Herding Trials in the United States by Joel Levinson and Cindy Mendonca

This article was written as the result of a discussion on Beardies-l, the Beardie Internet email discussion list. The discussion was the result of Cindy talking about her first experience at an ASCA trial, which was so different from her AKC Herding Trial Experiences. We were then asked to write an article for the bulletin about the different trial systems. Joel has written the discussion of the different systems, with Cindy editing; Cindy wrote the section entitled ‘Cindy’s Comments’ with Joel editing.

There are four different systems for herding trials in the United States: AKC, ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America), AHBA (American Herding Breed Association), and USBCHA (U.S. Border Collie Handler’s Association). The work required at each of these is quite different, and judges look very differently at the work done depending on the system. In all four systems, the dogs are required to put the stock through or into a series of chutes and panels and pens. Except for the USBCHA, all offer titles for the work accomplished at their trials. At the end of this article, there is a description of the titles available for all courses and systems.

The AKC has three courses. These are called A, B, and C Courses. All use a somewhat different style and approach. A Course is an arena course, usually done in an arena that is 100’ x 200’ or slightly larger. In this course, all obstacles except the Centerline Gate are on the fence line. This means that judges look for very precise levels of work, since the fences “assist” in doing the job. B course is an open field course. The course consists of an outrun, lift, & fetch; two panels out in the open pasture, and a free standing pen. There is a shed (having the dog split off one or two sheep from the flock) in advanced, and a hold in started and intermediate. Outruns on this course range from 40 to 400 yards, depending on the class. Both A and B courses are based on lines. The line of the course is very exact in its layout. Any deviation from the line will be a deduction of 1/2 to 1 point per head of stock. This would include being off line, retreating on course, missing obstacles, amongst others. Stock usually consists of sheep, although runs may also be offered for ducks, goats, and cattle. Judging is based mostly on what the stock does and where it goes, rather than the way the dog responds to commands. When I first started herding, a judge friend of mine told me that if the dog were walking behind the stock, doing hand springs, that was fine! The C Course, based on the European tending style of work, is meant to simulate a day of work in a shepherd’s life: for instance, moving sheep down a road, avoiding traffic, crossing bridges, tending the flock while the sheep graze, and so on. C course concentrates more on practical work and the dog’s ability to assist the handler in the job for each situation. The AKC offers two Test level and three Trial level titles. It does not differentiate titles based on either the type of stock or the course. The Test level program has work below the Trial level, but requires training above the level of the BCCA’s HC, which requires no training, and is a certificate verifying the dog’s instinct to herd. A dog at the HC level will simply show five minutes of sustained interest in working the stock based on the raw instinct. Judging/scoring at the Test level is on a pass/no pass basis and requires two qualifying runs under two different judges for the title to be awarded. To qualify at the Trial level, a dog must get 60% of the total points available, with no less than 50% of the points on each section of the course. AKC scoring is unique in this regard. Three qualifying scores under three judges are required to earn titles at this level. There is also a Herding Championship program, which requires 15 championship points, including one three point major and two first place finishes. Points are based on dogs defeated in the advanced class and are only awarded after the dog has completed its HX.

The ASCA A and B courses are also arena style courses which are generally larger than the AKC arena. While some work is done on the fenceline, there is a center obstacle out in the open, where a majority of the available points may be earned. A Course is run in a counterclockwise direction and starts with a take pen. The center obstacle is a chute. B Course begins with an outrun, stock is moved in a clockwise direction, and the center obstacle is a pen. ASCA offers titles on three kinds of stock: sheep, ducks, and cattle (goats and geese may be substituted). At most trials, all three are available. A dog can have an Advanced title on sheep, an Open title on cattle, and a Started title on ducks, at the same time, and can trial in different classes on different stock at the same event. ASCA requires the dog to move through the classes beginning with the Started class. (AKC and AHBA allow the dog to be entered at any level). There is no test level program. ASCA judges look at the dog’s herding style more than anything. They want to see the dog working, not simply obeying commands. If the handler is wrong and the dog is right, as far as an ASCA judge is concerned, that is great. A dog can completely miss an obstacle and still qualify as long as it is doing quality work through the rest of the course. In ASCA, it takes a score of 75% to qualify, except in Started (69%). In the past few years, ASCA has added a Ranch Trial Program, which only requires one qualifying score to complete the title. This is only available on sheep and cattle, and is run on large flocks, typically 20 or more. The one time I ran this course, I worked a flock of 150 sheep! ASCA also has a Working Trial Championship program which a dog earns after earning Advanced titles on all three types of stock.

