trial (also herding
trial) is a competitive dog
sport in which herding breeds
move sheep around a field, fences, gates, or
enclosures as directed by their handlers.
Such events are particularly associated with
hill farming areas, where sheeprange
widely on largely unfenced land.
Sheep dog trials of some
sort or another have probably occurred at
agricultural fairs and shows for centuries.
The present form is thought to have
developed originally in the "Borders" area
and Scotland from which the Border
Collie also comes. However, the
sport's organizing bodies regard the first
recorded sheepdog trials as those held in
Bala, Wales, in 1873.
There are several events,
but the key element is the control of three
to six sheep by one or two highly trained
dogs under the control of a single handler.
Both time and obedience play a part, as
competitors are penalized if a sheep strays
from the prescribed course.
Another popular event
involves having the dog split six sheep into
two groups of three and conducting each
group in turn to small pens through a
defined course by heading dogs. The group
not being led is guarded by one of the two
dogs, an eye-dog (from
its ability to keep the sheep still by head
movement alone). This is more difficult than
it sounds because the two groups of sheep
invariably try to stay together.
Yard Dog Trials are also
gaining in popularity, too. In these
competitions dogs have to move sheep through
several yards, including a drafting race and
sometimes into and out of a truck, with
Cattle dog trials,
similar to the standard sheep dog trials,
are also popular in Australia and sheep dogs
are usually used for this sport. Cattle dogs
are not used in this sport.
The Trial Field
The exact layout of the
trial field can vary significantly. Most
experienced handlers agree that there are
certain elements that are important to
ensure that the challenge to the dog and
handler is a fair and complete test. These
The dog must leave the handler and fetch
sheep that are some distance away
The dog must take control of the sheep
and bring them to the handler
is against the dog's instinct to drive
the sheep away from the handler so an away
a good test and should be included
The dog and handler should be able to
combine to move the sheep into a
confined space, typically a pen but in
some trials they are asked to load them
onto a vehicle.
Other popular test
elements that are often added include:
The dog must separate the group into two
groups in a controlled way in accordance
with the instructions from the judge.
This may involve some sheep being marked
and the dog and handler working together
to separate them from the rest or some
variation of that. This is known as shedding and
is almost always required to be done in
a ring marked out on the ground.
another test in which the dog and
handler combine to separate one sheep
from the group.
Most trials include a cross
the dog is required to move the sheep in
a controlled way in a straight line from
one side of the field to the other in
front of the handler but some distance
away from them.
In addition there are
various elements that may be added to
increase the level of difficulty of a trial.
One such example is the double
the dog is required to fetch one group of
sheep, bring them to the handler, look back
and find another group, somewhere else on
the trial field some distance away. They
must then leave the first group and do a
second outrun to fetch the others and bring
them to join the first group.
In most competitions the
dog will be required to do the fetching and
driving tests on their own. During these
test elements the handler must remain at a
stake positioned during the layout of the
trial course. During the shedding, singling
and penning the handler usually leaves the
stake and works with the dog to achieve the
The most popular scoring
system works as follows:
judge watches each run and assigns a
score based on their judgment.
Each test element is assigned a maximum
score. For example there may be 10
points for the cast (outrun) and so on.
Each competitor is assigned the full
amount for each element before they
they negotiate each test element a judge
deducts points for each fault. For
example during a drive the judge may
deduct points when the sheep move off
line. During each element they can only
lose as many points as are assigned to
They must negotiate each element in
sequence before proceeding to the next.
set amount of time for the whole course,
usually around 15 minutes, is decided on
before the start of the trial.
There is no advantage in completing the
course in a short amount of time but if
the competitor runs out of time then
they will lose all the points for the
element they were in the process of
completing and all those that they have
yet to attempt.
The competitor's score is the sum of
their score for all completed elements.
For most elements the
judge focuses on the behavior of the sheep
not the dog or handler. However if the dog
rings the sheep (runs completely around them
in a circle) they will usually be penalized.
A dog that bites a sheep may be
This points type of
system has been in use since at least 1979 and
may have been formalized at about that same