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Sex differences in the herding styles of working sheepdogs and their handlers

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Working sheepdog trials test the attributes of dogs as well as the dogmanship and stockmanship skills of handlers. They generally include standard elements such as outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed, pen and single to test all facets of the work that dogs perform on a farm. While both male and female handlers participate, these trials are traditionally dominated by male handlers. Both male and female dogs compete on equal terms within the same events. Drawing data from files (n = 60) downloaded from YouTube, the current study explores whether behaviours of dogs and their handlers during sheepdog trials differ between handler gender and dog sex at different levels of competition. It compared the stalking, crouching, chasing and stationary behaviours of dogs in open (n = 28 dogs: 10 females, 18 males) and not-open trials (n = 32 dogs: 20 females, 12 males). The dogs in this study had male (n = 38) and female (n = 22) handlers, whose movement and use of vocal cues and arm elevations were also compared. However, the small sample size and limitations of these videos as a data source should be noted before the results are generalised to the broader field of working-dog behaviour. The results of an REstricted Maximum Likelihood test showed that male handlers spent, on average, significantly more time in the fetch and drive elements than female handlers, but this difference between sexes was present only in not-open events (mean time to Fetch, female handler = 44.07s, male handler = 124.00s, P<0.001, mean time to Drive, female handler = 95.8s, male handler = 152.4, P = 0.010). This may suggest that female handlers of less experienced dogs are better at the early training of these elements. The results showed that male dogs spent more time stationary than female dogs, but only in open competition (male dog predicted mean 6.17s, P = 0.014). Revealing differences between men/women, and between dogs/bitches in this context may identify pairings that complement each other and improve selection, training and handling of working dogs. It is also hoped that ultimately, it will lead to improved welfare for dogs and the livestock with which they interact.






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