Born to herd

Hank Price's enthusiasm for herding dogs started about 15 years ago when his wife, Joyce, wanted a bearded collie.

"We bought one for a pet, and the breeder wanted us to show it. That was so much fun," he said, they invested in a show dog.

Then someone suggested that the dog, Samson, take a herding instinct test.

The judge "got excited," Price said. "He said, 'That's the best bearded collie I've ever seen. You're going to have to buy you some sheep' " to give the dog something to herd.

Price, who lives in Goddard, said he thought to himself, "That's not going to happen."

But "based on that instinct test, we now have 11 goats and nine sheep," he said.

Price will be at the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show on April 9-11, helping oversee dogs taking their first herding instinct test, as well as more advanced herders that will compete in American Kennel Club-sanctioned herding trials.

The show, held at the Kansas Coliseum, will feature dogs competing in all kinds of events, from conformation to agility to lure coursing. In the weeks leading up to the show, The Eagle and Wichita Paws will take a look at some of those events.

Most of the dogs participating in herding at the dog show will also be competing in conformation, or breed judging, Price said.

"But if you've got a herding breed, you try to keep the herding instinct alive because that's what they are bred to do," he said.

This is only the second year that the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show has held herding instinct tests, Price said.

The test will allow dogs to try out their ability and interest in herding sheep, goats and ducks, Price said, and judges will look for certain traits.

"You're looking for a dog that's trying to do something with the stock instead of just seeing it, to see if he's got some interest," Price said. "And if he has interest, to make sure he's not mean about it. Then you want to see if you can control him" as he demonstrates that interest.

Dogs that score high on the instinct tests still must go through a lot of training and tests before they can participate in the AKC herding trials, which will be held April 10 and 11 in the herding pavilion.

Dogs competing in the trials will herd stock — usually sheep — through an obstacle course following a handler's instructions. But what's most important in a herding dog, Price said, is an "innate ability" to read the sheep.

"You can give your dog commands," but in a real herding situation, "if the sheep make a break for it, you wouldn't have time to tell him what to do," he said. "The dog has to know what you want and to cover those sheep automatically. ...

"He has to anticipate what they are going to do and cover them when they do it."

The trials are open to any dog in the herding group, plus Samoyeds and Rottweilers, working breeds that also have a history of herding.

About half the dogs that compete, Price said, are border collies, with a few smooth collies and Australian shepherds participating and "maybe a cattle dog or two."

Price and his wife have six dogs, including three AKC-registered bearded collies and "a miniature schnauzer to maintain order."

He has not yet decided whether he will enter one of his beardies in the trials.

The youngest, Boo, placed first in three high-end trials in sheep herding at a recent Bearded Collie Club of America specialty show in Minnesota.

He also won the Chip Memorial Trophy, awarded for the highest score in any herding trial at the national specialty each year. Boo is a grandson of Chip, the first bearded collie to qualify as an AKC herding champion.

Price said he works on training and herding a little bit each day with his beardies to keep them happy and out of mischief.

"They are born and bred to work and if you don't have a job for them, they will figure out something to do for you," he said.

"You might not want a hole ate through the kitchen door, or the couch cushions small enough to fit through the dog door."

The herding events are popular with spectators at the dog show, said Price, adding that herding is "something you have got to almost see to appreciate."

Seeing a herding dog recognize what it was born and bred to do is a "magical moment," Price said.

"If you've got a dog that's never seen stock before, sheep or anything," and you put it in front of some sheep "and you get to see it turn on — all of a sudden it realizes, 'Ooh, I'm a sheepdog.' "

"And you think, 'He likes to move sheep. I'll go buy some,' " Price said with a laugh. "It's just crazy."



For more information about herding instinct tests and trials at the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show, call Sally Thomas at 918-266-6751, e-mail or go to www.