7 oktober 1876
SHEEP-DOG TRIALS AT ALEXANDRA PALACE.
At the Dog Shows now in England , it is becoming usual to have a sheep-dog trial. One which took place recently at the Alexandra Palace , London , excited a good deal of attention. The following correappndence on the subject will no doubt prove interesting to our New Zealand shepherds, who largely patronise the Witness :—
Sir, — Having been at the colley dog trials at the Alexandra Palace, and being very much interested in the working of these dogs, I venture to write to you in order that, if you think fit, my suggestions may be inserted.
In the first place, though on the whole these trials were eminently successful, yet, owing to the utter ignorance of the south country spectators concerning the habits and instincts of the coliey, they in many instances impeded the work of the clogs by getting in their way ; and I think in future years this might be easily prevented by giving the dogs less space to work in.
Secondly, I think that three Sheep were too' few for the dogs to have a chance of showing their working power, as the three sheep were liable each to break in different directions, and so render it, owing to the clumps of trees, &c, almost impossible for any dog to work them.
Thirdly, l highly disapprove of the way in which the sheep were let loose. When first released, I observed that they were quite dazed and stupid, and naturally so, for most of them, after being carried in a "most unshepherdlike manner to the pen, were held anyhow for a considerable time, until required, and this in a blazing sun. Under these circumstances, not only were they difficult to work, but they were not in a fit state of health to be worked ; and many of our Cheviot or black-faced sheep would have taken "louping ill," or "paralysis of the spine " from sheer fright. Tn this state, too, many Scotch dogs would have refused to work at them at all, understanding the danger to the sheep in doing so. This, from my own personal knowledge and experience, I can vouch to be the case.
Fourthly, I think that the speed of the dog in penning the sheep ought not to be considered at all, as the dog that works the fastest, i.e., that runs the fat off the sheep, is to be avoided by all who know anything about sheep or the avocations of a sheep-dog. Now, having had the management of some trials of the kind in Scotland , it may not be out of place for me to say how they were conducted. Pens were erected at intervals in a line, these pens were numbered, and the shepherds "each given a number corresponding to each pen ; a certain number of sheep were placed in each pen, the more the better ; they then proceeded numerically to unpen their sheep and take them to the far end of the field (which was a large one), and where there were a few sheep placed, keeping their own sheep at the same time entirely under control of the dog until joined by the rest. When each man had 'accomplished this, they each of them in turn proceeded to cut off their number again (not necessarily the same sheep), and take them back and pen them. Now, this gave us a chance of seeing - how far the dogs worked on all occasions. The unpenning showed what the dogs could do when the sheep were being taken from market, and in some cases the work around and amongst the line of pens was exceedingly pretty. The work on the - flock at the far end of the field showed the everyday work of the dog on the hill or in the fields, and the repenning the work of taking the sheep to market. Now, all this could be easily accomplished inside the, racecourse of the Alexandra Palace , and the dogs would consequently never be troubled by the presence of the spectators. I am delighted to think that the Kennel Club have taken up this most useful form ' of improving these clogs, and trust before next year to have collected a few Scotch shepherds willing to show against their Welsh brethren. Trusting I have not , ridden my hobby too far and trespassed too much on your space,
Arthur Cecil. Orchardmauis, Innerleithen, N.B.
Sir, — I was much pleased to see Mr Cecil's letter in your columns last week, one of the results that we have much hoped for from the recent trials being able criticism and advice for future gatherings. So, in hopes of getting more light thrown upon the subject, I proceed, while thanking your correspondent for - ventilating his ideas, to comment upon a few of his remarks.
In the first of these no one can disagree with him; but we may hope that a second trial, should one take place, under Kennel Club auspices or otherwise, may find the south country spectators a little more alive to the behaviour that is expected from them.
As to his second comment that three sheep are too few, I may state that that is precisely why we use that number. A colley dog is, as a rule, accustomed to work and guide a larger flock, and a large body of sheep are far more easily kept together and driven where wished than a few only ; consequently, a harder task is set to the dog when manipulating a trio only, and our object is to get at the best and cleverest animal.
Thirdly, I quite agree with him that it is a disadvantage having to haul the sheep about before releasing them ; but we were the victims of circumstances, and placed our reserve pen as near as was possible to the starting point. If placed too near, the newly-released sheep bolt back at once to their late companions, and run round and round outside the hurdles, from which it is almost impossible for the best trained dog to dislodge them. As it was, the sheep for the next turn were brought up before the three for working were slipped, so they had as long a rest as possible. As to the method of carrying them, it can boast at least of the merit of antiquity, for an old illustrated Bible shows the much-prized hundredth sheep being carried on his owner's shoulders, exactly in the same fashion as our little Welshmen were treated at Alexandra.
Fourthly, as to the speed of the dog. Mr Cecil must remember that it is not the dog that runs fastest at or near his sheep that gets them down quickest to the pen, but the wily customer who, ranging wide of his charges, induces them to go uawares in the direction that he would, very much after the same style as the Irishman's pig of world-wide celebrity was induced to go to markot. That the system of three sheep and a small pen is the best method yet devised to get at the capabilities of the canine competitors is pretty clear to our minds, from the fact that the innumerable small meetings which have been held all over Wales, in various mountain districts, since the establishment of these trials three years ago, have all been conducted upon this plan ; and the committees and managers of these offshoots have been almost entirely farmers and shepherds — men who, if there was a more practical test to be applied, would certainly have discovered it. The only objection that I can see to the method described by Mr Cecil is that it sounds so very easy that almost any decently trained animal could perform the task with ease, consequently, the judges would have but little to guide them to a decision.
R. J. Ll. Price. Rhiwlas, Bala.