The Majority (of a flock) is Always Right

Short discussion of a common problem in working sheep : what to do if one sheep or a few sheep are separated from the rest.
Originally published in the Northern California Working Sheepdog quarterly newsletter.

The Majority Is Always Right


Don't Believe Everything You Read in the Bible

by Pam Green

(This is in response to the letter describing how the writer dealt with a problem with their own sheep.)

First of all : congratulations ! Your dogs got the job done for you even though you had no idea of the basic principles of herding or of sheep psychology. My own first herding experience was somewhat similar : our two pigs got out and the smarter one resisted the best efforts of 3 human beings to return her to the pen; so in desperation I called on Chelsea , who convinced the pig to return to her yard. Later I realized that by sheer good luck I had invoked the basic fetching instinct by unwittingly positioning myself so as to be leading the way back to the pen.

Now however there is one very important aspect of sheep psychology that you did not know and that could have made the task immensely easier for your and your dogs and safer for the sheep. The larger the flock (within reason), the easier it is to keep them together and the more calmly they will move from a dog. A single sheep is terribly difficult to herd and usually becomes panic stricken if the dog is not extremely subtle in his approach. Whoever wrote in the Bible that you should leave your flock of 99 to go to bring back the one strayed ewe was not a working shepherd !

So the golden rule of handling a split (divided) group of sheep is always to herd the majority over to join the minority, then take the reunited flock where you will. Don't try to work a single unless your dog is very experienced -- or unless you have no other choice and are desperate. Trying to work a single with an inexperienced dog generally causes the dog to work too aggressively (chasing and gripping ) and causes great stress to the sheep and can easily cause injuries to the sheep.

Don't feel bad : no one is born with a silver shepherd's crook in his hand. I see a lot of trial handlers who really should know better make the same mistake.

Do try to read some good books about herding dogs, starting with John Holmes' classic "The Farmer's Dog", then try to find a good trainer who can teach you to train your dogs. Once they and you are trained in the basics, you'll never spend 45 minutes swearing at a sheep again. Of course you may wind up getting addicted to stockdog training, thus buying a lot more sheep and spending half your weekends at sheepdog trials.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 9/13/07 revised 9/13/07
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