To ensure a working dog is at peak condition and ready to take control of a herd of sheep, their handlers must be willing to get up early an put in the same amount of time as their dog does.
Julie Carter is a trainer of dog handlers as they prepare their animals for a variety of jobs. Owners may be wanting their dogs to work on farms, she said, dealing with livestock every day. Other people may simply want to have their dogs trained to perform at herding trials — the sport end of the spectrum.
Cater said she works out with her Border Collie, Bobbie, regularly to keep him on top of his skills — and able to work with younger dogs that are undergoing the training.
Carter likened the training to working with a young horse and rider. It’s practicing ways to control an animal’s instinct, to hone it and direct it to where the handler wants to go.
For Bobbie, that control comes in the form of voice commands and whistles from Carter. Bobbie trains his eyes on the leader of a herd of sheep and uses that contact, as well as wide, sweeping movements in the field, to direct the herd into a pen. He makes short work of it, but Carter said that kind of precision takes time and dedication.
“Bobbie has been doing this since he was one year old,” Carter explained. “Today, he’s an open level trial dog and has grown into it.”
Bobbie managed sheep well, Carter said, adding some owners want their dogs to be able to handle cattle — which is a different type of training altogether. While sheep take a softer hand, so to speak, with less noise and the insistent direction of the animal, cattle dogs have to be ready to jump right into a herd. Carter said those dogs will use their bark and their bite to keep cattle in line.
As in pretty much all dog training — whether it be for herding or for pets — the most important work is for the humans. Carter said the animals respond to people and it’s important that handlers are always practicing and training with their animals.
Carter, who has been training livestock dogs and competing with her own animals for 12 years, said she is quite busy, noting the Saanich Peninsula is the fastest growing area for herd training in North America right now.
“Over the next five years,” Carter said, “you are going to see a lot of high-calibre local handlers and they stand to do well in competitions over that time.”
To that end, she said she’s working on bringing a sanctioned sheep dog trial event to North Saanich’s Meadow Oak Farm at the end of July.
It’ll be a first for North Saanich, she said, noting it will be a revival of an event that has normally been held in Metchosin.