When sheep don’t see a dog as a predator

How do you load sheep onto a trailer if they see the dog as a friend?

Sheep standing watching a dog
The sheep weren’t afraid of Carew – they ran to her!

Once again, I had no intention of writing a blog about today’s sheep gathering experience, but yet another extraordinary thing happened and I feel I should mention it.

When I spoke to John yesterday about today’s gather, he mentioned that there were a few sheep in a field near home which he wanted to load up and take to Dean Farm, so when we set off early this morning, our first stop was at a field just down the road.

John pulled up to the gate with his truck and trailer, and I parked on the grass verge just past the gateway. I assumed John would open the gate and drive in, and my intention was to get Carew out of the back of the car, and go into the field to gather and load the sheep.

Before I had time to release Carew, John shouted loudly as though something was wrong. I looked round and saw the sheep were gathered around him in the open gateway. I quickly realised there was a potential danger, and to prevent the sheep escaping onto the road, I immediately went to John’s assistance. To my surprise, the sheep seemed to come towards me, rather than run away, so I waved my arms, shouted and rushed at the sheep who then moved back a few yards before re-grouping and coming towards me again.

Fortunately, we were able to get the gate closed, so the immediate danger was averted. Despite there being plenty of grass in the field, John had obviously been feeding the young sheep, and when he arrived, they clearly assumed it was time for another meal. Presumably, he would normally climb over the gate with the feed, meaning the sheep were safe in the field, and it was only when he opened the gate to take the truck in, that the problem arose.

As I hadn’t got the dog with me, John thought there was a good chance the sheep would go into the trailer if he put some food inside, but it only worked for two of the sheep. The others were following me around as though I should have something for them. I’m not sure which of us was the more confused, so I decided to fetch Carew from the car.

The sheep totally ignored her as she crawled under the gate, and to my complete surprise, when I sent her on a short outrun to gather them, they actually ran towards her as though she must surely be the deliverer of their next meal! Carew looked confused, but I was pleased to see her stand her ground, and the sheep stopped inches from her.

The whole reason we can work sheep with dogs is because the sheep see the dog as a predator and move away from it, but these sheep were clearly going nowhere. Carew did exactly what she’s been trained to do, but the sheep didn’t appear to have read the book and saw no threat in the dog at all.

Clearly, I needed to show the sheep that Carew meant business, so reluctantly, I gave her the “Get-in” command and she duly lunged at the leading sheep, and nipped its nose.

This threw the sheep into even more confusion and it took two or three minutes of Carew performing gymnastics I wouldn’t have thought possible, to retrieve, contain and finally balance the sheep, but sadly, I can’t truthfully credit the dog with loading the sheep because at this point it finally dawned on them that their two pals were in the trailer and had all but finished the food that John had spread on its floor. They sped into the trailer in a desperate bid to salvage the few morsels that remained and John and I had the gates closed and the ramp up within seconds.

Not the sort of experience I’d anticipated at five-thirty in the morning, but all good training for Carew – and I’ll be more wary next time too.

sheep being sorted with a race and gate
Hundreds of sheep went through the race efficiently.

The rest of the gather went really well. Kay played a major roll and didn’t tire or lose interest once, which suggests that when she’s stopped working on previous occasions, the heat was probably the cause. Today was far cooler than the weather we’ve experienced recently, and our dogs simply aren’t as fit, or indeed used to working in high temperatures as they could be.

This time when they reached the handling area, several hundred sheep and lambs moved through the race as though they’d been doing it all their lives.

We didn’t have to struggle with the lambs at all, and the whole operation was remarkably simple, mainly because we were able to use the sorting gate. I understand there will be two lots of gathering and sorting next week, so I’ll try to get more photographs and write about our efforts then.


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