© Author Jane Rothert
1st Published in May 2000 Malinois Performer
AKC offers titles for each course type as well as stock. There are three trial levels, three courses, and three types of stock offered by AKC. Titles can be earned on each type of stock and each type course (although not all stock can be used on all of the courses, i.e., Course C is for sheep only.) Stock designations are "d" for ducks, "s" for sheep, and "c" for cattle. The three courses are A, B, and C. Originally titles were just HS (herding started), HI (herding intermediate), and HX (herding advanced). Now titles can be HSAsdc, saying the dog earned started titles on the A course on sheep, ducks, and cattle. Since the ABMC National trial was on A course, this month A course will be the topic.
When the herding program began in AKC, the original committee adapted the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) arena course and called it the A course, meant to mimic barnyard work. For those that have trouble remembering the course designations, this is how I do it. A is for AKC or ASCA. B is for Border Collie as the B course was copied from the International Stock Dog Society course. C is for Continental as the C course was designed after the German style herding trials. A course is the most common course offered. There are a few C courses offered in New England and B courses are scattered around the country, but primarily the A course is what is available. People with stock can set up and maintain an arena of 100' x 200' up to 200'x 400' much easier than the acres needed for a B or C course.
The A course is an arena course. It consists of 4 obstacles that the dog has to negotiate the stock through. All three types of stock can be used to run the A course. An outrun, lift, and fetch is required at all three levels and often is the deciding factor in whether a started dog qualifies. This is a relatively critical part of the course and most people don't spend enough time training good outruns before they start to compete. The distance for the outrun increases for each level. It is relatively short for started but can be 300 feet for advanced, if the full 400' arena is used. The dog must fetch the stock to the handler at all three levels and have the stock circle or move around the handler before moving on to the first obstacle.
The first obstacle is the Y-chute. It is called the Y-chute because it is shaped like a Y. The mouth of the chute, where the stock enters, is wider than the main, long part or chute of the obstacle. The stock can see straight through to the other end of the obstacle, but still may not want to go through a confined area with a strange dog right on their heels. The dog can go through the obstacle although it is generally not a good idea (the stock can bolt out the top of the chute and double back on the dog before the dog can get out of the chute). The handler can NOT go through this obstacle.
The stock continue on up and around the fence line to the second obstacle, the Z chute. Again, the Z chute looks like a Z. The Z chute looks to the stock like they are walking toward a solid wall with no exit in sight. Now the stock have a strange dog on their heels AND they are being walked into a trap. Again the dog is allowed to go through the Z chute with the stock but the handler is not.
The first two obstacles on the course are the same for all three levels training levels. The difference is that in started the stock can be driven or fetched through the course and the handler is allowed go almost anywhere on the course at almost any time. The handler can leave the handler's post to help the dog on the outrun AFTER some of the sheep have been gathered although points will be lost. After the stock have circled the handler, though, the handler is free to move wherever they want except through the designated obstacles. In Intermediate, there is a handler area where the handler must stay through most of the run. The handler must stay at the handler's post until the stock have daylighted the Y chute (the last tail of the last head of stock has exited the obstacle). Once the stock has exited the Y chute, the handler can move about within the handler's area, parallel driving the stock through the course. The advanced handler must stay at the handler's post until the sheep have crossed the corner of the arena after completing the Z chute. At that time the advanced handler may move to the hold/exam pen, obstacle three.
For the started dogs obstacle three is a straight chute which the stock simply pass through on their way to the turn for obstacle four. For the intermediate/advanced dogs, the obstacle is a hold/exam pen. The back of the started chute is closed making the obstacle a three-sided pen. The intermediate and advanced dog must put the stock into the pen and hold them while the handler waits on the outside. The judge must determine when the dog has the stock settled in the pen. The hold is timed. After receiving word from the judge that the hold is over, the handler can remove the stock from the pen almost anyway they want to. The only restrictions are the handler can not physically touch the stock to push them out and the stock must exit the pen calmly. The handler can send the dog into the pen from the front or open end, the dog can be sent into the pen through the back if the fencing allows, the dog can be sent to the back of the pen but not into the pen, or the handler can move the dog away from the pen and go into the pen to remove the stock without the dog's help. I've seen all of these ways used. Which method is used will depend on the dog, the stock, and the handler's preferred technique.
After the stock exit obstacle three, there is one last obstacle that needs to be negotiated. That is the cross-drive panels in the middle of the arena. All other areas of the A course are basically along a fence line. The cross-drive panels are free standing in the middle of the field. The dog must take the stock down along the fence past the hold/exam pen and make a sharp right angle turn off the fence through the middle of the field directly to the opposite side of the arena. For started, the handler can go through this obstacle with the stock and the dog. For intermediate, the handler can walk parallel to the dog and stock but in advanced the handler must stay at the hold/ exam pen while the dog drives the stock through the panels. Once the stock reach the opposite fence, all handlers may rejoin the dog and the stock and move to the exit gate. The dog is required to hold the stock away from the gate as the handler opens it. The run ends for all three levels and all types of stock when the gate is closed on the last head of stock.
The object at all levels and with all livestock is the calm, continuous movement of the stock around the course. Ideal stock handling has been described as a calmly, smoothly flowing stream of water with no ripples and no pools. Of course most runs end up looking like areas of white water separated by areas of quiet stagnant pools and waterfalls. When watching a herding trial, keep the flowing stream idea in your mind. Any deviation from that should mean points deducted. That means quiet pools in a flowing stream are just as bad as the white water rapids. Calm and continuous movement of the stock is always the goal!