The Border Collies you will see in these trials are related to a long line of dogs of various breeds and talents used in herding. Dogs with a Border Collie appearance have been noted in artwork from as early as the 14th century. However, the registry of Border Collies are of fairly recent origin and have traits that absolutely define them: the silent use of "eye" to control the sheep, the crouching creep, and the wide-circling outrun to gather the flock, not to mention their extraordinary intelligence.
In September, 1893, a Northumbrian farmer by the name of Adam Telfer succeeded in breeding a dog with the old working collies’ qualities of hardiness, great power over sheep and cattle, keen instinct, and concentration, combined with the milder nature of other collies. That dog was Old Hemp (1893-1901) considered the sire of the Border collie breed. These dogs are deemed indispensable for herding in difficult terrain like that of the border region between England and Scotland where motorized vehicles cannot go, or vast landscapes as in Australia where it would require an impossible number of men to gather and move the herds.
Wiston Cap (b. 1963) was a popular stud dog in the history of the breed and his bloodline can be seen in most bloodlines of the modern day Collie. His image, in the characteristic Border Collie herding pose, appears on International Sheep Dog Society badges and pins.
The first dog trial was held in Wanaka, New Zealand, in 1867. The first sheepdog trial held in the United Kingdom was at Bala, Wales, on October 9, 1873. (A couple of shepherds took bets as to which of them had the best sheepdog and this led to others being invited.) This trial has been held annually since then, with the exceptions of war years and outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.
The first recorded sheep dog trial in the U.S. was part of Philadelphia’s centennial year celebration in 1880. Apparently, this trial was an isolated event because when 1,500 people gathered in Bennington, Vermont, on August 16, 1928, to witness a competition between seven dogs, it was referred to as “the first sheep dog trial held in the U.S.”
The United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all host national championships followed by an International Championship featuring the best dogs and handlers from each of the four. Their sanctioning body, the International Sheepdog Society, also hosts a World Championship every three years with dogs from 25 or more countries participating.
Among the most prestigious trials held annually today in North America are the USBCHA National Championship which is held at various locations throughout North America, The Meeker Classic in Meeker Colorado, and the Bank of the West Soldier Hollow Classic in Heber Utah.
The first trials on Vashon were held from 1999-2002. The reformed Vashon Sheepdog Classic has been held annually at Misty Isle Farms since 2010.
During VSDC competitions, the mission of these highly trained dogs is, at the signal from the handler, to run to the top of the field, gather the sheep and move them in a quiet workman-like manner through a series of tasks that could be encountered on the farm. The sheep are to be guided with kindness and patience throughout the run. A “grip” or bite is cause for immediate disqualification (unless the dog is defending him-/herself). All along, the handler guides the dog with whistles or voice commands. The entire run must be completed within an allotted number of minutes.
Every team starts out with the maximum number of points that can be awarded in that trial. The judge deducts points as errors are made. The judge will take into account the how difficult the sheep may be.
The judged phases of work in the Vashon Sheepdog Classic are:
The Outrun (20 points): This is when the dog leaves their handler’s feet and runs off to gather the sheep set at the end of field. They will need to run approximately 425 yards from the post at Misty Isle to reach the sheep. The outrun should be curved, like the side of a pear, so that it is wide and deep enough to not disturb the sheep until the dog is behind them and ready to drive them in a direct line back to the handler. The outrun can be on either side of the course and it is the handler’s choice whether to send their dog to the right or the left for the gather.
The Lift (10 points): As the dog concludes the outrun, it should approach the sheep in a manner that convinces them to move down the field. This first interaction between dog and sheep, though it may only take seconds, often determines how successful the run will be and, ideally, establishes a calm, steady, and straight line to the handler waiting at the post.
The Fetch (20 points): The fetch is the line of travel once the dog has the sheep on their way back to the handler. It should be as efficient and straight as possible. Halfway down the fetch line are gates that they should pass through before being brought around the handler to begin the drive.
The Drive (30 points): This is a complicated part of a run where the dogs show their ability to keep control of the sheep, driving them through two sets of gates while taking directional commands from the handler. Swerving about or other wasteful movements and missing gates are causes for point deductions. The entire drive is approximately 350 yards.
The Shed (10 points): The team must split off a specified number of sheep indicated by the judge in the morning handlers’ meeting. The dog must take control of them and then regroup the flock while remaining in the marked shedding ring. The judge will signal when the shed is successful so that the handler can move on to the pen. On Friday and Saturday the dogs will need to shed two sheep, regroup, put them all in the pen and, once released, shed one sheep within 12 minutes. On Sunday, they will be asked to shed two sheep, regroup and then pen them all within 11minutes.
The Pen (10 points): After the shed and regroup the sheep are penned. This is a joint effort by dog and handler and you will see the shepherd’s crook in use.
Note: The order, points, distance, and amount of time allowed are determined by the organizers of a particular trial and can be made on the morning of the competition depending on conditions.