Sheep Dogs in the British Isles

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Sheep are a major part of the economy throughout the British Isles.  Mile after mile of thick, sturdy and ancient rock walls attempt to contain the sheep in pastures, but inevitably they get out onto the roads.  Since more than one sheep owner might use the same pasture, the sheep are spray painted with bright colors and designs to designate the rightful owner.  Sheep dogs are an important part of any sheep raising operation.  While in the Lake District of England we went to what we would call a county fair and watched all matters involving sheep.  There were prizes awarded for the best made sheep staff or ‘crook’, sheep herding contests with sheep dogs taking whistled commands from their owners and sheep shearing demonstrations.

The sheep herding contest consisted of a couple acre plot with the man and dog at one end and the sheep at the other.  The sheep dog was instructed, through intricate whistle commands, to go get the sheep, herd them through three set of gates and then into a small pen.  Certain series of whistles and pitch tell the dog to lay low to the ground and not to interfere with the sheep’s direction.  Other whistles would tell the dog to go to the far side or near side to move the sheep in the desired direction.  I have no idea how one begins to train the dog to do all of this, but much of it must be in their DNA, their natural instincts.  Guess there is a reason they are called sheep dogs and pit bulls are not used for this well-trained orchestra of movement between man and dog.  How rewarding it must be when a man has a well-trained sheep dog.

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