The annual spring sheepdog trials are May 4-8 at Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights. The event showcases an unusually close bond between human and canine.
On Sunday morning, a black and white border collie darts back and forth across a field. The dog’s handler stands in one place, whistling and shouting commands, as judges take notes.
The competitor is herding four sheep through an intricate course of gates and panels.
And they are not cooperating.
Mike Lupow, one of the organizers of the event, explains that these are range ewes who have grown up dodging predators. So they present the ultimate challenge. “They have all the tools available to a sheep, whether it’s grouping up to stand off a dog, charging a dog, splitting and running as fast as they can.”
These trials are a qualifier for the 2018 national competition, so top teams from across the West have traveled here to compete.
Lupow says that the best dogs will make independent decisions while herding, even though their handler is in constant communication.
And when a handler and dog have worked together for a long time, Lupow says it’s magic to watch. “In my estimation, you can really tell those dogs and handlers that are thinking with one brain.”
The spring trials end today. The national sheepdog finals will return to Strang Ranch in 2019.