Connected To The Land 04-2018-Fall-718-PM96 - Page 29

THE SHEEPDOG CHAMPIONS TRAINERS EXPLAIN WHAT THESE AMAZING DOGS DO Story by Alan Flowers. C rouching almost as low as a snake, the dog waits. Suddenly and smoothly, it zips across ten metres of field, seen by a small sheep herd who move skittishly away. As if tethered by an elastic, the dog snaps back 20 metres to the other side of the herd and repeats the process. The sheep zig and zag, following their herd leader toward some destination known only by the small dog. The art and science of good sheepdog herding is fascinating to watch. Perhaps nobody is more fascinated than the dog’s trainer, who from across the field occasionally uses a whistle to command an action to the dog. The event audience is rapt with attention, seeing a centuries-old mini-drama played out before their eyes. This drama was evident at the Canadian Sheep Dog Championships, held near Medicine Hat, AB August 23-26. Sheepdog enthusiast Chris Jobe hosted the event, helped by her team of volunteers. “We’re thrilled,” she says. “We’ve never had this size of show in the West before,” with more than 100 dogs and 300 sheep participating in 4 days of trials, including the championship. THE ‘COLLIE EYE’ Border collies have been bred for generations to emphasize the genetic attributes that make them effective herders. Former University of British Columbia professor Dr. Stanley Coren, author of several books on dogs, says there are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive (what the dog is bred to do), adaptive (how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems) and working and obedience (the equivalent of ‘school learning’).” Border collies are number one in intelligence, according to Coren. But that’s not all. According to Chris Jobe, they also have the ‘Collie Eye’. “A Collie has the stare of a wolf on the hunt,” says Jobe. “That look is what makes the livestock move.” Yet herding sheep is not about scaring the sheep into running for the corral. “The livestock should feel comfortable, not threatened. A really good dog will stay right at the edge of the flight zone so the animals are not running.” In other words, the dog has an instinct for the correct position for each situation, since the flight zone will depend upon the number of Fall 2018 sheep as well as the individual sheep, or the type of sheep This accounts for the flurries of movement, and the low crouching to observe the herd. “I look for how that dog is moving the livestock,” says Jobe. “Does he have presence and confidence?” Trainers invest at least one year of training in their dog, plus a few years of competitions. Just like people, some need more or less time as they become contenders for the championship. TRAINING FOR GREATNESS “If I could use only one word to describe a good trainer, it would be ‘observant’,” says internationally-known judge Patrick Shanahan, who judged the 2018 Championships. “Dog trialing is a culmination of all those observations. Watching your dog. Watching the sheep react. Watching how your dog is able to communicate, and enhancing the communication with the sheep, dog, and you.” Shanahan also values respect for the sheep. “I have seen many a person disrespect an animal, all in the name of training their 29