Herding Dogs Gone Wild

Written by Daniel Gregory

September 16, 2013

DJGPhoto_Herding-Over the weekend, the family (Lori, Eva and I) went to Vashon Island located in Puget Sound just outside Seattle for the Vashon Sheepdog Classic. Lori and I have had a number of Australian Shepherds, Eva being the latest, so I have always had an interest in the herding dogs and their amazing skills to move, maintain and work a flock of sheep, cows or at our house cats.

I have never been to a herding competition in person before only having seen them on TV and the Internet. There is nothing that really showcases the skills and abilities of these amazing dogs unless you see them working live. The competition starts with them running from their handler out 300+ yards (that is over 3 full football fields) to pick up the 5 sheep that they are going to herd back to the handler. Over the rolling hills, you can barely see the sheep much less the dog at times. The dog has to know what to do. And when they are on, they are good.

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Of course it isn’t as simple as just get the sheep and head home. They have to herd the sheep through a series of gates and around obstacles. Many of these are over 100 yards from their owner. They have to work independently and with the handler signals that come in the form of a whistle to guide and move the sheep. Move the sheep to fast and you miss the challenge and, move to slow and time can be called.

Once they get done working at a distance, they drive the sheep to the sheering circle where they split the flock in two and then group them backup and get them into a pen. The first time we saw the dog work the entire course, I could only think Holy Sh*t these dogs are amazing.

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As an owner of a herding dog, I can tell you that they are wicked smart, fiercely independent decision makers and often times can more quickly assess a situation than you can. You have to learn how to respect and work with dogs like this. They need a job. They need to work. When they get to do both, they really do shine. The weekend really enforced that in me again.

As for the shooting details. I sucked what can I say. Having never been before, I just grabbed the camera on the way out the door. So next year, I know that longer lens are a must. After all, these dogs run hundreds and hundreds of yards, the least I can do is bring the right gear. However, when you are there regardless of the gear, you gotta click. Man I love these dogs.

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