Dogs with cool jobs #01 :
Welcome to our new blog series called "Dogs With Cool Jobs!" In this series, we'll feature your dogs doing what they do best. Each month we'll ask our Facebook and Instagram followers to tell us about their dog's unique jobs. Then, we'll select several pups from these submissions to "interview" and share their stories on our blog. We're excited to learn about the day in the life of so many interesting pups. Enjoy our very first "Dogs With Cool Jobs" story featuring Puck and Grey!
"My boys Puck and Grey are working sheep dogs. They work everyday to help me manage my flock which runs over 300 acres. I couldn't do it without them!" - AJ
Meet the pups:
Puck aka Puckaroo, Pucker Mucker or Mucky Puppy! He answers to any of them.
Age: He is just over a year old and is a Border Collie. And a rather unusual looking one at that!
Hometown: He was bred in North Carolina but is currently employed by me at Flying Circus Farm in Maryland.
Favorite thing to do: Lick and lick and lick and lick! Oh and work sheep. But mostly lick!
The weirdest thing he does: When you tell him to stop licking things he will either stand there with his tongue pushed against something (cuz that doesn't actually count as licking cuz it's not moving) or just lick the air cuz hey I'm not touching anything Mum jeeze!!
Favorite part of the job: Puck is quite happy to do field work but he really loves working pens and chutes. Pen and chute work is very close in and really requires a dog to work well under pressure. There isn't a lot of room to maneuver and it takes a lot of finesse. He also thoroughly enjoys driving sheep from one place to another and if I don't watch him I'll sometimes catch him out in the field just driving sheep back and forth all on his own just for fun!
Grey aka Boyo, Goofball, or Hey You! Funnily enough he really likes the last one and gets all wiggly when you say it!
Age: 6yr old Border Collie and very traditional looking.
Hometown: He is originally from the MidWest but is also employed here at Flying Circus Farm in Maryland.
Favorite thing to do: Is to be petted and petted and petted some more! Especially if you stroke the top of his nose.
The weirdest thing he does: Head butt you when you've accidentally needed your hands for something that doesn't involve more petting!
Favorite part of the job: Grey absolutely loves working the fields. He likes going and getting all the sheep and bringing them in or moving them to a different field. He likes big wide outruns (going out and around the sheep to collect them) and he really enjoys balance work which means holding the sheep to me as I walk along to move them somewhere else.
Describe a day in the life at work:
Our day usually starts at 4:30am unless we are lambing like we are right now which means we start around 3:45am. We get up and everyone gets breakfast and we head for the truck to start morning sheep chores. Sheep are up in the barn at night all through the winter so the boys take turns every morning to drive them out of the barn and out to their field. We check everyone over, put them out, check waters and feed the Rams.
During lambing we check for new lambs and move ewes with newborns into 'jugs' in the barn. The boys hold the other ewes away so that I can move the new mother safely. Once we get everyone at home settled for the day we head for work at the horse farm. Puck and Grey are in charge of public relations while I'm working.
Once we get done there we head back home for afternoon chores. They pull the sheep off the fields and bring them back to the barn. Usually at that point we have to do some sorting cuz you can guarantee that someone or other has managed to get in with the wrong group. That's one of Puck's favorite chores. He helps me split off the sheep that don't belong in the group. In the summer we just bring everyone up and make sure they are all happy and healthy and then put them back out again. Once we have everyone in their proper groups we check the flock over and they help me catch anyone who needs attention such as a pedicure or maybe a small cut cleaned and treated. They then hold the sheep away from the feeders so I can put out hay and grain without getting trampled.
When everyone is fed settled and happy we head on home for our dinner. Evening check happens around 7pm. We go back to make sure everyone is ok and check for new lambs before bed. We also do a midnight check just in case. So there we go!
What is the purpose of herding sheep:
Sheep are naturally a herd animal and so the easiest way to move them around is by moving them as a group. A single sheep is very hard to move by itself, they tend to panic. We generally manage them in larger groups so that they feel comfortable and don't get stressed. Because you can't go and lead them around like you would a horse you have to move them from behind.
What is the training process like?
Puck and Grey are both purebred Border Collies from working lines. Their ability to work sheep is instinctual because their breed has been developed for it for centuries. They also grew up around the blocks and watching other older dogs do their jobs. Puck picked up stock work so quickly that if I hadn't had him from a tiny puppy, I'd have sworn he'd done it before. Grey came along a bit slower because he is not quite as self-confident as Puck but he gained confidence very quickly helping with chores every day.
