In 65 years of dog trialling, Taupō farmer Barney Strong has owned more than a thousand dogs. Heading dogs and huntaways, dogs of all shapes and sizes and colours. And as Taupō and Tūrangi Weekender editor Laurilee McMichael discovers, while he can't remember them all, the good ones and the special ones have stayed with him.
Barney Strong won his first national dog trialling title in 1978 with a little yellow fellow named Cloud.
The "very small, very ugly wee fellow who was only about as big as your thumb when he was born" certainly had a silver lining.
"He was a really, really good dog, he could do what other dogs couldn't," Barney says.
Cloud, technically not a runt as the only survivor of his litter, was one of the more than 1000 dogs the 81-year-old Taupō farmer has owned. And, clearly, one of the ones that stands out in his memories of his 65-years of dog trialling.
Others include Trixie, Jet, Sparkle, Rose and Bonnie. And Smoke, who was selected to compete in a world championships in Ireland. His current competition dogs Bella, Ben and Queen. His former national champion Faygen, who won the New Zealand Sheep Dog Championships - an exceptional animal tragically run over aged just 4 - "the worst day of my life ... I still go cold inside".
Next week Barney and his dogs will be in the Bay of Islands, competing at the 2019 New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial National and North Island Championships. Well-known in the dog trialling world, Barney and his trio of dogs will be among 450 dogs vying for a variety of national titles, with Ben and Queen competing in the heading dog categories, and Bella in the huntaway.
Barney loved dogs since childhood and when he was 15, became a shepherd on a farm near Dannevirke working for Ronnie McDonald, a well-known dog triallist.
"The farm I went to, there was an old dog there that the shepherds were allowed to use.
"He was a really good learning dog because if you got angry and yelled at him, he would go home and leave you to do it yourself, which was a pretty good way of teaching self-discipline."
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The farm, a Romney sheep stud, had a lot of little jobs to be done and it was a great place for training young heading dogs. Ronnie passed on not only tips about training dogs but also the dog trialling bug - something Barney's found an addictive sport ever since.
He spent two weeks' wages, £5, on his first pup, trained him and sold him back to the owner for £50. When he competed in his first dog trial, he and his dog won a maiden competition. It was the first win of many.
When Barney moved to a bigger station, he already had heading dogs and had to add huntaways. A heading dog is small and fast. It stares at the sheep and uses its eyes and its body to move them to where it wants, usually somewhere near to the shepherd.
A huntaway, which is a bigger dog with a big voice, barks at the sheep to move them, usually away from the shepherd. Barney didn't have anybody to tell him how to train huntaways and had to figure it out himself. He says the new station was huge, and "a neat farm for dogs".
"Dogs had to be very self-sufficient and do stuff on their own. Dogs had to be tough, like you went a long way without any access to water for your dogs, but also it was big enough that your dogs in some cases would be away from you for three or four hours mustering."
Barney and his dogs would do trials throughout the season, which usually start in January and run until about June for the hill trials (where the area can be up to half a mile long), then June to January for the show trials (which are in an enclosed 40m x 40m area). He says he was constantly acquiring new pups to train and always had far too many dogs for too long. He currently has nine, counting puppies, and "I really only need two".
At one of his farm jobs, Barney had the luck of living near the Lopdell family, famous Hawke's Bay dog triallists. He spent many happy hours with neighbour Ivan Lopdell travelling to and from dog trials around the country talking about dog training and trialling. He says a great appeal of the sport is the camaraderie between the competitors who enjoy a laugh, a beer and an analysis of the action after the day's trialling is done.
These days, there's less mingling in the bar which he thinks is a shame for the young competitors as it was a good place to learn from judges and other competitors.
Barney, who bought his own sheep and beef farm in Taupō's Western Bays, in 1990, says he does much less training than most. He believes once a dog is trained it will get bored and regular farm work is enough. The basics, he says, are teaching the dog to stop, and to go left and right when required. During farm work, it will develop its own skills.
"The difficult one is to teach them when they're going out to get sheep up the top of the hill, to go left and right on the way up there so they get to the point they need to be - technically the sheep shouldn't know about your dog till he's behind them."
Barney does not punish his dogs. He says if they've done wrong, a growling or a loud noise lets them know he's not happy. He says it's also important to have a trust command (his is to say 'that's good') that lets the dog know that it's okay to come back, even if it's been naughty.
"You never break that trust and they know that they can come safely, whatever they deserve, they know they're not going to get it."
He also doesn't use food for positive reinforcement.
"I think a touch from the master, a 'good girl' or 'good boy' and just a pat is sufficient. I don't know that a treat has any better result than a 'good girl' from a kind master, they really do enjoy that."
He doesn't even do much extra training before competitions.
"I think they're far better fresh and if necessary give them a reminder. You might go out and do a two minute train the night before the trial just to make sure that they're tuned up.
"You learn to trust your dog that at a trial that they can read sheep better than you can. The dog's half a mile away and you're trying to see where the sheeps' heads are and where they're going to go, whereas a good dog can anticipate that much better than you can and correct it before it happens."
In hill trials, the huntaways must send the sheep away and there are two categories, the zig-zag hunt, where the dog must move from left to right and stay off-balance, and the straight hunt, where it drives the sheep to a particular point. The heading dog will bring the sheep towards the shepherd in a controlled manner and must hold them in a small area. But dogs being dogs, sometimes it all goes haywire, the sheep break away and the dog fails to listen. Barney says when that happens, he just shrugs it off.
"When you're young and learning it's embarrassing and shameful but when you're old you just laugh it off and go home and do some more work on your dog and hopefully do better next time."
Barney was also a judge for 40 years and he is still heavily involved with the Rangitaiki Dog Trials Association which hosts trials and is hosting the North Island Sheep Dog Championships in 2022 on Lochinver Station. He even met his wife Katherine through dog trialling, at her father's farm at Tutira in Hawke's Bay where trials were being held.
Barney says the things that make a good dog, for him, are a desire to please, a natural instinct to work sheep, a keenness and a freshness, an ability to trust their owner, to do what they are told and for the owner to trust the dog - 'that's when you really get your successful teams of man and dog".
However, that doesn't stop the dogs from being naughty when they feel like it, he adds.
"They are extraordinarily like children. They push the boundaries."