As soon as Rey enters the sheep pasture, her ears flatten, her nose points toward the herd and she lowers her shoulders looking ready to pounce.

Of course, the border collie doesn’t actually pounce. She’s prepared to sprint and head off the herd of sheep that’s moving farther away in the pasture. When her owner, Nancy Creel, gives the command, Rey shoots off like a bullet toward the sheep. She doesn’t run in a straight line, but at a wide curve.

“It’s kind of like being a stealth bomber,” Creel said.

Once Rey reaches the six sheep, she stops them in their tracks and forces them in the opposite direction. She has unwavering focus and takes measured movements to keep the sheep under her control.

The sheep move as though they’ve been trained to do so, but that’s not the case. It’s Rey’s expert herding at work. It only takes a whistle or simple command for Rey to jump into action.

A herding dog by nature, Rey has mastered the competitive sport of sheepdog herding under the training of Creel, a longtime Bozeman resident. The two have competed in about 15 herding trials this year, and are headed to the U.S. and Canadian finals. 

The United States Border Collie Handlers’ Association sponsors the National Sheepdog Finals, which will be in Carbondale, Colorado, Sept.10-15. The Canadian Border Collie Association Championships will be on Aug. 22-25 near Calgary.

Three-year-old Rey placed in the top 20% of competitors in the country to qualify for the U.S. finals.

Creel has been training dogs for herding competitions since 2011. She also offers classes and group training for people wanting to break into the sport.

When Creel first adopted Rey, she got some sage advice.

“I was told if you adopt a border collie, you have to find an activity,” Creel said.

The American Kennel Club describes the breed as hardworking, intelligent and happiest when performing a task. The description is accurate for Rey, who can’t stop herding even when Creel has stopped giving direction.

Rey is named after the “Star Wars” character, known for being a strong and independent woman. Rey also has a nickname: “The Savant,” given to her by Creel’s training students.

It’s clear Creel has a real love for the dogs she works with. She said she bought Rey on a whim after her dog, Prim, died prematurely at 2 years old. Creel has a forearm tattoo depicting Prim to honor her memory. Creel said she hopes to breed Rey in the next couple of years and keep one of the puppies.

In the weeks leading up to the championship competitions, Creel and Rey will practice daily.

Although Rey is a unique dog with heightened abilities, Creel said many share the natural talent she has. It’s just a matter of learning how to use it.

“You can be really successful if you have the drive to train,” Creel said.