The CULPRIT – Dulcie the ‘Sheep Worrying’ Puppy

Don't be fooled by the looks . . .

Dulcie has a slighly guilty look - and it's no wonder.
The sheep worrying puppy - Dulcie's innocent looks don't fool us!

If you think Dulcie is a picture of innocence, think again. She's the one who's leading the other puppies into bad ways - running off to have a go at the sheep when the rest of us are on our way back to the yard after a run.

She didn't get a chance to do it this morning, because I scooped her up and carried her home, but two of her litter mates went instead!

We have absolutely no doubt that Dulcie and her friends are going to be wonderful sheepdogs - in fact, I can barely wait to start training them. The whole litter seem to be very courageous and hell-bent on chasing sheep at the moment. Long may their strong herding instinct prevail. We'll keep you posted with the progress of Dulcie and the other puppies as their training progresses. (Please leave comments if you'd like to).

Networking…

Our modern forms of communication are wonderful things; just consider, for example, the mobile 'phone.

In my previous life (pre-children and pre-sheepdogs, that is) I was allowed out onto the open road in a company car, armed only with a mobile freezer full of shellfish and - wonder of wonders - a mobile 'phone. The battery for it was roughly the same size as the freezer, the charge lasted for a (whole) hour, and I wouldn't really describe it as "mobile" unless you had space in the car for it, but I thought it was a miracle.

Today's mobile 'phones give you the choice of 3GS or 4GS, multiple megapixels of camera, MP3 players, FM hands-free radio, games, video, Android (what?) or not, but when I bought my most recent 'phone it was on the assurance of the single specification that it would get a signal in the network "not-spot" where we live. Because that's important.

So how galling was it that this morning, of all mornings, my new old-school-but-ultra-reliable-there's-a-signal-everywhere 'phone couldn't make contact with Andy while he roamed Worcestershire in search of a lost sheep? Sounds Biblical, doesn't it? Andy's language wasn't especially Biblical and, I have to confess, when I saw a recent addition, Mick, shove the sheep over the fence and then hare off across a field after it, mine probably wasn't either.

It wouldn't have mattered quite so much if we hadn't been waiting for a team from Radio 4's Farming Today to arrive - to talk about sheepdog training!

When I eventually caught up with Andy he had the errant sheep slung across his shoulders. Before he could speak (I felt it was important to get my defence in while he was still fighting for breath) I described in colourful detail that my 'phone had "no network coverage".

We're on the lookout for some walkie-talkie-thingies now. Recommendations gratefully received.

Luckily, Charlotte Smith's quite sporting about delays; I had the impression it was a little light relief at the end of a hard week. After a large amount of tea and quite a few digestive biscuits, Andy's loins were sufficiently girded to get out there and train some dogs - and the odd radio presenter. Kay was such a star, proving that she'll work for anybody with celeb status so, Katie Price, if you're reading this - get your people to call Kay's people...

Little Mo – Sheepdog Training Course Assistant

It's so easy to keep using the dog which proves best for any one task, and overlook the less experienced dogs

The sheepdogs of Kings Green Farm shelter from the rain under an oak tree
These are some of our sheepdogs - sheltering from the rain under an oak tree.

Kay has certainly proved invaluable as an assistant on our sheepdog training courses but for yesterday's group training course, Kay was unable to help because she's in season.

This meant that I would have to use one of the other dogs for the dozens of little jobs a skilled dog is useful for on such days.

Mel was the obvious choice but unfortunately, she's starting to feel her age, and an old leg injury isn't helping either. I decided to opt for Mel and Glen's three year old pup, Mo.

Andy demonstrating a sheepdog working sheep which are suitable for the purpose.
Andy demonstrating Ezra at work with sheep which are suitable for the purpose.

Mo has tremendous potential but she's very headstrong and is often convinced she knows best. This can be very frustrating but knowing the Mel was just the same when she was Mo's age, I'm trying to be patient.

I needn't have worried. Mo rose to the occasion extremely well. She moved the sheep expertly when we needed fresh ones, retrieved any sheep that managed to escape the control of the trainees, and she was more than up to the task of keeping the sheep away from the hurdles when required.

At one stage, the sheep had attached themselves firmly to the hurdles, and the trainee dog was unable to move them. Mo took it upon herself to jump over the hurdles into the training ring and without a word from me, she shifted the sheep out into the centre of the ring. Perhaps most impressively, when I called her, she immediately jumped out over the hurdles again. Excellent work.

Kay and Mel – two great thinkers

Sheepdogs Kay and Mel relaxing on a bench
Kay (left) and Mel relaxing after work.

Having great sheepdogs is an honour that I appreciate more and more. Of course, how you train a dog is very important but there are things that you can't really train for; things that money can't buy either.

A dog which can think for itself is priceless and we are extremely lucky to have not one, but two dogs which can think.

On our sheepdog training courses, we regularly use Kay for demonstrations and to keep the sheep in from the edge of the training ring, but her most valuable work comes when the trainee dog and sheep move out into the open field.

Whenever this happens, Kay discreetly watches from a distance (often under the shade of a tree).

If the trainee should lose control of one or two sheep, Kay will quietly bring them back to the perfect place for the trainee to gather them, before breaking off and returning to her shady place. If the other dog is fairly capable, Kay will just position herself ahead of the runaway animals to slow them down just long enough to allow the trainee to gather them back together. Amazing - and all this without a word from anyone - she just knows what to do!

Border Collie puppy Carew ignoring sheepdogs at work
Border Collie puppy Carew's not interested in watching the dogs in training

Mel on the other hand can apparently read my mind. She often knows which particular sheep I want to catch, without me saying a word. Mel had a really bad accident (broke two ligaments in one knee joint) when she was two and because of it, she's not the fittest dog now.

She's quite slow but she still flanks out wide and doesn't stress the sheep. She has tremendous power but is calm and steady when she works. The sheep just know they have to go where she wants them. Years ago I said that if I want to be certain the job gets done, I take Mel. That's still true today, but I might also take Kay to do the running around, and let Mel do the highly skilled part.

Mel works just as well for Gill as she does for me. Yesterday, after getting the sheep in with Mel, she remarked that the only thing Mel needs her for is to shut the gate!

Mossie – born to work sheep!

Mossie - Born to work sheep.
This is Mossie - one of the survivors of Jill and Eli's litter which met with tragedy in March.

One of the most naturally talented puppies we've ever had is Mossie. She was born on 29th January and can already get the sheep in by herself.

Mossie's parents are Jill and Eli.

We don't normally recommend allowing sheepdog puppies to work sheep because of the very high risk of them losing their confidence if the sheep challenge or frighten them in any way. Our sheep are selected specially for sheepdog training and are extremely unlikely to seriously challenge any dog, so when Mossie showed complete confidence around them, we allowed matters to develop.

At just 17 weeks. Mossie can get all of our 26 sheep into the yard. OK, it's not pretty but she'll keep them together and gets the job done.

Sheepdog puppy Mossie learns to keep her sheep together
Mossie learning to keep her sheep together.

One of the biggest problems with Mossie has been to stop her running off and fetching the sheep when she's supposed to be at play with the other dogs but she's improving every day now and seems to understand the difference between work and play.

Mossie is one of only two surviving pups from a disaster which happened to Jill's litter. Find out more.