Introduction to Herding Trials, Part 3: AHBA

by Jane Johnson

  In this issue we turn our attention to another of the three herding systems offering titles, the American Herding Breed Association, or AHBA.


The American Herding Breed Association was founded in 1986 in response to the increasing interest in herding activities by owners of a wide variety of breeds.  Predating the AKC herding program by four years, the original AHBA HTD, or Herding Trial Dog, course was modeled on the traditional sheepdog course of the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS), but the program was designed to accommodate all herding breeds, including rare breeds, multi-purpose breeds which also have been used for herding, and herding breed mixes.  With its focus on practical herding work, the AHBA later added the Herding Ranch Dog (HRD) courses, which typically involve less open field work and more close work through chutes, pens, gates, etc.  AHBA's herding program serves the organization's greater goals to "promote an appreciation of the skills and value of the herding dog and to help provide information about herding breeds, herding training, herding behaviors and herding in general."

Tests and Trials

 Unlike ASCA, but like AKC, AHBA offers tests as well as trials.  The Herding Capability Test evaluates dogs for herding instinct and beginning herding work, while the Junior Herding Dog Test evaluates dogs training at a level preparatory to trial work.  Tests use the pass/fail system, with two passing runs under two different judges earning the title.  Test titles may be earned on any type of stock; if stock for the first leg is different than the stock for the second leg, the stock on which the second leg was earned is that designated after the title, e.g. JHD-d. 

At the trial level, both HTD and HRD are offered at started, intermediate, and advanced levels.  Titles are designated HTD I or HRD I (started), HTD II or HRD II (intermediate), and HTD III or HRD III (advanced).  The HTD course is standard, and includes outrun, lift, fetch, drive, cross-drive, and pen, as well as a hold in the advanced class (either a ribbon pull or shed).  The HRD course is meant to more closely simulate a particular type of farm or ranch work; the courses may vary in detail but include specific requirements, namely a gather, wear/drive/cross-drive, various obstacles, sorting, and pen work.  Obstacles may include bridges, chutes, etc. or involve loading and unloading trailers.

 In general, as with the other trial systems, the beginning handler may fetch the stock through the entire course; the movement of the intermediate handler is more restricted, and the advanced handler must stay at the handler's post for most of the run.  Thus the more advanced the dog, the farther from the handler it must be able to work, and the more it is required to drive.

 In order to qualify, competitors must earn 70% of the total possible points and at least one point on each part of the course: 63 of 90 for HTD/HRD I and II and 70 of 100 for HTD/HRD III.  (There are more available points in Advanced because the ribbon pull or shed is an additional requirement.)  Two qualifying scores, or legs, under two different judges earn the title.  AHBA's titles are stock-specific and may be earned on sheep (s), goats (g), ducks (d), geese (ge), or cattle (c), although HRD classes may not use ducks.  The stock designation follows the course title, e.g., HTD I-s.  A dog may enter at any level for which it is trained; no title is a prerequisite for another.

 Once a dog has earned an advanced title, it becomes eligible for points toward its Herding Trial Champion title (HTCh.).  The HTCh requires 10 championship points, each earned by scoring 80 or above in an advanced class, either HRD or HTD.  The points may be earned on any kind of stock, but at least seven of the points must be earned on the heavier stock (sheep, goats, or cattle).  Since the HTCh can be earned on either or both courses and a variety of stock, the HTCh title does not supercede the Advanced title.  HTCh runs can also do "double-duty," earning titles as they earn championship points.  For example, an HTD III dog scoring 85 on an HRD III course would be earning an HRD III leg as well as a championship point.

