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.