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Sheep dogs gear up for championships

LAST TRAINING RUN: Alan and Gretel are ready for action at this week’s Australian Coprice Australian Supreme Working Sheep Dog Championships at the Warwick Showgrounds.
LAST TRAINING RUN: Alan and Gretel are ready for action at this week’s Australian Coprice Australian Supreme Working Sheep Dog Championships at the Warwick Showgrounds. Linda Mantova

EXPERIENCED sheep dog trialler Alan Thornton has had his fair share of wins over the years, but is under no illusion the competition won't be tough at this week's Australian Coprice Supreme Working Sheep Dog Championships at the Warwick Showgrounds.

The Pilton trialler will be among hundreds of competitors from all over Australia at the championships, and will compete with seven of his dogs - four of them experienced - and three young dogs.

"I will have four dogs in the Open - Gem, Tim, Gretel and Nazzy - and three in the Novice - Jade, Trouble and Moses," he said.

Alan knows his experienced dogs will hold their own, but is not as confident when it comes to his young dogs.

"It's very nerve-racking going out with novice dogs, as they are an unknown quantity away from home," Alan said.

"They can be perfectly trained at home, but when you get sheep you know nothing about, anything can happen.

"I have confidence in my older dogs, because you have more or less 100% control over them."

His oldest dog, Shaundar Gem, is now 13 and a half years old and still trialling.

"Her age will decide how she goes this week," Alan said.

"I don't want to knock her around, so if the sheep aren't playing the game, I will pull her out. Thirteen is quite old for a working dog."

Alan has been a sheep dog trialler for the past 15 years, and enjoys the utility and yard dog trials most.

He recalls the first trial he ever won at Goondiwindi with one of his best dogs, Allendale Speck.

"She won the novice and the open in that one trial," he said.

"I also won at the Brisbane Ekka with Speck, and this year I placed third in Brisbane with my dog Gretel."

Alan believes sheep dog trialling is like any sport.

"You have to be doing it to keep on top. I've been training with my dogs down at the Clifton Showgrounds for the past few weeks," he said.

"Last week I was in there about four times. You have to keep enforcing the rules and regulations to the dogs, and get them used to training and competing away from home."

Alan has not done as many trials in the lead-up to this week's national championships as he would have liked, as a heart scare in January slowed him down.

"I've had a pacemaker defibrillator for the past seven years, but after my scare in January I couldn't drive for six months," he said.

Alan has predominantly border collies for his trialling, with one border collie/kelpie cross.

"I feel the border collies are more biddable, and accept discipline more easily," he said.

Alan knows he and his dogs will be put to the test this week, so only time will tell.

Lining up

The Coprice Australian Supreme Working Sheep Dog Championships are under way at Warwick Showgrounds this week. For a full program see page 6 and 7 of today's Bush Tele.