Sheepdogs are used by those responsible for flocks of sheep because they offer the safest and most efficient means of carefully moving sheep from one location to another. The sheep are not afraid of a well trained sheepdog; the fact that they sometimes stop to eat grass does show a lack of concern, but the handler would much rather they get to the finish and eat grass there!.
The skill of a shepherd or sheepdog handler is to move the sheep as steadily as possible so as to cause no distress. If the sheep become upset they are inclined to run in every direction, and possibly become lost in open country. Therefore, the sheepdog often lies down and approaches the sheep slowly, and only follows when they are moving happily in the right direction.
Sheepdog trialling is all about demonstrating that handler and dog can achieve this tricky task. Points are gained for the sheep moving under control, in straight lines and with the minimum of excitement. The skill is in the handler and dog working together as a team, often almost instinctively.
Sheepdog trials are carefully managed to ensure both the welfare of the sheep and the dogs. The sheep must be healthy and fully able to undertake the walk around the trial field. When they have finished, after 20 minutes or so, they will be led into a quiet field to be with the rest of the flock and continue their normal life; they only do the course once. The sheepdogs love what they do. The concentration and obedience they show is a testament to how much they enjoy working with their owner. On a working farm they might be out for six hours with the shepherd, but on a trial field they get only 15 to 30 minutes (Trial dependant) to show how good they are.
All trials are supervised by a Steward and the Judges who will ensure that the sheep are healthy and happy, and that the dog is in good health and perfectly behaved. Although very rare an occurrence, the Judges will stop the handler and dog, and send them off the field if any animal looks upset or shows any aggression. It is the responsibility of the Association and its members to uphold the highest standards of animal care at all times.