Ten skittish lambs walked across the field as Andi the border collie followed behind, stopping to hunker down in the grass at her handler’s command.
From across the field, Patrick Shannahan whistled and shouted orders, including “come on” and “lie down” as the sheep headed toward the appropriate location and the seconds ticked down on a clock. “There they are through the fetch panels. Very nice,” an announcer said. The audience, seated in lawn chairs and on bales of hay, let out a cheer.
Andi, a 7-year-old female, was one of 15 dogs competing Sunday in the final competitions of the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial at the Johnston Dairy Farm in Camas. During the previous three days, the dogs beat out about 155 other herding dogs to reach the final contest, which included more difficult tasks than the days prior.
Dogs in the final round had to herd in 10 lambs from one side of the field, then run to another corner of the field and herd in another 10 lambs. Once the group of 20 lambs was together, the dog was supposed to guide them through two gates and into a circle in the middle of the field.
The challenge continued with assistance from the dog’s handler, who helped winnow the group to the only five lambs wearing red collars; the other 15 lambs were shooed away. In the final part of the trial, each dog was tasked with herding the last five lambs into a nearby pen.
Each dog-and-handler team had 25 minutes to pull it all off.
Once Andi herded her sheep into the circle in the field, she helped scare off the lambs that weren’t sporting red. Shannahan chased after some, too.
“As the group gets smaller, they get a lot more unsettled,” the announcer said of the lambs. Andi and Shannahan got the last stubborn lamb without the red collar separated from the group just as they ran out of time.
Off the field, Shannahan, who had traveled to the trial from Caldwell, Idaho, seemed pleased with Andi’s performance.
“She was trying her hardest,” he said, adding that there are four keys to sheep-herding success: a good dog, a good handler, good sheep and luck.
Andi has competed in about eight sheepdog trials each year since she was 2, and Shannahan said he’s been competing for 24 years. They’ll head next to a trial on Vashon Island, then to one in Park City, Utah, before attending nationals.
The bond between the handlers and their dogs was evident on Sunday.
“It’s a love. It’s a passion,” said Noelle Williams of Deer Park. Two of her dogs, JumpinW Dusty and JumpinW Lad, competed in the finals on Sunday.
Williams started competing about 25 years ago when she lived in Alaska. Now she teaches other farmers how to train their own sheepdogs.
“I just loved it so much,” she said. “It’s beautiful when it works out and you can get into a dog’s head.”
Nabbing first place on Sunday was Bill Berhow and his dog, Coal, from Vamora, Calif., said Lynn Johnston, Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial organizer. The pair was the only one to get their last five sheep into the pen on the course Sunday, he said.
The Camas event is in its ninth year and drew more than 1,000 spectators during its four days, Johnston said.