The Herding Dogs

Scotland  2015  8No discussion of sheep farming would be complete without a big nod to the dogs. A flock of 1100 sheep, living on hundreds of acres of hilly land, would be next to impossible to handle without herding dogs.  There comes a time when those sheep have to come in. The ewes are about to have babies. The sheep need to be sheared. The stray sheep from a neighboring farm need to get singled out, and sent home. Farming has its cycles. In and out is simple to write, but much more difficult to accomplish. Farmers who raise livestock need the herding dogs.  There are many different breeds of herding dogs, indigenous to many different countries, that make the work of rounding up and watching the livestock possible.  Though many of them, including my cardigan corgis, have been bred to herd, a lot of work is involved in training the dogs.

herding-dogs.jpgThe dogs at Easegill Head Farm are farm hands. The work that it took to train these dogs when they were pups is repaid 10 fold, when they grow up, and contribute. They help to make a business – a life’s work – viable.

working dogsTheir accommodations are farm style. Not especially luxurious. I have the feeling that even though they are not house dogs or pets, they are valued members of the family. They perform a service not possible any other way. Having seen Rob’s pictures, I have done some reading about these dogs.  They are trained to respond to various verbal commands – lots of them.  Up to 30, on this farm. They have incredible, virtually boundless energy. Nothing is right with the world for these dogs unless they are working.

border-collie-giving-the-eyThis border collie is staring down a group of sheep.  The dogs are very small, in comparison to the sheep.  And miniscule in comparison to a flock of sheep. Their ability to learn how to handle a crowd with a look is astonishing. I would not dream of challenging this dog, and neither do the sheep.

herding-dogs.jpgSome dogs work in groups.

454699-20140928_SheepDogTriOthers can manage a group all on their own.

herding-dog.jpgherding dog working

dog-and-his-flock.jpgOne dog managing a big flock

371903697Blue merle Australian shepard herding

willow-farm-sheep-dogs3Farm hands

Protector_of_the_sheepThis breed of dog is known as a Maremma.  They protect a flock from harm.  They work the night shift, making sure predators do not harm any member of a flock. This Maremma looks cool and calm, but I would guess he would go to the ropes defending his flock.

Cardigan_Corgi_Sept_1_2010_at_Elvies_-_pic_by_RobinVisitors to Detroit Garden Works are skeptical when I tell them that Cardigan Welsh corgis are herding dogs. How could a dog with such short legs keep up with goats, sheep and cattle?? Milo is actually lightening fast.  He can get down the driveway faster than a tennis ball I heave with all my might in a ball launcher. The short legs are a result of natural selection.  They nip at the feet of the animals they are herding. A cow that kicks after being nipped would clip a tall legged corgi in the head. I have explained this countless times.herding diagram
This hilarious drawing tells the tale.  Corgis have very short legs for good reason. They are small, and have short legs. They avoid trouble. This does not mean they do not excel as a herding dog.

Copper-moving-her-sheep1-3-29-14working cardigan corgi

p1280669x_lh1cardigan corgi working hard

farm dogs on flickrThe herding dogs have my respect. They make a certain kind of farming easier. They are a very important part of the agricultural landscape. A herding dog who can guide a flock to a specified location without alarming or upsetting them is a very valuable asset to a farmer, no matter whether they raise ducks, goats, sheep, or cattle. Good relationships between people and nature have existed for centuries, and take a lot of different forms. Every gardener has a relationship with nature.  Spoken, or unspoken.  The dogs pictured above make me think about how great gardening is not so much about the spoken language. It is about a bred in the bone need to work. A great love of nature.  And a pair of hands looking for work.

corgis-in-winter.jpgMy corgis are not taking the long winter so well. They like a working life.  This picture of them sparring-they are not happy with a lack of work. I get this.  Our hope is that spring is not far off.



  1. What an amazing experience. By nature, corgis and sheep dogs
    are bred for herding and probably need a lot of outdoor activity

    to make up for not “doing their job”. all of us need a job.

