Guide to One Man and His Dog: history of British sheepdog trials and the rules

Here is our guide to Britain's best-loved dog trial, One Man and His Dog, plus sheepdog commands to practice at home, ahead of the contest on this Sunday's show.

Sheepdog trial

Here is our guide to Britain’s best-loved dog trials, One Man and His Dog, including a brief look at the history of sheepdog trials in the UK, plus sheepdog commands to practice at home.

When did One Man and His Dog first air?

One Man and His Dog was first aired on 17 February 1976 and ran for 23 years, attracting audiences of up to eight million viewers in its heyday in the 1980s.

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Watch the first One Man and His Dog trials from 1976


Phil Drabble, who presented the show until 1993, was awarded an OBE, and a pub near his former home in Bloxwich in the West Midlands is named after the programme in his honour.

How can I watch One Man and His Dog?

The last regular series was aired on BBC Two in 1999, although a series of popular Christmas specials continued until 2011 with hosts including Clarissa Dickson Wright, Ben Fogle and Kate Humble.

Sheep and collie
Today’s One Man and His Dog features on BBC Countryfile. (Getty Images)

Today, One Man and His Dog is aired annually during a BBC Countryfile One Man and His Dog special. One Man and His Dog merged with Countryfile in 2013 and was presented by Matt Baker, who had already been co-commentator from 2006. He was joined by Helen Skelton in 2014 and Ellie Harrison in 2015.

Where is One Man and His Dog in 2019?

Matt Baker and Helen Skelton present One Man and His Dog 2019 from Bowhill House in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. The best youngsters and senior shepherds from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland are teamed up in a bid to win the trophy for their country.

Where is Countryfile visiting this week and what time is it on BBC1?

It’s Countryfile’s One Man and His Dog competition this week – find out what time and when Countryfile is on TV with our episode guide.

Countryfile plays host to One Man and His Dog 2019 as the best shepherds from across the British Isles descend on the Scottish Borders to find out which nation has what it takes to claim this coveted title.

View our Countryfile TV guide

Alabama rot in dogs - Border colie

Who was the first woman to win One Man and His Dog?

The first woman to win One Man and His Dog was Katy Cropper in 1990. Her daughter Henrietta, went on to be the youngest handler to appear on the show in 2015, age 12.

Woman with sheep and sheepdog
Shepherd Katy Cropper and her dogs Zsaro and Flash take part in the Brace run as they take part in the British National Sheep Dog Trials on August 6, 2016 in York, England. (Getty Images)

What are the rules of One Man and His Dog?

  1. There are four teams – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
  2. Each team comprises two humans – a senior and junior partner – and two dogs. Juniors go first, followed by the adults. The dog and handler are in charge of five sheep
  3. There are 100 points up for grabs in each round. Points are deducted for faults at the various stages around the course.
  4.  The course is 250 yards long – the size of two football pitches. There are a number of gates and pens to be negotiated. The course and all the tasks must be completed in under 12 minutes. Any tasks not done will be deducted from the final score.
  5. There are two judges to score each of the challenges on the course.

History of sheepdogs trials in the UK

Why are border collies used as sheepdogs?

A “Border Collie” is so-called because the best working collies were drover dogs from the counties on the English-Scottish border. Border Collies are gifted with the “eye” – an ability to control sheep with only a strong stare.

One man and his Dog Countryfile
Many modern collies bloodlines can be traced to a border collie known as Old Hemp (Photo by: Getty Images)

Born in 1893, a Border Collie named Old Hemp was famous for his ability to make sheep respond to his actions and is the ancestor of many of today’s sheepdogs. Wiston Cap (born 1963) can also be traced in the bloodlines of many modern collies.

When did the first sheep dog trials take place in the UK?

Shepherds met for the first time in October 1873, in a field near Bala, Wales, to test their skills and compare their collies.

England’s first sheepdog trials were held in Alexandra Park in London in 1876 and resulted in noisy barking and general chaos as dogs lost control of their sheep.

Sheepdog trials have become hugely popular worldwide, and in the United Kingdom alone, there are over 400 trials a year.

A small flock of Oxford Down Sheep

What does ‘counting sheep’ mean?

Counting sheep was once carried out in a mix of Old English and Latin. Up until the Industrial Revolution “Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp, sethera, lethera, hovera, covera, dik” could be heard on the moors and farms of Northern England.

Popular shepherd pastimes

With time on their hands, shepherds were traditionally excellent musicians, playing pipes made of sheep’s horns. They were often also expert knitters and woodcarvers and, until the 17th century, shepherds even officiated at weddings.

Shepherds were often buried gripping a sprig of wool so that when they reached the pearly gates they could be forgiven for failing to attend Sunday church.

Essential sheepdog commands to practice at home

Come-Bye: circle the sheep in a clockwise direction

Away/Away to Me: circle the sheep in an anti-clockwise direction

Stand: stop, or slow down

Get back/get out: move back to give the sheep more room

In here: used during shedding to separate the sheep

Walk up/walk on: move straight towards the sheep calmly

Take time: slow down

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That’ll do: stop and return to the shepherd