The AHBA has two different trial programs. The first, and original program, is the HTD program (Herding Trial Dog). This is on a course similar to the AKC’s B course and the USBCHA course. However, the club sponsoring the trial may apply to use hold the trial in an arena. The other program, the Herding Ranch Dog (HRD) trial program, is relatively new and people seem to really like it a lot. The club may set up any course they wish based on the practical work that is done on the site they are using. This may include sorting stock, loading it into a trailer, moving it through a pasture, etc. The course and scoresheet must be preapproved by the AHBA. Judging in the AHBA program is based both on lines and on practical work. Neither is considered more important than the other as in the AKC, where lines are extremely important, or as in ASCA, where the dog’s style in more important. Even in an arena, all obstacles are to be off the fencelines, which is completely different from the AKC’s arena course. The AHBA has a test program, similar to the AKC’s. In fact, the work required at these levels is very similar. AHBA also offers separate title on different stock: sheep, goats, ducks, and cattle. In the AHBA system, a score of 70% is required to qualify. It takes two qualifying scores for a title on each type of stock at test or trial level. In essence, a dog could earn HRDIs and still compete at the started level on ducks, or any other stock. The AHBA also has a championship program (HTCH) which requires a score of 80% to get a qualifying leg. The dog starts earning their championship legs after they have completed any AHBA advanced title, either HTDIII or HRDIII on any stock. Ten legs are required for the title. A maximum of three championship legs may be earned on ducks.

The USBCHA does not offer titles. Hence, there is no such thing as a qualifying score, and the winner is simply the dog that does the best work of the day, even if that is only a score of 20%. The course is similar to the AKC B Course and the AHBA HTD Course, but generally longer than either of those. A typical USBCHA course starts with an outrun of 500 or more yards. It is not uncommon in the Open (Advanced) class to see 3/4 of a mile outruns! USBCHA has different classes as well: Novice-Novice, Pro-Novice, and Open (Advanced).

In all the title giving organizations, the work required for the different levels is somewhat similar. At the Started level, the handler may move freely with the dog and stock throughout the course. At the Intermediate or Open level, there is generally a line or zone that the handler can not cross without penalty (automatic Non-Qualification in AKC). The outrun distance is longer than in Started as well. The Advanced classes typically have the handler standing at a fixed point, while the dog moves the stock through the course. Generally, the only time the handler may move is when it is time to pen the stock at the end of the run. In each of the USBCHA classes, the handler remains at the post until the final pen. However, the amount of work required is less for Novice than it is for Open. Another difference between the trials is class awards. Except in the AKC program, qualification and placement are considered two separate issues. The AKC will not award class rosettes or placements unless you have a qualifying score. This is not true of the other organizations. High In Trial could come from a non-qualifying run. I have seen runs that came in first in the class with an NQ score, because of conditions and difficult stock. All prizes are awarded, and not withheld based on a qualifying score.

Most who attend trials in multiple systems agree that trialing in each is fun, but different. I encourage most who trial to trial in all of these when their dog is ready. Most who trial in ASCA and AHBA after having attending an AKC trial notice that scoring in AKC tends to be a little more rigid than in the other programs. This is of necessity, because of the rules requiring exact lines, and 50% of each obstacle. In the AHBA program, a dog can end with 0 points on an obstacle and qualify, as long as they meet the 70% of the total. I personally enjoy all four systems, but know that when I attend an ASCA trial as opposed to an AKC trial, the judge will be looking at different things. I can have a wreck in ASCA, and as long as my dog does a good job in putting it back together, (style) I’ve still got a chance to qualify. The same is true in AHBA. In AKC, one wreck, depending on the severity of it, may be enough to prevent your dog from getting the necessary 50% on that obstacle and may cause the run to not qualify. The important thing is to remember where you are and what trial is being run!

Cindy’s Comments:

Joel asked me to give my comments on the differences between AKC and ASCA trials, since one of my posts to the Internet’s Bearded Collie List was the catalyst for this article. I’ve been trialing in AKC with my dog, Faith, for just over a year, because that’s mostly what’s available in the local area. (In Nebraska, “local area” means anything within 200 to 300 miles)! We recently attended our first ASCA trial weekend and I found it interesting to talk to people who handled their dogs in both AKC and ASCA and to those people who were adamantly anti-AKC’s herding program (primarily Border Collie handlers and a few Australian Shepherd handlers). I have to say that I enjoy both and can see a value in both programs. I liked the ASCA trials, because the dogs were really able to show their stuff and “let loose.” The organizers were very laid back in terms of when things got done and how they got done, so it was pretty relaxing overall. For example, duck and sheep runs were done at the same time. Faith and I were due in the duck pen on Sunday at about the same time we’d be running sheep. No one had a problem with us stepping out of order and going into the duck pen a little early. We got to the sheep arena in time to be the next “competitors.” (I consider us to be “competitors against the livestock). On the negative side, with so much activity going on, it was hard to see what everyone was doing and hard for a beginner to take it all in. It also seemed that a dog with lots of natural instinct, but only a little control could earn a Started title. (That may just be a misperception, because I have much more experience with AKC and have a better idea of what constitutes a qualifying score in that program). Because placements and scores weren’t announced until all the runs had been completed, it was difficult to gauge what the judges were looking for and how they were scoring. Compared to AKC herding events, ASCA seemed a bit like semi-controlled chaos!

