Yeah yeah, I herd you

Or not.

Here’s my purpose-bred “herding” dog in (non)action:

He’s only laying there because I asked him to “go out” and then to lie down.  He was not even a teensy bit interested in the llamas, and didn’t even seem to notice they were there, except to duck around past them on his way to “go out” where I was pointing.  He didn’t look afraid, he simply regarded them as obstacles in his path.

I admit, I expected at least a little something more … even if it was just a little staring, or walking up on the beasts.  Something a little more … Faith.

I get more eye out of this dog when he walks up on Piper than on livestock of any kind.

Actually, Dex is not allowed to walk up on any other dogs … he’s just staring at her in that photo because I am about to throw the Kong-On-A-Rope and he, like every sensible creature anywhere, is fascinated by the insane (and inane) spinning she’s doing in anticipation of the toss.

Dexter’s brother Hoot is doing very well on sheep, and both their parents come from long lines of very nice working dogs.  Dex is very stylishly “herdy” in that he is creepy, has a lot of eye, and responds to body pressure very nicely.  And yet he is completely uninterested in livestock of any kind.  Surrounded as we are by tons of it, because my animal-hoarding neighbours have amassed ungodly amounts of animals, I would expect my “herding” dog to turn on at some point.  He has llamas, goats, chickens, turkeys and a ram (don’t ask) to show interest in at any time, but as far as he’s concerned, none of them exist.  Whereas you can park Faith in front of the chicken coop for an hour of solid staring, Dex will go find a tennis ball instead.

I suppose that some of this is my doing, in that I a) did not ever really introduce him to working (but Cheryl, let this be your warning, we are coming to try again!) and b) I concentrated on a lot of handler-focused stuff in preparation for agility.  But I know from lots of experience that many pet-raised border collies will one day see livestock and BINGO! they want to work.  Their latent inner sheep dog comes out to play.  Where is Dexter’s inner working dog?

Perhaps Piper is hogging it.

The llamas have no fear of the dogs, not really.  And so they shouldn’t, as they can stomp a dog to death if they feel like it.  They walked right up to Piper and everyone had a good nose sniff, which I *tried* to photograph, but I was too busy running interference between the llamas and … well, guess who.

If we promise not to eat them, will you let us off the leash?

No off leash for the WooTWoo when the llamas are out!

Faith would like to work, if only she could … she will walk up on the llamas and try and move them around, and she would really like to work my chickens.  Except being deaf, she can’t work stock because she would have to take the pressure off them to look to her handler for direction, since she can’t hear whistles.  Instead, she inappropriately “works” Dexter, which is not really working at all, it’s just being a pain in the ass.  But she sure looks good doing it!

Have you ever asked yourself “What is a herding dog?”  It’s kind of a tough question, when you delve into it.  Some people, especially pet owners and kennel club types, will tell you it’s a dog bred for herding.  But what they really mean by that is “it’s one of the breeds that falls into the category of dogs who herd things.”  A stockdog person will also tell you that a herding dog is a dog bred for herding, but what they really mean is “it’s a dog who has been purpose bred to work livestock as the primary consideration in its creation.”

So all border collies are herding dogs, but not all border collies are herding dogs.  Clear as mud?

So Piper, who was not bred for working, but will work (albeit quite poorly) isn’t really a border collie.  And Dexter, who was bred for working, but won’t, is a border collie(?) They’re both border collies, but neither of them are?  It hurts my brain, and I am well indoctrinated into this stuff.  I can’t imagine what the average, sane person who doesn’t spend hours a day thinking about border collies must feel like when they are confronted with these sorts of hyperboles.  When I have a dog or two at work with me, people who come into the shelter say “Those are border collies, right?  They were bred to work sheep, right?”  Imagine if I hit them with the working/non working/bred for working issue and really let fly – they’d probably run away!  I just say “yep.”

Although they often think that both Dexter and Faith are border collie crosses, which I think is funny, since both of them look so classically border collie to me.

