On our Sheepdog Training DVD I explain that you must keep young puppies away from sheep. There’s a very good reason for this – if the sheep should frighten the pup, that fear could stay with the pup for many years, if not for all its life.
Fortunately, our sheep (Welsh Mules) are very placid and rarely do more than stamp their feet when they’re threatened by puppies, but some sheep (particularly ewes with lambs – or rams) are not so friendly and will actually attack a young dog when it approaches them. Another reason for keeping the youngsters away from the sheep is because they can develop what is commonly referred to as ‘too much eye’.
In moderation, Eye is something that we like to see in a sheepdog – it means the dog concentrates hard on its sheep and never takes its attention off them. Too much ‘eye’ though, means the dog can become mesmerised and won’t move when called to advance on the sheep – in fact, if they’re really bad, they won’t do anything other than stare at the sheep.
To be sure we are not going to experience these problems, we try to make certain the sheep and puppies are kept apart until the pup is old enough to start a little training.
Some of our recent puppies don’t seem to have read the book though!
Twice a day (whatever the weather) – and irrespective of whether they have been training or not that day, all the dogs go out for a good long run. It’s usually a joy to take them out, but occasionally, it can be less of a joy and more of a test of our ability to outwit two of the puppies.
Dulcie and Glyn (a couple of pups bought from a good friend of ours in mid Wales) have created their own agenda. All the pups love to go chasing after the big dogs, but recently, Dulcie and Glyn realised that if they sneak off just as we’re getting back to the yard, they can have the excitement of the run with the big dogs, and then the excitement of chasing the sheep too.
This seemed easy to remedy – either Gill or I would pick up the offenders just before we reached the yard, and carry them home. All went well for a day or so, until Dulcie discovered that if she sneaked off a little earlier, she could get away with it.
Glyn wasn’t slow to notice Dulcie’s innovative departure, and the two began to take off early. We realised what they were doing and intercepted them sooner, but Dulcie was no mug. She broke away earlier and earlier, until now, she begins her homeward run at the halfway point of the walk.
The result is that we have to carry the protesting pup for fifty percent of the walk – not much fun when the rain’s pouring down, and the ground is very slippery.
Never mind, Dulcie is actually showing a tremendous amount of natural ability with the sheep, so it’s worth making a special effort to ensure she maintains her confidence.