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Sheepdog Training And Instinct Tests

Please click on the thumbnails to see full sized versions of the photos

Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe
Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe

Cories Rhys turning a stroppy ewe

It never ceases to amaze me that our much loved pets, obedience, agility and show dogs, when placed in the middle of a field with a flock of sheep for the very first time, will immediately take command and work with style and panache! Age of the dog is not always a consideration - obviously six months is the ideal, but much older dogs very often take to the work as easily as youngsters. The dogs that have difficulties getting started are the ones that are Obedience Trained to a high degree of dependency on their owners, but even then, it is not impossible.

When an owner asks to have a go at sheepwork, it can open up a whole new world for them. Sometimes owners have been told in the past that once they start a dog on sheep, the dog becomes obsessive, a liability or even dangerous - presumably because the thrill of the chase takes over! In my experience, if a dog is trained to sheep, or any livestock, it becomes more obedient, more reliable and controllable in a chase situation. It also increases the bond and understanding between owner and dog. There is nothing more fascinating than working with the natural instinct of the dog! Imagine, your beloved pet is in the field with those sheep and actually knows instinctively what to do with them - the owner is temporarily at a loss - it's a really weird feeling!

Instinct Tests
When I conduct an instinct test with a novice dog (and especially a novice owner) conditions during the test are very controlled to protect both the dog and the sheep.

Firstly, the dog can be introduced to sheep which are contained in a pen which is large enough to allow free movement of the sheep inside it. The dog is not on a lead and the dog's behaviour is observed in silence. At this stage the owner can get a first insight into 'reading' the sheep - which is how the dog positions himself to get the sheep moving and predicting what the sheep will do when dog and owner work as a team to encourage or prevent movement by the sheep.

Julie Allens Gillesta Justa Gamble at Shipelle Julie Allen with Gillesta Justa Gamble at Shipelle

Julie Allen with Gillesta Justa Gamble at Shipelle

However, a pen is not always ideal because the dog sometimes does not see the sheep through the pen, so it is not a good indication as to whether the dog will work.

Next, I have six or so sheep in either a large pen or a small paddock. The dog is on a long line which is held initially by me. The owner is told to walk with the dog towards the sheep - I am nearby holding the line and whatever happens next is a mystery to us all until the dog delivers a behaviour!

Ann Jordans Cories Rhys at 4 months of age

Ann Jordan's Cories Rhys at 4 months of age

Lots of things can happen at this point, it is the most exciting part of watching dogs work out their tactics to do what comes naturally! Some dogs, when the sheep first move, put head and tail down and work immediately - yes really!

Ann Jordans Beesting Shenanigan

Ann Jordan's Beesting Shenanigan

Others may chase and bark then settle down after varying lengths of time.

Ann Jordans Beesting Shenanigan

Ann Jordan's Beesting Shenanigan

Then there are some that don't settle at all and depending on age and temperament, may need to be tested again after a short break. It really is often a 'wait and see' game.

Whatever happens at an instinct test, it could be the start of a great new interest for you and your dog, or you may decide that your dog has demonstrated the possession of the true herding instinct, and return gracefully to normality with no harm done and an interesting experiment under your belt....

The Midlands Border Collie Club holds twice yearly Utility Days and sheep instinct tests are only a part of the disciplines on offer. See you there!

Ann Jordan

A Midlands Border Collie Club Utility Day

A Midlands Border Collie Club Utility Day

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