I still am a big believer in the border collie being bred for working and not for other stuff, like dog sports (for example).  I think the essence of the dog is probably in selecting for the things that go into a good working dog, and that the breed will fundamentally change in time if people breed for “agility” or the ever popular “versatility.”  Besides, you don’t need to breed *for* agility … apparently you can take a working bred dog and agility the latent sheepdog right out of it.  Phooey on Dexter!  That’s it, I’m taking him to meet sheep again ASAP! (But I’m still going to call Piper a border collie, whether they like it or not!).

One thing you can’t do, though, is get past the Llama Sentries.

Unless you distract one of them with some Mad Teeth™

Faith continues to do very well, but she’s come up lame.

Ow :(

It looks to me like something that has been bothering her for a long time, and often she doesn’t bear weight on one of her hindlegs.  The ways things have been going around the community of my friends and their dogs, I can only assume she’s ruptured an ACL and will require insanely expensive surgery.  Le sigh.  I’m going to try to get her into the vet later this week for some x-rays.  If she does need surgery, I’ll be going into fundraising mode, because I need more on my plate ;-)  And we know what happens to dogs who stay at Food Lady’s too long … she absorbs them into the pack, that’s what!  Ack!  Faith has to go!  Think happy “crate rest only required” thoughts for her (and me!) would you?

I’m almost finished building my home made dog walk!  It’s in three 12′ foot long pieces in my dining room (and office and living room … the damn thing, end to end, is *actually* longer than my house, which kind of pisses me off.  (My residence is smaller than a piece of freakin’ dog equipment!)  and the supports are hogging the porch.  Should we ever get some sunny days in a row, I’ll get to paint it and put it together,  and then, maybe just to be obstinate, I’ll teach Dexter a running contact :)

Here’s a random picture of Tweed, because I *luff* him.

Now THAT^^ is no herding dog.  I’ll prove it some day soon when I get around to uploading the photos of him *running away* from the llamas!

Happy Monday, my friends!


  1. Sending crate-rest only wishes to Faith, and loving the herding/non-herding paradox of border collies. Tell me if I’m interpreting correctly: all border collies are herding dogs in the sense that they fall into the kennel-club type analysis; they are one of many types who “fall into the category of dogs who herd things.”

    So while a “working” border collie is “a dog who has been purpose bred to work livestock as the primary consideration in its creation,” it mightn’t do so. It might excel at agility and disregard livestock, regardless of its working lineage (Dexter), or it might take a keen (possibly genetically instinctive?) interest in herding despite its less-than-working-class background (Miss Piper).

    Hence, all border collies are herding dogs, except for those border collies that aren’t herding dogs.

    Am I getting it? :)

  2. The Food Lady says:

    hahhaha! Yes you are!

    Really, I am mostly being facetious … working dogs are dogs who were bred for work, and given the opportunity, would work. It’s not really a complicated concept, until you delve into what constitutes “working.” AKC types will argue that getting AKC herding titles is working, whereas USBCHA types will retort that only Open level dogs in ISDS styles trials can be considered real working dogs etc. I just feel sorry for the average person who likes border collies and gets sucked into these arguments. Even for someone like me, who enjoys watching dogs work and is very into border collies, the ability to really discern what is a GREAT working dog and what isn’t is pretty far out of my grasp.

    Anyway, my border collies are what they are. I am a little bemused by Mr Dexter”Livestock? What livestock?” Morgan though. I am determined to get him interested in working! But if he never does, that’s okay too, because I’m not getting him sheep (although my neighbours might).

  3. onlyonewoof says:

    The farm manager that I roomed with for a year had a lovely red BC. She was born to two working parents, both imported and from working lines, and she was raised right on the farm. This dog would not work. She had drive in other ways…she loved to stalk the hose, for instance. But whenever she was little, she was corrected for chasing the cats, chasing rabbits, etc. She’s 14 now, and she’ll still walk right thru the flock…no attempts to move them at all, and they pay her never-no-mind.

    Course, then you have my hellion, who lives for agility…I tried stock work with her when we found out about her orthopedic issues, and she was SO intense (she is from working lines as well, and both her parents are nice steady workers). I reckon she was introduced too late to be calm around sheep, and she’s so over the top independent and drivey (nice for agility, where she can retain her focus), that she just can’t do stock work. Two ends of the spectrum.

