WHAT IS A SHEEPDOG TRIAL?
The first sheepdog trials were in the United Kingdom in the 1870's. They arose from the natural admiration of the great dogs working the flocks, and a natural desire to prove one's own dog against the fine dogs from neighboring farms. Early trials in the United States were mostly auxiliary events to agricultural fairs. Over the years the trials became more organized and well attended.
Not all trials follow the exact set of elements in the order below, but most will use these elements.
Outrun (20 points)
The outrun begins with the dog at the handler's feet while the handler stands at a post placed to mark his position. The dog is sent to gather the sheep from the far end of the field. The dog flares out from the handler's side, widening as he goes. The dog's path should go wide and deep around the sheep so as not to disturb them before he is behind them and in position to bring them straight towards the handler.
Lift (10 points)
The lift may last only a few seconds, but is a critical moment in the run. The lift is where the dog makes his introduction. Sheep can read a dog well, and will quickly and quite accurately decide if the dog can be trusted, and if the dog must be respected. The dog should lift the sheep smoothly, neither rushing them nor allowing them to dawdle.
Fetch (20 points)
This is the trip from the point where the dog picked up the sheep to the handler's feet. The objective is to move the sheep quietly in a straight line. On a farm you don't want your sheep running, or traveling any further than needed. There are usually a set of panels about midway along the fetch that the sheep must pass between. Sometimes the panels are deliberately set off the line from the lift to the post. In this case the dog must take the sheep on a straight line from where they were lifted to the panels, then turn and continue on a new straight line to the handler's feet.
Drive (30 points)
When the sheep reach the handler they are taken around the post and started on the drive. This is generally a triangle, with the corners defined by two sets of panels. Like the fetch, the perfect drive moves the sheep quietly and steadily between each point. Sometimes the drive is shortened to 2 legs and the points dropped to 20 points.
Shed (10 points)
Once the sheep are returning to the handler's post on the last leg of the drive they are taken into a marked circle. The dog and handler must keep the sheep in that circle and split 2 sheep off the main group. Sheep do not like to be divided from the flock, but sometimes it is necessary to select certain animals out. Some trials will have collars or marks on some of the sheep and the handler will be directed to choose the sheep to separate based on those identifications. For example if two of five sheep are wearing collars you may be directed to take off two of the uncollared sheep. This shows how well the dog and handler can sort the stock without the aid of chutes or pens.
Pen (10 points)
The sheep must be brought into a small pen. The handler may not enter the pen, and must stand at the gate holding a line attached to the gate.
Single (10 points)
The single is much like the shed above, except that a single sheep is removed from the flock and held away. This is work that must be done with enough authority that the sheep does not try to beat the dog and get back to the group, and enough tact that the single sheep does not panic and bolt.
Double Gather/Double Lift
In a double gather the dog picks up a lot of sheep from one side of the field and fetches them to a designated point. At this point the dog leaves the first group of sheep and is re-directed back to a second group of sheep on the other side of the field. The dog casts around this second group and fetches them to the point where the first group was dropped. Then both groups are put together and taken through the drive.
The international shed generally starts with 20 sheep, 5 of which are wearing collars. The dog and handler must work together to carefully allow the 15 sheep without collars to escape, while never allowing the 5 sheep with collars out of the marked ring. Once the team has "shed" the 15 uncollared ewes the remaining 5 with collars are taken to the pen for the last phase of work.