucker Creek Farm, in true cowboy style.  It was one of those moments you cherish and know is unique to the sport of herding.

I had a long heart to heart talk with Shelley Fritzke before the trial started because we both love and work German Shepherds and Rough Collies.  I found it wonderful to find a soulmate who has worked and understands the dogs I hold so close to my heart.  We found so much common ground that by the end of the evening we parted like old friends.  By the end of the weekend, I felt the same way about Lynn Leach who had shared so much of her knowledge with us by giving the seminar – I could hardly express my gratitude to both of them when they were leaving. 

I promised to write this article to share with them our experiences about the weekend and describe the splendid sport of herding.  It is so much more than a sport.  It has become a way of life for Mark and I as we have made new friends, become sheep farmers and completely changed the way we look at and live with our dogs.  It has even changed my priorities, as I find the more “natural” performance events of herding and tracking have become my goals rather than obedience or agility.  I love to show that my lovely show dogs can earn their herding titles and enjoy being with the sheep, like my ten year old shepherd BIS Ch. Lindau’s Risky Venture TDX HCT, who earned an ASCA(should this be AHBA?) title last spring, and may yet earn a CKC Herding Tested title this year! 

Herding is something every dog can enjoy, no matter what age, as long as they are physically able to keep up with sheep.  This is what our herding dogs were bred to do – it is in their blood.  When you take them to see sheep for the first time, and see the light go on in their eyes for the first time, you will feel a thrill inside.  Herding is “the original obedience.”  Most of the commands you find in a modern obedience ring, at all levels, are found in the herding ring. 

Originally, shepherds began to demonstrate how well their dogs could herd sheep to show their dogs off in friendly competition.  In herding you will find a “drop on recall”, a “stand stay”, a “go-back”, and directed exercises to the left and right - Go By is the command for clockwise movement, and Away to Me is counterclockwise motion.  You will also find a recall and a long down.  Footwork is crucial.  When a dog is facing the shepherd and is told to Go By, the dog’s feet should cross over as it moves clockwise.  Dogs are told whether they should “get out” fast, or “walk up” at a slow pace. 

When their work is done, a good dog is released with “That’ll do” and rewarded with a pat on the head as it leaves the field with the shepherd without looking back, knowing its job is done.  I also own a Rough Collie named Shaman.  I sometimes get a lump in my throat watching him herd as he makes his own decisions doing what comes naturally to him. Shaman looks so proud when he is herding sheep.  Herding is truly a way to get in touch with your dog’s ancestry. Everyone should take the opportunity to attend a herding trial, especially herding (do you mean conformation judges?) judges.  Once you have seen herding dogs function in the herding arena, doing what they were meant to do, you will never look at them the same as they mover around the breed ring.  Glorious movement should be as treasured as lovely coats or heads or expressions.  All herding dogs should be able to keep up with a fleet-footed flock of sheep.

Trial morning at Tucker Creek Farm started with the judge’s briefing.  Everyone held steaming cups of coffee in their hands and looked wide-eyed at the snow on the fields, while Lynn Leach ran around yelling “I can’t believe it snowed!  I can’t wait to phone everyone in BC and tell them I’m standing in the snow! Everyone was a bit giddy the morning of the trial, including the judges!  Shelley Fritzke, who lives in an area of BC that is used to a bit more snow, was a bit more composed!  “She’ll settle down,” she told us, and once Lynn did, we heard from Lynn what they expected from the exhibitors and dogs in the first trial which she was judging.  The early morning snow melted, and the trial got underway.  After lunch, Shelley briefed us on her expectations. 

The pre-trial briefing is a mandatory part of herding trials which exhibitors should never miss.  Every judge abides by the CKC’s regulations, however, there are aspects of protocol and ring management that are not outlined in the rules, which will be stressed prior to the trial by the judge.  The briefing is also the exhibitor’s opportunity for clarification and to ask questions.

First up was the Herding Intermediate Class.  This is the second of three trial levels in the CKC herding program.  There were no advanced dogs entered on the first day, though by day two,  the intermediate dog had earned his title and was able to move up to this level for the fourth trial.  The dog entered in the Herding Intermediate test was the host,  Tanya Wheeler’s own blue merle Australian Shepherd Ch. Las Racosa Tom’s Thunder.  “Tucker” is an eight year old Aussie with outstanding herding titles earned under the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) and American Herding Breed Association (AHBA) system (Program?), putting Tucker just a leg or two within reach of his Working Title(Trial) Championship on ducks, sheep, cattle and a ranch title.  This was Tucker’s first CKC trial and Tanya thought that given his experience, he should start at the Intermediate level.