    Question though. Breeding for working is fine. But the plethora of health problems (allergies, epilepsy, but especially hip issues) that we see in the breed…what if that’s due to the failure of the “working” conditions today to select genuinely healthy dogs? Well, and to the numerous genetic bottlenecks the breed has experienced in the last century, with the popular sire effect. As an agility lover, I’d almost rather go to a sports breeder who emphasizes health (who checks the siblings and uncles and grandsires for any genetic issues, behavioural and physical), than the owner and breeder of the best USBCHA dog in the country. Or I guess I could switch breeds altogether. But I’ve experienced the devastating impact genetic issues can have on a young dog that WANTS to work, and I never want to see another dog I love live out their life like that again.

  4. onlyonewoof says:

    P.S.–Don’t worry though. I found a breeder who trials (at the open level) with her dogs, who does agility with some of them, and who does all the health checks I could wish for. Love the offspring I’ve seen at local agility matches. Now I just have to convince her to let me buy a puppy sometime in the next couple of years :) And <3 the pics as always.

  5. The Food Lady says:

    “Question though. Breeding for working is fine. But the plethora of health problems (allergies, epilepsy, but especially hip issues) that we see in the breed…what if that’s due to the failure of the “working” conditions today to select genuinely healthy dogs? Well, and to the numerous genetic bottlenecks the breed has experienced in the last century, with the popular sire effect.”

    I’d also argue that there are certain Big Hats who are trying to breed top trial dogs, and there are lines of (well known) working dogs who are known to have bad hips (for example), which makes the whole thing muddier. I agree on that level. Although there are many people who NEED working dogs to make their living, I’d say there are an equal number of working breeders who make their living OFF their dogs (ie trialing, clinics, lessons, selling puppies) and therefore, are they working dog breeders or are they making their reputations as working dog breeders? (if that makes sense?).

    As for sport breeders though … holy cow, the price tags! I can’t believe what they charge for puppies!

  6. If Dexter still doesn’t like my sheep, maybe he can herd the chickens like his sister.

  7. My heart skipped a beat when at our local offleash playgroup (because our town sucks too bad to have a real dog park), I spotted who I thought was Tweed! I seriously had to rub my eyes and blink, and walk halfway across the school yard to make sure it was not the Tweedster in South Texas. Alas, I was disappointed, but I felt better thinking, “Well, this IS as close to the real Tweed as I’ll ever get!” and enjoyed his company :)

  8. Janice in GA says:

    LOL. I took my old Cammie dog (Aussie) out to be herding-instinct tested once. She skulked around the edge of the pen as far from the sheep as possible. She looked horribly embarrassed by the whole thing. :)

    My Sasha had lots of instinct though. Unfortunately for her, I am a moron who didn’t understand how herding works, so we didn’t do much of it. :(

    Both dogs fondly remembered….

  9. I wonder if Faith could be directed (dunno the working terms!) using a vibration collar? It might be worth looking into after you get the leg issue cleared up.

    Love your pictures.

  10. Have you seen the Yahoo!Group ConservativeManagement? It is for people who are trying to go the non-surgical route for their dogs’ knee injuries.

    Herding. In the Aussie world, people who breed for real-life-with-cattle dogs don’t even call it herding. It’s working, and they have working dogs or stockdogs. ASCA has a Working Trial Champion title, not a Herding Champion title. I bought a working-bred Aussie 2 years ago, and she is the best dog I’ve ever owned even though I have done nothing serious with her. I love all the dogs I’ve owned, but she is something else.

    I so love the way Twooie opens his eyes really wide like he wants to have you just fall into them and do his bidding (take off the leash) when you are keeping him from doing something evil.

  11. I was offered a BC puppy by a big sport/AKC breeder in my area; her pups go for $1200 – $1500. But a rescue person whom I consulted threatened me with psychic and physical harm if I did that, so I took a whack job BC from rescue and ended up with a dog who has all KINDS of desire to work stock (but who is saddled with a dumbo owner) and who is the most lovely, most fun, bestest agility dog I have ever trained.

    Since we live mostly in a city, I try to get stockwork in when possible, but I sure do see the versatility and working ability you’re talking about. Growley Rowley walked into a rally-o class and was totally proficient in about a week. Seriously, I am thinking about trialing him because, well, why not?

