Dogs have their day

FORT WORTH, TX -- Resting her furried chin on the arena wall, Sue measured the competition in Watt Arena on Sunday morning.

Harley, Max, Cap, Katy and Fly presented a challenge, moving those sheep as they did.

But Sue met the task, winning first place with handler Rick Strohl in the ranch/novice class during the Stock Show's popular annual sheepdog trials, which began Saturday and ended Sunday.

''I got lucky and ended up with a super good little dog,'' Strohl said of his 3-year-old sheepdog.

The two days of trials showcased many other quick, smart and beautiful dogs. Chris Thomson and his sheepdog, Tag, took the first spot in the open class, which requires the dog handler and dog to direct three sheep in a figure eight around two barrels, around another orange cone, through a chute and into a pen. The Hillsboro duo managed a time of 1 minute and 48 seconds in the finals.

The open ranch class, run on a slightly different course, brought Jimmy Walker and Meg from Hillsboro a first. In the final round, they logged an impressive 1 minute and 4 seconds. Walker also won first in the nursery class, but with another dog, Ben.

The audience remained mostly quiet during the event, whispering a ''Good boy'' or ''That's amazing'' under their breath. The penning brought a round of applause each time.

''The poodle and the border collie are the smartest two dogs alive,'' said James Earnest of Ovalo, who watched the event for hours. ''There are a lot of good dogs here.''

Each run started with the handler and sheepdog at one end of the arena.

The pent-up energy was evident as each dog crouched, ready to pounce. That energy was released once the sheep inched into the arena. Most of the dogs darted to the other end of the arena in about 5 seconds.

Although many used whistles, some handlers relied on commands, yelling fiercely and firmly to their pets, ''Lie down, lie down'' or ''Walk.''

Each participant was given three or five minutes, depending on the class. The best cumulative time won in each event.

With his green Texas Sheep Dog Association cap on, Strohl spoke to Sue through a series of whistles, using a cane to direct her as well.

Following his commands, Sue moved the three sheep into the wooden pen in 36 seconds during the final run, giving them a cumulative time that tied with New Mexico handler Matt Alexander and his dog, Max. Strohl and Sue won the runoff after Alexander was disqualified because a loose sheep didn't follow the correct course.

Sue was rewarded with a rub under the chin, which set her tail off again.

Other than that, no special treat was planned for her. ''She gets anything she wants anyway,'' Strohl said with a smile as he looked over his dog.

Strohl, 54, started in the sheepdog competitions about a year and a half ago. He'd used Sue's dad to work cattle but decided to have her trained for the competitions.

The adrenaline rush got him hooked.

''It's as bad as gambling,'' Strohl said.

Backstage of the arena, he was still pumped up after his run.

Other handlers said they enjoyed it for competition and the teamwork.

Geri Abrams, 44, has competed in dog trials since May, traveling around the country from her home in New Mexico.

''I like watching the dogs do what they were bred to do,'' she said.