Every now and then, a story pops up somewhere about dogs and sheep. It’s pretty much always bad news, sheep have been killed by someone’s pet dog. In fact, the biggest threat to sheep is the domestic dog. It happens round here sometimes too. To be honest, one of the reasons I gave up working as a dog behavioural therapist was that I got fed up with dog owners’ unshakeable belief that their pooches could do no wrong.
Anyway, our dogs have been conditioned to respect sheep. George is an Anatolian Shepherd and his breed was created to guard livestock. Haribo is a collie and should be inclined to round them up, but has never shown any inclination to do so.
George is actually very good with the sheep. Given the chance he will groom them, licking their faces and ears and even their backsides. He particularly likes a messy sheep’s bottom! Haribo tends to give them a bit of a wide berth. I think he got butted a while back (before the sheep had got to know him), but he’s getting a bit more confident with them now.
One of our ewes, Ursi, now seeks George out whenever he’s over there. They have developed quite a strong friendship and it’s lovely to see, It is George and Ursi shown in the picture.
So it shows, dogs and sheep can go together. If the dog owners know what they are doing.
That said, when we take our dogs for walks in other places, we always have them on leads around others’ livestock. George and Haribo may be fine with our sheep, but our sheep don’t run away from them. Dogs are hunters and if something runs, they will instinctively go after it and all the training is forgotten in an instant.
I have never forgotten a moment when I was a teenager in Edinburgh. I was heading to the bus stop and passed a huge St Bernard sitting in a driveway. It watched me walk past with rapt attention. Everything was fine until I saw my bus coming and had to break into a run. As I ran to the bus stop, I heard a noise behind me and turned to see said St Bernard hurtling after me. I stopped and swore at it (basically challenged it in dog speak) and it froze mid stride. I slunk round the corner, sprinted and just caught my bus. I looked out the window and the St Bernard was still standing there, mid stride, looking mildly puzzled.
Any dog, no matter how well trained, has a very strong chase reflex.