Garden Diary - September 2016

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Sheep Herding at the Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival
Saturday, 10 September 2016

It's hot and humid. And the border collies don't care. Here at the 22nd annual Garden State Sheep Breeders Association sheep and fiber festival there are sheep to herd! And that's all these dogs really care about. They may not fit the show ring breed standard of what a border collie should look like.

But they have "the eye," the eye that stares at sheep and moves them from here to there, gathers them up, separates one from the rest, pens them up, and - as far as the dog is concerned - will happily, eagerly, do it all all over again.

The shepherdess lucidly explains the details and differences of sheep herding with dogs. She comes from Wales (admittedly 25 years ago, but still . . . ) There, the sheep are grazed on mountainsides with lumpy, uneven ground. So the competitions we see, with dogs belly down as they run would not work. The dog would disappear into a hollow, vanish from view, pop up again startling and panicing the flock. Each dog has a different style - one is like an SUV, able to go anywhere and do anything. Another is a Ferrari, fast and stylish, agile and good on the turns. Just watch

as one goes on a cross field run and sends the three hair sheep
(they shed, don't need sheared) off across the field.

The handler commands the dogs using a whistle, rather than her voice. This one means go, that means go out, different sound and duration have different meaning. "Stop" is apparently the most difficult to teach. Well, the dogs want to go. The young dogs in their kennels are yelping with frustrated enthusiasm. They want to get out there too!

It's hot. It's humid. If you're a border collie you don't care. Let's go herd sheep!

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