Next weekend's must see International Sheepdog Trials at Shandford, Fern, Brechin, are fast approaching, and we managed to catch up with well known triallist, Alastair Mundell, to get his perspective on this extremely competitive 'sport.'

Alastair now lives at Lawesknow, Moffat, where he farms some 850 acres which is home to a 25-cow Luing herd and 800 Blackface and Cheviot ewes, in between training his four dogs.

No stranger to the top awards over the years with numerous dogs, the past two years have seen him triumph at most events with the dog, Taff. However, this year was not the one for him as he failed to qualify after getting through to the 2017 and 2018 Internationals with him.

Although Alastair has never won the National or the International he is widely respected as one of the most skilled and able handlers, having competed in trials since 1952 and at the National every year since, with the exception of 1992 when he was an official judge. And, while he has failed to lift the big one, he has landed the runner-up and every other position for the team.

A member of the Scottish team no fewer than 23 times, Alastair believes his best performance as an individual was at the International the year he was placed fourth.

Competing runs in the family as is son, Boyd has also been on the Scottish team a numerous times.

Competing at the International is more stressful than at the National though.

"There is a lot more strain on competitors at the International as you are not just competing for yourself, but your country and it is more of a team event," he said.

Outwith the National, Alastair has also taken part in many open trials over the years. One of his highlights over the years was being asked to take part in the BBC programme 'One Man and His Dog' – an event for which triallists qualify based on how well they have performed at recent trials – when he managed to get through to the semi-finals. He has also been privileged to have judged the competition twice.

Alastair's skill and expertise with sheepdogs has also allowed him to travel far and wide as an official judge of such events, having jetted off to South Africa and America for open competitions.

He has also picked up the Wilkinson sword in 2015 which is recognised for a long term service in the sheepdog trial.

Along with all his wins he has been the Scottish National Sheepdog president in the 80s where he had a great influence on the industry.

However, while trials are a real influencer for many in the industry, he believes it is essential dogs get natural long outruns to allow them use their brains instead of going round the same track over and over again.

Commenting on his training policy, he said he likes to get pups started early to see if they are interested in sheep and then teach them basic commands as follows:

  • Basic commands come first before the sheep are in the equation. The dog needs to be able to understand the handler and integrate with each other for the pair to work.
  • Hill work is great for long run outs and for the dog to use it's brain rather than being stuck to an open trial track.
  • It can be a very slow progress and doesn't always take affect straight away – Patience in training your sheepdog is key.

He also had a few tips of the trade for all would-be triallists.

  • Remain calm – Don't loose your temper with your dog.
  • Let them make mistakes, that's the only way they will learn.
  • Be firm and fair when training. A mixed balance must be allowed if you are to be in control.