To earn his title, Tucker had to qualify for three legs under two judges with a score of 75 points, completing all sections of the test.   First Tucker had to take his flock from the “take pen” and then settle them in the arena until they appeared to be calm.  Next, he was called away from the sheep and positioned at least fifty feet from the sheep to perform what is known as an “outrun”, where the dog leaves the handler and runs in a wide arc toward and behind the flock of sheep, to get the sheep moving toward the handler.  When the sheep begin to move calmly toward the handler, this is known as “the lift.”  At this point Tucker’s job was to move in a straight line behind the sheep, fetching them directly to Tanya at a steady pace. 

Once the sheep reached Tanya, Tucker and Tanya began to work their way around the designated obstacles.  Tanya could give Tucker commands but not go around any of the obstacles herself.  At one point, the judge designated a location where Tucker had to demonstrate a “drive”, where he moved the sheep ahead of Tanya in a straight line.  Finally, the sheep were herded through a chute, then held in place and lastly, driven into an exhaust pen to complete the test.  To the cheers of the crowd, Tucker completed this test three times to earn his Herding Intermediate Title in one weekend!  This alone made the weekend a successful venture for Tanya and showing what a great herding dog Tucker is, and how lucky we are to have Tanya as our trainer.

On the last day of the trial, Tanya’s tri aussie Diamond Aire Tucker’s Grace, and Heather Maddox’s red aussie Highrails Danc’n Till Dawn had both earned their Herding Started titles, and so moved up to the Herding Intermediate class for the fourth trial.  They were both feisty working girls but couldn’t follow in Tucker’s pawprints to pass – but will surely be ready for the next CKC trial considering how they held their ground with those stubborn sheep!  Tanya and Tucker attempted the Herding Advanced class in the fourth trial with its 150 foot outrun, and where the dog must work the sheep virtually on its own while the handler stands well behind a “handler’s line” giving verbal commands and signals.  It was a great attempt, especially since they are such a great team.  At the end of the day, Lynn demonstrated how a dog can work at a distance with her own border collie “Pepsi” and we were in awe of her dog’s ability to comprehend Lynn’s direction as well as think on her own at such a distance.  It gave everyone something to aspire to for the future.

The next class to be judged each day was the Herding Started Class.  In this class, handlers demonstrate their dogs’ skills in controlling the sheep on a fenceline, stopping when asked – even if it is “off balance” and the ability to take livestock out of a pen.  There are three obstacles which the handler may not walk around, and one chute which the handler can walk through. The dog has to demonstrate a hold at the exhaust pen and then help repen the sheep.  Again the total score is 75 points and each exercise must be completed.

Timekeepers and recorders have a very interesting job during the trials.  The judges must keep a very close eye on the dogs and handlers at all times to keep score for the following types of errors:  Offline – a judge mentally divides the arena into grids and takes points off for each each time the stock crosses into a quadrant other than it should have been in as  the stock should be moving in a straight line; Handler assistance – the handler provides too much assistance to the dog or stock to accomplish a portion of the course in the judge’s opinion; Touching the stock – other than accidental, the handler pushes or otherwise handles the stock in an attempt to manipulate it; Handling the dog – the same as the above; Restart – the sheep are backed up in the direction they came from by the dog so that they have to cover ground again, theoretically wearing them out if they were really being herded so as not to wear off pounds for the market; Retreat: Stock reverses direction - similar to restart, but stock may turn momentarily than turn again and start moving in the correct direction again; Circling - Dog circles the stock unnecessarily - this stresses stock out. Dog should only come to the head of the stock if it is necessary to control them; Redirect - handler gives the dog a second command (redirects the dog). This is usually given on the outrun (eg: 1st command would be 'go by', then the handler may say 'get out, go by' - this would be a redirect); Loss of control – dog loses control of the stock, or the handler loses control of the dog and the dog chases the sheep or a sheep, leading to…Off course – the dog crosses so many quadrants that it continues to lose points until we lose count!  Lynn Leach had a unique term for things with no definition: She would tell the recorder “Just write McFuffle.” 

