Updated: Jan 22, 2020
The Fall 2019 Herding Trials Season begins.
AKC Herding Trials, Bushnell, Florida
(full photo feature at end of article)
In the heart of Florida, the dogs are more than pets. This largely agricultural area from rural outskirts of Orlando to the Georgia border is greener and the herding of livestock is both daily work and a fun game.
Florida geography strikes out from the south east of N. America. Known for its beaches and swamps as the peninsula is mostly at sea level, but not the central part. The backbone of state rises, a little. A high point of only 345 feet above sea level, but enough to provide gentle rolling hills and green pastures.
As the population has grown in the seaside towns, more and more are talking note of the inner state and those with a dog of a herding heritage are also finding the herding in Florida is alive and well. Both advanced “Trials” and more casual “Pre-Trial” events become more common in the cooler months of the Fall and Winter, and we visited the Acorn Acres farm to see one of the first of the 2019 Fall.
Sheep dogs aren’t all black and white
The image most have when the topic of sheep herding is ever discussed is most likely to be of woolly sheep, men in old hats and teed working with the classic Border Collies of the United Kingdom.
The truth is, Florida sheep aren't especially "woolly" and the shepherds of as varied as their dogs.
Even more when you add the breeds eligible under the Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program launched in 2008.
You may be surprised to find you have a Herding Dog on the couch next to you!
Pre-trial puts your pup up against both sheep and the judge for the first time in many cases.
"The herding test is offered in a non-competitive pass/fail format as an instinct test, Herding Test and Pre-Trial test. All are conducted within a fenced arena and includes the use of livestock such as ducks, sheep or cattle.
During a test, a dog must demonstrate the ability to move and control livestock by fetching or driving and be sufficiently trained to work at the proper balance point to move the stock forward on the course" - AKC
For many of the dogs it was the first time in front of the judges. Though the dogs seems less concerned about that than their handlers.
The Collies Story
Mary Anne Campbell is from New Jersey. Hardly the icon of stock herding in America today, but with a love of the Rough Coated Collie she’s taken the opportunity to start learning since moving to Florida and this day had Duncan (age 7) and Summer (age 5) taking their first pre-trial tests.
She has spent two years now learning the basics and learned there are a lot of moving parts to consider in this challenge of dogs and humans.
“I have learned there is a lot I don’t know yet… in herding I can not just focus on my dog, I have the sheep with minds of their own (stock)” - Mary Ann Campbell
Mary is typical of many of our dog owners who take the first step into being active with their dogs and competes in multiple sports, but importantly provides a critical role for our military and their families in these days of frequent and often rapid deployments. “Hunter” is one of the specially trained dogs to attend the Yellow Ribbon events held during and before deployments of our military. They help with the anxiety and are their to provide comfort to all in need.
“Yellow Ribbon Program is a series of events designed to provide members and families with essential resources prior to departure (pre-deployment), a level of stability and support while deployed (during deployment), and successful re-integration techniques after the deployment cycle ends (post deployment).” - DoD
This week’s trials offered sheep and ducks. The ducks are often the more unpredictable. The judges are looking for team work first and foremost. Good handling, safety and sense of the environment as the handler and dog move the stock through a series of obstacle. These may be anything from a bridge to a pen.
Handling of a dog in the trials differs from many more recent and popular dog sports of today. It requires serious training and constant practice to achieve the highest quality outcome. Herding in both work and play requires real commitment, but the reward is an incredible and obvious bond that develops that many “modern games” can quite match.
Acorn and Deb
Deb Mintzer was raised around stock cattle, rodeos and calf roping. Cattle Dogs were a constant presence and after moving to Florida, getting married and finding herself managing a 1280 acre ranch she started training her own to help with the work.
Deb describes her own dogs as "pretty dogs", purebred AKC dogs. She wanted to learn more about the herding trade and show even "pretty dogs can do this"
If you spend much time in the herding communities of Florida, you will know Deb's name pretty soon. From hosting to mentoring, she is a pillar in keeping Florida's herding vibrant.
It should not be a surprise to discover Deb is a pragmatic sort. becoming proficient in driving stock with your dog is a lot of work and takes passion to the sport, but it isn't for everyone and just because you have a dog breed of herding ancestry doesn't mean they must.
“Herding breeds can do many sports and never see a cow, a sheep, a duck because they never are not going to lay on the couch in their old age going ‘If only I could of herded in my younger years” - Deb Mintzer
Getting Started Going On Out!
How to get started for the newcomer?
The answer is the same every time i ask. Get a trainer. Stock dog handling is not one that can be self-taught and requires commitment and willpower to achieve. Unless you are in a herding family, where the skills are passed down from one generation to the next, you will want that experienced mentor to guide, encourage and teach how to safely navigate these trials with your own dog. It can still be difficult to make that first connection and I'd encourage you to "Like" @Bad Azz Dogz on Facebook and watch the events page here on out website to see when the next event is in our state of Florida.
Veterans with Disabilities:
Herding offers a special series of challenges and rewards. Those challenges may seem daunting at first, or perhaps you already have experience.
The key is the first step and for those dogs that you see the "switch come on" you are both is for the most amazing experience. Now it is up to you.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or the organizations linked in the article or at end of article if you are a 1st responder or military veteran and have sepcific questions. I wil do my best to direct you to the best sources to answer or answer those I can.
“Lame, blind or deaf dogs may not participate in AKC Herding trials.” AKC
Herding Trials are one of the oldest and most misunderstood activities for the stock dog community. Unlike some dog sports, it requires training of both handler and dog with skills and methods that are not typical or intuitive to most people. However, once hooked, you will find a very strong supportive and caring community that is unique in its traditions and strong sense of friendship and extended family.
There is an easy atmosphere and good people and little patience for nonsense or gossip. They are an escape and chance to decompress and put your soul at ease watching these wonderful creatures do what they were meant to do and loving every minute of it.
** Photo-Feature **
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AKC Herding Trials 20 September 2019
Bad Azz Dogz By Dogz 4 Dogz
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Acorn Acres, Bushnell, FL
Herding in Florida
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