Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harnessing an Instinct

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.

As Patrick Shannahan's stock dogs work a herd of sheep they are quiet and serious. No movement is wasted. No turn escapes their attention.

Shannahan's voice is soft but authoritative as he calls out commands to his trio of border collies. Meg and Spud and Hannah respond immediately, and sometimes earlier, running wide arcs around the sheep, driving them forward in a straight line and shedding them in orderly fashion.

"With gathering breeds like the border collie it's their instinct to herd animals and bring them to you. What I teach is how to develop that instinct," Shannahan explained.

A sheep rancher in Caldwell, Idaho, Shannahan started breeding and training stock dogs in the 1980s. His first border collie, a cross-bred dog, was acquired to help him with his herd of 250 ewes. When she died he replaced her with two purebred dogs and started seriously working at breeding and training. That led to requests for training classes and seminars.

"When I got started training stock dogs seven years ago there were only a handful of people doing this," Shannahan pointed out.

Today stock dogs are increasingly popular not only on farms and ranches, but also among pet owners and people who enter their dogs in stock dog trials -- an event during which dogs gather, drive and pen sheep on command.

Continued at... Harnessing an Instinct

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Classic Sheep Herding Dog, the Border Collie, with a Stick