At age 20, Tain Laing, of Mandeville, and his dogs have already qualified to compete in the South Island championships, for the second time.

He and huntaway Beth won the open straight hunt at the Greenvale Sheep Dog Trial competitions in April, with only a half point between him and second place-getter Lloyd Smith, of Palmerston.

They qualified for this year's South Island championships but Laing probably will not be able to compete as it clashes with an important rugby fixture.

He and Beth also won the maiden title in the straight hunt at the Lumsden Sheep Dog Trial Club's competition in March.

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He and heading dog Smudge won the Tux Yarding Challenge Maiden competition in the South Island championships at Kakahu in January last year, which was only their second trialling competition.

''My big goal is to win a New Zealand,'' Mr Laing said.

He said Smith, John Chittock, manager of Jeff Farm, and his employer Cameron Grant, had taught him all he had learned about dog trialling.

Up until Christmas last year, he was a cadet on the Salvation Army's training farm, Jeff Farm, near Kaiwera, and graduated top in his year.

From there he became a shepherd on Robert and Cameron Grant's sheep and beef farm near Mandeville and now has six dogs.

''Dogs are my main focus, my tools of the trade,'' he said.

''I train with them most days.''

He enjoys dog trialling.

''It is great to catch up with other people and compete against other guys who feel the same.''

Originally from Alexandra, Laing attended Dunstan High School and worked on Moutere Station as part of the vocational Gateway programme.

''I also had a few summer holiday jobs on other farms around the area, although I haven't come from a farming background,'' he said.

''I always loved working with livestock and with dogs.''

Working as a shepherd is often solitary, and he spends a lot of time out in the hills, coming into town to play lock for the Barbarians rugby team, or visiting his girlfriend Berlin Love.

He said when choosing a pup it was important to know what to look for.

''You need to look for a pup with a bit of confidence, if it is bouncing around, not scared to come up to you.

''I can tell as soon as I go into the pen, which ones have more confidence.

''That is not to say the shyer ones are not any good, but they need a bit of a softer touch as they are a bit more timid.''

Laing would eventually like to become a head shepherd, or stock manager, then move on to farm manager and ultimately own a farm.

He intends to continue his studies through Primary ITO and is looking at studying level 4 farm management.

''My goal is to create a good name for myself, and get my name out there.''