Sheepdog trials originated in the 1870s in Wales when groups of shepherds congregated to compare who had the best dogs. Such competitions grew in popularity and the International Sheep Dog Society was founded in 1902. The Society admits only working sheepdogs and has sponsored annual trials in Great Britain since its founding --missing only one year during World War II. Trials began in the United States in 1890 when the first event was held in Pennsylvania. National and International courses are the ultimate demonstrations of teamwork between the dogs and their handlers. The National Course consists of a 400-yard "gather" in which the sheep are located 400 yards from the handler. The handler communicates with the dogs with a shepherd's whistle using four basic commands: "left go-by", "right-away to me", "stop", and "walk straight-up".
To begin, the sheep are brought through one set of gates to the handler, around the handler, then driven away to a second set of gates 150 yards away. The sheep are next forced to make a hard right turn to the next gate, another 150 yards away, and are gathered in a 40-yard diameter ring. The dog and handler are asked to "cut" two sheep away from the flock (no small trick for a dog that instinctively wants to keep them together). Once they are all in they are returned to the ring where the whole exercise is repeated, this time cutting only one sheep from the flock. Throughout the entire trial the handler is stationed at an assigned post and cannot leave that post until the gates, cutting, and penning are competed and the dog has brought the flock back to a "shed".
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