PLEASANTON -- Bailey the black-and-white border collie ran, stalked and lay down with the right sense of purpose and calm to herd three sheep around barriers and through gates.
The bagpipe music from another arena didn't rattle her. Neither did a crowd of some 150 people and 20 other dogs on the sidelines watching her first appearance at the two-day sheepdog trials at the Scottish Highland Gathering and Games at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
One sheep suddenly veered left, and the 3-year-old dog smoothly turned the woolly rebel back into the herd to complete the course within a four-minute time limit.
Bailey celebrated with a sip of water.
Her handler, Glen McGowan, was relieved he needed minimal use of his shepherd's crook to help Bailey bring home the sheep -- a tribute to a dog doing an ancient job.
"Calm is the name of the game in sheepherding," said McGowan, a retired state park ranger from Prunedale, in Monterey County. "If she can treat the sheep calmly, they will respect her and walk. I want them to walk, not run."
Exuding that quiet confidence, McGowan gave a simple compliment to Bailey immediately after her high-scoring first run. "That will do," he said, using the words made famous in the movie "Babe," about a pig with a knack for herding sheep.
Mean dogs wash out fast in sheep dog trials, a short course to mimic skills that dogs need to move flocks in rough hilly country in Scotland and other places.
Good sheepdogs have to have to be born with herding instincts and be athletic, independent and yet still be team players, dog handlers said Saturday at the Scottish games trial, a small to moderate event on the sheepherding circuit.
"They are bred for working on their own in the hills all day," said Stephanie Summers, a Paso Robles handler. "They are not bred for their looks."
Christian, her dog, also scored highly in her first run Saturday morning, even though the dog ignored several commands to lie down, a move that rewards and calms sheep that go in the right direction.
"Christian is an independent dog with high potential," Summers said. "She is learning. She is going to be a late-maturing dog."
While sheepdogs are largely responsible for their performance in the games, a skilled handler can help guide them.
"The sheepdogs are like the quarterbacks in a football game," said Jennifer Stewart, a dog handler from Napa County who served as the event announcer. "The handlers are the coaches who can provide guidance, but it's up to the dogs to do the work."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.