Trial Etiquette


The first sheepdog trials were held between shepherds to prove their dog’s abilities; this provided a shop window with the potential to broaden the breeding gene pool of good sheepdogs.  From this early competition evolved a tradition. That tradition should be respected and nurtured with the objectives of the International Sheep Dog Society held as the ideal.

The objectives for a trial is to test the ability of a dog, as part of a team with the Handler, to manage sheep properly under the differing circumstances that may be encountered in daily work. The standards of etiquette, protocol, respect and handling on the trial field should be as high as they have ever been.


Below are a few examples of that etiquette and protocol:


The Trial field IS NOT a training field. Training should be done at home prior to the Trial.


To carry anything other than a crook may be considered unprofessional or an aid for which points may be deducted due to the handler having an unfair advantage.

A good well balanced crook is an extension of the handler and a great asset when used properly.


When things go wrong, leave the field showing no anger, disappointment or irritation, etc. but have the determination to go home, do your homework and come back better next time.

By commencing their run the handler is presumed to know the course and follow it in all its detail (ISDS rule 6.2.q)

The competitor may find themselves being asked to retire on standard if the run is below standard required by the Judge.

The Judge’s decision is final providing their conduct is in accordance with the Rules for Trials: ISDS Rule 5.1.o


Always ensure your dog’s welfare is paramount.

Always consider the welfare of the sheep.


Respect and consider your fellow handlers/competitors and officials.

Don’t allow your dogs to bark while others are running

Keep your dog under control both on and off the Trial field.

Try to keep a bitch in season away from other dogs and areas frequented by others.

Do not swear or use bad language

There is no place on the trial field for temper or bad attitude, It does neither dog nor handler any good.

Do not use threatening behaviour towards your dog, the sheep, or anyone else on the trial field. Competitors are expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and behaviour at a trial and any misdemeanour or abuse will be investigated by the Trial’s committee and render them liable to a report to Council. ISDS rule: 6.2.zb

Clean up after your dog.

Respect the entry rules of the trial.


Judging is not a job that is written in black and white with a specific number of points deducted for each small fault.

It must be acknowledged that it is not always an easy task to decide the merits of a run AS A WHOLE and Judges should always have a good look at the score sheet after the run has been completed and should then decide whether or not they have been too severe or too lax in any one aspect after marking. ISDS rule 5.1.g

The Judge’s decision is final providing they judge in accordance with the Rules for Trials ISDS rule 5.1.o

The Judge’s job is not an easy one, especially when the decisions have to be made in a split second and not discussed for hours.

The Judge does his best to carry the job out in a satisfactory manner and we as handlers must accept and respect that.

There is only the judge who concentrates and judges for the whole session, not the handlers who only see parts of runs or only a few of them.

It is grossly disrespectful to approach a judge to query their decision.

Competitors or their agents are prohibited from approaching a Judge to seek to discuss or influence the award of points. Such an approach is gross misconduct and will render them liable to investigation. ISDS rule 6.2.zc


A sheep dog trial is there basically to provide a shop window for good dogs, if your dog is not up to standard then go home and work on it. You are there to show your dog’s ability and to beat the course not the people.

To criticise the trial and its organisation etc. is to jeopardise the future of trialling. Without these people there would be no trialling. Help, don’t criticise!!!

The whole experience of sheepdog trialling should be enjoyed by everyone old , young, novice and experienced. Share your knowledge and friendship.

Don’t show your ignorance or unprofessionalism by being rude and aggressive. Be polite and friendly and above all be sportsmanlike.

Further reading: ‘’Hints and Tips for the Trial Field’’ A brief guide to etiquette, protocol and handling on the trial field. Sue Main, may be purchased from the ISDS shop.

This book looks at the various aspects of etiquette, protocol and handling within the sheepdog trial, from the first time a novice handler steps onto the trial field to competing in a Singles, Double Gather or Brace Competition.

By | 2017-01-11T10:09:42+00:00 september 2nd, 2016|Information|0 Comments