Vashon Sheepdog Trials Celebrate 7th Year in Washington

Posted by Stacey Venzel

The Vashon Sheepdog Classic kicked off another year with thousands of spectators and nearly 100 participants.

Situated smack dab in the middle of Puget Sound, Vashon is the largest island in the Admiralty Inlet in Washington state. The island maintains its rural country charm by being accessible only by boat, whereas a number of other Washington islands have long since succumbed to bridge transport that connects them to the mainland.

It is this isolation that adds to the Vashon Sheepdog Classic experience. First launched in 2000, the trials started off small and, after a short hiatus, are back up and running with more spectators, trainers, and dogs than ever.

Funds raised from the weekend event, spanning June 9-12 this year, go toward island youth. The 2016 celebration marked the most successful fundraising year to date.

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More than 8,000 visitors, locals and tourists alike, flocked to the fields to watch the sheepdog trials. This year, five yearling sheep were placed in the pen and rounded up by a number of Border Collie competitors and their human handlers. Two judges gave marks on the performances based on six herding aspects: outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed, and pen.

An outrun rank takes into account the dog's initial approach to the sheep. The canines can be directed to flank the sheep on the curved course from either the right or left. A total of 20 points is allotted for the outrun.

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Lift is worth 10 points. It is characterized as the first interaction between the herder and the herdees, when the canine initiates movement of the sheep. According to the Vashon trials, the goal is to create a "calm, steady, and straight line toward the handler waiting at the post."

The line of sheep traveling toward the handler is called the fetch and can help the Border Collie accumulate 20 points. Gates halfway down the fetch line should be passed through by the sheep in order to ensure a full point score in this category.

In the drive, the dog listens to commands from the trainer to lead the sheep through two more gates. Considered the most complicated part of the run, the drive is worth 30 points.

In the shed, a specified number of sheep are separated from the group and the dog must herd them back to the others waiting in the ring. This part is worth 10 points.

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Lastly, the pen calls on a combined effort between the canine and its handler, with a shepherd's crook, to close the sheep in the pen.

In each day's trial, the order of the six categories can change as can the time and distance allowed to complete the task. For example, weather conditions affecting terrain, and visibility could be taken into account.

The 2016 Vashon Sheepdog Classic saw participants from all over the Western U.S., including competitors from Canada.

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Vashon Sheepdog Trials Celebrate 7th Year in Washington