Home' Smart Farmer : March 2013 Contents March 2013
IN the first of this three-part
series, I would like to discuss
what a working dog really needs,
It should be remembered that
dogs do not have a mean bone in
their bodies. They don't have a
nature that seeks revenge, or wishes
to inflict pain, or wants to punish
for some conceived wrongdoing.
Their decision-making process is
simple and very easy to understand,
once you know about what I call the
They don't work on 'democracy'
but something I term 'dogocracy'.
Some of the decisions you make,
and the things you force your dog to
do, could be human traits and, if
they don't make sense to the dog,
they don't understand why you
would then want to do it.
In other words, if it doesn't make
sense to them, inside they are asking
So, what do working dogs really
want, and what do you need to give
It's best if I explain it like this:
If you've taken the opportunity to
sit for a day or so and watch a sheep
dog trial, you would have seen the
The handler walks out to the cast-
ing peg with his dog and in the dis-
tance, some sheep are released.
A quiet word from the handler
and the dog races away in a wide arc
until he is at the other side of the
He stops by 'clapping' on the ground
and waits. This position is called the
'balance' position and it is about the 12
o'clock mark to the handler.
Once the sheep notice him he will
come onto his feet and, using a
back-and-forth motion, keep them
in a tight little mob while steering
them slowly back to the handler.
The rules of trialing are pretty
comprehensive. After all, it is a com-
petition, and all competitions must
But the basic rule of trialing, in
Australia, is that the dog must do
the work and the handler cannot
assist the dog in any way.
Nor can the handler influence
sheep by moving the body or wav-
ing the hand in a way that will assist
Handlers must situate themselves
on the designated mark and are not
allowed to move from that position
until that part of the course is com-
pleted. They can then move to the
next part, or section, of the course.
Cast, lift, draw
The first section of the trial is
called the cast, lift and draw. The
'cast' is the time the dog is sent out
to get the sheep, the 'lift' is the
action of gathering the sheep togeth-
er, and the 'draw' is bringing them
back to the handler.
So back to the trial.
The dog has his little mob -- gen-
erally three sheep but can be more --
in a tight little bunch, and he is
steering them back to his handler.
From the time he 'lifts' the sheep,
he must maintain a straight a line as
possible, and the judge will be
watching to see if he deviates from
that line by more than 4.5 metres on
each side. If he does, he loses points.
If you stand very close to a good
handler while this is going on, you
will hear very few commands, and
any that are given will generally be
in a very quiet voice.
The handler mostly allows the dog
to just bring them back without any
After the dog and the sheep have
arrived near the handler, the sheep
must be taken around the handler in
an anti-clockwise direction, main-
taining a distance of not more than
4.5 metres from the handler.
Once they have reached a 3
O'clock position, the handler is
allowed to move to the next part of
the course, or the next obstacle.
That completes the 'draw'.
There are four more obstacles to
complete the course -- the gap, the
race, the bridge, and the pen.
Once sheep have completed the
cast-lift-draw course, the handler
moves off to the next obstacle,
which is the gap.
The rules state that he must walk
in a straight line between the obsta-
cles. He must not slow down or
speed up, and the dog must bring
the sheep along with him within a
When he arrives at the gap, he
must take a position in a designated
area to the side of the gap, some 2.4
metres away, and remain there until
the obstacle is completed.
He then continues around the
course in an anti-clockwise direc-
tion, completing the race, the bridge
and finally finishes by putting the
sheep in the pen, whereupon he
shuts the gate. All competitors have
15 minutes to complete the course.
Are trial dogs different?
Numerous times I have overheard
farmers and stock workers voice the
opinion that "they are only trial
dogs, they aren't real workers".
This assumption is absolutely
If the dog cannot do his job on the
farm with sheep, cattle, goats or pigs,
he will not be able to perform at the
Trialers love to compete with their
dogs and they have a wonderful time
travelling around, catching up with
old friends, and making new ones.
But they are fully aware that they
have the public watching them, and
they don't want to be embarrassed
by presenting a dog that is just not
up to scratch.
The dog must be very good at
home before being taken out to trial.
Having said that, there are some
traits that are important in a good
trial dog. That doesn't mean to say
that your dog at home shouldn't be
gifted with these traits, or that the
better dogs should have them.
Traits a good trial dog must have
include a good eye, good cover,
speed -- especially laterally, good
heading instinct, and an extremely
strong desire to work.
Additional traits such as width on
his stock, silent working, and walk
up strength will make him even bet-
How do you get to that level?
If I was to tell you that it isn't that
difficult to start trialing, you proba-
bly wouldn't believe me but that is
as long as you understand the lead-
But before you start on the road to
trialing there are some things that
will make your job easier.
You need to have a good dog, a
commitment to training, an under-
standing of the way a dog behaves
naturally, and a clear picture of the
three most important things in a
dog's life -- the pack, a leader, and
To understand how a dog behaves
naturally you need to know where
he came from some 400,000 years
ago and how he behaved in the wild
... way back then.
That is in his DNA, and he will do
those things naturally. You can try to
change them, but all you'll succeed
in doing is ruin your dog.
There are many people handling
stock right now who have ruined
their dog by not understanding the
Next week: The lupus connection.
• Need to know more?
If your decisions don't make sense to your dog, he will be left wondering why.
Typical three-sheep course
with BEN PAGE,
Working Dog Centre
Doin' what he
was meant to
WORKING DOGS -- PART 1
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