Sheep dog trials return to Johnston Dairy

Event has grown in popularity during the past eight years

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Post-Record file photo Border collie Rex and her handler Rob Miller attempt to herd a group of sheep during the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trial, held at the Johnston Dairy Farm in Camas.

The Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial will return to the Johnston Dairy in Camas, for its ninth year, from Aug. 15 to 18.

This unique competition features 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.

According to organizers, the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial has grown into one of the largest and most popular events of its kind on the West Coast. Its reach is regional, drawing 115 handlers traveling from six states and British Columbia and featuring nearly 180 dogs competing in a variety of skill levels.

Last year, over four days, an estimated 1,000 spectators attended the event.

The event host is Lynn Johnston, who owns the third generation Johnston Dairy with his father, Leroy.

Johnston and his wife, Alison, along with a small volunteer committee, work to create an environment for great competition and exceptional audience viewing. The not-for-profit event is a labor of love.

“People often comment about the beautiful venue.” Lynn Johnston said. “But I think what keeps people coming back is their true amazement at the partnership they witness between handlers and their dogs. If you have never seen a working dog in the field with sheep, you will be amazed at what they do and the heart they put into it. It is a wonderful thing to watch.”

One of the popular features of the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial is the public address commentary provided all four days by trial announcer Ray Crabtree of Kuna, Idaho.

Crabtree announces at some of the most prestigious trials in the U.S. and has extensive knowledge of dog trial techniques, which helps spectators appreciate the art and the science of dog trials. He shares his unique insight and knowledge of animals, as well as first hand experience about border collie development and the competitive world of trialing.

Spectators can take advantage of a large tent that will be available for shade with some seating provided, or sit on an old-fashioned hay bale grandstand. Johnston recommends bringing lawn chairs, especially on the weekend. Food can be purchased for breakfast and lunch on site, and there will be a variety of vendors offering products and services for dog lovers.

The Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial is not only popular among spectators; it is also one of the region’s favorite trials for handlers.

“This is the sixth straight year there has been a waiting list for competitors to get into the event, which filled to capacity on the first day entries opened,” Lynn Johnston said.

Another attraction of this event for handlers is several levels of competition offered for handlers and dogs.

“The location is large enough that we actually run two separate trials at the same time,” Lynn Johnston said. 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 vice versa. And then there is “nursery,” which is a class for young dogs and is the only class based on age of the dog. In general, these dogs are between 2 and 3 years old.

According to Lynn Johnston, there are three qualities that draw handlers to the Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trial.

“They enjoy the large, international caliber course, they like the challenging sheep we truck in from the Willamette Valley and they appreciate competing under a well-respected judge,” he said.

This year’s open class judge is Tom Wilson from Gordonsville, Va. Wilson has trialed and judged extensively throughout the U.S. and has competed in trials as far away as Europe.