Second in a Series

 

Introduction to Herding Trial Systems: ASCA

 

People interested in herding, including many already competing, may well be overwhelmed by the variety of herding programs available.  There are many active national herding programs and over 90 possible titles![1]  The three systems offering titles are AKC (American Kennel Club), AHBA (American Herding Breed Association), and ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America).  In this issue we'll focus on ASCA.

 

History

 

The stockdog program of the Australian Shepherd Club of America was established to recognize, preserve, and stimulate interest in the working ability of the Australian shepherd, and to keep a permanent record of working dogs' accomplishments in order to improve breeding practices.  The first sanctioned trial was held in Santa Rosa, California in 1974; in 1986, the program was expanded to allow titling of other breeds, including the collie.[2] 

 

Divisions

The core of the ASCA trialing system is comprised of three divisions: Started Trial Dog (STD), Open Trial Dog (OTD), and Advanced Trial Dog (ATD).  Each division is generally divided into three classes: Ducks, Sheep/Goats (usually sheep), and Cattle.  Also offered are a Post Advanced Trial Dog (PATD) division which runs sheep or cattle on a bigger course, and a Ranch Trial Dog (RTD) division (sheep or cattle, ten-head minimum) which includes ranch work such as sorting, penning, etc.  There is also a Junior Handler division for handlers under 17 and Novice Handler Dog for novice handlers working a dog with any level of experience.  With the exception of this last class, ASCA competitors must enter the system at the Started level and progress through Advanced.

Titles

ASCA offers five trialing titles: STD, OTD, ATD, PATD, and RTD.  Small letters c, s, or d after the title indicate the stock on which the title was earned.  A Working Trial Champion title is awarded to those dogs who have received ATD titles in all three classes of stock.  The Started, Open, and Advanced Trial Dog titles each require two qualifying scores.  A Started Trial Dog must earn at least 69% of the total points (69/100) to qualify; an Open or Advanced Trial Dog must earn at least 70% of the total points (88/125) to qualify.  (There are more possible points in Open and Advanced because those divisions include a center obstacle.)

A Ranch Trial Dog must earn at least 75% of the total possible points (75/100), and a single qualifying score merits the title.  ASCA also offers a Ranch Dog inspection wherein a dog can be certified as a valuable assistant to his owner in day-to-day operations in ranch, farm, or day work, or in stockyards, auctions, rodeos, and related work.  The owner must qualify as being a working rancher, farmer, rodeo worker, etc.

Like the AKC and AHBA systems, a dog at the beginning level (STD) is expected to have control of the livestock and be under control of the handler.  The Started dog is allowed to work the course in whatever way is advantageous for the dog and handler, which is to say it may fetch and/or drive.  The intermediate-level (OTD) dog should be able to control and rate its stock, have solid commands, a parallel drive, some driving ability, and the ability to work at a greater distance from the handler.  The advanced dog should be able to work efficiently at any distance from the handler, show good teamwork with the handler, and show the initiative to think on its own.  The advanced dog should be able to handle all types of stock (light to heavy) with maximum control and minimum stress.[3]

 

Courses

The ASCA A and B courses (those used for the STD, OTD, and ATD classes) are probably the most common.  These courses are set in an arena and consist of an exhaust pen at one end, two obstacles at the opposite end, and a center obstacle.  Course B begins with a gather of the livestock (similar to an outrun and lift), followed by a clockwise fetch/drive through Obstacle 1, fetch/drive through Obstacle 2, a free-standing pen (for Open and Advanced), and a re-pen.  Course A begins with a take-pen instead of a gather.  Stock are taken in a counter-clockwise direction through the course, first through Obstacle 1, then through Obstacle 2, through a center chute (for Open and Advanced), and finally into the exhaust pen.  The PATD-A and PATD-B courses are held in a field six acres or larger.  Ranch Trial Dog courses vary, but must include a minimum of two pens, sorting, chute work, and pasture work; the handler may be on horseback.

 

What Makes ASCA Unique?

 

To help illustrate the differences between ASCA trials and AKC or AHBA trials, let’s look at a typical ASCA course: the 'B' Course.  Given the above description, those familiar with AKC and AHBA will see that the Started ASCA B course appears on the surface to be quite similar to an AHBA JHD (Junior Herding Dog) or AKC PT (Pre-Trial) test course.  (In fact, ASCA has no test classes.)  In theory, since the Started course requires no formal outrun and is mostly confined to work along the fence line, a dog-handler team competent in the fundamentals should be able to qualify fairly easily.  In contrast to JHD and PT though, entrants are competing for scores and placements and the judges are less forgiving.  Further, because ASCA competitors must begin in Started and work their way up, a "true" Started team may find itself competing against advanced dogs and herding champions who are competing in ASCA for the first time.  Another major difference between ASCA and other trials is that ASCA usually offers all three types of stock for each class.  

