Bits 'n' Pieces: Herding dogs not sheepish

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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The love of border collies stretches back pretty much as far as Lynn Johnston can remember.

Johnston, 55, and his historic family, which moved to Camas in 1890, have used the dogs to herd cattle and as farm helpers for decades. The dogs have wandered on the land since at least the days of his grandfather, William Roy Johnston, who set up Johnston Dairy in the 1920s, Lynn Johnston said.

"He used to take milk down to the Camas millworkers back in the '20s, although now we ship to Anderson Dairy in Battle Ground," Johnston said.

In honor of the beloved dogs, nine years ago Johnston set up the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial, an event in which border collies and other sheep dogs get to show off and compete using their herding capabilities.

"The border collies are a pretty amazing working breed," Johnston said. "It's amazing watching them do what they were bred to do."

The event, which is open to the public, has a shade tent, bleachers, food and product vendors and draws about 1,000 people each year who come out to check out the animals. This year there will be 90 handlers with 170 dogs competing from six states and British Columbia, including three of Johnston's own dogs.

"Most of these events are in really rural areas," Johnston said. "This one is as close to an urban area as any I've seen."

Almost all of the dogs are border collies, but the event is also open to other sheepherding dogs. Two kelpies and one Australian shepherd will also compete in the event.

"The border collie is the most common, and maybe the most versatile sheep dog, but the trial is not exclusive," Johnston said.

And although they're called sheep dogs, they can also herd cows or other animals.

"Cows require more aggressiveness and sheep more finesse," he explained. "Border collies, there's no other breed that will go out 500 yards and bring sheep back to you. It's pretty amazing."

Johnston said he hopes families will come out to see the animals and learn more about them at the trials.

"It's great to raise them, to see the light bulbs go off — they're really smart," Johnston said. "It's a totally family-oriented event, and a great opportunity to see these working dogs in action."

The event costs $5 for adults, and is free for kids 12 and younger. Parking is also free at the trials, held at the farm at 104 N.E. 252nd Ave. in Camas. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, Aug. 16, with finals from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17.

Visit www.lvsdt.com on the Web for more information.


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.