PUBLIC trials of working sheep dogs were first introduced by Mr. Lloyd Price, of Rhiwlas, Bala, North Wales, in 1873. The object for which they were originally instituted was to promote a better training of sheep dogs amongst the Welsh farmers.
Strange as it may seem, though the mountainous districts of Wales have been devoted from time immemorial almost exclusively to sheep rearing, the old-time farmers took little trouble in the training of dogs to collect and work their sheep. In fact, previous to the inauguration of the competitions, the duties of the Welsh sheep dog were confined principally to the tasks of hunting and chasing sheep back again up the mountains whenever they strayed down to graze upon the more fertile pastures in the valley which the farmers reserved for their cattle. This was well enough so long as the sheep were roaming at will among their native haunts and feeding grounds, but whenever it was necessary for the farmer to gather his flock together the trouble began. The hardy little animals are wild and timid creatures that are not easily induced to leave their mountain home; moreover, when at liberty they are scattered in small lots over immense tracts of country.
To gather sheep from the mountains with the aid of dogs alone was in those days, with few exceptions, an utter impossibility, consequently as many as ten or twelve men had to be employed to scour the mountains, and even then many stragglers were inevitably left behind. Nowadays all that is changed, one man can with the assistance of a good sheep dog do the same work much more thoroughly and satisfactorily, and without hustling or distressing the sheep themselves.
The systematic training of sheep dogs has indeed accomplished for the sheep-rearing hill farmer almost as much in the way of labor-saving as the adoption of agricultural machinery has done for the farmer who cultivates the lowlands.
The sagacity displayed by a really good sheep-dog gathering sheep upon a mountain side, often a mile or more away from his master, must be seen to be believed. When the farmer goes out to gather his flock for shearing or other purposes, far away upon the bleak hillside, little clusters of white spots are all that are to be seen. The farmer takes up a position upon some point of vantage, gives a word or whistle or instruction to his four-footed companion, and the dog bounds away in response till he seems no more than a tiny moving speck occasionally visible in the distance. Sharp and shrill the farmer's whistle pierces the keen mountain air, and ever and anon, as though by magic, the little white dots begin to move and converge towards a common center. In response to one signal the sound of the dog's answering bark can be heard; another signal and he drops as though shot, and is as silent as the grave. In the dim distance a few small dots can be seen; they are some stragglers that have been overlooked ; a whistle galvanizes them also into motion, but in the wrong direction; a moment later and they are merged into one motionless white blot upon the dark mountain side. The blot moves again, not quite in the desired direction; whistle succeeds whistle in quick succession, and at each one the little moving blot alters its course, zig-zagging this way and that, until it finally becomes merged in the large white patch that marks the remainder of the flock, which keeps on the move, drawing nearer and nearer until the sheep take shape and can be seen coming down steadily with the dog dodging in their rear, till they are rounded up and brought to a standstill within reach of the farmer's; stick. Such a sight is common today upon the Welsh mountain or in the Scottish Highlands, though it is not given to every man to acquire perfect mastery over his animal; so much depends upon both man and dog. A dog belonging to a man who takes no interest, or has not the knack and patience necessary to teach him is worse than useless. The dog often reflects to a great extent his master's character. An excitable, hasty-tempered man generally has a headstrong, willful dog that is hard to control. Some dogs, born of a long line of carefully-trained sheep dogs, take to working sheep as ducks do to water; a savage, uncontrollable brute, whose only ambition seems to be to worry and abuse the sheep, and there are hundreds of such animals, is simply a hindrance and a source of trouble to its owner, as anyone who is acquainted with sheep and their ways knows full well.
The sheep dog proper must above all things be gentle and patient with its often cantankerous charges, yet firm and masterful enough to inspire the timid sheep with sufficient sense of fear to cause them to move away in another direction at its appearance and approach without creating such a panic-stricken stampede. Such strains of dogs are scarce and highly-prized by their owners, though from the show-bench fancier's point of view their often nondescript exterior cannot be classified into those niceties of shape and color in which the judge of show dogs delight. Many a sheep  dog that would not attract a second glance from a professional dog judge has won enough in money prizes to turn the whole fraternity green with envy.
Such a dog is, for instance, Mr. J. Moses' "Old Jem," not beautiful to look at, but of sterling quality, which has won for his master over $1,000 in cash quite irrespective of the value of himself and his progeny.
Sheep-dog trials are now held in all parts of the British Empire, Canada, New Zealand, Australia; in fact, wherever sheep are reared in any quantity.
Perhaps one of the most favorable opportunities the general public has of watching one of these absorbingly interesting spectacles is during the well-known agricultural show held each year in Lord Rothchild's beautiful park at Tring, England. A description of an actual trial witnessed by the writer in these ideal surroundings will give an idea of the exciting nature of the tests and high standard of perfection to which the numerous entries have to be trained before they can compete with the remotest chance of success.