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Saturday, August 15, 2009

When in Rome......(United Kingdom)

Sheep herding in Wales.

This Welsh shepherd uses both Welsh and whistle commands.

I was lucky to spend a portion of the afternoon with this handsome boy, awaiting his turn to strut his stuff.

A two year old Border Collie

He was given a pep talk by his shepherd prior to his trial

The intense stare of a master herding dog brings goosebumps just like the "head down, lean into the harness" posture of a veteran sled dog.

Below: Sheep herding in England on the southwest shore in Cornwall

In the UK you aren't likely to run into a team of sled dogs. We did spot an occasional, slightly over weight Siberian Husky but I don't believe any of them had seen a hard days work in their lives. They are more likely to enjoy a daily routine of a very short walk through the very narrow streets of their villages, an afternoon Cream Tea and then a nap. Although we saw a mix, the vast majority of the pet dogs we encountered were King Charles Spaniels and English Cocker Spaniels and all were very pampered and allowed to be with their people just about anywhere, even in stores and restaurants, unlike here in our good ol' USA. I think we've got some catching up to do!

We were, however, pleasantly surprised to stumble across some very hard working dogs on our whirlwind tour of the UK; Border Collies (or in the Devon area, they are known as just "Collies" and the shepherds have no idea where this "Border" thing came from). These dogs were entered into sheep herding trials for fun and sport but herd hundreds of sheep in their day jobs.

It was wonderful to watch these herding dogs do what they were bred to do. The shepherds had various ways of directing them with the most common way being by whistle command. One long whistle tone meant to lay down and stay put. Two short whistle tones meant to flank the sheep clockwise. Some used English commands with the most popular being "Lie Down", "Come by", "Way to me", "Walk on" and "That'll do". In Wales, many used Welch commands or a combination of Welch and whistle commands.

Each shepherd had his or her own way of training the dogs and did so at different ages. A shepherd from Devon likes to let his dogs have a "puppy hood" and doesn't do anything herding-wise with them until they are a year old. Another from Wales introduces his puppies to geese at the age of 4 months old to test their natural abilities and drive and works them from there.

This all just reinforced that all handlers and all dogs are different; it doesn't have to be done one way to get similar results. Being able to spend some time in the company of some real working dogs while away gave me the "dog fix" I needed as I was terribly missing my pack at home.

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