Comparing "stock dogs" to "ranch dogs" is like comparing cutting horses to working ranch horses, said Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge organizer Marianne Sasak.
The stock dogs that will be running around Lake Catamount this weekend are intense, intelligent border collies with carefully developed bloodlines that have been selectively bred to herd sheep.
"These dogs are a little pampered -- well, a lot pampered," Sasak said. And they like to be kept busy, she said. "If a border collie isn't working, he quickly becomes a criminal."
The dogs and their handlers who are coming to Steamboat Springs this weekend hail from as far away as Alberta, Canada, and Gordonsville, Va.
That people are traveling so far with their dogs is a sign that there will be stiff competition this weekend, said professional stock dog trainer Tony Stewart.
Stewart won third place with his dog, Bess, at the National Sheep Dog Trials last year and will be competing in this year's Steamboat trials. He said some of the top dog handlers in the country will be in Steamboat this weekend.
"It's probably the ultimate in dog training," Stewart said. "Really, the dogs have it in them. It's a matter of learning how to communicate with them."
After extensive, time-consuming training, the dog and handler develop a close, quiet method of communication using voice and whistles, Sasak said. Each dog responds to its own set of whistles.
The stock dogs will be herding 210 yearling sheep on loan from South Routt rancher Tom Maneotis. Before the competition begins, the sheep will have been "dog broken," which means dogs will have worked them for a couple of days to settle them down and make the weekend runs more successful.
Stewart said Colorado sheep are known to be the "toughest sheep in North America." He said they usually are range sheep that have seen nothing more than coyotes, which makes them hard for a dog to handle.
"And that's what we like -- tough sheep. Tough sheep are a challenge," Stewart said.
Handlers and their dogs win by points and time, Sasak said. She said the races are easy to understand.
"Anybody can watch that and figure it out," Sasak said.
In its second year, the Steamboat Stock Dog Challenge has grown out of its venue at Marianne Sasak's house on Twentymile Road, where the trials took place last year.
This year, the trials are being held at Dry Creek Field across the road from Lake Catamount. This likely will be the only year the event will be held Memorial weekend at the spot because of spring wildlife concerns, particularly for grouse and sand hill cranes.
In addition to the stock dog action, Yampa Valley Beef will be on hand to grill their signature hamburgers and beef frankfurters for hungry spectators Saturday and Sunday. And Routt County CattleWomen will be hosting the Saturday night barbecue at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena -- a traditional CattleWomen's dinner complete with sliced roast beef, two salads, baked potato and dessert. Proceeds from the CattleWomen's dinner help benefit community agricultural education and scholarships for students who have an agricultural background or are going into an agricultural industry.
"This is an excellent opportunity to show people that agriculture still does exist here in the Yampa Valley," said Marsha Daughenbaugh, a rancher and executive director of the Community Agricultural Alliance.
"It is very important that we keep our ag events in this town. It's a really good Western event," Sasak said. "It might even inspire people to train their dogs."