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The article below appeared in Country Life Illustrated, August 21st 1897. These images are the only known photographs of Jonathan Barcroft. He was handling "White Bob." The article has been retyped for the convenience of the viewer.

Sheepdog Trial at Tring

by "Birkdale"

ANECDOTES of canine intelligence have unfortunately acquired a somewhat evil reputation. The demands which many of these narratives make on the listener's credulity have been so boundless that "dog stories" are frequently placed in the same category as "fishing tales," both standing out as proverbial examples of exaggeration and "economy of the trust."

But a clever and imaginative mind would be necessary to invent more striking or more wonderful examples of the trained sagacity of the dog than the remarkable exhibitions which those who were present at the recent Sheepdog trials in Tring Park saw with their own eyes.

The Maltese Cross

These trials are annually held in connection with the show at the Tring Agricultural Association in Lord Rothschild's park. Although very great risk is undertaken by the committee in securing sheep suitable for the trials, and also in arranging for the attendance of the best dogs, their enterprise is certainly rewarded by the very great interest shown by their patrons. Every agricultural association in the country ought to arrange at least one trial every season, for in no other way can the fine working qualities of a properly trained Sheepdog be shown in public. At Llangollen—where, in 1889, the Queen attended the annual trials and personally congratulated the shepherds on the sagacity shown by their dogs—it is no unusual occurrence to see an attendance of several thousands, and the display of enthusiasm shown during the working of the best dogs would surprise any but those able to thoroughly appreciate the value of the performances. The exact character of the trials varies considerably, for whereas in some cases the run up to the sheep is very short, it is, now and then, quite half a mile. Again the shepherd is not, in all trials, allowed to assist his dog at close quarters, except at the final pen. At Tring, however, assistance was allowed after the dog had driven the sheep through the open artificial fence. This was rendered almost necessary by the difficult character of the succeeding obstacle, hurdles being erected in the shape of a Maltese cross, through each length of which the sheep had to be driven. On reaching this the dog was called by his master, and, carefully placed, was directed at close quarters—a distinct advantage, especially when the wethers, as was the case more than once at Tring, proved refractory. The trials are wonderfully easy to follow, their great feature being the proof of perfect control exercised over the dog by the shepherd. At Tring, a course of some 1,200 yards, including the run up of close on a quarter of a mile, had been mapped out on the following lines. The judges and workers were stationed on an eminence overlooking a dingle and wood, the latter close on 600 yards away. Here the sheep—wethers bought of Lord Derby expressly for the trails—were penned and were released in threes as required, each dog having this number allotted. The signal of their release being notifed the officials by the waving of a flag, the judge, Mr. R. S. Piggin, of Long Eaton, Notts, called up a worker and his dog.

The sheep could, of course, be easily recognised on the opposite side of the dingle, and, at a signal from the worker, the dog starts to find them. An untrained dog on being shown the sheep would, most likely, go in a bee-line for them. Not so our trial dog. He bears off to the right, guided by the shrill whistle of his worker, occasionally turning to watch for a signal. "Hie to'em, la-a-d," shouts the worker, and, rounding the sheep in perfect style, he drives them to the first boundary of the trial ground, a red flag—several hundred yards from where they were released—in the direction of the judge. One wilder than the rest breaks away, but a whistle in a different key to the previous one draws the attention of the sagacious animal to the runaway, and he bounds after him; and, once more getting his charges together, drives them on the right side of the flag. There is now a fairly straight run to the next flag, and, with a signal to hurry them on, the dog wastes no time in getting the wethers up to the first awkward obstacle, two large hurdles with an opening between them, through which the sheep must be driven. Here is some pretty work. Two of the sheep stand with their backs to the opening, whilst a third attempts to butt his driver. "Steady, boy," from the worker brings the dog to the ground, where he lies with eyes on the sheep and ears on the alert for further signal. A whistle gives him the necessary hint, and, round to the right or the left, as the case may be, he eventually succeeds in driving one sheep through. The others quickly follow amid the cheers of the spectators, who now commence to appreciate the character of the work. The shepherd here leaves his station by the judges, and, taking off his hat, stands within easy reach of The Maltese Cross, and from there directs his dog.

