Both good dogs and good dog handling skills are essential to the effective and efficient management of landscapes by sheep, minimising the potential stress on dogs, sheep and shepherds as they interact. The source of good dogs is good shepherds who breed from their proven stock and either sell progeny to the purchaser to train or train some of the pups themselves to sell “ready to go”.
The number of skilled sheepdog handlers is dwindling at a national level. At a local level, there has been a steep decline in the number of shepherds coming forward to trial their young dogs. Dovedale Sheepdog Trials are accessible to all who have the commitment and confidence to step out onto the field with their dog and demonstrate their skills within the rules of the competition. The “Championship of the Dales” was inaugurated in 2011 to enhance the appeal to both competitors and spectators. In 2012, Ben Smith from Marston Montgomery, a member of the Committee for Dovedale Sheepdog Trials, won the English National Sheepdog Trial with his dog, Meg, and captained England in the International Trial that September.
The annual sheepdog trial is part of the culture and heritage of the district. It is an inspirational showcase of shepherding skills designed to encourage uptake by a following generation and an event that holds a community together through the opportunity to gather and converse in the context of this age old tradition.