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Wednesday, 05 October 2011 14:15

New Dayton sheepdog handler at the top of his game

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By Susan Quinlan
New Dayton
Anyone who has watched sheepdog trialing knows how effortlessly the handler appears to manage his dog, but most also appreciate the level of skill required to make the task appear effortless.
Such is the case when Scott Glen of New Dayton takes the field with one of his prize-winning border collies that under his instruction, have managed to win numerous championships over the past couple of decades.

“Scott is the best home bred in Canada,” said wife, Jenny.

In his early 20s, while living on the family farm by Pincher Creek, Scott decided to raise a flock of sheep. While on his way to a shearing class, he came upon a sheep herding demonstration and the rest, as they say, was history.

“He has been hooked on herding ever since.”

Scott now shares the skill he’s acquired with others in the classes he teaches during the summer months through his business, Alta-Pete stockdogs.

“I learned from a book because that’s all we had.

If you can learn from someone else that has the experience, it takes a weekend versus years … but there’s a lot to be said about learning by yourself,” added Scott, whose long list of wins serve as testament to the extent to which he has honed his skill.

“Competitions judge how a dog moves the sheep around a pre-determined course,” explained Jenny, with the dog often working at distances of more than 400 yards from the handler, who uses whistle commands to direct them.

For more than 20 years, Scott has trained and trialed border collies to herd sheep and cattle and for competition.

This past May, Scott and his border collie Don became Reserve Champions at the Bluegrass Classic in Lexington, KY. In August, Scott and Don won the Canadian and Western Canadian Championship in Cranbrook and in September, Scott and Don took fourth at the United States Border Collie Handlers Association Nationals (USBCHA) and won the Best Shed trophy at that competition as well.

Jenny explained best shed involves separating a certain number of sheep from the herd. It serves as the most challenging task a sheepdog handler must complete.

“The whole trial is simulating work the farmer has to do. Sheep are flocking animals, so it’s not an easy thing ... It’s kind of a little dance you and the dog do.”

Jenny said the herder has 20 sheep altogether — five with collars. The objective is to separate the collared sheep from the rest of the herd. Penalties abound to the extent that if a collared sheep, once separated from the larger group, returns to that larger group, the herder must begin the entire sorting process again.

It’s not just getting it done, said Jenny, it’s getting it done with the fewest penalties, but as well, it’s not uncommon for the best shed competition to not be completed.

Jenny said it’s quite an honour to win best shed, as that’s a skill few in North America have.

“It’s prestigious because it’s so difficult to do ... Some of the clinics Scott does around the country are just to teach shedding.”

Jenny said Scott’s early years on a cattle ranch likely played a large part in his success, as he’s developed the ability to read livestock anticipating their next move.

Of course, the other part of a winning formula has to do with the genetic make-up of the border collie, said Scott, with that breed’s herding instinct serving as the most important characteristic to select for.

As to the importance of the connection between dog and handler, Jenny explained that to a border collie, work is everything.

“With this breed, work is the thing to them, but they know there’s no work without that one person. They’re a one-man dog for that person, but if you sell them it’s not a problem; they bond with whoever will work them. They have to have that outlet.”

Scott’s border collies, up until recently, were all offspring from a line he started in 1985, when he imported Sweep from Wayne Roberts’ kennel in Great Britain.

The many prize-winning border collies which came from that lineage included Dan who won more than 50 open trials before retiring.

Training their dogs and those of clients takes place over the winter, while the Glens compete and Scott runs clinics during the warmer months.

During the competitions, points are earned which allow them to participate in larger competitions in the United States, although one of the biggest and most prestigious is the Soldier Hollow Classic.

The Soldier Hollow Classic is held annually in Soldier Hollow, Utah, on Labour Day weekend and features the world's best border collies, said Jenny.

“It’s top class; there just isn't anything like it.”

From great handler’s gifts through to tasty food and first-rate competition attracting a crowd in excess of 25,000, the Glen’s are consistently invited to participate.

The Glens then move on to the Meeker Classic in Colorado, said Jenny, where this year Scott made it to the semi-finals with two of his border collies; Meek and Don.

As to the breed itself, Scott said border collies are  smart, but it’s mostly their inherited herd or gathering instinct that makes them winners in competition. However, it isn’t competition that most attracts Scott to the sport.

“I’ve met people I never would have known; friends I would never ever have met before the dogs. I’ve travelled all over.”

Jenny initially took up the sport as a hobby, she’s now hooked as well.

“They call it ‘getting the fever.’ I was a newbie out of the city and at least three-quarters of those in the sport start in the city. The next thing you know, they’re moving out and getting farms.

“It’s mastery of not just me controlling the dog;

I’ve got the dog, who all have different personalities; the sheep, who also have different personalities; and the weather …”

As well, said Jenny, some dogs are only good on certain kinds of sheep.

“There’s never a time you walk to the post and think, ‘I’ve got this.’ It’s always a new challenge with so many different variables. Then there’s that part with your dog,” she adds referring to the connection between dog and handler. “There’s no continuity, but when it’s right, it’s beautiful.”

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