I worked as a recorder all weekend and highly recommend the position if you don’t have a dog entered.  Not only can you record it as volunteer time if you ever plan to become a herding judge, but it is a learning experience for anyone who plans to trial a dog.  Just as I recommend being a tracklayer before entering a tracking trial, this is the same kind of experience.  Sitting beside the judge and seeing the trial through the judge’s eyes was an eye-opener for me!  The first evening of the trial, Lynn Leach held a judge’s seminar, which added to the weekend for those of us interested in learning all we can about this sport, which is growing in popularity. 

The judges also gave the handlers a few tips after watching how they were dealing with the obstacles on day one.  The most amazing transformation had to be Karen Boyes and her one year old tri aussie Jasper, Tucker’s son.  Karen competes with Jasper in herding, agility, tracking and conformation and with this kind of crosstraining, both Karen and Jasper are quick to catch on to any tips. Karen and Jasper’s performance on day two was phenomenal as they employed the tip passed on the evening before, to earn their Herding Started Title.  Flash, Jasper’s littermate owned by Tanya Wheeler also earned his (started) title that weekend, making dad Tucker proud.

From ringside, watching the different styles of the dogs working was very interesting.  Entered in Herding Started were four Australian Shepherds, three Rough Collies, one German Shepherd and one Bouvier des Flandres.  By far, the easiest working and calmest dogs were the Rough Collies, but don’t let their appearance in the ring fool you!  Both of the judges had high praise for the working ability of the collies they saw in the trial.  All of them knew exactly where to be and just how much pressure to apply to get the sheep moving.  In one trial, a female sable merle Rough Collie Ch. Brackenbrae Morning Has Broken, “Phoenix” owned and bred by Elizabeth Redfern won High in Trial with a score of XX – the first HIT Lynn Leach said she has ever given to a Rough Collie in all of her years of judging herding trials.

The Australian Shepherds worked with the speed and polish they are known for.  Two of the aussies distinguished themselves by earning High in Trials.  One HIT was earned by Tanya’s tri aussie “Grace” who also earned the highest score of the weekend.  Another HIT was earned by Heather Maddox’s red aussie “Tilly.” Heather Maddox also owns “Gusto”, another Tucker son who earned his Herding Tested title in one weekend!

The fourth High in Trial of the weekend went to a German Shepherd named Ch. Lindau’s Heaven Can Wait TDX owned by Sigrid Appelt, who also earned her Herding Started title.  “Demi” is a five year old black and tan German Shepherd, one of three German Shepherd’s in the trial.  The other two German Shepherds in the trial were her daughter and granddaughter.  All three generations earned herding titles in one weekend!  Daughter three year old Ch. Lindau’s With All My Heart CD TD owned by Sigrid Appelt and Marilyn Sgarbossa earned her Herding Tested Title.  Granddaughter one year old sable longcoat Lindau’s Uncharted Course owned and handled by my husband Mark Smith also earned her Herding Tested title. 

The German Shepherds and the Bouvier were the two “upright” breeds entered in the trial.  These are dogs that are large, prick-eared and tend to herd in a more assertive manner than some herding dogs.  Sheep tend to react more to upright breeds with greater flight zones and are quicker to be frightened by quick actions on the part of the dog.  This requires greater control on the part of the handler and calmer motion on the part of the dog. 

As an instructor, Tanya Wheeler has been a godsend to those of us with the challenge of more powerful, pushy herding dogs.  With a lot of patience and tips she has picked up over the years, she has guided many of us through some frustrating moments so that we are able to run a successful course.  One of the Rough Collies in the trial was Ch. Glenwater’s Banner Still Waves owned and bred by Arletta Michaud.  Two years ago he had a bad experience and Tanya and Arletta worked him through it.  Last October you wouldn’t have known it as “Smudge” proudly moved “his” sheep around the course, and even had the audacity to bark at Arletta when he felt she gave him the wrong command! Another blue merle Rough Collie Ch. Brackenbrae Broadsword TT also earned his title.  “Merlin” works as pushy and hard as any “upright” breed and gives his breeder/owner Elizabeth Redfern a run for her money showing everyone that collies are not pushovers, with his heart and soul in the herding ring, showing his true Highland ancestry.

The Bouvier, Ch. Oomingmak’s Little Big Man owned by Marly Desjardins, was only entered in two trials and passed both.  Marly decided that she wanted to save some fun for next year with her young dog – though the judges were disappointed as he surely would have earned a title that weekend.  Marly’s theory was that she would rather move him up in the system slowly and make sure he is ready to move on to the Intermediate level.  She did not want to rush him through the Started level in one weekend when she felt he was not ready to move on.