The sheep are fairly cornered, and although one may succeed in getting by the shepherd standing with arms outstretched, the shout "fetch 'em, la-a-d," is sufficient for the dog, and the three are again at one end of the first run of the cross. One stealthily ventures along, and, by a little close attention on the part of the dog, the others are induced to follow. the signal to turn them is then given, and there is but little difficulty in driving them through the other run. The course is now clear for the final pen, three hurdles placed in the shape of a triangle with an opening through which the sheep must be driven. Having got so far, the sheep evidently wonder what is coming next, and the very greatest care must be taken that they are not driven beyond the pen and thus into open ground once more. Encouraged by his worker, the dog brings them to the mouth of the pen and then crouches, awaiting further signals.

Brown Bob and His Master

Very great patience must here be exercised, both by the worker and his dog. The sheep. naturally suspicious, become alarmed, and although quite close to the opening, refuse to notice it. One attempts to stroll away, but a whistle sends the dog after him, and the three are once more in the mouth of the pen. Escape is evidently futile, and the refractory one puts his head into the opening. There is

A Critical Moment

now great excitement, and the worker, wildly waving his arms—windmill fashion—signals his dog to approach more closely. The sagacious animal comes cautiously up, and literally compels the sheep to pen. The worker waves his hand to the judges, the time is taken, and the trial over.

It may as well here be explained that although a time allowance is invariably fixed, a dog is not called in on its expiration providing he is doing good work. He can, however, be called in any time if detected committing a flagrant error. Of the eleven entries, all but four turned up, Mr. Jonathan Barcroft—the best known worker in the world, his dogs having won over 200 prizes—bringing a team of four all the way from Scout Moor, Bury, Lancashire. Included in the team were Brown Bob, winner of the big stake and Lord Trevor's Cup at Llangollen in the previous week, and White Bob, the Old English Sheepdog. Although he did not obtain the first prize, White Bob's performance was far and away the cleverest of all the competitors.

Bob is a veteran. He is eleven years old, and has the distinction of having won the gold medal when pitted against the most expert performers on the Continent at a series of trials recently held in Germany. "He is getting on," says his master, "but he is as fast and clever and his eyes and ears are as good as ever," and certainly Bob has worn well. Indeed, so good was it, that, though the trials have been generally described above, it is quite worth while to devote a few lines to the telling of his wonderful sagacity. Watch him when his turn comes. While the preliminaries of getting the sheep into position are in progress, Bob is sitting by his master's side, to all appearance quite unconcerned and an uninterested spectator of what is going forward. With his wise old head cocked on one side, he seems to be deep in thought. He is so indescribably wise, that, for all we know, he may be wondering why his master recently subjected him to the unwonted indignity of a muzzle, an infliction to which on his own hills he is entirely unaccustomed; or, goodness knows, he may be reflecting on the decline of agriculture, and the effect that it will have on the future prospects of sheep-dogging as a canine profession. Anyhow, he appears to be quite lost to the outside world for the present; but make no mistake, Bob is emphatically "all there," and when the signal is received that the sheep are in position, and the judge says to Bob's master "Are you ready?" and, receiving an affirmative reply, gives the word to "Go!" Bob is off like an arrow from a bow, away down the steep hill and up the other side. There is no lack of interest now—he is as keen as mustard. But the sheep are out of his sight, and he is going too far to the right. There is a short, sharp whistle from Mr. Barcroft, unintelligible to the lookers on, but perfectly understood by Bob, who alters his course in accordance with the instruction that the whistle conveys to him, and pitches on the sheep with unerring instinct. Another whistle, and the sheep are started to the nearest hurdle. Away they go full speed down the declivity, out of sight, but soon to reappear at the top of the hill, Bob running beside them. Cleverly guided, first on one flank and then on the other, the sheep come round the hurdle. Then, on more whistles from Mr. Barcroft, Bob starts away to his left, and drives his flock towards the next hurdle at racing pace. Then follows one of the prettiest incidents of the whole afternoon. Instead of making in the desired direction the sheep come tearing up the hill. They are very fractious, and with the perversity for which their race is celebrated, show evident signs of separating and spoiling Bob's time by running about in different directions. But at a warning whistle from his master, given in a minor key, the dog stops dead and crouches on the ground. It is indeed a Critical Moment for the success of the  trial, but Bob is equal to the occasion. "Creep to 'em, La-a-d," says Mr. Barcroft, encouragingly, and literally ventre à terre, the old dog crawls along on his belly inch by inch and backs the two foremost sheep up to their companion. As soon as all three are close together, Bob is up again once more all alert, and receiving his orders, drives them away to the right and round the hurdle. It is an incident most difficult to describe or to illustrate, but is certainly one of the most beautiful examples of trained animal intelligence it is possible to imagine. Then through the obstacle, two pairs of sheep hurdles placed in a line with a narrow passage between them. Those acquainted with the stupidity and obstinacy of sheep will readily realise the difficulty of preventing the sheep running round the ends of the hurdles, instead of going through the narrow passage, but, amid ringing cheers from a large crowd of sightseers, the task is skilfully [sic] and quickly accomplished, and so on to the Maltese cross. There Mr. Barcroft assists, and as our picture shows, there is every indication of another bolt. With his master on one side, Bob "creeps to 'em" again, and, with a little persuasion, through they go. Then the same tactics are pursued, and they are driven through the second alley-way at right angles to the first. Next on to the pen, which will just hold them. Helped with his master's voice and hand Bob gets them all in, and the trial is over.

