Guild of Shepherds & Collies


Open spaces to run, river for swimming, pools to cool in and sheep to watch...what more could a herding dog want on a beautiful summer weekend?

Well: how about a chance to dive off a dock, watch police dogs work, try agility, and lick an ice cream cone? There is no doubt that the Kingston Sheepdog Trials at Grass Creek Park in historic Kingston, Ontario has it all!

The entire town of Kingston works together to put on this amazing event, now in its 27th year. The main event is the famous sheepdog trial, but there is so much more to see and do!

Vendors selling amazing food for humans, and a vast array of homemade treats and chews for the dogs. Handmade jewelry and fiber wear and metal garden art made shopping a delightful adventure.

Under the grand tent, spinners and weavers worked in harmony, competing for top honors in the Shawl competition. Watching the teams combine their efforts as they carded, made roving, spun yarn and created shawls on their wooden looms was fascinating!

The event that held my rapt attention for many hours was the Sheepdog Trial. It was my first time competing at this famously difficult competition and I hoped me and my border collies Luc and Maya were up for the challenge.

Top handlers and their good dogs from across North America throw their hat into the ring for a chance to tame the famous Waupoos Island sheep who are brought in by ferry just for the trial. More than 600 ewes who are accustomed to setting their own schedule on the island without the benefit of border collies to tell them what to do are no push overs to the dogs they meet at Kingston.

The course is small but filled with obstacles that could take down the best of the best. A dog who shows any sign of weakness or rashness will be faced with sheep who will bolt and outrun the dog to rejoin the flock. Or, will face down the dog with a ‘go ahead and make me’ attitude that causes even the best dog to do just that, resulting in a disqualifying bite to the nose of the sheep.

Then there is the ‘hill of death’ where good teams were outsmarted by the sheep at the post turn: handlers helpless as their dog disappeared behind the hill after the elusive sheep, waiting anxiously to see if their dog could control the sheep and bring them back onto the course.

Spectator breath holding equaled the handlers as a seeming eternity passes during the unseen action behind the hill.

The crowd explodes with a cheer when the dog is successful and the run continues … and the crowd moans in empathy when the dog comes back alone and the run is over.

The teams who successfully negotiate the drive, aiming to put the sheep through the obstacles are then met with the biggest challenge of all: the pen.

These sheep don’t like pens. They see them as traps to be avoided at all costs. The handlers look forward to the challenge of getting them in the pen. And they dread the challenge of getting them in the pen. Two, three, sometimes four minutes of intense teamwork between the handler and the dog occasionally result in a completed pen, but more often, the time runs out with an incomplete course.

For the few who pen the reluctant sheep, the last task of the course is to split two of the four sheep off and hold them apart until the judge calls out an “okay”, resulting in lots of cheering from the crowd and a happy dance (usually internal) from the handler.

Me and my two good dogs tried four times to put the island sheep into the pen, and four times we failed. That means we were able to keep the sheep on the course each time, and give it our best shot. I loved the challenge of the trial, and my dogs were brilliant, making me feel like the luckiest woman in town!

Of the 150 teams who competed, we were one of the few who earned a nice score every run. We didn’t score high enough to make it into the championship round on Sunday, but had a grand time trying!

Congratulations to Kingston/Canadian Championship winner Michael Gallagher and his dog Cain, and reserve champions Amanda Milliken and her dog Monty.

I suspect we will be heading back to Kingston in the future to give it another go...the spark of challenge has been ignited.

I highly recommend putting this on your list of places to visit if you are a lover of herding dogs. And I hope to see you there!

For more information about Kingston Sheepdog Trials:

Article By:
Kathy Kawalec

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