Originally Published in American Border Collie Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Many of the top, highly prestigious trials in the country are beginning to offer some form of International style competitions as part of their final days. While most of us have taught our dogs to "go back" and can pretty readily understand the technique behind a good "go back" the International shed has remained much more of a mystery. It is seldom seen in competition and there are very few handlers in North America that are really expert at performing it. When you finally have the good luck to make it into a double lift finish it is helpful if you have at least taught your dogs the rudimentary skills needed for the shed. Practice sheep do not react to the dog and handler with the same respect and wariness that a group of sheep at a trial will display. While this is evident all around the course it is most significant in the International shed. However, it is possible to practice some of the skills needed to complete the shed at home and this should be done by all of the competitors planning to attend any double lift trial.
The principle behind the International shed is the same as the regular shed or single. Some of the sheep are allowed to escape and the dog is turned on the sheep that the handler desires to retain. In the single, however, the dog is required to only do this once and must only keep track of one sheep and that one for only a short period of time. In the International Shed the dog must do this several times and each time he must retain a large group of sheep. He must also do it in such a way that he does not unduly disturb the sheep.
The International shedding works on a draw principle. The handler first splits off 4-5 or more sheep (the more the better) and moves them away from the remaining sheep. Some judges will allow the handler to use his dog to drive off the unwanted sheep, other judges will require that the dog only ever work the group of sheep containing the collared sheep. These sheep will ideally stay close enough to act as a draw upon the rest of the sheep the handler is working but not so close that they threaten to re-join when the handler isn't looking. Where the unwanted sheep are left is a very important strategic decision on the part of the handler. Not only must the sheep not be in a place that will obstruct access to the pen later they must also not be placed in such a place that they will either wander too far away, be too uncomfortable and attempt to re-join or present too much of a draw to the remaining sheep that the collared group can't be held. The shed is a balance between allowing all of the sheep to join up and so discouraging the sheep from joining up that they stop trying.
The first skill and probably the most important is that the dog must learn to stay where the handler puts him while the handler moves around the flock of sheep. It is necessary for the handler to sort and move the sheep quite a bit to get the un-collared and collared sheep sorted. If the dog is popping up and moving around the sheep constantly heading them not only will the handler be unable to sort, but eventually the sheep will be unwilling to spread out or even leave the group. This is an easy skill to perfect just spend a few minutes each morning with your dog laying down while you mess about with a group of sheep. Tell him to "down" and make sure he stays there unless you tell him to get up. You do not want this command to be so harsh, however, that he does not readily jump to his feet and either balance as needed or cover escaping sheep.
The next necessary skill is being able to lie still while sheep run away. This is surprisingly difficult for many dogs to do but again it's a pretty easy skill to work on and can be added to the morning laying down exercise.
Next the dog needs to be taught to get up and quietly turn back a sheep or perhaps just get up and take a couple of steps toward the handler or a small flank to adjust the group of sheep. This is not the same thing as the dog flying in at the shed and taking control of a single. This is a quiet "walk up" or "Spot here" to just help cover the dog's side of the shed. If the dog jumps up and flies in each time he needs to help cover his side of the group the sheep will rapidly decide that they do not wish to string out or move away from the group
The third skill is a bit harder to teach and is what sorts the really beautiful shedding dogs from the ones that manage to get it done and the ones who don't get it done at all. The dog needs to learn to quickly come in and turn back a sheep as indicated. What happens in the shed is that handler will let the un-collared escape to join his first, draw group. Eventually in every shed a collar sheep will make a break for it. The will perhaps have allowed one or two un-collared sheep to leave the group to join the other un-collared sheep and one of the collared ones will make a run for it as well. At best the dog will be able to understand the direction of the handler well enough to come in and turn back just the collared sheep. The next best scenario is that the dog returns all of the escaping sheep to the group. Or the dog brings all of the sheep back to the group. The worst-case scenario is that the dog is so excited by the escaping action and call to come in and turn back the sheep that he grabs one by the throat. To work on this skill I will split a group of about 20 or 30 sheep roughly in half. I will then allow one or two sheep at a time to escape from one group to the other. After one or two times of allowing the escape I will let the sheep escape and just as they begin to leave I will call my dog in on them and ask him to turn them bringing them back to the first group. This is quite easy and dog is probably going to be very willing to do this, as he will not like the sheep escaping. Once he understands this move I will begin to allow the sheep to escape further and further before asking the dog in. I will also begin to ask the dog to let the first of two sheep escape and turn back only the second one and return her to the first group.
The International Shed like all other parts of the trial course requires considerable practice and experience before the handler gains the necessary expertise to do it well. The first few times a handler does one in competition can be very perplexing and sometimes discouraging. They usually occur at prestigious venues with large audiences and only after difficult qualifying work and a hard trip around the course for the dog. Helping your dog to develop the rudimentary skills to get the work done will at least allow you to work on your strategy with an able assistant rather then spending the whole shedding time fighting with a tired confused dog.
SHEDDING - The fifteen unmarked sheep to be shed off within a ring 40 yards in diameter. In shedding, the sheep will be passed between the handler and his/her dog and the dog brought in to stop and turn back the marked sheep.
Maneuvering for "cuts" is not allowed.
Should any marked sheep leave the shedding ring and join any unmarked sheep already shed off, the unmarked sheep with which the marked sheep has joined will be brought into the ring and shedding restarted.
Until the fifteen unmarked sheep are shed off penning will not be permitted.