January 23, 2010

NZ farm working dogs. Dog trials. The Long Head

By Dr Clive Dalton

The Long Head
This is a trial for Heading Dogs, where the dog has to 'sight' the sheep at a long distance, move them and then bring them to the handler in a straight line. Three sheep are always used in trials in New Zealand as this is the most difficult combination - it's not a flock, and the sheep will always split into two and one - and in unpredictable ways. The handler's skill is to predict this - to be able to 'read' the sheep.

Picture 1. The release and cast. In the picture the three sheep are on the top of the hill on the left and have just been released from a holding pen by the 'releaser'. After the judge has given the start signal, the competitor or handler at the bottom of the hill has sent his dog away to find the sheep. Timing starts from then. The dog is at 11 o'clock from handler at the bottom of the hill on a right hand cast, and then go around them for 'the hold'.

Here's a picture of the releaser at the top of the hill, with his dog holding the sheep in the corner of a bit of fence until they are sighted by the competitor's dog. The releaser's dog is part hidden by a tuft of long of grass.

Picture 2. The dog (the tiny black dot) is now up the hill on the right nearly on a level with the sheep, 'keeping out' on command, so it goes above the sheep and comes around on to them for the 'hold'.

Picture 3. The hold. It's hard to see at this distance, but the dog has arrived at the sheep and is lying down above them in the 'hold' position. The sheep are looking at the dog anticipating its next move. You can now appreciate the importance of the dog's colour, to be able to see it and direct it at these distances.

Picture 4. The Lift then the Drive. Here the dog has completed 'the lift' and the sheep are starting to move from their release point. The dog is working on the sheep's left and directed by the handler has to move the sheep in a straight line down the middle of steep slope of the course.

Points are lost if the sheep veer off this line. The course is completed when the sheep pass through two peg markers at the base of the hill.

Here's a picture of a competitor whose dog has done a great job in driving the sheep down the slope. At this stage the competitor is allowed to move to the marked circle that the sheep have to end up in to complete the course.

Picture 5. The finish. The sheep have been driven passed the final markers to complete the course.

If the allocated time is used up before the course is completed, then the judge shouts 'Time' and the handler calls off his dog. Other helpers and their dogs retrieve and remove the sheep from the course for the next competitor, or the competitor will do this.

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