    Dexter is awesome, and I have no doubt that he, like Rowley, can do absolutely anything. :)

  12. I have a cattle dog who has *no* interest in sheep. I keep throwing her in a round pen w/ ’em hoping….. But at almost four years old, still no lightbulb. sigh Rescued her to replace my almost 11 year old herding fiend who got his herding instinct test at 3.5 months and a big comment on the bottom “You better work this dog!”

    So I’ve got this beautiful! cattle dog in the round pen w/ three sheep. They are behind me stomping their little feet off at her. She’s just wandering around the pen………. sigh But throw her in a yard w/ a few other dogs – she does the best heading of any dog I’ve ever seen! Has all the moves, just no desire.

    Wonder if she’d work cattle?

    Need to find her something to do and another dog that will herd so I can continue to play! LOL!

    Speedy recovery wishes to Faith!

  13. Seriously, Food Lady, you are not helpful. I was secretly checking your site at work and my snorts at the photo of the leashed WooTwoo almost gave me away! I guess I must limit my perusal to home only!

  14. I second the idea of a vibration collar! Deaf dogs use them for all sorts of things, so why not working?

  15. Ditto at what Sabrina said! I also chortled at their purply pinky leashes.

  16. Sending strong ‘crate rest only needed’ thoughts your way. As far as instinct goes; my family had an apparent cocker spaniel cross who instinctively worked sheep the one time he was exposed to them (by accident) during a family walk.

  17. My working bred BC is absolutely mad about sheep. We introduced him to sheep at around 6 months old (iirc), but he has only gotten to work a few times since then. Unfortunately, we really can’t take lessons very often, but it is always very cool to watch him ‘turn on’ as soon as he sees the sheep. He definitely understands way more than I do about how to control sheep.

    On the other hand, our rescue BC did not come with a herding switch installed. He approaches 95% of situations with absolutely reckless confidence, but sheep scare him. Not to the point of shaking or anything (that’s thunder), but he refuses to look at them. When we brought him out to our lesson, the trainer actually sent my husband out to the pasture to chase down a lamb that had literally been born the day before to show Indy. Nope, he was even terrified of the lamb. He’ll take a tennis ball over sheep any day.

    “As an agility lover, I’d almost rather go to a sports breeder who emphasizes health (who checks the siblings and uncles and grandsires for any genetic issues, behavioural and physical), than the owner and breeder of the best USBCHA dog in the country.”

    I do feel like it is worth pointing out that some working breeders do emphasize health. My working boy’s breeder and I were talking (the whole ‘getting to know you and what you want to do with my puppy’ phone call) when he told me he didn’t breed one of his favorite dogs because she had hip dysplasia. He did all the health checks, and is a well known trialer.

    Not that all of them care about health like they should, but some do. :)

  18. Ah the BC debate. I am all too familiar with this as I too want a BC someday. :) I don’t have the answer and not sure who I will get a dog from someday but who knows. Faith is beautiful but I need a male dog for this household till the resident bitches pass on.

    On the knee issue, my agility dog is lame on his hind leg and all tests (which include 2 CT scans, a myelogram xray and EMG) do not indicate ANYTHING other than reduce neural transmissions down his leg (that’d be from the EMG). So we are doing management and pain meds. Two vets checked his knee and do not think it’s that. However an ultrasound was not done and if you go to the vet, ask for that to be done to rule out ACL tears. I am tempted to have that one more test done to find out if it’s his knee because I’m still not convinced it’s not. He may not have torn it completely, but if it has tears in it, then the classic tests will not show anything.

    I wish you and Faith luck though! Perhaps it’s just a sprain.

  19. Beep,Maxand Poppet says:

    My first rescue BC Max, was tested on sheep while in rescue and the only interest he showed was eating sheep poop or would work for a few minutes, then leave to eat sheep poop. He was about a year and a half old. Fast forward some years(like 7) and three championship agility titles in three different organizations. I got a wild hair to go to a herding clinic with Patric Shanahan. Max was AWESOME! Kind to his sheep, his left and right from agility transferred and worked on sheep… even his agility out worked to push him off the sheep a bit. The little I got to work him he progressed to 250 yard outrun, going out nice and round, lifting and bringing them right to my feet. Now he’s 13 and enjoying his retirement. My daughter’s rehomed BC was scared to death of sheep when she saw them at a year, but confidently went to work on sheep at 7 after years of agility training.

