Valley News – At the Cornish Sheepdog Trials, competitive pups are making rapid progress

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

“On my farm, I take my sheep home every night because I live where there are potential predators,” says 60-year-old Eriksen. so if I didn’t have my dogs, it would be very difficult for me to do it (on my own).”

The breed’s high intelligence and willingness to obey commands play a major role in their success in sheep farming.

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

At the sheepdog trials at Langwood Farm in Cornish at the weekend, 4-year-old Finn – Eriksen’s youngest border dog – did well in the ‘Ranch’ level trials (more advanced than Novice) but did not score enough points for a medal. Eriksen said the Finn had won enough medals at the trials in the past.

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

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

Shepherd trials look different depending on the level of difficulty. At the Pro-Novice level, which is Saturday’s competition, a handler and their dog start at a “post,” where the handler must stay while the dog runs the course.

At the head of the road, another servant brings three flocks of sheep to the field; the dog begins the course with what is called a “run”, which is how it approaches the sheep. When a dog and a sheep meet, it is called an “elevator”. The dog then “fetches” the sheep and brings them to the handler, where they must turn the pole before placing the sheep in the pen.

Each element of the test is evaluated separately. Competitors start with a full score and the judge deducts points for mistakes, resulting in their final score. If an administrator leaves their position, they “retire” and lose the lawsuit. If a dog is overworked or bites a sheep, it is disqualified.

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

“(Dogs) are happiest when they have something 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 herding dogs.

Leonard, 70, said a border collie’s predicted success as a herding dog depends on what traits they are born with and what they can still learn in training.

“When people go and get (border collie) puppies, what you really want to look at is what the parents are like,” she said. “It’s rare to get a puppy where they all do well (as herding dogs).”

Certain genetic traits can be lost or gained over just a few generations of breeding, Leonard added.

“Every dog ​​has strengths and weaknesses,” Leonard said. “Part of the training is figuring out what those things are.”

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

In 2020, sheepdog trials were suspended due to the pandemic. They re-emerged in 2021 with some new guidelines and now they’re back in full swing. The problem is that sheep flocks are small, Eriksen said.

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

Werner Reitboeck presided over the Cornish trials, which took place over three days. Reitboeck has been involved in sheepdog trials for nearly 40 years, and the most remote event he has ever judged was in the Alaska Highway region.

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

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

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

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

“This is not an obedience contest,” Eriksen said. “When you’re in that goal, you work as a team.”

Rose Terami can be reached at


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