Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Herding Capability Tested

Brisbane, Sisci and I participated in an American Herding Breed Association trial this weekend, and the dogs each earned their Herding Capability Test title. These are our first herding titles ever! I also helped set up and run the trial, which was a wonderful and also exhausting experience. Our venue had horseback riding arenas, which required some modification in order to use them for sheep. The biggest project was tying snow fencing along the rails, and shoveling dirt onto the bottom of the new fence to hold it securely in place. We had a wonderful crew comprised of many of the handlers in the trial, but it still took several hours to get everything set up the day before the trial.
Australian cattle dog mix AHBA HCT herding trial class
Photo by Candy Lidstrom

In order to earn the Herding Capability Test title, a dog must pass the test twice under two different judges. This is a pass/fail test that basically differentiates between herding the sheep and just chasing them around. The test is done in a small pen so the dog and stock can't go very far if things get out of hand.

The requirement for the first leg of the test is to move the sheep around in a controlled fashion, which is something I've been able to do with Brisbane, Sisci, Ranger, Annie, and even Ru occasionally.

Photo by Candy Listrom
The second leg of the test requires a bit more control. The dog must be able to stay still from the time the leash comes off until the judge gives the ok, which is not very long. Then the dog and handler need to move the sheep back and forth between two cones a couple of times. It is not necessary to go around the cones, they just give a nice point of reference to move between. Finally, the dog must have some sort of stop, usually 'down' or 'sit', and recall to the handler on command. These are fairly loose requirements, even a step towards the handler counts as a recall as long as you aren't making a flying tackle as you dog blows past you toward the sheep.

Brisbane did awesome on both legs of his test. He is no longer having foot issues, but he often gets tired easily and doesn't normally like going all the way around the sheep if he can avoid it. At the trial he was in good spirits and happily ran circles around the sheep for as long as I let him. He has always had a nice stop and recall, and waits impatiently for me to let him work as soon as we get into the pen with the sheep.
American Herding Breed Association capability test
Photo by Candy Lidstrom

Sisci is still pretty sure that herding is all about biting the sheep, and training her is basically a process of stretching out the time she behaves herself in between taking cheap shots. The judge for our first leg on Saturday said I could stand to relax a bit because my dog does good work. He has border collies.

She was much better behaved for the second leg of our test, but decided to scream at me the whole time because she knew I wouldn't let her bite the sheep. That judge said I knew what I needed to do to keep my dog from hurting the stock. She has Belgian sheepdogs.
Sisci's AHBA HCT test
Photo by Candy Lidstrom

On Sunday we also got a much-needed California rainstorm, complete with high wind and occasional hail. The trial went on as planned, and everyone got completely soaked because there's just no staying dry when it's raining upside down and sideways no matter what kind of rain gear you've got. My dogs got to do their tests during a short break in the rain, but nearly everything else happened during the downpour. Everyone did surprisingly well, including the dogs that did their tests in the hail.

As soon as the last dog finished their run, the sheep were whisked back to their nice warm barn. The dogs all rested snug in cars and RVs. The utterly sodden people went to work rolling up snow fencing, loading posts and panels into trailers, and returning the site to the condition in which we found it. The sun came out just as we finished loading up, and shone on our very drippy handing out of ribbons and awards. At that point it had been raining almost nonstop for six hours. It was beautiful, and wet.

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