Crofting – the Herding Dog

Ash, our Australian Shepherd

When I had sheep, I wanted a herding dog. My friend Helena got Ash for me, litter-mate to her own dog. (Poor Willow is now gone, lost at a too-young age to cancer.) But Shetland sheep don’t really care to be herded, and they do not have a strong flock instinct. Some breeds of sheep will not only stick together, but crowd into narrow places, and pile up on each other when herded or frightened. Shetlands are too independent; one of the survival instincts of primitive, semi-feral sheep is that the flock will split apart when chased. Herding by dog isn’t as effective. Ash did get pretty good at taking the sheep back to the fence if they got out, or moving them ahead of her to a gate, but all her circling and feinting talents were wasted. The ewes would take to their heels, one would push all the lambs into hiding, and the rams would try to face off with her. She didn’t take much nonsense from them, but I wasn’t as good a trainer as I needed to be.

She has good sheep instinct, which is beginning to show with the goats. She is concerned with them. I’ve taken her into the barn with me twice now, and she is well-mannered, but she does whine a little to them. She sniffs, approaches, sniffs some more, and she will stand her ground when the buck stamps at her. So far, she has seen them just through the gate. She tried to follow me into the pen when I fed them, but I sent her back. (She knows the command “back.”)

She has already caught the command “barn” when she is out with me. (I am now taking her out loose, so she can follow me without a lead. My dogs are never loose unsupervised.) She learned it on the first attempt – and she also now knows the word “goats.” She waits at the open barn door for me, until I say “goats” and then will go in just before me.

She is all business when she knows we are going to the barn. Normally, she is a preyty goofy dog, a real fun-lover. She is playful, loves to run as fast as she can, and will prance and weave to tease me. (Aussies have a distinctive pacing, almost like a walking horse; it’s a natural gait.) But when there are sheep and goats, she is calm, settled and on focus.

I once had to leave her with a down sheep (unable to walk) while I went to get the truck in a snowstorm. Despite my being at a distance for a while, she stood over the animal until I returned, and didn’t get in the truck until I had the sheep in. She is good with the lambs – but can’t stand to see them separate and run; she makes every effort to keep them together. She will cry and whine over a lamb that is alone until it is back with its mother.

She is back to being a working dog, and is very pleased with it. She knows this is what she was born to do.


3 thoughts on “Crofting – the Herding Dog

  1. We have an australian shepherd whose colors just amaze me. He is tri colored with the main color being a chocolate to mink color, white chest, legs and feet ( they are actually speckled with the other colors), and this delicious looking caramel color accenting here and there. His face has a neat looking mask almost like a raccoon. His hair is thick and wavy and the back end is more bushy in an attractive way and his tail was docked already when we got him. Beautiful animal. Anyhow, we don’t have sheep we have chickens who lost their ability to run free due to constant coon attacks. However, we are now trying to let them out for some hours and then round them up – maybe he will help haha. Seriously, these dogs are so interesting and bright. I find it hard to describe this adoring, but demanding dog. He will not be forgotten for a moment – he knows he is one of the family and he wants to be in on everything!!! He is incredibly intuitive. We got him when he was about 2 from a rescue in Illinois. His former owners had to move to an apt and didn’t think he would be happy. I can believe that. They sort of remind me a bit in nature of a Jack Russell – just very active and intelligent. Our guy is about 5 now and he is still so active I can just imagine what he was like as a pup – and that is primarily why we chose a rescue dog cuz I didn’t want a pup. We needed a companion for Patrick and us too who was teachable and he definitely has been. He is a blessing. I really love this breed and it is a good fit for our family. I can see that mind going in that picture of your Ash! Adorable as well as a good helper ( maybe?)


  2. What a beautiful dog she is. How old is she? How long has it been since she herded sheep? I have a very spoiled cocker/poodle mix, and the instincts that working dogs have fascinate me. My dog, bred for hunting centuries ago, sometimes points at the refrigerator and flushes out the neighborhood robins.

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