Well, I finally did it.  I entered Decker into a local ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America) sheepdog herding trial.  The trial is set for memorial weekend in Cayucos, California.  
In ASCA, unlike the USBCHA (United States Border Collie Handler's Assoc.) trials, where one can enter their dog in any level that they deem "fit" for their dog (not being able to go backwards after the move up-so better make sure), ASCA's requirement is to successfully compete first in the "Started" level.  So that is where we are entering the trial at, the Started level.  

Started is just like it sounds, for the started on sheep dog.  I feel that Decker is now working in the second level-"Open", but he is required to enter his first trials with ASCA in the Started level.  He will be required to take them out of a pen, then fetch, and either drive or fetch through two panels, trying to keep straight lines. 

ASCA has developed handler lines for the human competitor.  Depending on the level of the dog, the handler has limits as to where he can go in the arena.  In Started, he can go anywhere he needs to be to get the dog to work the sheep.  The entire course can be fetched if needed, or driven if needed, or even a combination of both.  Usually novice types of handlers choose to fetch the entire, not wanting to take a chance on making handling mistakes.  Fetching is probably the safest bet for most started dogs.

When I run a Border collie pup in their first ASCA trials, I try to work my pup in a drive position and from the Advanced handlers line.  Then as the run progresses, I have the option of moving closer to the dog or sheep, if additional help is needed.

With Decker, the hardest part for him, I fear, will be this "take pen".  This particular pen is where the dog has to go in by himself and go around the sheep in order to bring them out into the arena to start the rest of his run.  With many young dogs, this could be the hardest part for him.  Young dogs naturally want to go to head (positioning his body at the heads of the sheep) in order to stop the sheep from moving.  And this pen has a nasty jig in it.  It is shaped like an L, making is most difficult for many a dog.  We will be practicing this pen during our herding lessons.

During his sheepdog herding trial, I will try to have him "drive" the course.  If we run into trouble, I will step in and let him fetch the sheep the rest of the way through.  The judge will not score the dog any better for driving the course or for fetching, but I feel that this is good practice for both of us.  And in the next level, "Open", which I hope we are in after that weekend, fetching is not allowed.  My training method is always making it harder at first, then skate through the rest.  

At home, when I train, I have the drive panels set closer together, in order to make it tougher than at an actual sheepdog herding trial.  I mix things up, not training by a set order, what we humans are so good at, so the dogs don't anticipate what comes next.  If the dogs do that anticipation too much, they just might do their own thing and not listen to you.  

At a trial, you could come up against something unusual.  There are fetches called doglegged fetches.  These are where the dog does his outrun, and then does not bring the sheep directly back to the handler.  They have to be directed to some other point off to the left or right first, and possibly go around a post, then back to the handler.  If the dog anticipates, because he always brings the sheep back straight away, and directly brings the sheep back to you and misses the dogleg, then major points can be lost.

Another reason that I like to make my training harder is unusual obstacles can be included in mix.  A Maltese Cross can be included in a course.  If your dog just does his course by habit, and not by thinking, the cross might be impossible to accomplish.

I feel that if my dog is over-trained for the job at hand, then that job just might be a little easier.

I still want to sell Decker as a trained Aussie, and this trialing might get herders interested in him, or they might know of someone that is looking for a trained dog, we'll see!

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