Thursday, August 7, 2014

TBT: Herding Instinct Test

When Brisbane was nine months old, my best friend and I took him to a herding instinct test. This test consists of turning a dog loose on a few sheep and seeing what they do.

 The event was being put on by a collie club, but it was hosted at a ranch run by Australian cattledog people. Their dogs were herding champions as well as working stockdogs, and they knew exactly what Brisbane was as soon as he arrived. Most of the big foofy Lassie-dogs ran into the middle of the sheep and scattered them like bowling pins. A German shepherd even tackled one and tried to bite its neck. Of course, all of these dogs count as having herding instincts. Any desire to chase the sheep counts, as far as I'm aware.
When it was Brisbane's turn, they tied a rope to his collar because they recognized him as a mostly-heeler "cattle-doodle" and expected him to bite the sheep. This was before the designer dog craze, and we called any obvious mix a cattle-doodle. Nowadays we worry too much about people thinking we're actually talking about a deliberate poodle cross, so the term has been quietly retired. At any rate, the heeler folks were happy to see my bat-eared puppy, and Brisbane was happy to see the sheep.
Upon entering the pen, Brisbane immediately backed out of his collar and...herded the sheep. The guy in the cowboy hat just stood there and watched him at first. "He's actually herding them!" The collies were mostly allowed to chase the sheep for a couple of minutes and then rounded up. Brisbane got a ten-minute herding lesson on staying on the opposite side of the sheep from the humans. The pole with the milk carton on the end was used to thump on the ground and make the dog back off the sheep a little. The reward for herding the sheep nicely is being allowed to herd the sheep.

Since that test, Brisbane has gotten to work sheep with two other experienced trainers. Everyone with herding experience has been impressed with his natural ability to herd sheep. We are probably a couple of lessons away from competing, but I had to stop lessons to have surgery a couple of years ago and didn't start again.

I know that Brisbane's mom was a working cowdog, but his natural herding ability always amazes me. After learning that his dad was definitely not anything remotely close to herding stock, I am even more impressed. Dogs with instinct can learn to herd well, but not every herding breed or mix is as naturally talented as my amazing boy.

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