Sheep dogs in the blood

An entrant in last weekend's Murrumbidgee Championship Sheep Dog Trials.

Visitors came from all over the country to compete in the Murrumbidgee Championship Sheep Dog Trials at the Narrandera Sportsground over the long weekend.

Jenny Whitelock, from Western Australia, was part of a contingent of dog trainers and triallers who took part.

“There’s a crew of us,” Ms Whitelock said.

“We come over for the Australian Supreme Sheep Dog Championships – they are held towards the end of the year, and they rotate through the states. Last year Western Australia hosted them and this year they’re being held in Seymour in Victoria.

“We left home on July 22. At home we have ten trials throughout the year, eight official ones and two unofficial. And that’s in one year. Over here, by the end of the three months we’ve done 13 trials.

“It’s definitely worth it. The dogs, being on the trials every week, benefit hugely from it and we do too, with our trialling and handling skills.”

The trip has already paid off for Ms Whitelock.

“I’ve had a few placings while we’ve been trialling over here and my trialling has improved heaps, just with the constant practice.”

Interestingly, most of the dogs in the trial were border collies, rather than kelpies or Australian cattle dogs.

“They’re more biddable,” Ms Whitelock said.

“The kelpies are very independent and like to do their own thing. Border collies are very trainable, they want to please. You say jump and a kelpie will tell you to go and jump yourself, while the collie will say ‘how high?’

“We still try to breed practical working dogs. It’s easier to have a softer dog. A softer dog, a dog that’s a little bit weaker, will do better on the trial ground, in general. But you’ve still got to have a dog that will walk up on its stock, into the face of stock and push them.

“A lot of the people that are trialling are farmers themselves anyway. So they breed working dogs first and trialling is a hobby. Which is the way it’s always been.”

Another trainer Kerry Lovell came all the way from Queensland to compete.

She also plans to eventually head to Seymour for the Supreme Championships.

“I’ve brought six dogs with me, and I’ve got four of them entered, my working dogs, and that naughty yappy one is just a rescue dog. And then I’ve got an old kelpie, who is very retired,” Ms Lovell said.

“I’ve got four working Border Collies, but I have had other kelpies. I did Agility for 20-odd years and Flyball with the dogs, and then I got old and I couldn’t run anymore, and my other dogs died and I decided to try this because I don’t have to run.

“I’ve only been doing it for three years, but it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Working with dogs and people is fine, but adding the sheep in makes all the difference. You’ve got to
learn to read the sheep, and even though I’ve had horses and dogs all my life I haven’t worked stock,” Ms Lovell said.

The new-found unpredictability of sheep was enough to contend with, but Ms Lovell has found that dogs are disappearing from farms.

“We’ve found lately, I don’t know so much about down here, but in Queensland, people aren’t using dogs to work the sheep on their properties as much, they’re using bikes and four-wheelers. And so a lot of sheep are going to trial having never really seen a dog.”

Ms Lovell was competing in the novice and encourage categories.

“There are six dogs in the encourage event and four of them are mine.

“Well, I might get a place, you never know.”

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