 Comparing HTD and HRD

 The HTD course design tests a dog's ability in several areas.  At the advanced level, it demonstrates ability to outrun, lift, fetch, drive, cross-drive, pen, and hold.  According to the AHBA rulebook, the standard AHBA course is not designed to be an arena course since "fences can interfere with the position the dog needs to take in order to best handle the stock."  HTD requires courses at least 200' by 300' for sheep with "larger perimeter dimensions encouraged." In fact, special requests must be made to AHBA for use of an arena as small as 100' by 200' (the standard minimum in AKC).  The HTD outrun distance--handler's post to stock setout--is 225 feet minimum and distances between obstacles are to be about half the outrun length (with exceptions for outruns over 600 feet); "longer distances are encouraged."  This means that the minimum drive on a standard HTD course is at least 112 feet, with longer distances encouraged.  The minimum number of stock is three head.

 In contrast, the HRD courses "must use at least five head of stock, with larger numbers preferred."  The minimum outrun on the HRD course is 120 feet, slightly more than half that required on the standard HTD course.  HRD II requires a drive or cross drive of 60 feet minimum (HTD II would require a drive of almost twice that distance).  HRD III also allows either a drive or a cross drive, and while the minimum distance is 120 feet, it may be divided into two 60-foot sections.  Thus an HRD III course could ask for only two 60-foot cross-drives to qualify, whereas any HTD III course requires a minimum drive of 112 feet with longer distances encouraged. 

 Other differences between the courses: at the intermediate and advanced levels HTD requires a free-standing pen "placed well toward the center of the course at least 30 feet away from any perimeter fence," and in HTD II and III "the handler must hold the end of the rope attached to the gate."  In HRD, the free-standing obstacle need be only 20 feet from the fence and holding the rope may not be required.  In HTD, the hold or shed takes place in the lower half of the arena, "preferably not too near a fence," and animals may not be held by hand or crook.  In HRD, sorting can be done as a gate shed and "may allow use of a crook."  HRD rules state that "more weight may be given to the accomplishing of the obstacle, with less emphasis on line."  In short, the minimum HTD course, when compared to the minimum HRD course, requires more driving, more open field work, and greater precision.  HTD more clearly demonstrates the ability to control fewer head of sheep in a large unobstructed space.  To complete the advanced HTD course, the dog must be able to flank to the head to turn the stock to the cross-drive panel while driving away from the post at some distance from the handler, and must be able to hold the stock in the open field.

 What Distinguishes AHBA

 In many ways, the American Herding Breed Association program combines the best of all the systems.  It is more flexible than AKC and arguably more open than ASCA.  Like ASCA (and in theory, AKC), it offers a variety of courses and stock.  However, it is open to virtually all breeds and mixed breeds capable of herding.  It has no built-in focus on one particular breed, as ASCA and ISDS systems do; in fact, breed clubs have no particular status in the AHBA program.  It openly acknowledges other international programs and even accommodates their courses through the flexibility of its own HRD course criteria.  Unlike AKC, AHBA allows non-competitive or exhibition-only runs and day-of-trial entries.  Like the ASCA championship, but unlike the AKC championship, the AHBA HTCh is a merit title: to earn it, the dog competes against an objective standard (a minimum score), rather than against other dogs.  All of these distinctions point to AHBA's emphasis on promoting greater knowledge and appreciation of herding over competition.

 Collie Performance

 According to AHBA records, about 50 AHBA trial titles have been awarded to about half that many collies.  Four AKC conformation champions have AHBA trial titles, all of them either HTD I or HRD I.  The trial titles as follows:


21 5 3 10 3 6 1


HTD III collies are

HCh WTCH Pokies Winterset Foxxi CD, CGC, HTD III, HRD III  (rough)


Storm's Nyoka Queen Kaweah HI, HTD III, OTDcsd, HRD I (smooth)

HRD III collies are

Northlight Paragon Crystal HX, HRD III (rough)

Riley (smooth) HRD III

Paragon Diamond in the Ruff HS, HRD III (rough)

HCh WTCH Pokies Winterset Foxxi CD, CGC, HTD III, HRD III  (rough)

Paragon Classic Blonde CD, HS, HRD III (rough)

HTCh Sheldon of Windyhill CDX, HX, HXAs, HRD III


AHBA records indicate that Sheldon, a sable rough owned by Michaelle and Paul Ferro, is the only AHBA Herding Champion; he earned that title in 1999.