The Old English Sheepdog has a tradition in herding livestock going back to its origins. The breed was originally used to move livestock down the country road to market. This would generally be done with the dog (or dogs, depending on the amount of livestock) at the back or side of the stock. Unfortunately, today there are few OES that are used for this purpose. However, it is possible to find people that enjoy herding.
Herding can be a fun activity for both you and your dog. Most OES love the activity and the exercise. They greatly enjoy moving the sheep around from place to place. Herding is an activity that creates a very special bond between you and your dog. It takes what one might consider normal bonding to another level, especially when the dog appears to realize that this is what hundreds of years of breeding was meant for him to do.
OES have two different herding styles. Neither is more acceptable than the other. Some dogs are natural drivers, moving the stock away from the handler, while others are natural fetchers, taking the stock to the handler. The important thing is to encourage the dog to do whatever comes naturally. In the early stages of training, don't try to make the dog do anything that isn't natural. Later, your dog can be trained to do many kinds of tasks.
To get started in herding, find someone who is experienced with dogs and livestock so he or she can help you introduce your OES to the stock. Sheep are the best stock for this purpose. It is not recommended to put a green dog on cattle, and ducks might be too small. The introduction is best done in a small pen, generally 80' x 80' at most in size. With a small pen, the situation will be better under your control. It may be tentative at first - your dog has to figure out what to do. Once he does, he will generally take off running after the sheep! Don't be discouraged if your dog does not 'turn on' the first time he or she sees stock. Some dogs, including OES, need several exposures to start working. In fact, a top ranked OES in the AKC herding trial program didn't "turn on" to livestock until his tenth exposure.
What can you do with this hobby? First and foremost, HAVE FUN! It is an activity that can be exciting and rewarding for both dog and owner. In addition, there are several different trial programs that offer herding performance titles to people with herding breeds:
· American Kennel Club: The AKC has a test and trial title program available, with five different titles and six different levels. Each level requires more difficult work. The levels and titles are: HT: Herding Tested, PT: Pre Trial, HS: Herding Started, HI: Herding Intermediate, HX: Herding Advanced, and H.CH: Herding Champion.
· American Herding Breed Association: The AHBA also offers tests, trials and titles. They are: HCT: Herding Capability Tested, JHD: Junior Herding Dog, HTD-I: Herding Trial Dog, level I (Started), HTD-II: Herding Trial Dog, level II (Intermediate), and HTD-III: Herding Trial Dog, level III (Advanced).
· Australian Shepherd Club of America: The ASCA offers the following trials and titles as well: STD: Started Trial Dog, OTD: Open Trial Dog, ATD: Advanced Trial Dog, and RD: Ranch Dog.
A herding trial is basically an obstacle course set up with a series of chutes, pens, and panels through which you and your dog take the stock. Most of the time, sheep is the preferred stock. However, cattle and ducks are also used.
Trials are a great and fun way to test what you have done in training. They can also be an exciting way to spend time with other people who love doing the same thing - herding, no matter what the breed!
The Old English Sheepdog FAQ, Copyright 1996-1998