It wasn’t until I clicked on a YouTube video that memories of our trip to New Zealand came flooding back into my mind. You may have seen this
video entitled, “This Is What Sheep Dogs Do When They’re Not Working.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaLor7d7NEs On our trip, we saw many of these amazing dogs, only, at the time, they were definitely working. In fact, these tireless, energetic dogs, many of them with a strong instinct to herd, are trained to act at the sound of a whistle or word of command, and we saw them in action.
Its been several years since we decided to take the Ranch Tour in New Zealand and for two weeks, we drove our car over miles and
miles of country roads that carried us through ranches, many of them numbering thousands of acres. It was then we decided that there were many more sheep here than there were people. The scenery was beautiful and our travel was planned for us, with driving directions that carried us to a different home every evening where we spent the night, enjoyed breakfast and left with a packed lunch for the next day’s travels. But in the evening, before it was time to retire, we had the opportunity to watch herding dogs round up the sheep.
The ranch owner gave directions to his dogs as he whistled commands. To us it seemed like the dogs were hearing and receiving these
commands starting at a quarter mile away. As they came closer we noticed how deeply the dogs crouched with their front legs extended nearly flat to the ground. We wondered how they could walk in this
position. These were also “strong eye” dogs that stared down the sheep. To our amazement we also saw the dogs run across the backs of the moving herd, all this precise action occurred at the sound of the rancher’s whistle.
Sheep and cattle dogs range from Collie to Corgi. Yes, even the Welsh Corgi, only one foot tall at the shoulders, can drive a herd of cattle many times its size to pasture. This is done by leaping and nipping at their
heels. The herding dog is not to be confused with the guardian dog, whose primary function is to guard flocks and herds from predators and theft. They lack the herding instinct. In New Zealand, sheep range widely on largely unfenced land and sometimes “tending dogs” will guide large flocks of them to graze while preventing them from eating valuable crops and wandering onto roads.
The dogs we were fortunate to watch were the herding dogs, sometimes called the working dog. Some of these dogs are called “heelers,”because they nip at the heels of animals. While some of them consistently go in
front of the herd to turn or stop the animals’ movement. These dogs are known as “headers” and they have the “strong eye” that can stop the herd in their tracks.
We can only imagine how attached owners must become to these dogs whose entire desire is to follow their commands. We asked if they ever become house pets. The answer is yes. “But,” we were told, “they retain their herding instincts and may sometimes nip at people’s heels or bump them in an effort to “herd” their family.” You may laugh at this but sometimes children and adults alike are rounded up into corners or tight circles by these serious, tireless workers. They never stop working.
A world record price for a working sheep dog was broken in the year 2011 when one was sold in England for $10,270 breaking the previous record of $8,390. We didn’t need to watch them at work for very long to realize their value to their owners and see in their eyes, the affection they held for them. I hope you may have the same experience some day, it’s one you’ll never forget.
I’ll close with this thought. The Bible says: ” All we like sheep have gone astray.” I’m surely glad we have someone to give us a nudge when we’re out of line. Namely, the Holy Spirit.