March 1, 2016

Farm working dogs in New Zealand. 12. Dog Trials

  By Dr Clive Dalton

Photo of 'Old Hemp' bred in Northumberland (UK) and now has his DNA in dog trial and working dogs around the world.

Dog trials have been part of New Zealand life since the establishment of sheep farming.  The late Neil Rennie’s research found that the first NZ trial was probably held at Wanaka in 1867 although it was not reported in the press. 

However, Neil found a trial reported in the Oamaru Times (now the Oamaru Mail) of July 9, 1869 as the third trial held on June 22-23 at Wanaka.  So these trials certainly outdated what was considered to be the world's first dog trial at Bala in North Wales in 1873!  Neil was always very thrilled with this historical fact!

The first trials were a bit sporadic, and it wasn't until dog trial clubs were formed that regular events took place.  The first trial, which included huntaway events Neil found was at Black Forest station in 1870.

Dog trialing in NZ is controlled by the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association which is made up of affiliated member clubs with meetings starting with the summer A&P shows and culminating in regional and national finals in about June.  There are shepherds trial and maiden dog trials for the less experienced held throughout the year.

Dog trialing, while still an important way to select top dogs, has through Television become a competitive sport with great public interest.

Entry qualifications for trials
The only qualification for a dog to enter a trial is its ability to work sheep.  Pedigree, colour, age or sex are not important.  Handlers can be of any age and there is no sex discrimination!  Competitors must be the bona fide owner of the dog being run, and should have owned the dog for at least 6 weeks before the competition.

Each trial has its rules of entry. At some you may have to pre-enter some days before with runs pre-scheduled to keep to a strict timetable.  In others you enter on the day but may have to wait till dusk to compete!

Most trial organisations now insist that dogs have a current hydatids treatment certificate

Check the rules
It's very important for competitors to check the rules of the particular SDTA before they start.  You can get them from any Dog Trail Club secretary and are fairly common to all trials.  However, there may be some non-standard events which are displayed at the trial. 

In almost all NZ trials one dog works three sheep.  The running of "doubles" where a shepherd works two dogs or more is a British practice and is only used here for television presentations to provide more entertainment for the viewer. 

Standard classes
There are four main standard classes for trials run under the NZSDTA.

Class 1: - Heading dogs - long head or long pull.
The competitor and dog stands in a ring from 200-500m in diameter, and in a direct line away from where three sheep are set free by a "liberator" or "slipper".  When the judge calls "time" the dog is sent on its "outrun" or "cast".  It should be free-running and the dog should not waver, tack or stop.  Most long-head runs start on a hill and finish on the flat, depending on the trial location.

A pear-shaped outrun is ideal and it can be to the left or right of the handler.  Generally most courses favour a right-hand cast.  A very wide outrun as used in a big paddock is not wanted but it's also important that the dog does not run so direct at the sheep that it panics them and they take flight.

When the dog completes the outrun, it should stop in such a position that when the sheep move, they come in a straight line to the handler.  This is known as "stopping on balance," before the dog "lifts" the sheep or starts them moving.

The dog now executes the "pull" or drive the sheep straight towards the handler.  The sheep should not stop on their journey and the pull is completed when the sheep enter the ring where the handler stands.  This is the "hold" and is "claimed" by the handler standing still with outstretched arms.  After the "claim" the judge will call "right".

To go for the perfect hold the handler moves around the sheep as they enter the ring so the final scene is the sheep facing the dog with the handler behind them. 

The time allocated for this event is usually about 9 - 14 minutes.

Class 2: - Heading dogs - short head and yard

The competitor and dog stand in a pegged quadrangle or "quad".  As in Class 1, the dog makes an outrun and pulls the sheep to the handler, entering the quad between the front markers.  Even if the sheep escape, they must be taken back to enter the quad through "the front door", and the handler cannot leave the quad until this is completed.

Competitor and dog then move the sheep along a pegged 20m-wide lane towards two parallel hurdles.  They cannot stray outside the lane on this "first drive".  The handler can move across "the drive" but shouldn't get ahead of the shoulder of the leading sheep or move backwards.

Points are lost for excessive movement or running, or for the competitor and dog changing sides during the drive.  This first drive ends at a peg in the middle of the lane, 10m away from the hurdles through which the sheep have got to be driven.

