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The real work

In the country of origin of the Border Collie - Great Brittain - the landscape has determined the use of the land for centuries. The country is built on limestone and slate, which are visible on the surface of the fertile soil in many areas in the landscape. Often the hills and mountains are so steep that, although agricultural products can be grown, harvisting with modern equipment would be difficult. Extensive cattle-breeding is an obvious alternative

Landscape in North-Wales, also called 'sheep country'. On the full size picture (58KB JPG) countless sheep are visible as small white dots.

For ages the steep hills are the territory of sheep, which strengthen the structure of the ground with their small hoofs. In flat areas farmers move their sheep to other pastures by using a motorcycle. On the rocky hillsides the Border Collie is the only possible means to do this job. On these meadows a Border Collie can do the work of seven to eight people all by himself.


A number of activities are reflected in various parts of a trial cours. In the examples below one can easily see that such a course is actually a small version of the daily tasks of a BC.

Gathering sheep and moving to other pastures

Often a group of sheep has to be moved to another pasture or gathered because they have to be sold, treated, sheared, etc. To gather them the dog must make a wide Outrun and bring them to the farmer (the Fetch). Driving the sheep through a gate is also part of the Fetch. Moving the sheep anywhere else (on a road for example; which is quite common in the United Kingdom) is represented by the Cross Drive.

Fetching sheep
After the Outrun the sheep are brought to the handler.
Full size picture (60KB JPG)

Penning and transportation

These activities can be found in the Penning, the Maltese Cross and - in the Dutch Course - the Trailer and the Dip. Al these parts of the course test the ability to precisely drive the sheep into a small area or through a small corridor. Several times a year sheep must be wormed, their claws checked and trimmed and treated for preventing infections. During the summer sheep are regularly treated for insects (dipping). The parts of the trial show the great precision with which the handler and the dog can manoeuvre the sheep. Too much pressure could scatter the sheep and not enough power would result in the sheep waiting at the entrance.

Shedding and singling

It is sometimes (e.g. for individual treatment, when selecting sheep that must be sold) necessary to seperate one or more sheep from the flock. The handler must position the selected sheep on one end of the flock, then the dog can split the group and take the selected animals away from the flock. This is actually the description of the Shedding (or Single if only one sheep is concerned). The difficulty is increased during a trial by letting the shed take place inside a ring. Sheep that leave the ring before the shedding is done are reason to subtract points from the score.


Gathering a flock of sheep
Gathering a flock of sheep (most sheep were outside this picture)
Full size picture (44KB JPG)
During the daily work a lot of independence is required from the dog. After seperating the ewes and the (grown up) lambs, the ewes needed to be taken to a different pasture. At the time the bleating was so loud the dog could not hear any voice commands or whistles. The farmer went to the gate that led to the new pasture and he sent his dog away. Without any help the dog fetched a couple of hundred sheep from every corner of the meadow and within a few minutes he drove them through the gate.

The future

Unfortunately the economic climate in Great Brittain also - or maybe primarily - affects the farmers. Many farmers are forced to sell their farms. In other countries dogs are often replaced by motorcycles, so this also decreases the number of working Border Collies. Hopefully there will remain enough work for this beautiful breed to keep enough herding capability in the breed.

Copyright © 1998-2013 Jigal van Hemert & Danielle Boshouwers
This page last modified: Wednesday, 30-Jul-2008 16:46:28 CEST
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