Herding is a dog sport that aims to preserve the working ability and instinct of breeds of dog with a herding origin and involves the dog moving stock (usually sheep, though cattle and ducks are also used) through different courses, which get progressively harder as the dog passes each level.
Not all breeds are suitable to compete in herding, because they weren’t originally bred for it, and don’t have the instinct to work stock. The breed that are eligible are all the breeds in ANKC group 5 as well as the Bernese Mountain Dog, Norwegian Elkhound, Samoyed, Keeshond, Kerry Blue, Tibetan and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers and the Standard and Giant Schnauzer. Dogs on the associate register who are part herding breed or a mixture of herding breeds and dogs on the sporting register also qualify.
Trialling in the beginning levels of herding:
The first level of trialling in herding, the Herding Instinct Certificate (HIC) only requires the dog to only show “sustained interest” in the stock which means the dog just has to go in the ring on a lead and look like it’s interested in the sheep. For most dogs, this is usually lunging at the end of the leash, following where the sheep go and sometimes, barking. While it is not a recognised title anymore (it used to be known as the HIT which was a recognised title), dogs have to complete this level before they can attempt the next level up.
After the HIC is the Herding Test (HT). In this level, the dog must be let off leash while they are in the ring and demonstrate that they can do two changes of direction (move the stock both clockwise and counter clockwise), perform a stop (stop working the stock and either sit, stand or drop) and recall to the handler.
After the HT is the Pre-trial Test, also referred to as the Paddock Test or PT. In this level, the area the dogs work in becomes a lot bigger, and without complete control of the dog, there is a lot more space for the dog to split and chase the stock in. For the PT, the dog must demonstrate a stay (a controlled pause), controlled working of the stock (which includes clearing four gates and a change of direction), one stop while on the course and one stop while the handler opens the pen gate. The dog must then demonstrate penning the stock. For this level, the dog works the stock on the fence, in a U shape then changes direction before performing the U shape in the other direction. When this is complete, the handler would stop the dog, open a pen and ask the dog to slowly walk up to the stock, to push them into the pen. Two qualifications at this level earns the dog the title PT, which would replace the HT on the end of the dog’s name.
After the test levels, dogs move on to the trialling levels. While the courses are too in depth to write about here, there is often confusion about the titles and what they mean. The herding titles at this level all begin with an “H”, denoting that it is a herding title. The next letter in the title denotes the level the dog is working at, either started (S), intermediate (I) or advanced (X). The third letter denotes the course, either A-course (A), B-course (B) or C-course (C) which requires different skills and stock control. So by this logic, a dog who holds the title HSA, like Louis, has received the three qualifications they need to hold the Herding Started A-course title. Finally, a lower case letter is also added to the end of the title to denote the stock the dog worked, either sheep (s), cattle (c) or ducks (d) to make up the full title of HSAs. Should a dog receive the qualifications it needs to receive the HSA title with more than one type of stock, it may have more than one lower case letter on the end of it’s name, for example HSAsc if the dog has received the qualifications it needs to have both the HSAs title and HSAc title.
Finally is the title of “herding champion” or HCh which requires the dog to not only qualify in the advanced level of herding 5 times with a score of 75 points or higher, but also receive a high in trial.