The Herding Tested Dogs were the last to be judged each day.  This was a fun class.  It is non-competitive – simply pass/fail with no points awarded.  The handler’s sheep were already out in the arena where the dog had to fetch them in a calm, controlled manner.  The handler could walk around each obstacle of the course and demonstrate a brief pause, stop or down somewhere along the way.  At the end of the course the sheep had to be repenned.  The judge is in the arena, and may walk with the handler or stand to one side and may make suggestions and encourage the handler to make a success of the run.  The dog and handler must qualify twice under two judges to earn a title.  Dogs require little training but must have herding instinct to pass this test.  In the trial were two Australian Shepherds, two German Shepherds, an Australian Cattle Dog and a Rough Collie.  All passed the test to earn their titles.

Again, the Rough Collie was the most quiet, intense worker.  A tiny tri bitch named Lucy (Ch. Brackenbrae Be a Dreamcatcher), she had the most incredible balance of any dog of the weekend.  When she was moved up to Herding Started after earning her Herding Tested title, she was within points of winning HIT against her half sister Phoenix – and her owner Nancy Chase doesn’t even use a shepherd’s crook – she just points with her arms and Lucy takes off on Nancy’s cues.  An absolute beginner to herding passed with her aussie Ch, Heartsecho Hear My Thunder.  “Drake” is Margaret Strerz’ first aussie – a bit of a change after owning and showing Bull Mastiffs for years, so you can imagine the thrill for Margaret of being in the arena with her young pup and earning his title!

In contrast, the Australian Cattle Dog Ch. Reedenblu’s X File Agent owned by Joyce and Rebekka Redden and handled by Becky Redden was a fierce combatant in the ring – the only dog the whole weekend to be faced by an ornery sheep!  After being moved up from Herding Tested to Herding Started, “Mulder” was doing a beautiful job when one cranky ewe decided she had enough, and lowered her head.  The challenge was issued.  Mulder worked his heart out trying to move the flock, and the ewe continued to come at him attempting to butt him and moving the sheep out of line and breaking up the group.  Eventually there was nothing Becky could do as her commands rang on deaf ears as Mulder faced off against the ewe, flying at her barking in her face.  Eventually the two of them faced off - frozen.  Everyone wondered what would happen, when the judge called time.  In her opinion Mulder had done everything possible to move the sheep, and the circumstances were becoming unfair to Becky as the clock was ticking.

The sheep were removed from the ring and another group was brought in.  The next dog was judged while Mulder was given a chance to rest.  Becky and Mulder went in and started the course where the ewe first lowered her head with a challenge, and the clock was turned back.  Mulder finished the course to earn his first Herding Started leg!  Our respect for the judge grew, as did our knowledge of sheep, herding dogs and the nuances of herding trials.

 For me, the finest moment of the weekend was watching my husband Mark with his dog River – Lindau’s Uncharted Course.  Since we have our own sheep, he has been taking River up to help with chores and to do little courses since she was four months old.  At just over a year old, here she was in her first CKC trial.  For Mark – it was the first time he was ever entered in any official CKC event with his own dog.  I was so pleased that he had finally found a dog sport that he could share with me, after thirty-three years together!  Mark and River shone in the herding ring.  Both judges sang River’s praises, saying that River herded sheep just the way they liked to see German Shepherds herd.  She stayed well back from the flock, circled nice and wide, moved where Mark indicated, downed when he asked – and on the second day, when one sheep took off at the exhaust pen – she flew after her, brought her back handily, and downed at Mark’s feet when the job was done, then helped put the sheep away. 

 I watched Mark walk around with River for the next hour, looking so proud – the way an owner should feel when their dog has done a wonderful job, and found myself holding back tears of pride.  I didn’t have either of my own dogs in the trial, but my heart was full to overflowing from the job my husband had done with his very own dog – and from watching everyone else with their wonderful dogs.

© 2001 Donna Smith
Spiritdance Farm
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Footnote:  Tucker Creek Farm thanks the Thunder Bay Cocker Spaniel Club for their support as the official supporting club hosting the first CKC herding trial in Thunder Bay Ontario.

Printed in Dog's in Canada magazine, May 2002




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Tanya, Madison & Ben Wheeler
Tucker Creek Australian Shepherds
ASCA Hall Of Fame Kennel #101  /   CKC Hall of Fame Kennel III
3020 Highway #61
Slate River, Ontario P7J 0G8
Phone: 807-473-5629




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