Judy Weir: Several years ago, I had the crazy notion that I could train my three shelties to be sheep herders. My enthusiasm had been ignited by a conversation with their obedience instructor at Companion Dog, Derek Di Ciacca (http://www.companiondogobedienceschool.com/) who was training his Border Collie at his ranch. That evening became the beginning of my next mission. Find someone who would be willing to train my shelties.
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” And so it did. Within weeks, my three shelties were on Kathy Playdon’s sheep ranch. See article regarding Kathy Playdon and her famous sheep at: http://www.stonyplainreporter.com/2012/06/28/modern-day-sheep-herder-loves-the-lifestyle
My enthusiasm was about to hit reality. My two oldest Shelties had some natural herding instinct but lacked in enthusiasm. After five minutes, the fun of the chase wore off.
I had my doubts about my youngest and smallest Sheltie. However, when Kathy and I put Seamus through the test drill, he took my breath away. He was a natural. From that day on, I did everything possible to practice sheep herding with Seamus.
I still chuckle remembering the difficulty I had in learning how to herd sheep. It was rigorous work, and I lacked the instinct that Seamus had. I still can hear Kathy shouting, “Stop telling him what to do. He knows what he’s doing.” Finally, I realized that I had to shut up and trust in my dog’s instincts.
During the winter when Kathy shut down her herding sessions, I drove an hour weekly to another farm to fine tune Seamus’ “Way to me,” and “Come by” and “That’ll do” commands.
Seamus was a busy camper. He attended conformation shows and agility training. By the second year, Seamus was in herding competition with Border Collies. One day he got points in conformation, then hurried to a herding competition. He was never in first place, but he was also never took last place. However, by the third year, the herding training opportunities came to an end.
I still have a keen interest in giving my Shelties every opportunity to live a full life as intended by their ancestors. Recently, I connected again with Kathy Playdon. We discussed a Sheltie’s herding instincts. Briefly, this is what Kathy had to say on this subject.
Kathy Playdon: “Shelties could be selected for herding and improve their instincts through selective breeding for sure. Seamus was a very good herding sheltie and enjoyed it.”
Judy Weir: Is sheep herding becoming a thing of the past? Is it more of a sport now?
Kathy Playdon: “The herding dog is still a necessity with sheep, but the sheep dog training as a sport has definitely been declining in North America. However I think it will stick around forever and may even get a resurgence.”
Judy Weir: At what age should herding training begin?
Kathy Playdon: “Puppies that have an instinct to herd will usually show signs by 8 – 12 weeks. They have to be able to outrun the sheep. I often start my dogs before 12 weeks. Many trial dogs start trialing by 5-6 months and do very well. Some start later and still do well. Instinct has to be bred in, a trained dog is useful but can’t compete with one with instinct. Ducks are good to start dogs on, and easy to move sheep are good, (not crabby rams).”
Judy Weir: Can a sheep herding dog be treated like a pet or more like a partner?
Kathy Playdon: I used to treat my dogs more as employees, now they are more like pets and they work just as well.”
Judy Weir: Have you considered resuming your sheep herding clinics?
Kathy Playdon: “I would like to get back into the dog clinics again as well and I do have access to nice sheep, but ducks would also be useful.”
Judy Weir: Thank you, Kathy. It would be wonderful to evaluate Sammy and Jade’s herding instinct. And, I know there are others in our Edmonton and area that have a keen interest in this subject. Perhaps the universe will conspire to make this vision become a reality.
Should We Plan a Herding Clinic?
Herding dog enthusiasts, if you suspect your dog exhibits herding ability and would like to participate in a herding clinic, let me know. I will start a list of interested people to see if we have enough people to initiate a herding clinic near Edmonton, Alberta. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.