Fourth in a Series
Introduction to Herding Trial Systems: AKC
History and Purpose
Of all the trialing systems, probably AKC is the most familiar to the collie fancier. The first AKC test/trial that met AKC requirements was held in March, 1990 at Coto de Caza in Orange County, California.* Like AHBA, AKC offers both non-competitive herding tests and competitive herding trials. The purpose of the tests is "to offer herding breed owners a standardized gauge by which a dog's basic instinct and trainability are measured." The trial program is intended "to preserve and develop the herding skills inherent in the herding breeds and to demonstrate that they can perform the useful functions for which they were originally bred."
Tests and Trials
The AKC system offers two pass/fail tests: HT (Herding Tested) and PT (Pre-Trial Tested). In them, dogs are asked to demonstrate their ability to move and control livestock in a small area by fetching or driving without constant ringing (circling). The Pre-Trial Test also has a seldom-used boundary option which additionally tests a dog's ability to contain stock within a graze area. Tests must use sheep, ducks or cattle, except where clubs or associations holding tests open to one breed only have received special permission to use other types of livestock.
The AKC program offers three trial courses (A, B, and C), with three classes available for each: Herding Started (HS), Herding Intermediate (HI), and Herding Excellent (HX, or Advanced). AKC trials most frequently are run on sheep, although cattle, ducks, and other stock may also be offered. 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 greater must be its driving abilities. There are no prerequisites in AKC; a dog may begin its trialing career in any class deemed appropriate by the owner. The minimum qualifying score is 60 in all classes, but to qualify, the competitor must earn at least half of the available points in each category (e.g., 10 of the 20 possible for the Outrun/Lift/Fetch). The latter criterion is commonly known as the "fifty-percent rule" and is unique to the AKC system.
Up until recently, HS, HI, and HX were the only trial titles offered by AKC (outside of the championship). Each title required three legs under three different judges, but the legs could be earned on any course and any stock, so that an A Course duck title, for example, would look the same as a B Course cattle title. In January, 2000, AKC instituted stock- and course-specific titles. A capital letter designating course now follows the old title, with small letters c, s, or d after the title indicating the stock on which the title was earned. For example, an advanced A course sheep title is designated HXAs. (Note that goats may be used in place of sheep--although still designated 's'--and geese or turkeys may be used in place of ducks--but still designated 'd.')
A Herding Champion certificate is awarded to a dog who has received at least one HX title plus 15 championship points. The championship points must include two first placements for points under two different judges, with one of the firsts worth at least three points. For dogs with HX titles earned after January 1, 2000, points are only issued for work in the course and livestock for which the first HX title was awarded. A dog may continue to acquire additional HX course and livestock titles, but it can only have one championship. The championship title was designated H.Ch. prior to January 2000, and is now called HC.
AKC is the only herding titling system which does not base its championship on an objective standard of merit. Instead it relies on a rather Byzantine point schedule in which "the number of points awarded [are] determined by the total number of dogs defeated." So a dog placing first in a class of seven receives three championship points, while a dog placing first in a class of six receives two points, regardless of their respective scores on course. Nonetheless, first place in a class of three (two dogs defeated) earns twice as many points as fifth place in a class of 20 (15 dogs defeated)! Scores from all advanced classes, regardless of course or stock (but excepting ducks) are combined and sorted to determine number of dogs defeated. (Duck dogs will be included beginning June, 2001, when AKC promises to start awarding championship points for duck work too.) This failure to compare like work, combined with the eccentricities of the point schedule itself, can on occasion produce a bizarre distribution of points. Conformation aficionados may find it interesting that the point schedule is not adjusted for region.
Recognizing the importance of defeating all other dogs in the class, some competitors retire their AKC Herding Champions from the Advanced classes, to allow up-and-coming HX dogs championship point opportunities comparable to those of the dogs who went before. Others seeking additional titles, breed club recognition, or simply more chances to compete, continue to trial their champions, in accordance with the rules.
The A course, by far the one most frequently offered, is intended as "an all-around farm or ranch course designed to demonstrate the versatility of the herding dog." It is an arena course with chutes along the fence, a fence-line pen in Intermediate and Advanced, and an obstacle on the centerline. The course consists of an outrun, lift, fetch, then fetch or drive (depending on trial level) along three sides of the arena (including the pen hold in Intermediate and Advanced), then a turn across the arena and through the centerline gate, and on to the repen. Unlike the other three trialing systems' courses, this one has no free-standing pen.
Course B is designed as an open field trial similar to the AHBA's HTD or an International Sheep Dog Society-style (so-called "border collie") course. At the Advanced level it includes outrun, lift, fetch, drive, cross-drive, pen, and shed. The B course has not been run as frequently as the A course, in part because of the field size requirements under the old (pre-2001) rules.
The C course utilizes a larger group of sheep (and only sheep) on an open-field course which incorporates as many natural features as possible. The handler accompanies the flock and dog throughout the course at all levels; levels of difficulty are distinguished primarily by additional tasks. "C" is meant to reflect "a tending shepherd's day as he/she accompanies the flock, moving to various unfenced grazing areas." It should be noted that on this course dogs are not required to patrol back and forth along the boundary of the graze areas as is done in the herding trials for German Shepherds in Germany (HGH), but may also hold the stock within the graze areas by moving only as needed as is commonly done in French trials. Collies do very well in large-flock, open-field herding--the National Champion of France in 1979 was a Rough Collie. However, more recently, a small group of individuals who only want this course done in the German manner (with required patrolling and required positions for the dog) have influenced AKC to put more of a HGH-only emphasis on the course, so it has become more of a matter of how the individual judge will be judging it (HGH style emphasis vs. practical what-do-the-sheep-do emphasis), as to whether the course will be accommodating of dogs trained more in the French or American manner than the German HGH manner. It is hoped that a proposed Ranch course will in the future fill the gap that has thus been caused by the recent narrowing of emphasis on C course.
