Herding skills unleashed

B.G. facility teaches dogs to tap into natural ability for sporting, training, other purposes

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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photoStamp, an Australian shepherd, herds sheep at Brigand’s HideOut in Battle Ground.

(/The Columbian)

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BRIGAND’s HIDEOUT

Brigand’s HideOut, a Battle Ground sheep-herding facility, offers dogs and their handlers the chance to work with stock. Private herding sessions are available, as well as small group lessons. To learn more, go to http://www.brigandshideout.com.

There’s a fine line between chasing and herding, one of the first lessons dogs learn at Brigand’s HideOut.

The Battle Ground sheepherding facility offers breeds that have traditionally worked with livestock the chance to tap into their natural instincts. At first, dogs may be tempted to make a beeline for the flock, but with practice and instruction, they learn to move the sheep in a controlled fashion as directed by their handler.

Historically a necessity for farmers and ranchers, herding is now both a practical part of rural life and a canine sport. It’s also something dogs and their owners can enjoy doing together.

“It’s a very addicting sport,” said Brigand’s HideOut owner Nancy Ward, who has been herding for about 20 years. “I enjoy the challenge of it and that it’s something I can do with my dogs that isn’t boring. The dogs love it, too. They get as addicted to it as people do. It gives them a job to do that’s physically and mentally challenging.”

Ward and trainers such as Trudy and Dave Viklund, formerly of Battle Ground and now residing in Molalla, Ore., teach dogs to move stock through obstacles including pens, gates and chutes. These are jobs that herding dogs on a working farm are tasked with, and which competitive herding trials simulate.

Brigand’s HideOut occupies 22 acres spread over three lots, and Ward leases another 15 acres across the street. She typically has between 70 and 100 head of sheep. She doesn’t have any geese, cattle or ducks right now, but does have ducks during the summer. Sometimes she or other trainers will bring cattle in to give dogs the opportunity to herd other types of stock.

Most of the dogs Ward works with are classified by the American Kennel Club as herding breeds. These include Australian cattle dogs, Australian shepherds, border collies and bouvier des Flandres. Other dogs, such as Rottweilers and giant and standard schnauzers, who belong to different breed classes but are used for herding, also take part. Additionally, there are some breeds such as Australian kelpies that are not recognized by the AKC but which make strong herders.

In addition to instruction, competitive herding trials take place at Brigand’s HideOut. At an AKC event last month, Ward handled a bouvier des Flanders named Derby that she’s training for her owner. Derby received the last qualifying score she needed to get her first sheepherding title.

For Ward, herding is utilitarian as well as competitive. She relies on her bouvier des Flandres, Australian kelpies and Australian shepherd to help her on the property.

“If I have to collect 50 head of sheep in a five-acre field, it’s going to take me quite awhile. I can send a dog out to do that in a few minutes,” she said, adding that dogs also help with tasks such as sheep sorting. “Anything you would do on a farm that you would need another person to do, the dog can do it more quickly and efficiently.”

Control, confidence

Some of the people coming to Brigand’s HideOut aren’t looking to get into herding as farmers or competitors. Rather, they’re looking for an alternative to obedience classes and other more widespread types of dog training.

That’s what drew Lee and Palma Davis to Brigand’s HideOut. The Battle Ground couple were looking for a way to help their 9-month-old German shepherd Ingrid get exercise and learn self-control.

As of mid-March, Ingrid had taken five classes at Brigand’s with Trudy Viklund, who along with her husband owns Double V Stockdogs (http://doublevstockdogs.com). Already Ingrid was getting better about walking on a leash.

“She’s having to learn that she has to be more obedient,” Lee Davis said.

While the dog controls the sheep, the handler is the ultimate master.

“Herding is about the relationship between the dog and the person,” Trudy Viklund said. “In order to herd with you, the dog has to have respect for you.”

Trudy Viklund also is working with Emmy, Pam Reeves’ 2½-year-old border collie, though on different goals. While Ingrid’s owners want her to learn control, Emmy needs to build confidence.

Reeves, a Battle Ground resident, first got Emmy involved with herding about 1½ years ago. Reeves and Emmy take lessons at Brigand’s two or three times a month, and Emmy looks forward to them. When the car pulls up to the property and she sees the sheep, Emmy gets excited.

“She’s up against the window and ready to roll,” Reeves said.

Unlike performing tricks for treats, herding is a reward in and of itself, said Trudy Viklund, who has been herding for about 11 years and who, along with Dave Viklund, gives clinics across the country.

“They love it so much that they usually don’t even want a treat,” she noted.

Emmy is already more confident and less shy now that she’s realizing she can control sheep that are larger than she is.

“In situations where she would have hid behind me before, now she’s out beside me,” Reeves said.

Still, confidence is something they continue to work on. Border collies as a breed are known for being good at controlling stock with their eyes, and Trudy Viklund and Reeves are working with Emmy to tap into that natural ability.

Reeves hasn’t ruled out exploring competitive herding in the future, but that’s not her goal.

“Really I just enjoy getting out there with her and being together,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.