Why on earth would you want to herd sheep with your Vallhund? After all they are Cattle dogs aren’t they? Driving dogs that nip at the heels of stock to move them out to pasture. Border Collies are for sheep, Valls don’t have an instinct to circle or ‘gather’, they are not fast enough to ‘cover ‘ sheep, - oh & they bark which is definitely not allowed, is it?
Well I hope many of you reading this will know different, & hopefully some have discovered the great working potential that Vallhunds have with sheep! Here in the UK, certainly where we live, cattle are trained to the bucket, so that there is no real need for a dog to work Cattle.
So in the last 3 years I have managed to access a variety of flocks numbering from 5 to 70 sheep, in different settings,( farms, an Agricultural College, ‘Smallholdings’), & have found 3 Trainers open to the potential of my 3 Vallhunds .
Valls need regular exposure to sheep in my experience to make real progress, e.g. 2 to 3 times a week if possible, but I find there are people out there very willing to let me ‘borrow’ their sheep for free on a regular basis. I then visit one of my Trainers over the Spring & Summer every 6 weeks or so for ‘homework’.
So what IS ‘Herding’? Herding is the CONTROLLED movement of Livestock! You cannot ‘teach’ a Herding Instinct – it is inherited. Your dog either has it or not. But if your dog has an instinct, you still have to Train it for it to be useful. I am often bemused by tales of ‘Oh my dog is a ‘natural’, never needed any training! Moved cows up a country lane/cornered sheep in a field etc.’ - well yes, we had a Terrier who could do as much! Real Herding is taking your dog into a 15 acre field with livestock in, gathering them up, moving them steadily in whatever direction the ‘handler’ chooses, & then for example taking them through a gateway in the left corner of the field, rather than the gateway on the right. The latter needs Training, & a lot of it!
But you can achieve that training in unconventional ways. Only at my Trainers do we get to work with sheep that see safety in sticking next to the handler. The sheep we use regularly are in very large fields & are initially not ‘dog broke’ – i.e. will initially sprint to the other end of the field when approached & are occasionally aggressive. Not always ideal but we work with what we have!
I train with a view to producing a ‘useful farmers companion’, (there are no ‘All Breeds Trials in the UK, & we are not pretending to be BC’s), so we work on practical tasks or ‘chores’, outruns to gather, penning, taking sheep out of a barn etc. Loki (Starvon Off the Cuff for Bowkol)(pictured in the photos) is a dog that needs to herd, Megan (Castleavery Gold Gaiety for Bowkol) has a very strong ‘drovers’ instinct, whilst youngster Tilly (Starvon Valkyrja Mist for Bowkol) is everything I personally want in an ‘apprentice herder’!
In the next few short articles I’d like to share with you some of our training experiences, characteristics that you may want to consider if choosing a pup for work, what an Instinct Test can tell you, (& what it cannot!) what has worked for us, & what hasn’t!
Happy Herding! Fi Cameron (Bowkol)