After all the sheep have passed the peg, the handler may move about freely to help the dog drive the sheep through the hurdles.  The sheep are now in the "free working area" ready to pass through the hurdles that are 3m apart.  All sheep and the handler must pass through the hurdles.  So if any slip past, they must be brought back.

The "second drive" is similar to the first and ends at a line 10m from the yard.  Once over this line, the competitor can go to the 2m square yard and open the gate until it hits a stop that prevents it opening more than 90 degrees.  Once the hand is on the gate, it cannot be released until the sheep are completely inside the pen.

The gate cannot be used to frighten the sheep and drive them in.  That's the dog's job!  No part of the competitor, including the stick which must be no more than 1m long, is permitted to come forward of the line extending along the gate and out from its head.  Only behind this line can the competitor move about to assist the dog.

The run is completed when the sheep are penned and the gate shut.  The time for this event is usually about 10 - 14 minutes.

Class 3:  Huntaways - Zigzag hunts

For the "zigzag" or "huntaway with slew" the competitor stands at the bottom of the course, usually in a pegged area and facing a steep hill.  Three sheep are liberated at the top of the course and at the call of "time" the trial starts.

The competitor directs the dog to hunt the sheep in a straight line through the first two pegs marked on the course.  The sheep must then change direction or "slew" towards a second set of makers and then proceed to the top markers in line with the first.

The dog must "face-up" to the sheep.  In other words it must bark at the sheep, and not at the handler.

The time for this event is usually around 8 - 10 minutes.

Class 4:  Huntaways - straight hunt

This begins in the same way as the zigzag but the only markers are those at the top of the course.  The sheep have to be hunted directly to the centre of these top markers - in as straight a line as possible.

At some trials, class 3 and 4 are run on the same course, with the two sets of markers being ignored for the straight hunt.

Time allowed for this event is usually about 8 - 10 minutes.

General points
·      The aim of trials is to demonstrate a high level of stock handling and dog control.
·      The challenge is to be able to assess quickly the sheep's strengths and weaknesses.
·      The aim is to direct force at stock from a distance.  The dog must be careful but firm.
·      The first contact of the dog with the sheep is a critical time and must be accomplished with great care.
·      There is no disgrace in not finishing a run.  It's better to withdraw with grace than hound some other person's sheep to injury or exhaustion.
·      Withdrawal is indicated by a wave to the judge or walking off the course.  If you cannot control the sheep, then leave them for the officials to handle.

Judges are all experienced dog trialists who aim to judge each run with impartiality and to a uniform standard.  Judging in nearly all NZ trials is by one judge who takes points off the perfect score of 100.  There are a large number of reasons to deduct points.  Here are some major ones:

·      Not completing the run.
·      A dog that loses concentration and stops to sniff an area or urinate.
·      A huntaway that shows inattention to the sheep, eg looks back and barks at the handler called "barking off the stock".
·      A heading dog that makes a slow outrun without much purpose
·      A heading dog that bites sheep.

Cattle dog trials
Although sheep dogs work cattle, trials to demonstrate this skill have not been popular in New Zealand.

The Stud Book
The NZ Sheepdog Stud Book, in which all dogs that win trials can be entered started in 1940.  It is run by a stud book committee and a registrar. 

Further information
New Zealand Sheep Dog Trail Association, PO Box 307, Hastings, New Zealand.

Further reading
Burns, M and Fraser, M.N. (1966).  Genetics of the Dog.  London: Oliver and Boyd

Dalton, D.C.(1983).  Farm Working Dogs.  Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries AgLink advisory leaflets.  FPP 613, 695, 696, 697, 698,699, 700, 701, 702, 703,704, 775.

Fox, M.W. (1965).   Canine Behaviour. Springfield: C.C. Thomas.

Fox, M.W. (1972).   Understanding Your Dog. New York: Coward. McCann and Geoghegan.

Kelly, R.B. (1958).   Sheep Dogs. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Longton, T and Hart, E (1969).   Your Sheep Dog and its Training.  Battle (Sussex):  Alan Exley.

Lorenz, K (1953)   Man Meets Dog.  London:  Penguin Books.

Rennie, N (1984).   Working dogs.  Shortland Publications, Auckland NZ.  96p

Scott. J.P. and Fuller, J.L. (1965).  Genetics and Social Behaviour of the Dog.  Chicago: University of Chicargo Press.

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