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Working Dogs on the Farm

Steam Valley Fiber Farm in Trout Run, PA, hosted a field day for farmers interested in acquiring herding dogs and guardian dogs.
Steam Valley Fiber Farm in Trout Run, PA, recently hosted a field day for farmers interested in acquiring herding dogs and guardian dogs. Steam Valley

 

Owner Phyleri Ball and AKC herding judge and dog trainer Cynthia Knowlton demonstrated the use of Border Collies and Australian Kelpie and Australian Cattle dogs to herd the farm's Border Leicester sheep. They also showed the value of Maremmas, an Italian breed of guard dog, for watching over the farm's Nubian and Angora goats.

 

Border Collies

Phyleri needs her Border Collies for moving sheep, particularly since the flock is frequently moved between pastures. And because the barn and the lower pastures lie across a highway, it's helpful to have the dogs move the animals while someone stands at the road watching for cars.

 

Cynthia said Border Collies are highly intelligent dogs whose natural instincts are to gather a herd and move it to please their human handlers. They have been bred to have incredible endurance and enthusiasm for working stock. Likewise, Australian Cattle Dogs were bred to tirelessly move animals, specifically cattle on long cattle drives.

 

Cynthia's dogs helped her demonstrate the different skills that working dogs bring to the job: strength, biddability, and intelligence.  Cynthia discussed the roles of both herding dogs and guardian dogs and how to choose suitable dogs for the job you need accomplished.

 

"Border Collies naturally bring the stock toward the handler, while cattle dogs drive the stock away," she said. "Border Collies are what we call "tight-eyed" because they control the sheep's movement by keeping their eyes tightly fixed on the animals leading the flock."

 

Border CollieAustralian Cattle Dogs and Kelpies

Cattle dogs are capable of working sheep as well, although they do not possess the "eye" that border collies have  Instead they use their entire body to chase the flock and bite the heels of the animals. The Kelpie possesses both a "tight eye" and herding ability, using eye, bark, and bite to gather and move the stock."

 

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Phyleri's Maremmas, Tasha and Zanne, guard the goats from predators. They don't herd them, but stay with the flock watching their every move. "The dogs bark often at night, sometimes at nothing that I can see," said Phyleri, "Many people would find the barking of large guard dogs intolerable. But I don't mind because I know that means they are on the job working to protect my stock."

 

Maremmas and other livestock guardian dogs were bred over centuries to drive wolves away from livestock. The dogs live with, and bond to, the flock, rather than to their human masters. They will fend off coyotes and other animal predators, and will also stand their ground against humans they don't know or trust.  Large guard dogs like Maremmas patrol the area inside the fence, stopping to mark their territory and to bark to announce their presence.

 

"It's important not to discipline a guard dog for behaviors that are necessary for doing its job--like barking, acting aggressively toward perceived threats, and so on," Phyleri said. "You must guide them but let them rely on their instincts."


Resources:

- Steam Valley Fiber Farm

- Cynthia Knowlton's dog training business

- PASA photoessay by Don Gibbons of the field day