Mr. J. Moses, of Milnthorpe, Westmoreland, brought down Old Pink, second to the Bury dog at Llangollen, one of the most rapid workers of the day, and Tom, also a prize winner. Little Toss, the only other dog, was worked by her owner, Mr. W. R. Williams, of Talycafn, R.S.O., North Wales, her instructions being conveyed in Welsh, to the intense amusement of the crowd. With very few exceptions, all the trials were sadly interfered with by the presence of kangaroos in the park, none of the dogs being familiar with such stock. In one or two cases the trials were completely spoiled, the dogs refusing to work after meeting a kangaroo. No wonder! After the first trial there was an adjournment in consequence of a terrific thunderstorm, during which two spectators were killed, and not for an hour could another start be made. There was, however, no further interruption, and on the whole, the trials were very satisfactory, the awards of Mr. Piggin being most equitable. They were as follows:—

1. Mr. J. Moses's Old Pink, ₤6......................10 Min.

2. Mr. J. Barcroft's White Bob,₤4..................24 Min.

3. Mr. J. Barcroft's Lassie, ₤2........................18 Min.

4. Mr. J. Barcroft's Brown Bob......................19 Min.

The winner thus turned the tables on her Llangollen victor, the time she gained at the obstacles by being correctly placed by her worker standing her in good stead. She is an eight year old bitch, of but poor appearance, being a cross

"Creep to 'Em, La-a-d."

between a rough and a smooth Collie. In three trials this year she has won over ₤20, but her best year was 1895, when she earned her owner as much as ₤64 in hard cash in prizes. Later in the afternoon a series of exhibition trials were given, to the great delight of a largely augmented crowd. It is to be hoped that another year more than one stake may be arranged. Southerners are yet unfamiliar with one of the chief features of the Llangollen trials, that of working two dogs at the same time. These are set to find six sheep, three of which are marked, and have to be separated from the others. They are driven into distinct pens, a marvellous performance, and, but that seeing in such a case is believing, bordering on the incredible. This article and the accompany illustrations may be the means of arousing interest in Sheepdogs and their trials. Committee in search of a novelty for their annual agricultural show or sports could not well do better than include one or two trials in their programmes. Inquiries as to their management have lately been received from South Africa, Canada, and France; whilst in Germany proved so successful, that they will, in all probability, be made an annual fixture. 



Ludgate Article

Manchester Article

The Family



Trialing To 1900

Trialing after 1900

White Bob

*Back To Barcrofts



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