What happens when a dozen city/suburban dogs try their "paws" at herding sheep? We found out on a cold Sunday this spring when our Australian Shepherd Meet Up group took our pampered pups to Keepstone Farm in Berryville, Virginia for a herding evaluation. www.keepstonefarm.com
To further illustrate how out of their element our dogs were -- this was a "barkday party" for one of the group. To put it bluntly, our dogs spend their time herding cats and toddlers -- sheep are something they've only seen in the movie Babe (which by the way they love). http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=8441502
As we gathered around Susan, the owner and trainer, she stated that she would evaluate the dogs for a strong herding instinct and prey drive. My hand immediately shot up -- "if that prey drive was suddenly awakened, could it be turned on the cats?" She explained that sheep would be seen as prey -- cats, toddlers etc. are family and therefore part of the pack. Whew! :)
Three sheep "volunteered" to be herded. These sheep were, as Susan said, "meat" sheep not "wool" sheep. These meat sheep had been granted clemency in exchange for being chased by dogs -- seems like a fair trade, although one of them looked like he would have chosen death if given the choice!
By the time Susan had reviewed the rules and stepped in the pen -- instincts kicked in and our dogs knew this was not a movie. When the barkday dog entered to show her stuff -- her pals were cheering her with a chorus of wimpers and low barks.
Susan kept each dog on a long tether and guided the dog with a variety of voice and movement commands. She also had "plastic shaky thing on a long stick" that she said she'd use if the dog got out of control -- we didn't have that problem.
As the dogs herded the sheep in all their instinctive glory -- the owner's instincts kicked in as well, we took photos!
The dogs were great. They clearly loved it. And we loved seeing how incredibly happy and satisfied they were. Susan said it was the best group of dogs she had EVER had and that they all passed the evaluation. We beamed with pride.