MIDWAY — The tuneful whine of bagpipes welcomed dozens of visitors through a grove of trees and into Soldier Hollow on Friday during the first day of international sheepdog competition.
Spectators were further drawn in by the high, thin whistling of keepers to their competing dogs and occasional applause for an animal's success. The prize border collies silently heed their masters' every command, understanding differences in volume and intensity at distances of hundreds of yards.
A few hundred yards deeper into the Wasatch County mountains, the determined spirit of world-class competition gave way to barking, laughing and good-natured cajoling at the splash pool.
There, dogs of all shapes and sizes long-jumped into a shallow pool from a make-shift dock to retrieve false ducks. More often than not, the landings drenched nearby bleachers, evoking shrieks of laughter from the human audience.
Performances alternated between breathtaking jumps of about 15 feet to beginner dogs who couldn't quite brave the unfamiliar waters.
The splashing event is new at this year's festival but has already garnered attention from the farthest-jumping dogs in the business, according to the official festival program. The jumping will go on through Labor Day, and spectators are encouraged to bring their pets to participate.
Non-competing dogs are not allowed near the herding field, but kennel facilities will be available throughout the weekend, said festival spokesman Mark Petersen.
Today, Sunday and Monday the festival will also feature a Navajo rugmaking demonstration, duck-herding, a dog tricks show and craft activities for children.
Monday, the top dogs will compete for the Grand Championship. They are judged on their speed, skill, obedience and kindness, Peterson said. The dogs have to earn the trust of sheep to win.
"There's nothing more American than that," Peterson said. "You survive by your ability. It doesn't matter how you look. It doesn't matter who your parents are. What matters is getting the work done."
Gates open at 7:45 a.m. today and Sunday and at 8:30 a.m. Monday. Entrance fees are $12 for adults, $11 for senior citizens, $7 for children or $32 for a family up to seven. Parking is between $5 and $20. For more information, visit TARGET="_blank">soldierhollowclassic.com. To get involved in the splashing, visit splashdogs.com.