When my brother attended a sheepdog trial earlier this month, he looked around and asked, "How many dogs are here?"
"One hundred and fifty, maybe 200," I guessed. More than 100 were entered in the trial. But people coming to trials often bring retired dogs and pups not yet ready for competition.
"And there are no dogs barking, no dogs fighting, none misbehaving," he said.
I took a moment to think about what I expected of my Border collies--and what they deliver.
My 4-year-old competition dog, Raven, and 1-year-old pup, Niki, have traveled extensively. Before she was even a year old, Niki had traveled to dog trials in Ohio and Kentucky and made a trek to Texas. She was expected to travel well in a crate, be quiet (though she wasn't always), interact with other dogs and people, and walk nicely on leash.
Raven has traveled to Texas and back several times--as well as trials in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Virginia. She stays overnight in motels--and behaves like a champ. Of course, Raven's expectations are much more than being a good traveler and getting along with people and dogs.
On the trial field--and on the farm, she is expected to listen to her commands, to be nice to the sheep, to leave the chickens and cats alone.
At sheepdog clinics, I ask her to move sheep to designated spots on the field--and lie quietly while another dog comes and takes the sheep. Sometimes, she works off and on for hours. And, when not working, I ask her to lie quietly in a crate or tied to a post or a fence.
During one particularly hot sheepdog clinic, a handler marveled that a half-dozen Border collies were tied along the fenceline in the shade--and on the other side of the fence were the sheep lying in the shade. No dog was harassing the sheep. No dog was barking. The dogs knew they were expected to be quiet until it was their turn.
Those high expectations and hard work make herding dogs some of the happiest, most content dogs I know.