Sheepdog Trials - What is a Sheepdog Trial?

As far as possible, the conditions and work to be encountered in everyday shepherding on the hills and farms are followed at sheepdog trials. They are not intended as a succession of 'tricks' or gimmicky obstacles, but rather a practical demonstration of the skills the dog uses every day of his working life. Those who need to look after sheep, sometimes on difficult country, need the help of one or more able sheepdogs.  For many years dogs have been bred to develop the traits of intelligence, stamina and obedience.  The finest example is the breed known as the Border Collie. 

Throughout the year sheepdog trials are organised where sheepdogs compete against one another, this can assist us in understanding which breed lines are producing the most able dogs and compare their abilities. The culmination of the breeder's skill is demonstrated in sheepdog trials, and although breeding is of paramount importance, it is the sheepdog trial that is the 'shop window' for the end result of the breeder's labours, and is the endless delight of those who compete and those who spectate.

During a sheepdog trial, dogs are guided through a series of commands to complete a variety of tasks which reflect their everyday work with a packet of sheep. Each handler will have a preference when giving their commands, either by voice, by whistle, or a combination of both. This has changed very little over the years, and the shepherds of yesterday would easily recognise the requirements of today’s handlers’ competition.

Many of the dogs seen on the trials field will have been at work on the farm, probably that very morning before setting off for the trial. It is true to say that the skills they acquire in their everyday work are key to them gaining maximum points. The system of scoring at trials is that a maximum number of points are allocated for each element, and dog and handler actually 'lose' points for any faults as they progress around the course.

The whole of the trial is of a practical nature and the International Sheep Dog Society rules for these competitions are solely concerned with the working capabilities of the Border Collie and its handler.

Many trials take place at a local level, organised by small, local groups and societies. All ages and abilities can participate. There are Nursery trials for young dogs who demonstrate early skills, progressing to Novice and Open trials, where handlers gain points to permit entry to the National trials.

Click here for details of Trial Qualification Criteria.



Photo courtesy of Robert Moffett