The Dog is in Charge – Irish Sheep herding – May 2019

Dog is in Charge

As I look over the photos and remember the activities of our trip to Ireland last year, one excursion sticks out in my mind. It’s the Sheepherding.  If you like dogs, like we do, you know that dogs can amaze you with their sharp eyesight, excellent hearing, rapid reflexes and running speed.  But in a sheepherding demonstration you can observe a dog control and direct a number of  animals 3-4 times their size. It’s quite a show!

Sheep herder watches his dob run after the sheep.
Sheep herder watches his dob run after the sheep.

Our group traveled to Glen Keen Farm in Louisburgh, Ireland for the sheep herding demonstration. 

Sheep herder and his dog.
Sheep herder and his dog.

The guide’s name was Michael and he showed off his trained dogs. One of the dogs was named Babe.  He was a black and white Border Collie.  He was absolutely attentive to the shepherd, Michael.

The Sheepherder will whistle to the dog.
The Sheepherder will whistle to the dog.

The Shepherd uses a number of techniques to control the movements of the dog.  If the sheep and the dogs are a long way away, he would start with a whistle, the dog would skillfully direct the herd of sheep in the desired direction.  A different whistle would turn the dog in an instant to a new direction. The position of the dog in relation to the sheep will determine the direction of the sheep; left, right, front or back.

Sheep dog keeps a close eye on the sheep and waits for the signal.

If you have 2 dogs working together in larger herds, the sheepherder will develop a different set of signals for each dog using whistles and words.  The shepherd will instruct the dog to lay down in certain circumstances because the sheep sometimes need a rest from running.

Certain questions crop up from the audience: Why are the sheep afraid of dogs? The answer is that dogs are descended from predators such as wolves. The dogs eyes, the dogs walk and the dogs demeanor are all naturally predator-like. That’s in their nature.

Sheep perceive dogs as natural predators

Why does sheepherding work in Ireland? Because there are no natural predators to sheep. The sheep can be kept on a hillside and they will be safe.

Sheep dog runs toward the sheep pack as the farmer signals.

Michael showed us his staff which had a caring of his favorite dog on the handle. Obviously there is a very strong bond between the dog and the master.

Sheephearders Staff with a carving of a sheep dog.

After the sheepherding demonstration we were treated to coffee, tea and scones in the Glen Keen Farmhouse.

Here is an Irish Joke for today:

The Border Collie brings the sheep to the Irish sheep herder.  All 30 sheep are ready, farmer. The farmer replies, “ But I only count 26 sheep.” The Collie responds, “I know, I rounded them up!

Next up is the trip to Cliffs of Moher. Don’t miss it!