Yep, it's a bit redneck, but if you grew up in the country there's nothing like a night of watching dogs wrangling a bunch of cows up and down an arena while a guy on a horse flaps his arms and yells. Sometimes you cheer for the steers, sometimes for the dog, but either way, you're watching a 3-way battle of wills and basic instincts on a sophisticated playing field.

The goal in a stock dog trial is to maneuver the animals through several patterns and obstacles in a limited amount of time. In order to do this, the handler must have excellent communication with the dog to tell it which direction to move the steers and how fast. The dog must be able to respond to this information with craft, applying the right pressure to the right animals to move them without causing them to scatter in fear or turn and fight. It's rather like the movie "Babe", only the animals never reach that final I Love You, You Love Me stage. The non-CG steers trot out with an ill-tempered bellow, the dog yaps a final insult, and the rancher plods to the gate wondering why he didn't become the kind of stock-broker that handles a laptop rather than a wild-eyed young cowdog. The horses, at least, always look cheerful.

After three trials to demonstrate skill, the dogs are sold at auction for several thousand dollars to ranches across the US. This is an excellent opportunity for small family-owned ranches to obtain a pet that can work more efficiently than several men on horseback and love doing it. Good cow dogs are highly respected assets on a working ranch. I always like going to these demonstrations because you see such a wide range of personalities and training levels in the dogs and their trainers. Some of the teams are marvelous, some are rather haphazard. Some of the steers are compliant and some are bent and determined to go astray. You never know what might happen!

Read more about herding on the sports page.