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Herding With Beardies

by Lois Gaspar

Beardie herding a flock of sheep
The CKC Bearded Collie Standard describes beardies as:

"One of the oldest of the British herding breeds, the Bearded Collie has for centuries been the Scottish hill shepherd's dog, used to hunt and gather free-ranging sheep on the Highlands. The breed was also popular as a cattle drover. Both jobs required a hardy constitution and intelligence, initiative, strength, stamina, and speed."

In Scotland the beardie was commonly used as a:

"huntaway" casting out in vast areas, using it’s bark to locate, flush sheep from their hiding spots, and gather the sheep into the flock

"drover’s dog" driving cattle

"hill" dog, casting out, gathering the sheep and bringing them to the owner

This huntaway style is still evident in beardies today.

In one of her "Breedlines" columns for Dogs in Canada, Alice Bixler noted that a 1929 issue of Kennel and Bench had an article by Freeman Lloyd which stated that the bearded sheepdogs of Scotland were the only cattle dogs used around the slaughter houses in east end Montreal. The dogs were in common use by the French Canadian drovers 30 to 40 years prior to the writing of that article. This means that Bearded Collies were used as working dogs in Canada 100 years ago!

In a more recent history, we have a few Beardies who worked for a living in British Columbia, as described by Jacqueline Byrnes in an article in the Bearded Colleague. Bill Beecher went to Portland in search of and Old English Sheepdog and came home with a six-week old female Beardie, Beauregard, in the fall of 1966. Bill's travels took him to Kamloops where Beauregard began to work in the Kamloops stockyards at the age of 9, never having seen stock before. Her job was to work the cattle sales, taking the animals to and from the scales. She was excellent at loading particularly difficult stock. She would nip the cattle it they proved too difficult but generally shoulder checked or hipchecked the stock. Her work was usually with cattle although she did work sheep once. Beauregard was put on the payroll and earned $4 per day. She worked until she was 16 or 17 years old and lived to just short of her 21st birthday. She was a big girl, nearly 22 inches, large, solid, deepchested with lots of bone weighing about seventy pounds.

Stormy, Gail Beecher's (Clanbarrick Kennels) first Beardie was a very dominant female that showed a natural ability to her when she worked angora goats. Although Stormy was naturally a barking dog around the yard she did not bark when working stock, and preferred to shoulder check to keep stock in line.

Walter Balisach, a shepherd in Langley, acquired two working Beardies from Dave Caldow, who brought them with him from Scotland. When Dave retired he sold the dogs to Walter, who found that Ben, the male, was a very keen worker and could not be stopped until the day he died. Ben was a rangy dog who tended to work much like a Border Collie. He was a silent worker who showed no noticeable eye. Ben was a Scot through and through and had to be commanded in the proper accent. When Walter first took him out he was unable to stop Ben. On calling Ben's former owner he realized the problem. Walter was saying "sit down" and the command was "sit doon".

The Bearded Collie Club of Canada held it’s first Herding Instinct Test on August 15, 1987 in Markham, Ontario with Jim Clarke as the tester. This test was done on ducks. Thirty beardies and their owners attended the event. The beardies reactions ranged from total disinterest to "let’s play". Only four beardies earned their "H.C." that day. Bridget Nowak’s "Haggie" (Ch. Classical Mystique) goes down in history as being the first beardie to be awarded an H.C. by the Bearded Collie Club of Canada. (Author’s note: I herded the ducks very well, Megan on the other hand, followed me, telling me I was doing a good job!)

At the annual meeting in 1989, a motion was passed to accept the Bearded Collie Club of America’s Herding Instinct Test Rules and to recognize BCCA herding instinct titles. On August 17, 1989, the BCCC held it’s second Herding Instinct Test. The tester was Evelyn Neuendorff This time the test was held on sheep and a total of 14 beardies received their H.C. from the BCCC.

In 1996 the Bearded Collie Club of Canada established a Herding Committee to review its existing herding program and to develop a new Herding Program for the Club. In early 1997 the BCCC Board approved a new Herding Program which incorporates two levels of testing. The BCCC now recognized the following levels of test achievement: Herding Instinct, Herding Capable and Novice Herding Dog. With the advent of the CKC Herding program, the BCCC now only conducts herding instinct tests.

Watching a young dog who has never seen sheep, move into the pen and begin to gather the sheep and to fetch the sheep reminds us that this is their heritage - what they were bred to do.

Copyright © 1997 [Lois Gaspar]
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© Bearded Collie Club of Canada 1997 - 2010
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Last revised: November 11, 2010