Sheepdog dares world championship after tragedy


South Africa’s sheepdog champion is still slightly traumatized after she lost her entire litter shortly after birth earlier this year. However, her owner hopes that the tragedy will not affect her too badly when she competes in the world championship this year.

Kyla, who is now seven and a half years old, was named the best sheepdog in South Africa last year after competing with hundreds of sheepdogs in various competitions across the country.

Earlier this year, however, she experienced a setback when she had a caesarean section and all ten of her puppies died shortly after birth.

Kyla’s owner, Pierre Strydom, says this grief has affected Kyla deeply.

“She is in the prime of her life, but it has affected her in all aspects,” he says.

Still, it seems that Kyla is well on her way to taking on this year’s world championship with Strydom’s other sheep dog, Mac, in Ireland.

The championship starts on September 13 and will last for four days. The first two days are qualifying rounds in which 250 dogs from 35 countries will compete. Only 42 dogs will qualify for the semi-final. On the third day, the semi-final takes place when the best 16 dogs compete in the final on the last day.

The world championship, just like any other sheepdog competitions, is designed to test what sheepdogs can do on a farm, and how well they do it.

Strydom explains that the participants start with full points and then the judges deduct points depending on the dog’s behavior, the lines the sheep run and the gates that are missed.

“There are four factors that affect the outcome of the competition: the weather, the mistakes I make, the mistakes the dog makes, and how difficult the sheep are,” says Strydom.

He says it often happens that severe weather conditions hamper some participants’ efforts, while others get ball-horned sheep that refuse to cooperate.

“One day this sheepdog is the best, the next day it’s the other one. I can only hope that we will be the best when it matters.”

A dream come true

According to Strydom, his dogs’ participation in the world championship is a life ideal that has come true.

Strydom has been working with sheepdogs since the 1980s, but stopped for years until he resumed in 2016 when he got Mac.

“It is one of my passions to work with these dogs and I wish more farmers could see their value,” he says.

Strydom is positive about the world championship, but does not want to set unrealistic ideals for his dogs.

“South Africa has participated in the world championship four times, but has never had a dog that qualifies for the semi-final. My goal is to reach the semi-final, but I haven’t thought beyond that yet,” he jokes.

Strydom says that as a handler he can only give his best, and he knows his Kyla and Mac will do the same. However, he is worried about whether Mac will be able to compete in the world championship in the first place, as he recently injured one of his back legs.

Nevertheless, the seven-year-old Mac is top-notch, sharp and focused. “It is clear that he wants to work, he is diligent”.

South Africa is sending a total of five of its best sheepdogs to Ireland. However, the biggest competition seems to be sheepdogs from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, where this dog breed originates.

“This is the mecca of sheepdogs, but our courses are the same as theirs and we are very competitive.”

Kyla and Mac will arrive in Ireland five days before the championship to bond with Scottish sheep. Strydom will also use this time to study the sheep, because “if the shepherd goes astray, the sheep also go astray”.

A week after the world championship, the South African championship for 2023 will be held, which Strydom hopes Kyla and Mac can participate in again.

Mindset ‘Like No Other’

Strydom says he and his dogs have an understanding that cannot be described in words. There is a feeling between him and every dog.

“The dogs understand me so well that they can hear in my whistle if I’m on my nerves.”

Strydom at one stage had 17 sheepdogs to help on his farms, but has since scaled down to just a few to help with his Nguni cattle and sheep.

It takes anywhere from seven months to two years to train a sheepdog and Strydom is already busy training one of his young sheepdogs for competitions, as “he is definitely going to follow in their (Kyla and Mac’s) footsteps”.

Strydom hopes to train other farmers in the future on how to make the most of their sheepdogs, as one sheepdog can do the work of three laborers.

“The most important thing about sheepdogs is that they not only need physical exercise, but their brains also need to be ‘worked’. They are always ready and willing to work.”

Kyla and Mac each have about three years left before they “retire”, says Strydom.

“As soon as they turn ten years old, they will spend their days peacefully in the sun.”