The training process never ends because there are always new situations that pop up that the dogs have to deal with. I usually allow pups to tell me when they are ready to start training, mostly when they start deciding to try it on their own. At that point I start teaching them the very basics such as when to stop and how to approach stock nicely without spooking them. Once they are physically and mentally capable of handling stock I start teaching them our handling commands and allowing them to start working stock consistently. We train almost everyday because there is always something that we can improve on and that mostly means my handling skills!
What makes a dog more effective for herding flock than other methods?
Sheep tend to be a rather flighty animal. They can be moved by a person, which is exhausting, or an ATV, which I feel moves them too fast and adds extra stress. I love using the dogs because they can go anywhere, you never have to worry about mud or rocks or trees or creeks or trying to work out if you can even get a vehicle of some sort out to the flock. They work in all weathers, they never break down or get stuck.
They are very adept at finding sheep that have separated themselves from the flock, on several occasions I haven't even realized I was missing one but they certainly did! They have such good control that they can move their flock quietly and calmly to anywhere I would like them without me even having to move my feet which saves a lot of wear and tear on my poor boots! And best of all the sheep like them! My ewes recognize each of my dogs individually and are actually cross and disappointed when I go to move them myself without a dogs help!
What are some commands used for herding?
We actually have very few commands that we use to handle the dogs. We have two flanking commands which tell the dog which way to go when they leave our side to go out and around the sheep in order to bring them to the shepherd. We use Come By to ask them to go clockwise and Away To Me (or just Away) to ask them to go counter clockwise. We have two stop commands Lie Down or Stand both of which mean exactly what they say. We also have a Walk Up command which tells them to walk straight towards the sheep without flanking. We use a Steady command to ask them to control their pace of movement and our only other command is That'll Do which is how we recall them and tell them their job is all done!
What is one thing most people don't know about herding dogs, or a common misconception?
Many people say that sheep dogs chase sheep. A sheepdog should never chase sheep but should just control their movement in a quiet manner. Chasing sheep causes stress and we want our stock to be happy and comfortable at all times. Some people also believe that herding work is simply a question of obedience. I rely very heavily on my dogs natural instinct for stock and their ability to think their way through situations. Most of the time they are hundreds of yards away from me or completely out of sight.
The reason we have so few commands is because we really do allow the dogs to do the majority of the work on their own. They can read sheep and pressure far better than I can and on many occasions they will ignore commands simply on the basis that they know full well that if they were to do as I asked the flock would go the wrong way or split. Handling a sheepdog is very much a question of partnership and trust on both counts. I certainly don't expect them to behave like remote control cars and I have to have faith in their judgement as well as my own.
Do your dogs have any other animal friends on your property?
Puck and Grey share the house with Stone the terrible terrier. Stone is a Parson Russell Terrier who is in charge of barn pest control. They also live with three cats, Clifford (who rules the house with an iron fist) Noel and Macy. Sidney and Ellie are two rescue ferrets who live here too. Ellie likes to go kick all the dogs off the dog bed and claim it as her own while Sidney would much rather just nap. There is also Rudolf the rabbit. Rudolf is a Flemish Giant who weighs in at 18lbs which makes him the same size as the terrier and he likes to lay on the dog bed too. Good thing it's a very large dog bed! Down at the barn we also have Sam the retired racehorse and his companion Donkey who (you guessed it!) is a miniature donkey. And then of course all the sheep and me! We are quite the zoo!
Which of your pups is the troublemaker?
Hands down that would be Puck! He constantly likes to push the limits as far as he can. The only time he is quite content is when he's working. He loves everyone and everything and is completely exuberant about life in general! He never stops moving and absolutely has to be a part of everything that's going on.
Thank you so much for your interest in the boys and the work they do! They are invaluable to me and I'd love more people to understand just how important they are! We do a lot of working sheepdog demonstrations throughout the summer and people are always amazed by how much the dogs love their job. Too many people seem to think we force them to do things I think. Thanks so much for all your questions!
A special thanks to AJ for sharing Puck and Grey's story! We appreciate you taking the time to be our very first "Dogs With Cool Jobs" feature!