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Question about sheep??

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Neither of my dogs work sheep...although I would LOVE to own a huge farm w/ some sheep just for them! :rolleyes: From what I can gather from those of you who do have working dogs though, most of the time all it takes is the stare. (Please correct me if I'm wrong on this part) What about biting and nipping?? It that allowed so to speak, or do you train them not to bite or nip?


I have such curiosity but have never actually seen a dog while working livestock. I would love to but don't have the opportunity nearby.

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Well, an actual stock person should probably answer this, but I personally think it takes a lot more than "the stare". It takes judgement, balance, power, kindness, drive, and doubtless a great deal more that I am too ignorant in stockwork to describe to you.


As for gripping, I believe that's frowned upon in trials, but I'd be willing to bet there are times when a good stock dog may feel a need to use a well-placed grip. I come by this speculation based on seeing Pepper, the BF's dog, working sheep. She had a big ewe try to run out on her one day while she was turning a group of seven. Pepper put on a burst of speed and body-checked the ewe back into place, teeth clacking like castanets, left shoulder driving against the ewe's right, pushing her toward the group. The ewe tried to run her over for about two hard strides, but the combinatin of Pepper's force of will and her gnashing teeth appeared to do the trick and the ewe turned. Pepper weighed maybe half what the ewe did (possibly less), so mere physical force probably would not have turned her. I admit, however, that I did see just a thin little strand of wool hanging from Pepper's left canine tooth. Technically, I believe that would be called a grip and be a no-no on the trial field (although if anyone here who actually does trial and work stock would care to correct me if I'm wrong, please do so). But if that had been a big cantankerous ram, I imagine she'd have needed to take a harder grip to control him.


But I might be wrong about all of that, so if a bonafide shepherd is of another opinion, you should believe them over me.

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Usually in a trial you get a DQ if your dog grips. But for working on the farm (in some ways very different then a trialing dog) it can be helpful (and even needed) for the dog to grip stock that won't do what they want them to. A lot of times the dogs grip cattle and bigger stock to get them moving.


I also agree that is is more then just the stare. Even dogs that don't have the eye can work (and be very good at working) stock. There are other sheepdogs besides BCs and most of them don't have near as much eye but can be GREAT workers.


I don't work sheep either (YET!! yay! lessons coming soon) but was just at a trial last weekend and did lots of sheep talk. :rolleyes:

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Working ability is a continuum with subtleties that cannot be appreciated until you're in it. I'm not trying to be elitist with that comment, so let me give you an analogy. Many people can play the piano (I can't). Some can bang out chop sticks, some can follow sheet music, some can play a tune by ear, and a few create their own tune while sitting in front of the piano. I will never comprehend the subtleties of great piano music because I don't play; I can appreciate it when I hear it. Herding can be like that with wide ranging abilities. As with piano music, as the ability increases so do the subtleties.


You can appreciate the ability of a dog to move livestock and to appear to be remote controlled; but until you do it you may not see the subtle head turn by the dog that releases pressure allowing a challenging sheep to move along. Or the dog's ability to know exactly where to be relative to the sheep to move it along the straight line it was started on (without handler input). Or knowing that in order to move stopped sheep across a stream it must go around the back sheep to those in front turning their heads to start them across the stream (without handler input).


With that long answer I have tried to show you it's WAY more than the stare.



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A clarification on the biting thing. Handling livestock is all about causing the least amount of stress for the animals, because stress ultimately = lost profit. People who keep sheep strictly as training tools might not take this viewpoint, but for most people who raise livestock, keeping them as stress free as possible is simply good management practice.


Biting is an allowable tactic for moving livestock, but the dog needs to understand it's not a first choice, IMO. Kat's right that in general biting (gripping) is not allowed at trials, BUT I have never seen a dog at a trial DQed for (properly) gripping a sheep that turned on it (by properly, I mean hit and let go).


Working at home shouldn't be different than trialing. I no more want my dog biting sheep at home without provocation than I do at a trial (especially since bites can result in injuries that need to be treated, even if it's just an application of screw worm spray). That said, though, I will ask the dog to grip if *I* think it needs doing, and I do expect my dog to grip if it needs to protect itself. Most other biting is simply gratuitous. IMO, sheep are smart enough in general to read a dog's intent. The fact that they can tell a dog will bite is usually enough to gain the sheep's respect without the dog actually having to do so.


Cattle are somewhat different, but while bite is more accepted when working cattle, the fact is that a dog who's biting inappropriately is just setting itself up for a fight. Cattle respond best if the dog will push into their "zone" and then stop and give the animal time to decide to move.


As for the stare, border collies can *control* stock with a stare, but it takes more than that to move them. A dog who stares too much (has too much eye) may not be able to move stock at all because the eye causes it to be "sticky" (that is, the dog is so busy staring at the sheep that it won't move and therefore won't move the stock either). A loose-eyed dog may exhibit little or no stare but can still work stock.


Like Mark said, there's a whole continuum of things that go into working livestock....



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The "stare" isn't really the thing. The "stare" is only an outward sign of part of the thing.


To use another analogy. Suppose you took a seat in a bar. A guy walks up to you and says "Excuse me, you are sitting in my seat". Now some guys, you take one look at them and say; "I'm terribly sorry sir. Here's your seat and may I by you a beer for your trouble?" That's the effect of "presence". Another guy you might say "So, what?" forcing him to "grip" you upside the head at which point you move off. Less desirable, but still effective. Still another guy could "grip" you all day and you'd sit there laughing at him.


But a really skilled Border Collie could walk into a bar full of sheep, round them up, move them out the door singing and dancing, load them into waiting cabs, and have them all home and in bed before they realize they're no longer in the bar (think Far Side).


And as Mark said, a lot of it is very subtle; knowing just when to "stare", when to look away, when to move up, and when to stay still, often without commands. For a skilled dog, the handler is telling the dog where to move the sheep to. The dog knows how to do it. That skill is not all instinct either. It comes with training and experience but it is really something to watch in a skilled, confident dog with sufficient presence.

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I'd like to define "grip" or, at least, a proper grip (all you herding types out there, please correct me if I'm off base ).


A proper grip is face-to-face with a sheep and the dog nips the sheep's nose. It's quick and a hit and release, just enough to convince a stubborn sheep to move on or to stop a sheep from challenging the dog.


Most herding types I know consider a fly by bite, the dog flossing their teeth on the flanks or shoulders of the sheep, a "cheap shot" and a sign of the dog's frustration, lack of sheep management tools, or young dog still learning. These cheap shots are almost always a DQ on the trial field (been there, done that! :eek: ).


Proper grips may or may not be DQd on the trial field depending on the sheep and the judge. Most trials here in the northeast that I've been to grips, proper or not, are DQd.


All that said, I'd rather have a dog that's willing to grip correctly than one that won't (I've got both :rolleyes: ).


I LOVE this -

But a really skilled Border Collie could walk into a bar full of sheep, round them up, move them out the door singing and dancing, load them into waiting cabs, and have them all home and in bed before they realize they're no longer in the bar (think Far Side).
A great example of no hassle herding! :D
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Thanx all for your replies. I don't have firsthand knowledge of how livestock herding works and just pick up bits and pieces from those of you who work your dogs and wanted to get a bigger picture of what goes on.


I know it's best to go see for myself, but like I said there isn't anywhere nearby to check it out.


You guys and gals have been helpful by explaining, and I understand a little better what goes on when a dog is working.


It would be nice if I could find someone to work Pache (even if he doesn't turn out to be great ) to see what he is capable of, but I don't really see that happening in the near future.


Thanx again for taking your time to explain!!

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