Loyal and Hard-Working Sheep Dogs
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Whilst people tend to think that an intelligent dog will make an ideal pet, border collies don’t always make the best pets because their herding instinct can appear a little obsessive in a domestic situation, and their vast amounts of energy and their natural intelligence mean that they are easily bored if they don’t have enough exercise and stimulation.
Neurotic and destructive behavior is quite common in dogs that don’t have enough to occupy their minds and bodies. These dogs are capable of covering dozens of miles in a day, so a short stroll around the block on a lead is not really going to hit the mark. Border collies are frequently used in agility competitions, as their energy and intelligence lend them easily to this kind of activity.
The herding instinct in sheep dogs is simply predatory behavior that has been modified over many generations. By selectively breeding those dogs that prefer to herd rather than to kill, humans have created a dog that has the tendency to herd, but (hopefully) without the inclination to kill. There is a fine line though, and many dogs don’t quite make the grade to be working animals. Some may have an inclination to treat the sheep as prey. Others are just not interested enough in the sheep, and some are quite simply not brave enough to stand up to the sheep. A working sheep dog must be courageous; sheep will frequently butt dogs, and not only are the sheep considerably larger than the dog, they often outnumber the dog by perhaps hundreds to one.
To see sheep dogs working is a joy in itself, as it is plain to see that these dogs are absolutely obsessed with sheep and that they love nothing more than to be able to herd them. When the sheep are finally put in their pens, the working dogs can be seen pacing the pens and are clearly unable to take their eyes off the sheep.
I have owned two “failed” sheep dogs in my time, dogs that don’t quite have it in them for work, and in both cases the problem was that these dogs simply weren’t keen enough. A dog must have “the eye” or “a strong eye” for the sheep, and that means that it must be able to stare at the sheep and confront them, and they must have that instinctive keenness for the work. This is something that is either in the dog or it isn’t, and you can’t make a dog have “the eye” if it doesn’t naturally have it.
Essential to the operation
On most farms life has changed almost beyond recognition in the last century. However, hill farms are not so very different from what they were 100 years back. Sturdy boots are still the main form of transport and a couple of good sheep dogs are the most important tools a sheep farmer can have. Anyone who has ever tried to herd sheep into a pen without a dog will know that it is nigh on impossible, and without a couple of good dogs you simply cannot run a sheep farm. Probably the biggest changes that sheep farmers have seen in recent years are the four-wheeled farm bike and the mobile phone. The bike certainly saves hours of walking, and it often spares the dogs too, whilst the phone means that farmers working alone in remote areas can remain in contact with others.