I love unexpected afternoons that end up on a positive note.
Last week we happened upon a dog training farm in Duncan (located in the District of Cowichan Valley) on Vancouver Island complete with sheep, lambs, ducks and one wily border collie.
And, as I happened to have one Shetland sheepdog in the hatchback of my car, I thought it a good idea to see how she would respond to the little lambs that were silently grazing behind a fence. Especially since knowing that the breed (sheltie for short) are herding dogs that originated from Scotland’s remote and rugged Shetland Islands. Known to be easy trainers and world-class competitors in obedience, agility, and herding trials, I was dying to find out how she’d react.
We took Layla out of the car and held her as she watched and sniffed, all the while appearing calm and disinterested.
Anyway, before we drove off we stopped by the farm which goes by the name Ash Farms and has been in the family for generations as we learned from Linda, the owner, who came out and greeted us. As luck would have it, she’s a dog trainer with a specialty in training them to herd sheep and ducks.
A light went off! After chatting with Linda for several minutes I decided to take a trial training run from her to find out if Layla has what it takes. Even though I don’t live on a farm and don’t plan to buy sheep anytime soon.
My imagination led me to believe that Layla would start chasing them around the pen in circles while nipping at their hind legs and I expected that it might get out of control.
So Linda, with the help of her very smart border collie Jock, was more than patient to find out if Layla has a natural instinct. Jock helped to show Layla a few tricks. They showed us that there’s a method – and it starts off slow with an eye to follow the sheep.
We learned a few things.
For instance, we found out that instinct to herd is largely inherited, not learned. Like ballet or piano, it’s better to start them off young.
Therefore, instinct is a response to stock that no amount of training can create. However, the greatest instincts are not useful without a willingness to work with the handler. Trainability is as important as good instinct, so the greater level of working accomplishments by the parents, the higher the likelihood the offspring will achieve these skills. Without attention to this in breeding, it is all chance.
Ahhh…makes sense now. Her parents never herded farm animals.
So we took a chance. It was worthwhile nonetheless. Layla needs to be more wolf like in her approach so that the sheep are afraid of her. They were not. They kept their eyes on her though.
Layla has potential but seemed distracted and would need more lessons without me hanging around. For now she’ll go back to chasing squirrels and Canada Geese – something she prefers.
Photos: d. king
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