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Competition tests dogs’ herding skills

Sioux, a border collie, cools down following a sheep herding competition Sunday at the Sheep Dog Trials held in Langley.   - Gayle Saran
Sioux, a border collie, cools down following a sheep herding competition Sunday at the Sheep Dog Trials held in Langley.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Sioux was ready for action.

The 7-year-old border collie paced, tail wagging and tongue out, urging owner Eric Harlow on to the dog’s favorite activity, herding sheep.

Sioux and 64 other border collies competed with their owners Sunday in the inaugural Sheep Herding Trial. It was held on a farm on Thompson Road in Langley.

Thirty-five human competitors from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia pitted their ability against one another to control their dogs by voice and whistle commands while herding sheep.

The first sheep dog trials were recorded in 1887 in the United Kingdom. Border collies are the most popular herding dog, because they run fast and wide to gather large or small groups of livestock.

Harlow was the course director for the three-day event.

The handlers, some holding a shepherd’s crook, sent their dogs, one at a time, out into field to gather three sheep and return them to a pen in an allotted amount of time.

The dogs’ primary function during the afternoon’s trial was to gather three sheep waiting in a pasture about 250 yards away — then herd them around two panels, “shedding” one sheep away from the other two before driving them into the “exhaust,” or rest pen.

Other dog handlers sat in the shade of large oak trees waiting their turn. Some dogs wandered around, but most were kept in crates when they weren’t competing.

Sioux, a speedy black-and-white border collie, could be seen running, stopping and crouching as he began to move the sheep down the field.

Harlow called his dog back in.

Although Sioux has a number of wins under his collar, Harlow cuts his run short Sunday due to the heat.

“Sioux would have continued, but he was getting too warm. He has a big heart,” Harlow said.

Harlow headed for the water trough, where the dogs cooled down after their run.

Sioux jumped in, letting Harlow soak him with a hose. He was a picture of a contented canine.

Sioux will compete again in several weeks; there are livestock to tend on 100 acres of grazing land at home.

“He’s my best livestock dog,” Harlow said.

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