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800-532-2890

Hooked on Herding!

 

© 1995 Janet Joers

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from Janet Joers.

This well written story gives any Kerry fancier a simple introduction to the herding sport.

It was an informal group that stood around the arena that Sunday afternoon near Seattle. They were there to practice herding with their dogs on one of the four groups of sheep that milled around their pens. Among the Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and other representatives from the Herding Group, stood a gentleman with a Kerry Blue Terrier. No doubt those who noticed the Kerry at all assumed she was there to observe from the sidelines. So it's safe to say that more than a few eyebrows were raised when the Kerry and her handler approached the gate. And it's a fair bet that a few hands were raised to hide a grin, if not a chuckle, when the Kerry began her work by having a rollicking good terrier-like time (doing exactly as she pleased). But when the handler gave the signal, any chortling quickly died away as they watched this Kerry herd sheep like a champion-as good or better than any dog there! The comic display of Irish good humor became one impressive demonstration of sheep-herding.

That Kerry was Lulu (Ch. Lefebvre Glory Be), who at 8 years old, came out of retirement to show her handler, R.B. "Ron" Pemberton, and everyone at the rail, that she still had what it takes. (Her performance even became a hot topic on the Internet!)

Although Lulu wasn't the first Kerry Ron has owned (Brandywines Gay Siobhan-"Brandy"-precedes her), she was the first one he trained to herd sheep. But it wasn't until after she had whelped a litter of 8 pups at the age of three, that Ron got serious about teaching her and her daughter "Ivy" (Lefebvre Ivy Blue Destiny) to herd. He had already worked with four Bouviers by then, but when he lost his last one, he began working with the Kerries to see, as he put it, "if the Kerry description '. . . old Irish farm dog . . . herds sheep and cattle . . .' were really true."

He recalls the first time he put Lulu with the ducks: "She looked at me as if to say, 'Egad! What do you want me to do with these things?'" But nonetheless, Lulu displayed the same herding instinct the best herding dogs do. AKC, CKC, and AHBA judge Joe Kapelos was impressed with both Kerries and supported and encouraged Ron in his training efforts.

Training Basics

Training, which takes 2 years before a dog is ready for trials, usually begins by introducing the dog to ducks. Sometimes, a handler needs to pick up a duck and toss it away from the dog to stimulate interest. After that, it's a matter of putting the dog with the ducks, trying to "settle" the dog, and work on commands. Once the dog shows interest and demonstrates confidence, it is introduced to lambs in a similar way. But whether a dog is herding ducks or sheep, it needs to learn not only the basic obedience commands-Down (from a distance), Stay, Wait (a "relaxed" Stay), and Come, but the following basic herding commands (although the exact words a handler uses may vary, the actions are always the same):

  • Go By Me .........Move about the stock in a clockwise direction
  • Away To Me .....Move about the stock in a counter-clockwise direction
  • Back ..................Move back from the stock
  • Steady ...............Slow down, "steady out"
  • Out Run ............With the dog circling the stock a good distance from you, it makes a wide "Out Run" in the shape of a pear
  • Lift ....................The top of the "Out Run" when the dog is directly opposite the handler (in a "balanced position") and "walks up" (another command) to the stock and herds (or "fetches") the stock to the handler

Herding Trials

Early on in Ron's training, he was advised that there were no trials that he could enter with his Kerries. Later, he discovered that the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) welcomed all registered breeds to participate in their trials and earn titles. Although the AKC started their herding trials about 3 years ago, they are only open to breeds from the Herding Group with the exception of the Rottweiler. The American Herding Association trials are open to neutered nonregistered breeds if a photo of the dog is sent to them with the presumed breed. Then an International Herding number is assigned. These trials are run in an enclosed area.

The top herding trials in the world are the International Sheep Dog Trials held in New Zealand each year. In these trials, dogs are sent on a 500 to 600-yard run and it's quite a thrill to watch. In some cases, you can't even see the stock at the beginning of the run! Obviously, this is the place to be if you're hooked on herding, and Ron hopes to trial there in a year or so. (Now wouldn't that put Kerries on the map!)

The Next Generation

At the moment, Ron is busy herding Ivy's 7 beautiful Kerry puppies (sired by Billie Kneale's Ch. Camshron's Eclipse), and no doubt assessing their herding instincts. In fact, Ron has big plans for one of the pups-to not only finish it, but get all the herding titles he can with it! He's also agreed to give us periodic updates on the training of this pup, so we can see first-hand the making of a herding Kerry.

A herding Kerry

There's almost something magical about it, recalling to mind the history of our breed, when a dog had a job to do back on the farm in Ireland. Considering the time and effort involved in training a working dog, one may wonder what motivates Ron to do it. But to him, the reason is simple: "to promote the Kerry as a true farm dog, as well as a versatile good buddy." With owners like that, our Kerries can do anything!


Ron Pemberton has owned Kerries since 1968 and was a member of the KBTCSC when he acquired his first Kerry. Thanks to encouragement from Lonie Ward, he learned the basics of Kerry grooming and showed-and won!-a KBTCSC Puppy Match. Today he is a member of USKBTC, lives in Washington state, and fondly remembers his KBTCSC friends Lonie Ward, Steve Barry, Ellen and Jonathan Wexler, and the Hudsons. Anyone wishing to contact Ron may write him at 24131 NE 14th Street, Redmond, WA 98053, call 206-868-0105, or E-mail at rbpem@halcyon.com.

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