A Working Dog's Life / Huntsville dog panting to drive sheep in annual competition

Sep 2 2010 - 12:16am

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(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Hope herds sheep as Shauna Gourley gives commands Tuesday in Huntsville. Gourley and her border collie are participating in the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Shauna Gourley and her border collie, Hope, practice for the upcoming Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Hope herds sheep Tuesday in Huntsville. Hope’s owner is taking her to compete in the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship this weekend. Hope may have an advantage, as she has competed on the land a number of times and will remember it, the dog’s owner says.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Hope herds sheep as Shauna Gourley gives commands Tuesday in Huntsville. Gourley and her border collie are participating in the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Shauna Gourley and her border collie, Hope, practice for the upcoming Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Hope herds sheep Tuesday in Huntsville. Hope’s owner is taking her to compete in the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship this weekend. Hope may have an advantage, as she has competed on the land a number of times and will remember it, the dog’s owner says.

HUNTSVILLE -- Hope flies through a field, tongue flying out the side of her mouth. Her focus is one thing: Get the sheep.

In the middle of the field, Shauna Gourley leans on a crook, a whistle in her mouth to direct Hope with a range of notes. A few quick blasts slow the dog down. A sliding tweet sends Hope edging to one side, driving the sheep where Gourley directs.

Gourley and Hope have been together nine years.

"I've trained her and trialed her and fought with her. She's a little hardheaded," Gourley said.

The two are practicing for this weekend's big trial. Hope, a 9 1/2-year-old border collie, is competing in the invitation-only Soldier Hollow Classic, a sheepdog championship and country festival held near Midway.

Gourley said it's one of the best competitions of the year because it is so difficult.

On the side of a tree-covered hill once used for Olympic skiing, the dogs will have to do five different tasks as part of the trial. The dogs are judged on how well they perform, then receive a total score, with 100 being the top.

Most dogs at the trial will be border collies. Gourley said other breeds just aren't up to the long runs.

Dogs aren't allowed to practice on the land before the trial, but Gourley said Hope has competed there for several years and will remember it. The trial organizers rent sheep that aren't comfortable with dogs, making the competition even harder.

It's not the trials that keep her going, Gourley said. She attends only about eight a year.

She just loves watching the dogs.

"They're so amazing at what they can do. They control the sheep, and listen to you," Gourley said.

"Well, sometimes they listen to you," she added with a laugh.

"They can be so much better than you. Somehow they instinctively know what to do. It's almost like they can read your mind."

Hope isn't just a trial dog, though. She works on a farm with other dogs.

Gourley has five dogs. Three are competitive. One is retired. The other is still a puppy.

Hope has learned the daily chores and is a huge help in the day-to-day work that goes into keeping Gourley's 150 sheep, she said.

Even after working hard, Hope bounces eagerly at the gate, waiting to get back in to round up the sheep.

"That's the heart and the drive they have," Gourley said. "They just keep going and going."

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