Some dogs are hard-wired to preform a task. Those that want to herd, reach their full potential and ideal mindset when allowed to accomplish their natural desire. Here is a technique to lower the stress of the Sheep and still work your dog mentally and physically.
Using Sheep to exercise dogs is typically done in a wide open space. This will be a pasture, a large round pen, or an arena. This big area can make the sheep extremely frightened. The more they run, the more they find there is nowhere to run to! Adrenaline increases and the dog pursues. There is nowhere to go and the terrified sheep are either cornered together or one or several are divided and separated by the dog.
Separation from the flock is terrifying under any condition. In a flight response scenario already in progress, it is overwhelming impairing and equally devastating to the majority herd and those segregated by the herding dog.
By using a small pen and allowing that pen to be in a sense what is herded- instead of the sheep- the sheep come to realize that there is a 'safety zone'. The dog still can move the sheep around and accomplish herding behavior, but there is no long distance flight response possible and therefore no sheep can be singled out and the risk of injury is greatly decreased.
Over time, they will become conditioned in their 'herding pen' and they will move, but for avoidance of the irritation and less from sheer terror of life ending consequence.
Most importantly, there can be no physical contact between the dog and the sheep. Again, this greatly decreases physical harm to both sheep and dog. It also, reduces mental flooding- the brain shutting down and releasing chemicals that some prey animals resort to when nipped, bitten or grabbed by a predator.
This situation has useful applications when absolutely needed by farmers for rounding up livestock, but with this alternative you can exercise your high energy/sheep herding breed in a more humane and less dangerous way.
My method again, uses the pen as a barrier and effectively supplements it as the herd itself. The dog is content to move the sheep within the pen. The flight response is triggered, but it is halted before it escalates thereby reducing stress.
The pen should be large enough for the dog to move around at a distance to gain enriching natural exercise and big enough for the sheep to show movement to trigger the herder's instincts.
It should not be too large to allow the sheep to reach a momentum that could injure them if stopping distance is not attainable due to flight response overriding sensibility. A sheep in a pen too large could break his neck, legs or severally injure himself if it is allowed to gain enough speed to hit the wall while avoiding the dog.
Using sheep and other livestock in working breeds can be very useful. The main fault it is, is obvious. It requires the proper location to maintain a small herd of sheep and the space to provide the pen.
If urban or otherwise unable to maintain sheep for enrichment, try contacting a local farm and proposing the idea. One option would be too offer to build the pen for the ranch in exchange to use it weekly. A pen like this can be useful to most any farmer as a 'catch and hold' pen for their livestock, anyway and the exchange would be mutually beneficial.
The dog in this video is Buttermilk. She is one of the dogs that I am working with to rehabilitate from a high kill shelter. Put on the euthanize list for illness and unmanageable drive, I took her home to introduce her to options she would have otherwise not have experienced in her short life left to die in the shelter.
When behavioral problems arise, the answer is usually the problem-- and the behavior is incapability with modern society and not understood as natural by a confused owner.
Thank you for watching. Please share to those that may find my technique useful for meeting the needs of our canine friends-- before they get to the shelter.
Music is licensed under Creative Commons and is free to redistribute for any purpose, including commercial. The song is by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons By Attribution 3.0