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Working Dogs - How Dogs Herd Sheep

Posted on September 11, 2012 by Dodson & Horrell There have been 0 comments

Most people are familiar with the image of a playful yet stern dog herding a group of sheep from the pasture back to the stables. This image is quite quaint, and many are delighted by this seeming miracle of nature. After all, it seems to be a rather peaceful image. The dog does not appear aggressive, and the sheep seem rather happy to oblige. However, how exactly do dogs know how what to do? Well, an article from "The Daily Puppy" entitled "How to Train a Herding Puppy" by Jim Hagerty explains how this process comes to be.

Working Dogs

First, people need to understand that not all dogs are literally born to herd. Specific types of herding dogs exist, and some of these breeds include the Australian Cattle Dog, the Bearded Collie, the Greater Swiss Mountain dog and many others. Therefore, do not expect just any dog to be capable of herding animals. These herding breeds and working dogs are born with an innate ability to know how to herd. However, that does not mean that training gets to fall to the wayside. The first step is making sure that the dog is trained for simple commands such as "Sit," "Stay" and all of the others. Hagerty suggests repeating these various commands for 15 minutes per day until the dog has them down pat.

The person who trains the dog to herd sheep also needs to have a knowledge of specific herding commands before he or she can relay them to the pup. Examples of commands, provided by Hagerty, include "Way to me," which tells the dog to move in a counter clockwise motion and go back to the trainer and "Get out," which tells the dog to move away from the herd. The individual first tries these commands with the dog alone without any other creatures around to interfere or to cause confusion.

When the dog is mature enough to both follow commands and hold his or her own against the herd, the owner and/or trainer can bring the dog out for a try with the sheep. The owner should also make sure that the dog is not an aggressive one, since that could obviously be rather dangerous for the herd. Using a leash and a whistle is recommended for the first parts of this training process, so that the person has as much control as possible during the early days. Again, Hagerty suggests going with the "15 minutes per day" rule. As the dog begins to understand the commands, he or she can be introduced to the herd of sheep.

Once again, Hagerty reminds prospective dog owners and trainers that they need to be aware of proper herding positions. People cannot just appear on a farm one day and decide that they are going to teach a dog how to herd sheep. Such a process requires careful dedication from both the human being and the dog. Many of the rules involve keeping the animals safe. For example, the dog must run alongside the herd (Hagerty). Although sheep are a gentle animal, an entire herd of them stampeding on a dog could certainly injure the dog. Furthermore, if the dog is their leader, he or she should not be among them, because then how could the dog possibly be leading the sheep? During the beginning of the runs, the owner/trainer can keep the dog on a leash to show him or her how to herd the sheep. Once the dog seems to be taking the lead, the animal can be left off of the leash and allowed to fully participate in the job as the sheep herder.

So why exactly do dogs herd sheep?

Now that you are aware as to how they go about knowing the rules of sheep herding, you might be wondering why dogs herd sheep in the first place. Well, according to Sheep 101's article entitled "A shepherd's best friend," herding dogs are able to move the sheep to basically any place. This is helpful after the sheep have been out in the pasture, and the dog needs to bring them home. The person does not necessarily have to trek all the way to the pasture and then herd a bunch of sheep back to the base.

Imagine the case of sheep in a catastrophe on a farm. What if there is a fire? How do all of the animals get to safety? If a dog knows how to herd the sheep, then the owner can instruct the dog to herd the sheep out far away from any of the areas that are up in flames. Herding sheep might seem like a fairly commonplace and day to day activity, but consider the ways in which it might actually function to save the lives of the animals.

Yes-the process by which dogs can herd sheep seems as though it is some sort of phenomenon. In some ways, it certainly is, as certain dogs are born with that innate knowledge as to how to herd sheep. For these dogs, there may not be a better life suited to them. However, people cannot just assume that these dogs are just going to magically start herding sheep one day. They must be willing to put in time and effort. Teaching a dog how to herd sheep is a process that begins when the animal is just a pup and continues well on into their maturation process and the correct working dog foods.

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This post was posted in Dogs and was tagged with working dogs

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