My favorite sport to do with my German Shepherds is herding. Yes, German Shepherds were originally bred to herd sheep in Germany, moving large flocks of sheep from field to field to clear crop remains and fertilize the field in the process. The sport builds on those instincts to gather and move stock – sheep, ducks, and cattle in competition. The course may be in small arenas, large open fields, or simulate the German course (where the dogs establish the boundaries).
I got a German Shepherd because I love the breed and I was fascinated by the sport of herding. I took my first German Shepherd, Monte (Jezra’s Monte Carlo CGC, TC, HT, PT, JHD, HSAs,d, HIAs), to a herding aptitude test at Herding-4-Ewe where the trainer put him in a corral with a few sheep, the likes of which he’d never seen. He did not really know what to do but it seemed like he wanted those sheep to stay together and to stay with the tester. When he got too close, the tester told him to get “off” and he took the direction. And then a minute or two later, it was all over. In that brief moment, I was infected with the herding bug.
Each dog has a different aptitude for herding. Some will only be able to work in the more novice levels, while others will move on to advanced levels (and maybe even herding victor or victrix at the German Shepherd Dog Club of America National dog show – it’s a fantasy, but you have to have a goal). I have been very lucky to have trained two of my dogs (Monte & Gaia) to the advanced level, and have put a variety of herding titles on three others (DD, Glitter & Mokka).
The sport of herding is not for the faint of heart. We train throughout the year and participate in trials throughout California year-round. Some days you will be out in the cold rain, some days it will be 105 degrees in the shade. But the herding community supports and encourages you, and the friends you make will be friends for a lifetime. For me, herding is one of the most exciting sports where you get to see your dog do what it was bred to do.
So what else does it take? I love training and competing with my own dogs so on a weekly basis (rain or shine) I pack my dog up and go to training. There are a variety of different trainers and approaches, and you should always find the one who is the best fit for you. Some people may choose to have someone else train and handle their dogs.
The pride it gives you when your dog trots down the field several hundred feet and brings the sheep, or when it races down the field to cut off an escaping steer is exhilarating. I don’t think this is a sport I will ever grow tired of.
Karen Toth is the DVGSDC Secretary. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.