Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News.

An anonymous donor has agreed to MATCH every dollar donated up to $28,500 in our hosting of journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements with the Valley News through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support. Donate today and DOUBLE the impact of your support.

At sheepdog trials in Cornish, competitive pups through their paces

  • Judge Werner Reitboeck, of Ontario, Canada, left, critiquest the work of handler Linda Rogers, of Holliston, Mass., and her four-year-old border collie Ffate during a North East Border Collie Association sheepdog trial at Langwood Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The pro-novice class trial, in which an experienced handler can work with an inexperienced dog, or vice versa, was held on the second day of the three-day event. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Nick, the border collie of handler Denise Leonard, of Greenfield, Mass., watches the field for the arrival of the flock of sheep to arrive for his second run in a North East Border Collie Association sheepdog trial at Langwood Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Pat Cameron, of St. Augustine, Fla., instructs her dog, Kane, to come-bye, a command to sweep counter-clockwise, after successfully penning three sheep during a North East Border Collie Association pro-novice trial at Langwood Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. In the competition, dogs and handlers are judged on efficiently driving the sheep between two sets of panels, around a post and into a pen under a time limit. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Denise Leonard, of Greenfield, Mass., walks off the field with her 19-month-old border collie Nick after retiring their effort before completing the run during a North East Border Collie Association sheepdog trial at Langwood Farm in Cornish, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. It was Nick's first trial. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chrome, the dog of handler Bernie Armata, of Esperance, N.Y., cools down after a successful run in the pro-novice trial at Langwood Farm in Cornish, N.H., Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. They earned 65 points, putting them in second place for the first of two runs. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 8/27/2022 11:00:48 PM
Modified: 8/27/2022 11:06:12 PM

CORNISH — Danielle Eriksen started training her border collies and competing at sheepdog trials about 10 years ago when she fell in love with the breed’s capabilities.

“On my farm, I bring my sheep back to my home pens every night, because I live in a place where there are potential predators,” said Eriksen, 60. “I don’t have fences between my pasture and my home pens, so if I didn’t have dogs, it would be really hard for me to do (on my own).”

The breed’s high intelligence and the willingness to obey commands play a huge role in their success at sheep herding.

“Those dogs need to be able to hear a whistle from a mile away,” Eriksen said.

At the sheepdog trials at Langwood Farm in Cornish over the weekend, Finn, 4 — Eriksen’s youngest border collie — competed well in the “Ranch”-level trials (a more advanced level than Novice) but didn’t score enough points to medal. In the past, Finn has won quite a few medals in trials, Eriksen said.

Her oldest dog, Dove, 9, is a reliable herder at home on the farm, but she’s never excelled beyond the Novice level of sheepdog trials.

“The reason we have the dogs in the first place is to keep the sheep happy and healthy,” Eriksen explained. “The less stressed the sheep are, the healthier they’re going to be.”

Sheepdog trials look different depending on their level of difficulty. At the Pro-Novice level, which was Saturday’s competition, the handler and their dog begin at the “post,” a ground stake where the handler has to stay while the dog runs the course.

At the top of the course, another handler brings a flock of three sheep into the field; the dog starts the course with what’s called the “outrun,” which is how they approach the sheep. When the dog and sheep meet, it’s called the “lift.” The dog then “fetches” the sheep and brings them toward the handler, where they have to turn the post with the sheep before herding them into a pen.

Each element of the trial is scored separately. Participants start with a full score and the judge subtracts points for faults, resulting in their final score. If a handler leaves their post, they “retire” and forfeit the trial. If a dog is too worked up or bites a sheep, they are disqualified.

Originally bred as farm dogs, border collies like to work, and their genetics give them the natural endurance and determination to do so.

“(The dogs) are happiest when they have a job to do,” Eriksen said.

Denise Leonard, a professional border collie trainer with whom Eriksen works, focuses on fine-tuning the dogs’ instincts to help them perform well as sheepdogs.

A border collie’s projected success as a sheepdog depends on what traits they were born with and what they can still learn in training, said Leonard, 70.

“When people go get a (border collie) puppy, what you really want to be looking at is what the parents are like,” she said. “It’s rare to get a litter of pups in which they all work out well (as sheepdogs).”

Certain genetic traits can either be lost or gained in a matter of just a couple of generations of breeding, Leonard added.

“Each dog has its strengths and weaknesses,” Leonard said. “Part of the training is to figure out what those are.”

The sheepdog trials in Cornish have been going on for three years, but they are just one part of a series of trials hosted by the North East Border Collie Association (NEBCA) from as far south as Maryland and as far north as Canada.

In 2020, sheepdog trials were put on hold due to the pandemic. They made a reappearance in 2021 with some new guidelines, and now they’re back in full swing. The problem is that there are fewer flocks of sheep, Eriksen said.

“Farms are going out of business,” she said. “More and more animals are being factory farmed.”

Werner Reitboeck judged the trials in Cornish, which took place over three days. Reitboeck has been involved with sheepdog trials for around 40 years, and the furthest he’s ever judged was in the Alaska Highway region.

“Judging is giving back to the sport,” he said.

On his farm in Canada, Reitboeck’s dogs help herd a flock of over 100 ewes and 250 lambs.

Most of the dogs at Saturday’s Pro-Novice-level competition were still young and new to their training, so the trials are an opportunity to learn.

In the first trial, Victoria Snowden won with her collie, Trim, and Danielle Eriksen and Dove won the second trial.

“It’s not an obedience competition,” Eriksen said. “When you’re at that gate, you work as a team.”

Rose Terami can be contacted at rosoterami@gmail.com.


Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News


Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy