Ordinarily a visitor to the enclosed arena at Rick-A-Shay Ranch, south of Chisago City, would be hearing the muffled echo of horse hooves on the fine gravel and sawdust floor, the clink of bridles against other tack, and the occasional whinny of horses greeting one another. This time, a riot of noise greeted a recent visitor-- from the skwack-skwack of dozens of large ducks to shouts of herd dog handlers, ordering their dogs to “come-by” go “there” and stay “down.”
The hugely entertaining Duck-Herding Arena Trials were underway prior to the annual meeting of the St Croix River valley’s “Great River Stock Dog Club.” The club runs various dog competitions in this region, where sheep are herded as well as ducks. The annual meeting was at a dog training school in Hugo after the Rick-A-Shay arena trials concluded.
Club members stood along the snowfence set up in the arena, chatted and assessed dogs taking turns on the course. Some of the club members own dogs of shared parental lineage and funny observations on canine sibling rivalry peppered conversations with a reporter. Stock dogs were everywhere-- a number of Border Collies, a very enthusiastic Rottweiler, and Leo, the Lassie-look-alike whose focus-challenged but winning personality drew cheers.
Dog and handler navigate standardized herding obstacles depending on three skill levels. About 15 dogs herded a fresh flock of five large ducks through an opening i two panels, a lattice “chute” and into a pen. They must perform a “hold” manuver for several seconds. Advanced dogs will also “shed” the flock, which splits the ducks into a pair and trio. Dogs finish by getting the ducks back into the cage where they entered the arena. They absolutely are not allowed to touch the ducks and should maintain an authoritative space. The dogs get 10 minutes to successfully negotiate the tasks. Two judges rank the performances.
Great River Stock Dog Club coordinates trials under the auspices of the American Herding Breed Association rules and regulations. The club can also help you do an “instinct” evaluation if you aren’t sure your dog has what it takes and there are instructors.
The event was welcomed by ranch owner Pam Foshay, who said she’s still learning about the trials competition system, but added she truly enjoyed hosting the event.
See the club website at grsc.webs.com to learn more.