Since June 2009 our Vallhunds – Loki [Starvon Off the Cuff for Bowkol] and Megan [Castleavery Gold Gaiety for Bowkol] have been working & training to herd sheep and, more recently, cattle.
We visit our „All Breeds‟ herding Trainer Jackie Goulder in North Yorkshire once a month in the Spring and Summer. Additionally we are very fortunate to have access to sheep at a local Agricultural College [currently a flock of 60 Rouges & Gal-ways] allowing us three or four short sessions a week.
The dogs have both made real progress. They will now do good wide 'outruns' to gather the sheep to me, circles of „way‟ & „bye to‟ voice command, steady 'follow ons' [where I walk in front of the sheep& the dog brings up the rear], & will 'wear' from side to side instinctively to catch any 'stragglers'. A good 'stop there' has been probably the most important com-mand! Barking is now very rare & very appropriate. Incidentally we never insisted that they were 'quiet', they stopped when their confidence grew & they realised it was unnecessary. Megan is currently working on keeping 'out' & 'SLOW!' – she has a very strong heeling & driving instinct so likes to get in too close. Loki has an instinctive idea of distance, he needs acceleration while keeping out wide, but under control.
In October 2010 we even dared to enter a Sheepdog Trial for 'Beginner Handlers' in the Lake District. We were promised a small enclosure, with very 'dog broke' sheep, rather than the enormous 'scenic' field & flighty sheep that materialised!! On the day, my two were 'gallantly overwhelmed' by the speed of some very lively Swaledales. [as were several of the BCs!] However both dogs remained keen & biddable, the first time Vallhunds have 'stepped up to the post' in a ISDS Trial in the U.K.
There are 3 main options for those interested in herding with their Vallhunds :
Herding Instinct is inherited. Interestingly, Jackie & I tested 3 Valls in the summer, lovely dogs in every way, but none showed any interest in stock whatsoever – indeed one was rather intimidated by them!
A good instinct does not actually mean the dog will be a useful herder. Bid ability, coming back from correction, being able to 'head' as well as 'heel' & a whole list of other attributes will determine that.
But instinct can never be taught. It can be fun & interesting to see if certain breeding lines retain a herding instinct.
As an 'interest/hobby' to visit a good 'All Breeds' trainer every few weeks
This, again, can be great fun, although you will probably find that Valls need regular access to stock to make true pro-gress, as indeed they would in a real'farm' situation.
Become obsessed with Herding your Vallhunds!!
This involves gaining access to sheep [or other stock] near to you to allow short training sessions 3 times a week.
Over the course of 2010 our training has included 6 visits to All Breeds Herding Trainer Jackie Goulder in North Yorkshire plus over 80 short sessions per dog with our 'local' sheep.
There was a monthly change of venue ie a new field at the Agricultural College, & we herded over 6 different flocks, including different breeds & ages of sheep, in numbers ranging from 20 to 70 sheep. That way the dogs face new challenges. The sheep do not become 'pets', glued to the handlers ankles with no real effort from the dog!
A lot of time involved in getting Loki & Megan to the stage of being 'useful farmers companions' But SO much enjoyment! Finally I personally think some Vallhunds actually need to herd (Just as do some BCs.)
Megan loves to herd, but she loves so many other things in life as well! Loki NEEDS to herd, he told us so for the first 2 years of his life but it fell on deaf ears! It really seems to be the meaning in life to him. His confidence has grown hugely since he has been working; it seems that the larger & feistier the flock the better for him. All that 'overflow' of herding energy has become focused on a 'job', leaving him so much calmer & more content in other situations.
I suspect Loki is not alone in the Vallhund community!
Visit Jackie Goulders website http://www.spanglefish.com/BeardedcolliesForShepherding/
For 'Valiant Vallhunds' & other Herding Breeds