The Shetland Sheepdog, since becoming formally established as a breed (1908), has not been bred or selected for its herding ability. However, its predecessors were used to work a variety of livestock in the rugged, rocky landscape of the Shetland Islands. Much has been written about the history of the breed standard as it evolved, but little is mentioned about the small working ancestors. These dogs behind this breed were well suited for working in the harsh environment on little food, and were frequently left alone to guard, as well as gather in the strays. Their size and temperament led them to be accepted as yard and house dogs in addition to their usefulness with all types of livestock from chicken to cattle. Scattered through the literature there have been stories of Shelties working on ranches since they were first imported into this country. With the more recent popularization as herding as a sport, there are many Shelties currently working on ranches and competing at herding trials.
Herding Programs: There are several herding programs which offer a variety of elements for the dog and handler to master. The American Kennel Club program has been used at the ASSA National, which held its first national herding trial in 1994. The AKC has two test level titles that are judged on a pass/fail basis and require passing under two different judges: Herding Tested (HT) and Pre-trial Tested (PT). The AKC trial classes are scored and require three legs under three different judges: Herding Started (HS), Herding Intermediate (HI), and Herding Excellent (HX). After finishing the HX, a dog may continue to enter the advanced class for points toward a Herding Championship (HCh.).
The American Herding Breed Association offers two test levels, three tiral levels, a Ranch Dog title, and a championship. The Australian Sheperd Club of America has three trial levels, a Ranch Dog title, and a Working Trial Championship attained when the dog accomplishes advanced titles on sheep, ducks, and cattle. Border Collie trials do not offer titles, but competitions lead to overall annual results and recognition of the top dogs.
There are several Shelties that currently hold Herding Championships and many with Advanced titles earned in more than one herding program. These titles have been achieved on a variety of livestock, which demonstrates the versatility of the breed. Herding Evaluations
Evaluation: Many places provide herding evaluation tests to determine if sheep herding is appropriate for your dog. In this evaluation you and your dog are brought into a small pen with sheep and the instructor. Most dogs immediately try to chase the sheep but the tester will attempt to modify the chase into a constructive herding behavior. They are looking for a dog that wants to keep the sheep together and begins circling.
Often, dogs are started on ducks since they are smaller but also flock together.