One tends to see a greater variety of AKC herding breeds at an AKC trial than at ASCA trials, which can be dominated by Australian shepherds and strong-eyed dogs (Kelpies, border collies), or at ISDS-style trials, which remain largely the domain of border collies. In theory, the AKC system could be distinguished by the diversity of its courses; however, in reality the A course so dominates the system that there are relatively few dogs with B and C course titles.
What really sets AKC apart from the other trialing systems, for better or for worse, is its love of rules. It regulates everything from the size, number, color, and type of ribbons (and what is written on the back of them!) to type of stock stick used (length and material) and paper size for the printed catalog. Of all the trialing systems, only AKC attempts to itemize the multitude of possible "errors" on course and assign suggested point deductions to each ("up to 1 point deducted each time for the dog stopping and sniffing ... up to 5 points deducted each time the handler touches the dog" ... etc.). Under B course, the AKC Herding Regulations' selective list includes no fewer than 17 point loss possibilities and corresponding deductions--for the outrun alone! Frequently an organizational representative is present on the grounds to oversee the trial and review the judges, although expertise of the reps relative to the judges has been an issue.
In terms of qualifying and titling, the AKC A course is probably the toughest course in the three titling systems (AKC, AHBA, and ASCA). First, the A course outrun is more difficult due to the narrowness of the field. Secondly, the scoresheet divides the course into segments so that competitors are judged not from obstacle to obstacle, but from number to number with the obstacle falling between. Whereas in other system off-line points, for example, would be counted once between a set of obstacles, that same offline in AKC is counted once in one segment (coming from an obstacle) and again in the next segment (going toward the next obstacle). This presents one-third more opportunities to lose points. With the scoresheet divided into six segments, the fifty-percent rule presents an additional six opportunities to NQ (receive a non-qualifying score). On top of all this, AKC requires three legs to title, whereas the other systems require only two.
Also unique to AKC is its prohibition on placements and ribbons for non-qualifying scores. Even if no dogs qualify, the best runs of the day go unrewarded. The AKC scoring system does not acknowledge the greater level of difficulty in the Advanced classes, assigning the same number of possible points (100) to HS, HI, and HX. This means that High in Trials, often an important factor in championship point earnings, frequently come out of the Started class.
These factors--over-regulation, micromanagement by AKC reps, emphasis on defeat of others, difficulty of qualifying, parsimonious awarding of ribbons--can discourage good sportsmanship and dampen a competitor's--particularly a beginner's--feeling of success. Many have observed that AKC events are noticeably less relaxed than other trials. On the plus side, AKC competitors can always count on a detailed catalog, a fixed running order, posted scores, and strict adherence to the premium list. Moreover, AKC's rigor in the latter areas has markedly influenced for the better the other trialing systems.
Collies have been fairly competitive in the AKC system. There are 61 HS collies, 14 HI collies, and 16 HX collies, two of which have gone on to become Herding Champions. The first collie HX (1992) was Linda Rorem's Northlight Paragon Crystal; the first smooth was Ann-Marie Ely's Sunshine's Night Hawk (1993). The champions are Judy Garbarino's Foxxi, a tri rough bitch and Linda Kratz's Mikey, a smooth blue dog. There are 18 conformation champions with HSs, four with HIs, and five with HXs. Becky Henson notes that her Harley is the only Best in Show dog with a herding trial title (an HS). The collie world awaits its first dual AKC champion collie (conformation and herding).
HX Collies (through 2000)
Northlight Paragon Crystal HX (rough bitch), 1992
CH Chimera's Double Or Nothing CD, HX (rough dog), 1993
Sunshine's Night Hawk CDX, HX (smooth dog), 1993
CH Chimera's Justa Li'l Bit More HX (rough bitch), 1995
Classic's Autumn Mist Paladin CDX, HX (rough dog), 1995
H.Ch. Pokies Winterset Foxxi CD HX (rough bitch), 1995
CH Shadaglen Loves A Storm CD HX (smooth bitch), 1996
Ar-Zoo Iron Maiden CDX, TDX, HX, NA (rough bitch), 1998
H.Ch. Mikie HX (smooth dog), 1998
CH My Mystic Ability HX (smooth bitch), 1999
Sheldon Of Windy Hill UD, HX, HXAs (rough dog), 1999
Nirvana's Standing Ovation HXAs (rough dog), 2000
Shadaglen Prince Of Thieves CD, TD, HXAd (rough dog), 2000
CH Montara's If The Devil Danced CDX, HXAd, OA (smooth bitch), 2000 Chimera's Twilight Shadows HXAs (rough bitch), 2000
Care's Websters Unabridged HXAs (smooth dog), 2000
Thank you to Suzanne Schwab for her exemplary record-keeping on herding collies and for graciously providing her "X-Files," printed here in abridged form.
* Source: Jerome M. Stewart, Jr., a judge at the event, which was held by the Shetland Sheepdog Club of Southern California. Jerry notes another AKC herding event (reportedly with test entrants only) was held that same weekend in Louisville, Kentucky--by the Collie Club of America.