Sheep dog trials return to Camas

Events at the Johnston Dairy farm begin Thursday

The Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trial began Thursday in Camas and continues through the weekend. It is the ninth year the competitive event has been held at the Johnston Dairy Farm. According to farm owner and host Lynn Johnston, it’s become popular for participants and spectators. “Visitors enjoy the beautiful venue and are truly amazed at the partnership between handler and dog,” he said. “The level of communication is remarkable and this is total joy for the dogs. They have so much heart and are out there doing what they are bred to do.”

If you go

What: Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial

Where: Johnston Dairy, 104 N.E. 252nd Ave., Camas. From Camas, travel north on SR-500 about 2.5 miles. Turn left on Northeast Third Street and follow the signs.

When: Thursday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The championship round is Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

General admission: $5 per person; children 12 and younger can attend at no charge. Event programs and parking are free.

For more information: www.lvsdt.com

Sponsor a Sheep Dog

New this year is the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial sheep dog sponsorship program. A contribution of $50 provides the donor with a LVSDT canvass carry bag and a photo taken with the sponsored dog. There will also be an opportunity to win a $300 grand prize. “We think it will add to the fun and excitement for the spectators,” said organizer Lynn Johnston. “Sponsors will enjoy having this connection to the event and these great dogs and handlers.” The funds collected will help to cover administrative costs of the sponsorship program and numerous event costs such as sheep rental and feeding as well as judging expenses. For more information, visit www.lvsdt.com.

A decade ago Lynn Johnston brought home border collie puppy Anna, and his life hasn’t been the same since.

Johnston, the third generation owner of Camas’ Johnston Dairy with his father Leroy, grew up with border collies working on the family farm.

But when Anna entered his life, Johnston decided to take a shot at competing in sheep dog trial events. Less than a year later, he and wife Alison were hosting the inaugural Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial event on their land.

“[Anna] was the one that inspired everything. It happened really quickly,” Johnston said. “It’s amazing how a dog can change your life. It is really rewarding. The dogs give so much back.”

Anna, now 10 years old, is retired from competition. So this year on the ninth anniversary of the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial, Johnston will be competing with his seasoned border collie Jesse, who is 7 years old, and newbie Carly, who is just 2 years old. It will be her first major event.

“It will be her first time on the big field,” Johnston said. “I’m not nervous. I’m excited to see what she can do. I’ve got no great expectations. At her age, it is more about gaining experience.”

Sanctioned by the United States Border Collie Handlers Association, the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial runs Thursday through Sunday. A total of 90 handlers traveling from six states and British Columbia will be participating, and 170 dogs will be competing in a variety of skill levels.

“We normally have a long waiting list of competitors trying to get into the event, which filled to capacity on the first day entries opened,” Johnston said.

Preparations for the trial typically begin in early August. All told, nearly 250 hours are spent getting everything ready. Now, the final touches are being put into place. Yesterday, the hay bale spectator stands went up and directional signs guiding drivers to the farm were posted. Today, 450 sheep will be delivered from the Anderson Ranch in Brownsville, Ore., which has supplied the animals for all nine years of the trials.

The competition itself will feature handlers working in partnership with their dogs, sometimes at long distances, to move a small flock of sheep across a field, through a series of gates, into a shedding ring and ultimately into a pen.

“The level of communication is remarkable and this is a total joy for the dogs,” Johnston said. “They have so much heart and are out there doing what they were bred to do.”

There are three levels of competition. While experienced handlers and dogs are competing in the open class, just over the hill there are two other levels of competition going on. The pro-novice class pairs a “pro” handler with a “novice” dog or vise versa. And then there is “nursery” which is a class for young dogs — it is the only class based on age of the dog. In general, these dogs are between 2 and 3 years old.

“We run on two fields simultaneously, so its like a two-ring circus,” Johnston said. “It takes quite a bit of effort.”

Judging the four days of open class competition this year is Gary Dembski from Crystal Lake, Ill. He has been involved in all aspects of the sport starting out nearly 25 years ago. He has judged competitions in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and New York.

The pro-novice judges are Angela Akers from Valley Center, Calif., on Friday and Terri Pelkey from Poway, Calif., on Saturday.

The trial announcer will be Ray Crabtree of Kuna, Idaho.

The number of spectators who make their way out to the Camas farm has steadily increased each year. In 2013, more than 1,000 turned out.

“Visitors enjoy the beautiful venue and are truly amazed at the partnership between handler and dog,” Johnston said.

There will be a large tent available for shade, with some seating provided for spectators. There will also be seating atop an old-fashioned hay bale grandstand, and visitors can also bring lawn chairs.

Local artisans will have their work on display, and there will be vendors offering products and services geared toward dogs and their owners. Food concessionaires will be on site and open for breakfast and lunch.

Johnston said his motivations for holding this event on his farm year after year are the same today as they were when it first started.

“I was doing this sport with my own dogs and I had a beautiful place to hold an event like this,” he said. “I wanted to be able to share it, not only with dog handlers but also with the community.”