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Ian Brownlie on the World Sheepdog Trials

This will be my third World Sheepdog Trials and I'm looking forward to it.

I've been a handler for most of my life and done it competitively for 20 years. I enjoy the challenge. The best thing for me is training the dogs - that's what I like most.

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It's always collies used for sheepdog trials. Compared with other herding dogs around the world they tend to have a quieter way about them. Rather than shifting sheep by fear, they do it through a quiet control.

I have entered two dogs for the World Sheepdog Trials and will be taking Mo, who is six, and seven-year-old Gus. Each dog has eight or nine whistle commands and at least the same again in voice. There are probably 20 commands in total.

The course at the World Sheepdog Trials is designed so that, rather than simply the dog bringing the sheep towards you, they also have to drive them away. That makes it more challenging because the main criteria for any working dog is to instinctively get the sheep and bring them to the handler. The drive element goes against the grain.

My father first taught me handling when I was quite young. He died when I was 11. I'm from Fife originally and now run a sheep farm in Alloa which is mostly for lamb production. I used to be a dairyman but fancied a change and got my own farm in 1994.

I have lost count of the number of dogs I've worked with over the years but it's a fair few. It's hard to tell whether a dog will be good or not when they are a pup. It requires a strong working instinct, but to get them to a high level you need other criteria, including being smart and a natural ability to work stock.

I've been lucky enough in the past couple of years that I have won the International Supreme Championship Sheepdog Trials - one of the blue riband events - twice. I won in 2012 with Gus and in 2013 with Mo.

The World Sheepdog Trials attracts competitors from Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the US and the majority of European countries. I have a friend in South Africa and know how high the standard of competition is there, but that's true of a lot of countries. It's nice hearing their stories, because there is obviously a big difference to farming in the Karoo to farming in Alloa.

I've competed in South Africa and the US. It is a different experience, not only in terms of the terrain but the temperament of the sheep. In Colorado and Utah, they have range sheep and it can be a big problem if you upset them because once they take off running they don't stop. It's their natural mechanism for protection against predators such as coyotes and wolves.

The biggest single thing that separates a good handler from an even better one is the ability to anticipate the sheep's movements. Rather than wait until the sheep have gone in the wrong direction, you need to stay a few steps ahead to keep them on the right track. How easy is that? It comes with experience and a lot of mistakes go into learning that.

The 2014 World Sheepdog Trials, part of the official Homecoming Scotland 2014 programme, will be at Fearn Farm by Tain, Ross-shire, from September 3-6. Visit worldsheepdogtrials.org

SUSAN SWARBRICK

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Agriculture

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