SASDA and All Breeds
(SASDA's reply to an article promoting All Breeds herding Training)
Be Fair To Your Dog:
I read with interest the recent article entitled “Is your dog a herder?”, and on behalf of the South African Sheepdog Association (SASDA), I’d like to respond with the following points.
Firstly, while there are at least 30 breeds of dog in the Pastoral Group of dogs they are not all bred to work as a “heading/herding” dog. This large group includes the heading dogs of which the Border Collie is the best known, who are bred to ‘gather’ and handle stock; livestock guarding dogs like the Anatolian, who guard livestock and don’t ‘work’ them as such; and the cattle dogs, which includes the Corgi breeds, who are primarily dogs that “drive” stock, i.e. they don’t gather, but stay behind the flock/herd to be moved. However a large percentage of these herding breeds no longer do the work they were bred for on a day to day basis.
To herd sheep it is necessary for a dog to have the instinct to “gather”, and this instinct comes from the hunting instinct which ALL dogs have to some degree or other. In the Border Collie (and the Australian Kelpie, which is a younger breed) this hunting instinct has been refined over hundreds of years to develop the “gather” and remove the “kill”. So the “Drive” and the “Instinct” mentioned in the article are just the hunting instinct. Lots of breeds of dogs will show an interest in sheep if stimulated, but it’s mostly a chase. The photo on the second page is a good illustration of the hunt/chase – the dog is between the sheep and the handler, hunting/chasing a single sheep away from the flock, while the other sheep are clustered around the handler, searching for protection. One should not allow this situation to develop when training a dog to herd.
While this sounds like great fun for handler and dog alike, people should be aware that it can degenerate into sheep abuse in unskilled hands – something that our Association is committed to preventing as we strive to promote responsible and economical livestock management. One also has to ask oneself, particularly with respect to the non-herding breeds, is it fair to put the dog in a situation where it will instinctively go in to bite/hunt and then pressurise it to keep off the sheep?
Sheepdog Trials are a recognised sport and have been taking place since the 1800’s, but it is not purely for the fun of it. These are a practical working test, used as a means of selecting the best dogs to further the working breed since so many breeds that used to work have had the working ability bred out of them in preference for their appearance in the breed ring. To have any chance of succeeding in the sport of trialling the handler has to have a very good understanding of livestock over and above the ability to control their dog at a distance, so it’s a bit more complicated than learning those few basic commands. A potential handler will have to be more than “moderately” fit to cope with the situation should their dog really have its hunting instinct switched on, to avoid serious injury to the sheep. Nor is it responsible livestock management to work a group of sheep for an hour at a time.
While we welcome new participants to the sport it is advisable to think carefully about the commitment needed to do this, as once a week is not enough. It is not fair to your dog to introduce it to this sort of stimulation on an intermittent basis and have it sitting frustrated at home in between times. Once the hunting instinct is awoken, great care is needed in managing the dog as it can change its behaviour. There are much more attainable disciplines to do with dogs that provide sufficient outlet for their “Drive”.
If anyone is interested in exploring working their dogs on stock in a responsible manner SASDA is happy to help. We have members who can guide new handlers and their dogs in the skill of ‘herding’. We have a test of Working Ability (CWA) whereby dogs can be correctly assessed by accredited CWA Testers, members with years of practical stock farming and stock dog handling, on their potential to work stock. This is the first step to work towards, before thinking of taking part in sheepdog trials.
(Vice President, S A Sheepdog Association)