Getting Started

In Western Australia we have three types of sheepdog trials, Utility trials, Yard trials and Three Sheep trials, also called Arena trials.

A Utility trial includes yard work as well as paddock work. A Yard trial is yard work only.
Most Utility trials also include classes just for yard work.

Yard & Utility Trials

At a Utility trial you cast your dog around five sheep (cast distances vary a lot depending on the ground, but usually between 80 and 150 metres) and bring them into the circle around the peg where you are standing. From there, you must bring them into a yarded off area and they are mixed with other sheep and worked through three or four yards, through a race, and into a force pen where a certain number will be drafted off. After this you release another five back into the paddock area and work through three obstacles. The setup will differ a little, depending on the venue. There may be a truck to force the sheep into and there may be four obstacles to negotiate in the paddock. Obstacles will vary. There is usually a gap which is like a small section of fence with a gap in the middle, a race and a pen.

Another utility obstacle is called a trap, and this can be tricky. The trap has wings and is open at one side, you must force the sheep into the trap and the dog then holds them in the obstacle whilst you walk around and undo the gate at the other side. The sheep must then be run through, and the gate is shut. The last obstacle is always the pen where the sheep are run in, and the handler shuts the gate behind them.

The usual time to complete this is 15 or 16 minutes. The good thing about utility trialling is that unlike three sheep trialling you will not be disqualified if your dog crosses, or you decide to walk down the cast to help your dog. It is a great place to start a young dog as you will only lose points, not an important factor when you are just starting out.  Also, when you run out of points at an obstacle you are permitted to move to the next one so you are not ‘stuck ‘in one place. This is not permitted in three sheep trials.

As the yard section is separate you are also permitted to just enter that section if you feel that you are not ready to do the paddock work. This is a good place to start and get a general feel for trialling.

For a Yard trial the event starts and finishes in the yard. Usually, there is a draft, a gather, a race to fill and a force yard.

Arena Trials

At the moment there are two types of Arena trialling. The Supreme course and the WA Arena course. For both events, you will cast your dog around three sheep and bring them down the ground, towards the casting peg, where you are standing.

For the standard WA course the sheep are just delivered into a ‘D’ shape in front of us. For the Supreme course the sheep must come down the ground and then be worked around behind us on our left side, so the sheep will be on our right side as we leave the peg.  A Supreme course also has four obstacles compared to three in the WA course, a gap, a race a bridge and a pen. Points for obstacles is different as well. This info can be found on our webpage along with other rules and regulations.

The WA course has only three obstacles, a race, a bridge and a pen.

Arena trial times can vary from about 13 minutes to 15 minutes.

When you enter the ground with your dog he must not be on a leash and once you are inside the gate you must not touch your dog. A bell will go off to signal the start of your run, but don’t rush to send your dog, keep things calm and send him when you are ready. If he breaks before the bell, you can recall him and set him up again. Once the bell goes you must not leave the starting peg until the dog has bought the sheep down the ground into the circle or ‘D’ where you are standing.

When you first start trialing you are permitted five Encourage runs. This applies for Utility and yard trials as well.

For Arena trials Encourage workers may also enter either five Novice or five Improver runs whilst they are still in the Encourage class, a total of ten runs.

In Yard and Utility they may only enter Encourage and Novice. IE Five of each. They can choose to enter Yard only or Utility only or a combination of both, making a total of five.

If an Encourage worker enters an Open event they will lose their Encourage status.

Encourage workers are also permitted to run Open dogs in these events.
Once the Encourage status is completed they can enter as many events as they like, but if they have an Open dog it will be relegated back to the Open class only.
If the worker wins either a Novice or Improver event they will lose their Encourage status.

An encourage run means you are allowed to have an experienced competitor to go around the course with you to assist and instruct you. You will be judged as well but not disqualified if you or your dog unintentionally breaks the rules. You can choose who you take around with you, or there will be volunteers available. You may walk down the ground so you do not have a long cast and you may assist your dog as well. The idea is so you can get the feel of the course and of being out there with your dog. It can be very nerve racking but try to remain calm and don’t expect too much.

Remember that everyone started somewhere, and we have all had thing go wrong out there.

It can be easy to lose sight of the fun side of trialling and get too serious and worried about doing well. Just keep it fun and look on each run as a learning experience, no matter what happens, and don’t be afraid to ask someone’s opinion of your run so that you can improve for next time.

Most trials run for three or four days, Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun, it is not necessary to attend all three days but watching is a good way to learn. They usually start as early as possible and go until late, depending on the number of entries. They usually work through lunch to fit all the runs in. Encourage runs are often run on the Saturday.

Three sheep trials have three classes, Novice, Improver and Open. Once your dog has won a Novice class, they can only enter the Improver and Open classes. After a winning an Improver they are classed as an Open dog. Encourage workers are not permitted to enter the Open class.

Utility trials have a novice and an open. You can enter your dog in both as long as the dog is a novice. Once again encourage workers are not permitted to enter the open.

Yard trials have a Novice, Improver, and Open. If your dog is a Novice you can enter the novice and Improver but not the Open. Straight yard trials, being a shorter event, often only go for a day or two.
A yard event may have a time of 8 to 12 minutes.

Entry fees will vary but usually from about $10 00 a class up to about $16.00.

At some trials, if entries are high, competitors are limited to a certain number of runs to allow everyone to have a go.

Once you have completed your encourage runs and would like to continue trialling you will need to be a member of a sheepdog club. There are six clubs in Western Australia, and the norm is to join whatever club is closest to you, or maybe a club with people you know. Encourage workers, who are not a member of a club will need to pay for a day membership to cover insurance.

To register a dog for trialling both parents need to be registered with a state club. But failing this your dog can be inspected by authorised persons who will decide if your dog has sufficient working ability to be registered.

Your Dog

Your dog will not need to be registered to do Encourage or Novice runs, but only if you decide to enter Improver and Open events.

If you want to get a dog registered, you will need to be a member of a club.

Ken Atherton is the registrar, so contact him about getting a dog registered. Kens contact is on the Website, and registration forms can also be downloaded from there

Competing at a Trial

There are many rules and regulations covering trialling and point scoring etc. too much to include here. Information and rules sheets are available from the Western Australian Working Sheepdog Association web page.

As a member and trialler you may be expected to assist at trials. This may involve helping set up or pull-down equipment, working at the let-out pen or simply making some cakes for the canteen. The let-out pen is at the end of the ground where the sheep are let out for each competitor. Two or three people are needed to assist as well as a dog to ‘sweep’ the used sheep back into the yard. Helping in this way is a great way to learn and watch dogs casting from the ‘other end’ of the ground, as well as listening to comments from more experienced competitors.

The main thing is to have fun and don’t think too much about the result. If your dog gets out of control you may be asked to retire, but as an encourage worker your helper will advise this.

Once you have finished your encourage runs it can be a bit nerve wracking going out on your own. Try to relax and if things are not going well, and the dog is not listening, then it is always best to retire, and try again another day.

People are only too happy to help so don’t be afraid to ask questions.