Josephine Roberts introduces us to the faithful companion that is the working sheep dog
In the mountainous regions of Wales, sheep dogs are working dogs.
Pictured here keenly awaiting their turns are (left to right) Bella, a kelpie bitch; Fly, a border collie bitch; and Bob, a border collie-kelpie cross.
Fly's mind is on the sheep: No matter how close I get with the camera she won't be distracted!
Bella, Andrew's kelpie bitch. Kelpies are usually friendly enough, but because of their high energy level many people find they are problematic as pets.
A trainer can modify the herding instinct, and he can teach a dog to respond to commands, but he can’t make the dog have “an eye for the sheep."
Fly in action. By keeping low to the ground and barely moving, Fly knows she can keep these Welsh mountain sheep still. She won’t take her eyes off the flock, and if a sheep attempts to break away she’ll be up on her feet and around after it in a split second. Her instinct is to keep the sheep together, and she can only do that by never taking her eyes off them.
Most well-trained sheep dogs use this crawling-type movement to get close to the sheep without frightening them. A dog that moves like this can move the sheep away gently rather than causing them to charge off, panicking in all directions.
The farm bike (or quad bike) has made life a lot easier for hill farmers. Several hard days gathering on the hillsides can tire the dogs, so a ride part of the way on the bike is a big help. When the dogs hear the bike being fired up they know it means they are going somewhere to work, and they usually all try to jump on at once!
If Andrew wishes to separate one sheep from the flock, he can ask Nanw to do that by encouraging her to position herself and her stare in such a way that it will cause one sheep to break away from the flock.
Nanw and Andrew get nearer to the sheep by keeping eye contact with the sheep and moving very slowly towards them.
If they can’t find sheep to herd, then hens will do! Luckily this chicken is used to being surrounded by dogs and she knows they won’t eat her, but this scene does illustrate the fact that sheep dogs have such a strong herding instinct that, left to their own devices, they will go looking for things to herd.
The herding instinct in sheep dogs is simply predatory behavior that has been modified over many generations.