tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

In which I ramble a lot about sheepdogs

One of my LJ friends posted a video yesterday of her sheltie herding sheep. Luna is a promising young plain-eyed dog that's got the idea and the inclination, and is also quite calm about it. Plain eyed dogs tend to lack the intensity that strong-eyed dogs have, and thus also lack that thing that gives it the potential to turn to custard in a split second. And watching Luna work sheep made me go all misty-eyed..

It also brought to my attention some of the differences between the US and here with regard to the whole sheepdog thing.

Well, they're beautiful if you appreciate the beauty of a dog working sheep, anyway. Otherwise, nothing to see here, move along..

So in the US (and other parts of the world where sheep work isn't ho-hum part of the scenery), they do 'herding' as a kind of training exercise/hobby for dogs and owners that want to give their dogs a job. All sorts of breeds are used for this - in my hunting on YouTube I found rotties, boxers, mastiffs, terriers, you name it. They do this thing called a Herding Instinct Test.

I don't know much about it, but it seems that if the dog shows any inclination at all to chase sheep, it passes this test. No doubt there are higher levels at which your dog must do something constructive with the sheep, but I guess it's similar to when you take your young dog down to the training paddock and shoosh the sheep around till it chases them - the guy I learned from called it 'lighting the fire' - the idea being that the dog needs to have a big neon sign in its head that's going SHEEPSHEEPSHEEP, and you can tell when that happens because after that the sheep become the most important thing in their life. At least for sheepdogs it does - I'm less sure about non-working breeds. But anyway, here are some Herding Instinct Tests I found.

I'm not sure what breed this dog is. While yes, it does leave its owner and look at the sheep, and heels them a little, I see no sign of any lights flashing in this dog's head, it shows no instinct to run to the front of the mob and stop them (which to me is the sign you're looking for that a dog can be trained to herd sheep), is keen to bite but not to run, and I wouldn't have passed it. Can anyone who knows more than me about this please explain what this dog did that shows an instinct to herd? Heelers are a distinct breed but even they are more interested in sheep than this one.

Here is an older dog of indeterminate breed being introduced to sheep for the first time. I would pass this dog. Although it's a bit fat and unfit and lacks energy or eye and has no clue about what it's doing, it shows an inclination to go to the front and gather the sheep, to run around them rather than through them, and is interested enough to leave its master for the sheep. With some well-applied diet and exercise and encouragement, I reckon you could teach this dog to work sheep.

And here is a young red Border Collie on her first intro to sheep. In this vid you can actually see the light go on. You can see she's a bit timid as heading breeds tend to be, but you can also see her going "I can chase them? Are you sure? You really mean it? OMGOMGOMGWOOOOHEEEEEETHISISWHATIWASBORNFOR!!" While she has no finesse or training and she's diving in, trying to grab them and doing everything wrong, she's keen as mustard, she automatically gives them space and 'gathers', and at the end when she's standing you can see her starting to eye. And the way the owner has to say her name twice to get her attention says that yes, the light's well and truly on in her head. For that dog, it'll only be a matter of training in finesse to get her working.

So what's 'eye'? This. It's where the dog 'stalks' the sheep, gazing intently at them, which kind of hypnotises and calms them. There are levels of eye - the dog Luna that sparked this post shows none, which is useful in itself - eye dogs tend to be intense and more focused on the sheep (therefore harder to control) and if you have a really strong one like First, they can 'set' the sheep and it turns into a staring match where nothing actually happens for minutes on end, then something gives and EXPLOSION! You have to work to train that setting out of them and get them to put on pressure when necessary. Plain eyed dogs tend to be freer moving and more cheerful, and it's easier to keep things going with tired sheep using a plain eyed dog.

That video is Fieldstone Tweed. I have no idea who he is but it's a nice showcase vid and shows the eye really well. One thing this dog does that is a no-no in New Zealand is that when he stops, he lays down. This is called 'clapping' and it used to be required, but in Unzud conditions it was quickly realised that a dog that claps is a) likely to disappear behind a rush bush or in long grass and b) less intimidating to the sheep, which with our larger mobs and bigger paddocks can be a problem.

This last vid is a strong eyed dog yarding sheep at a trial, and it shows the purpose of using eye to calm the sheep - it's really hard to work small numbers of sheep in close quarters like this* if they aren't kept calm by the 'kid gloves' handling from a good eye dog. This dog claps too - I think that may be a British thing.

I was kind of disappointed not to be able to find vids of New Zealand dog trials on YouTube. The long head is unique to this end of the world, as are the huntaway events (different type of dog that I haven't talked about here). Come on, NZ dog triallists! Get videoing yourselves and put them on YouTube!

Thus endeth my dog geekery for the day. Part of me wants to go home, grab First and go harrass the English Leicesters with her. I know how much they love that....

* The sheep used for trials come from commercial flocks and are therefore kind of wild and used to being in a larger group. Being in a group of three or four at close quarters with people and dogs makes them panicky. The sheep used for training sheepdogs are accustomed to both people and dogs, and quite tame - our practice sheep used to flock around our legs as soon as they saw a dog because they'd learned that that's where they are supposed to be - and so they don't need the calming to be biddable at close quarters.

Hehe, watch me wax verbose about something that's close to my heart...

In other news, I like video chat. Oh yes. ;-)
Tags: hypnotic stares, omg tats you think anyone cares?, sheepdog geekery
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