 

The ASCA program was designed for the Australian shepherd dog and judges by definition are familiar with that breed's working style.[4]  Familiarity with other breeds and their working styles is not required and some ASCA judges have had limited knowledge of other breeds.  In fact, a handler of other breeds with substantial handling and judging credentials may not meet the minimum eligibility requirements to become an ASCA judge.  As a result, ASCA has at times had a reputation for breed bias, although knowledge of other breeds amongst ASCA judges is improving.  The traditional focus on the Aussie style may account for another essential difference between ASCA and the other systems.  AKC and AHBA both offer "line courses," meaning the ideal run takes the stock on the imaginary straight line between each obstacle, and penalizes for deviation from the line.  In ASCA, an unwritten rule states that "seeing the dog work" beats adherence to straight lines.  Some judges may define this as the dog actively working on its feet, covering errant or obstreperous stock with minimal assistance from the handler.  Consequently, some judges may award a higher score to the dog who "makes a mess" and fixes it than to the dog who flawlessly works the stock as though on a line course.  Similarly, a judge might penalize the handler who moves stock smoothly by controlling the dog (e.g., with frequent "downs"), instead of letting the dog control the stock.  The handler who appears to be controlling the stock himself, or the dog who appears to be "following" the stock, rather than actively controlling it, may be similarly penalized.  Acknowledgment of this difference from the AKC system may alleviate frustration or confusion and can--and should--be used to the handler's advantage.

 

There are several features of ASCA's titling system that serve to further distinguish ASCA from AKC and AHBA.  Perhaps most importantly, ASCA’s championship--the Working Trial Champion (WTCH, sounds like “Witch”)--demonstrates versatility, since the dog must show advanced level work on three very different kinds of stock.  The ASCA WTCH, like the AHBA Herding Trial Champion (HTCH), but unlike the AKC Herding Champion (HC), is a merit title, meaning that to earn the title, the dog competes against an objective standard (a minimum score), rather than against other dogs.  Unlike top AKC dogs, who frequently retire after their championships, Working Trial Champions often continue to compete in ASCA trials.  This can mean stiff competition at the Advanced level, as ASCA-registered Australian shepherds vie for spots at ASCA’s Stockdog Finals by earning points in ASCA competitions.

Collie Performance

There are only a handful of collies who have earned ASCA advanced titles, including two smooths: Ann-Marie Ely's Hawk (Sunshine's Night Hawk CDX, HX) and Bonnie Daley's Hurri (CH Shadaglen Loves a Storm CD HX).   The ASCA Working Trial Championship is a particularly noteworthy accomplishment.  Because the WTCH is a merit title, it doesn’t matter how many dogs one beats; two qualifying scores at each level on each of the three stock earns the WTCH.  Does that sound easy?  Think again!  Since the first "other breed" (non-Aussie) was awarded its WTCH, very few loose-eyed, upright[5] other breeds have earned the title.  In the history of the program, 70% of all WTCHs have been awarded to Aussies (319 of 455) and 25% to strong-eyed dogs (Kelpies or border collies, traditionally the "non-AKC" breeds): 115 of 455.  Less than 5% of all WTCHs have been awarded to loose-eyed dogs (traditionally the AKC dogs): 21 of 455.  It is truly an accomplishment to earn ASCA's Working Trial Championship, and so far only one collie has thus distinguished itself:  HCh WTCH Pokies Winterset Foxxi CD, CGC, HTD-III, HRD-III.[6] 

--Jane Johnson

More information about ASCA’s stockdog program may be found at its website: http://www.asca.org/Programs/Stockdog/index.htm.



[1] not counting AKC titles earned under its old system.  The new AKC titles went into effect January 1, 2000.

[2] Email correspondence with ASCA President and Stockdog Committee Liaison Kathy Warren, July 11, 2000.

[3] Australian Shepherd Club of America, Trialing Guidelines (Bryan, Texas: 1997).

 

[4] To become an ASCA judge one is required to 1) have trialed Australian Shepherds for a minimum of six years, 2) own or breed Australian Shepherds, and  3) have handled Australian Shepherd(s) to Started, Open and Advanced titles in each class of stock.

[5] The terms loose-eyed and upright define a herding style distinct from that of the strong-eyed breeds (kelpies, border collies), whose method of working is marked by a stare and stalking crouch. 

[6] These statistics are drawn from the "Other Breed WTCH" list at ASCA's website, which had been updated only to June 27, 1999.  Confirmation of the single collie WTCH was obtained from the ASCA office, May 4, 2000.