Sheepdog Training, Working Trials, Flyball & Heelwork To Music
An Introduction To Sheepdog Training
First and foremost a dog should have a good recall and stop against all odds. A dog needs to want to ‘work’ sheep and not to play with them - rounding up other dogs doesn’t always mean the dog is ‘working’, it’s usually interacting to play. When it first sees sheep it may carry its tail high and be over-excited but this should change to a dropped tail and focus. If the sheep are not used to dogs they will not bring out the best in a young or ‘fresh’ dog and sheep will always be suspicious of a new dog.
There are various ways of introducing a dog for the first time but I strongly recommend the round pen method, this protects the sheep from the dog, allows the dog to develop without making mistakes and gives the handler time to think about each movement. Don’t be tempted to let your dog loose in the field with the sheep unless it is showing no interest and you want to sharpen its instincts. Once a dog is interested it needs to go back round the pen so both dog and handler can learn together. Training collars, roping up, and any other gadgets are not acceptable forms of training; all you need is the round pen, six steady sheep and a patient teacher, so choose your trainer carefully - it’s worth the extra few miles to know your dog is being trained and not broken.
If your dog is interested in sheep make sure you are able to carry the training forward on a regular basis, otherwise settle for the introduction and the knowledge that your dog could work if trained. A dog can cope with an introduction and will enjoy being trained but it can be very frustrating keeping being introduced to sheep but not learning how to work them.
Barbara Sykes MBIPDT
If you would like some advice on introducing a dog to sheep, email Barbara
November 2007: The Kennel Club has announced a new Herding Test for Border Collies, the achievement of which will promote a Show Champion to full Champion status.
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The Challenge of Working Trials
If you like a challenge, Working Trials may be the sport for you – that is if your dog is fit and healthy and likes a challenge too! Take up Working Trials and if you’re not, you will soon be fit and healthy also! Border Collies are the perfect dog for the sport and very often they are the top breed competing. Don’t worry if your BC is a bit on the small side – construction and conformation are more important than size.
Put simply, Working Trials competitions are run at Open and Championship level and they are called Stakes – the different levels are CD, UD, WD, TD and PD – Companion Dog, Utility Dog, Working Dog, Tracking Dog and Patrol Dog, and a dog qualifies its way up the stakes. Each trial consists of 3 sections: Nosework, Control and Agility. (The PD Stake includes Manwork with finding, detaining and escorting “Criminals”). Exercises vary in content and difficulty as you progress upwards, but put simply, the sections consist of:
1. Heelwork – on lead (CD only) and off lead in all Stakes.
2. Retrieve – standard dumb-bell retrieve.
3. Recall – in CD only.
4. Sendaway – of increasing distance and with re-direction in the higher stakes.
5. Gun Test – to test the dog’s steadiness to the gun in UD upwards.
6. Sit Stay – in CD only, 2 minutes with handlers out of sight.
7. Down Stay – all stakes, 10 minutes with handlers out of sight.
8. Speak on Command – TD and PD stakes only.
1. Tracking – A half-mile track, with articles placed on it for the dog to find.
2. Search Square – Measuring up to 25yds square, containing articles for the dog to find.
1. The Clear Jump – 3’ high, the dog to be sent over to await the handler joining him.
2. The Long Jump – 9’ long, the dog to be sent over to await the handler joining him.
3. The Scale – 6’ high, the dog to be sent over, wait, and be recalled back over the Scale.
NB To avoid injury, the full size obstacles should only be attempted by highly trained, experienced dogs with knowledgeable handlers.
To “qualify” a dog needs 70% of the marks available in each section, but 80% of the marks overall, plus a minimum number of articles found from track and square and full marks in the Stays. So, quite a challenge for the dog and the training ability of the handler - a Working Trials Champion is a seriously special dog! To get started, try the Yahoo internet group,
WorkingTrialsUK - or contact The Kennel Club for a list of training clubs in your area.
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The handlers' mouths are dry but the dogs are raring to go. The tension mounts as the first light appears on the traffic light start system, the barking gets louder, the encouragement stronger until as the second light appears the first dog is released. The race is on. The teams of four dogs run in relay over a 51' course, collect a tennis ball and return. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But add four sets of hurdles, a flyball box, the drag racing start lights and a laser powered timing device and all this in under 20 seconds.... Yes, this is BFA Flyball!!
There are currently two types of Flyball (Crufts and British Flyball Association), both are run over the same length course with the main difference being the type of box. Most people have seen Crufts Flyball on the television where the ball is thrown into the air from the back of the box. In BFA Flyball the ball is triggered at the front and is thrown directly towards the dog. BFA flyball is one of the fastest growing dog sports in this country with nearly 100 teams competing at all levels. However, in the USA and Canada the sport is even more popular with over 20,000 dog’s competing on a regular basis. It has also gained popularity in Japan, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Australia. The sport originated in California in the 1970s and came to the UK in the 80s.
To many an onlooker the sport looks easy but it is just as technical as Agility and Obedience. Dogs are not allowed to compete in a Flyball competition until they are eighteen months of age, which is when they are considered to be sufficiently developed and their muscles and bones are safe and strong. There is no upper age limit and dogs of ten and over are still competing.
Praise and encouragement are given as freely as possible as with any form of dog training and in the end a handler reaps the reward of owning a good Flyball dog. The sport is fast, fun and exciting both to watch and to compete in. Teams are always matched with others of the same calibre so they all have a chance to win. All events are designed with the safety and welfare of the dog being the number one priority. Many teams, dogs and owners will never make it to the top but this doesn’t stop the handlers and dogs enjoying the sport. One important rule to remember is that you don’t always have to be the fastest to win at Flyball, consistency is the key to success in this sport. Many people never take up the sport seriously and just let their dogs enjoy the training. Border Collies predominate but there are also many other breeds and crossbreeds competing. The only thing your dog needs to take up Flyball is to be ball mad!! So if you feel like trying the sport
please visit the BFA website for further details.
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Heelwork To Music (HWTM)
This is the newest sport of recent years made popular by the displays of Mary Ray. However, it is the one sport in which you do not have to compete in order to progress with your dog. Although the Paws N Music Association does run competitions throughout the year, what have now become popular with many members of the Association are the progress awards.
HWTM is split onto four categories:
- Heelwork To Music
- Musical Dressage
- Dances With Dogs
All competitions and progress awards are based on these categories and are designed to encourage a strong foundation of handling, choreography and training across the divisions. The assessment process will encourage a high quality of progress through the levels without prejudice to any breed or type of dog or handler.
Progress Awards are held in a non-competitive atmosphere where the emphasis is on personal achievement.
All divisions have required (compulsory) elements containing moves, which must be completed within the appropriate time to gain the awards.
The awards will be offered in all divisions at Level 1, 2 and 3 with level 1 being the entry level, and may be achieved with a pass, merit or distinction.
Progress through the levels will be by attaining merit or distinction at the lower level in the same division. Awards are open to any dog who has not achieved distinction at that level in that division.
Competitions are also split into categories in the same way as agility and obedience. All new competitors begin in starters then progress through wins to Novice, Intermediate and Advanced.
Further details of the sport can be found on the Paws N Music Association website.