While I liked the ASCA emphasis on the dog’s style, the precision required in AKC runs makes sense to me “economically.” If I were a farmer/rancher, I’d want to move the livestock with as little hassle as possible, so they’d arrive at market in good condition at their top weights. The dog has to be under more control by both the handler and its own sense of what the stock can take. AKC’s use of event catalogs makes it easier to know who is running and helps you get to know the dogs and handlers more easily. It is also easier to get a sense of the judges’ preferences, because scores and placements are announced after each class. On the negative side, a good obedience-trained dog can get at least a Started title without having much, if any, “stock sense.” I also felt more tension prior to the run, because of the pressure of the precision requirements.

While I would say that I found the ASCA runs more fun and less tense because of the way the dog is “graded” and gets to work, I enjoy being at AKC trials where Faith can show her sense of control, too. In the long run, it’s the relationship with your dog, the people sponsoring the event, and the people who participate as entrants who make the *whole* experience fun.

So, what’s the best way to prepare for the different trials? First and foremost, train your dog to herd; don’t “course train” it. The last thing you want is a dog that anticipates a course and goes through the motions automatically — especially if it isn’t the trial course you’re running at that moment! Set up as many different situations as you can. For instance, use natural objects such as trees and rocks as your obstacles. If you practice in a trial field, ignore the obstacles or go through them backwards once in a while. Watch to see how your dog anticipates the stock and learn how to anticipate the stock’s movement and behavior yourself. This helps you and your dog to become a team. Apologize when the dog is right and you’re wrong! Learn from your mistakes. Practice outruns from different places at different distances. Mix up the order of events in your practice sessions, so neither of you gets into a performance rut. Vary the practice time and the number of sessions run during your practice, so your dog never knows for sure when it’s time to go home. Work on getting your dog to stop and to change speed on command, but don’t crush its initiative. Try to work different types and breeds of stock, so your dog learns to work according to the speed and instincts of that stock. Working ducks can help the dog slow down and become more precise. Working lambs or light sheep can teach the dog to widen outruns and flanking movements. Heavy sheep are great for teaching the dog that the occasional push is needed. Try to vary the location and number of stock as well. If you can’t go to a new facility, try to work in different fields at your regular one. Talk to the trainer about including actual chore work as part of your training just to keep your dog fresh, show it that there’s a real purpose to all of the training, and to give you both a sense of real-world accomplishment. Visualize you and your dog working in different situations. For instance, if the sheep were breaking for home, what command would you give your dog to get them under control? Your training pportunities are limited only by your imagination.

Above all, before you walk into the arena or open field to begin your trial run, take time to relax and to calm yourself, if necessary. A great technique is to talk to your dog about what and how well the two of you are going to do. Remember, the only competition in the trial that should matter is the one between the stock and you and your dog. Your dog is going out into the field partly because it enjoys herding, but mostly because of the relationship between the two of you. I guarantee that the last thing the dog is thinking about is a title! Take the cue….relax, trust your partner, and have fun!

AKC Herding Titles
HT –Herding Tested. The lowest test level.
PT — Pre-Trial Tested. The level just before trial. Highest test level.
HS — Herding Started. The started level.
HI — Herding Intermediate. The intermediate level.
HX — Herding Excellent. The advanced level.<br? hch.=”” –=”” herding=”” champion.<br=””> If you want more information about the AKC program, you may contact the AKC at their performance events department in New York. The complete AKC herding regulations are available on-line at http://www.akc.org/herd.htm

ASCA Herding Titles:
At each level (EXCEPT WTCH), a letter designating the type of stock is added after the title (i.e., STD-s, OTD-c, ATD-d).

STD — Started Trial Dog. The started level.
OTD — Open Trial dog. The intermediate level.
ATD — Advanced Trial dog. The advanced level.>br> WTCH — Working Trial Champion.

For more information, you may contact ASCA at: 6091 E SH 21, Bryan, TX 77803, (409)823-3491, or find them online at http://www.asca.org/stkrules.htm

AHBA Herding Titles: In all levels except HTCH, the type of stock the title is earned on is indicated by a letter after the title, as in HRDIs.

HCT: Herding Capability Tested. Lowest test level.
JHD: Junior Herding Dog. Next test level. HTDI: Herding Trial Dog, Level one. The started level.
HTDII: Herding Trial Dog, level two. The intermediate level
HTDIII: Herding Trial Dog, level three. The advanced level.
HRD: Herding Ranch Dog. Also has levels I, II, and III, as above.
HTCH: Herding Trial Champion
For information about the AHBA, you may contact them at: 1548 Victoria Way, Pacifica, CA 94044, (415)355-9563, or online at ahba/ahba.htm

United States Border Collie Handler’s Association, Inc.
Rt. 14, Crawford, TX 76638

© 1997, by Joel Levinsonand Cindy Mendonca

This article originally appeared in “The Beardie Bulletin”. Reprinted with permission of the authors.