    So, Dexter may still have it… he just might need some more time:)

  20. clairesmum says:

    the whole ‘border collie but not border collie’ issue is too much for me to follow. maybe Dexter thinks that working the sheep is Piper’s job, so he’s focusing on tennis balls instead, to avoid confrontation with the Mad Teeth??? after all, he is no dummy!

  21. PS–Just read this and your last post again. Do you think Faith would be better off as a companion for someone with a high activity level, or is there potential for agility or herding in her future, if they’re willing to deal with the communication barrier? (and by that, I mean the delay between relaying commands and the dog’s response.)

  22. Wow. Debate fo’ su’. lol

    I have a mutt. We have no debate over “bred for working”. A Sheltie-Rat Terrier cross if the surrender papers were correct. We did our agility class out at the instructor’s home all last summer. Occasionally her sheep were in the closer paddock. Emma *wanted* those sheep. Not frenzied (a common response to things) but certainly *intent*.

    What constitutes an “instinct test” anyways?

    Love this post! I too, got a chuckle out of poor TWooie in a butterfly leash.

    Why is Piper not a Border Collie?

  23. For Adrienne – I can only answer what I have seen as an instinct test – usually seen at ACD events…

    Basically, your dog and a tester go out in to a round pen that have three or four sheep in it. The dog usually starts off on a long rope if control is needed. The tester will walk the dog around, watching to see if the dog acknowledges the sheep, is afraid of the sheep, or wants to eat the sheep.

    If the dog acknowledges the sheep, the trainer will try to speed everything up to see how much the dog wants to join in. If the dog is afraid, they try walking the dog up to see if anything else will happen. Or they will let go of the rope and walk around w/ the sheep to see if the dog will follow the sheep. If the dog wants to eat the sheep, they try to get it to back down, usually with a paddle so nothing get hurt. Then they try to control the environment w/ the paddle and corrections from the leash/rope.

    When I took my guy to a local ACD club meeting (he’s ACD x kelpie), I didn’t sign him up for the instinct test because I thought he was too young. So at the end of the day, everyone wanted to see what he could do. He was 3.5 months old, all legs and tail, and tired. He went in, he eyeballed the three sheep. Then went flying after them. In a two acre field. He’s running, the tester is running, yelling at me to come with them. (I had never done a thing w/ sheep before!) So we’re all chasing the sheep – two wooly white ones and one wooly brown one. Shay *really* wanted the brown one! I couldn’t catch him he was so into it! We were all laughing! So I got the “you must work this dog!” on the certificate! And a friend took some great pictures!

    Stella, on the other hand, doesn’t even look at them. What a bummer. I got her to be my next herding buddy but now I’ve got to find something else for her to do. Shay is almost 11 now, but we still go out and play! And if he had a handler that had a clue… LOL!

  24. Just to blow your mind as to who is a herding dog and who is not, my American Eskimo was showing interest in herding our sheep, and I even took him to herding lessons for a while. He saved my bacon once when the sheep escaped their paddock and headed out into a pasture I didn’t want them in, and he ran out after them and turned them around and brought them back – just lucky on his part, I’m sure, but it was still pretty awesome. We don’t have any livestock right now, but it’s very temping to get some more sheep just to work on training him to move them around. We really enjoyed it.

    Our sheep also had a guard llama, and the llama and the dog would play with each other, chasing each other around. I realized it was play and not just the dog harassing the llama, when the pup looked away at something that distracted him, and the llama didn’t take the opportunity to stomp him – instead he waited for the dog to join the game again.

  25. Have you thought about Treibball for Faith? It’s fairly new in the States and I’ve been thinking about it for my myopic Aussie since I don’t know where to find sheep here in GA. Treibball translates to “drive ball”. You can Google it for more info, but basically, it’s “herding” those big exercise balance balls into a net in a set order and set time. Something like that may work better for Faith. I’m sure there’s a way around her hearing impairment.

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