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Sheepdog trials

Sheepdog trials (or simply Dog trials) is a competitive sport of an agricultural nature, popular in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and other farming nations. They are particularly associated with hill farming areas, where sheep range widely on largely unfenced land.

Sheep dog trials of some sort or another have probably occurred at agricultural fairs and shows for centuries. The present form is thought to have developed originally in the "Borders" area between England and Scotland, from which the Border Collie also comes. However, the sport's organising bodies regard the first recorded sheep dog trials as those held in Bala, Wales, in 1873.

The sport was no doubt devised by shepherdss keen to impress their friends with the skill of their sheepdogs. A well-trained dog can fetch a high price, and can perform some quite amazing feats of stockmanship.

There are several events, but the key element is the control of three to six sheep by one or two highly trained dogs under the control of a single shepherd. Both time and obedience play a part, as competitors are penalised if a sheep strays from the prescribed course.

One event consists of sending three sheep up a steep hill through three or more gates. The shepherd must stand at the bottom of the hill and directs the dog by whistling.

Another popular event involves splitting six sheep into two groups of three and conducting each group in turn to small pens through a defined course. The group not being led is guarded by one of two dogs. This is more difficult than it sounds, as the sheep invariably try to stay together.

In New Zealand The Dog Show was a popular television show until the late 1980s, screening just before the weekend news.

In the United Kingdom the BBC ran One Man and His Dog, which had a large urban audience, between 1975 and 1999. The movie Babe about a pig who wants to herd sheep, was based on Dick King-Smith's book The Sheep Pig, about sheep dog trials in northern England.