    Keep everyone busy and see u in the spring
    Jane Mettler

  2. Joyce B in Atlanta says

    Your Corgis made me laugh! This is exactly how I feel about this winter – and we live in Atlanta!! Loved reading about the working dogs.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joyce, dogs need a job, just like us gardening people. I was in Atlanta in January-it was miserably cold. Hope things are warming up for you. best, Deborah

  3. thank you thank you thank you

  4. virginia skold says

    thank you for the sequel. We owned a Cardigan Corgi for many years. Unfortunately, he never had a flock to herd.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Virginia, Would that I could procure a flock for Milo. I am sure he would sleep more soundly at night! best, Deborah

  5. Mary Ann Duncan says

    Loved learning about these brave little workmen!!!
    There is a great book you must read about sheep that will change your life!!!!
    “All We Like Sheep”, by Mary Glynn Peeples
    You will love all the amazing facts about sheep!!!!

  6. Thanks for this fun and informative blog post. We have two Border Collies. Although they are pets and not working dogs, we have to stay on our toes to keep them challenged and engaged. They’re a lot of work AND a lot of joy!

  7. I just loved your article on the working dogs. Most people do not realize how valuable they are to the farming family. One of my dogs is a Great Pyrenees. They are one of the oldest breeds in the world and the precursor to the Italian Maremma, the Polish Tatra Mountain dog, the Czech Kuvascz. as well the New Foundland. What amazing guards they are! Not herding, just guard dogs. They are put with the flock at 10-12 weeks and bond with them.

    These animals are part of the family and the business. Such talent. Thank you for such beautiful words. I wish that more people would realize that their own family dogs need a job.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, Milo’s job at the shop is to interact with people who come to visit. Lots of people come, and ask to see him. This winter lay off is making him crazy! best, Deborah

  8. Heather Burkhardt says

    cute, cute, cute

  9. Deborah,
    I have just recently discovered your blog and so enjoy and look forward to reading them. This post on herding dogs really, pardon the pun, struck a bone at the ending when you compare gardeners and the farm dogs innate need, & drive to work, and to be out in nature. I have had this desire all my life; it energizes me still in my middle-age. Enjoyed learning about the work dogs. Love the Corgis. I am short with strong legs so that has its advantages in many gardening/ landscaping tasks for sure.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rolanda, you nailed the real message of the post. All gardeners of serious mind are working yard dogs.I think every person needs work that is real. I need to work in my garden. For lots of reasons. best, Deborah

  10. Love the tribute to these vital, hard-working and under-praised members of the farming family!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I don’t know that farming people love their dogs in the same way that I love my pet dogs.But farming people need their dogs in a way that I do not need mine.They are a vital part of any farmer who raises livestock for a living. all the best, Deborah

  11. Love the fine selection of great photos and very cute dogs! As always, your fascinating stories are told so well. Thanks for a pleasant diversion on a cold winter’s day.

    • Deborah Silver says

      A little diversion is good in February, Starr. But the big issue is how intertwined people are with nature-in all of its forms. best Deborah

  12. carolyn jordan-white says

    the movie Babe is delightful and shows the sheep point of view as well !

    some of the lyrics from a song in the movie:

    If I had words to make a day for you, I sing you a morning golden and new
    I would make this day last for all time
    Give you a night deep in moonshine

    and yes my mixed version of an english fox hound loves her squirrel “job”

  13. Mary Glynn Peeples says

    Deborah, I am the lady with the sheep book. I love your blog and want to send you a copy of my book. Please send me your address and I will but it in the mail to you. I spent 12 years asking people who raised sheep to tell me what they could about them. I compelled this tiny little book
    from facts from shepherds.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary Glynn I would be thrilled to get a copy of your book from you! c/o Detroit Garden Works, 1794 Pontiac Drive, Sylvan Lake, Michigan, 48320. I am hoping you will autograph it for me. Best regards, Deborah

  14. God bless the working dogs! Banjo and Milo and….ALL the dogs. xxoo.

  15. Oh I love this post!! What evocative photos. I’ve loved seeing all his photos from the trip. My dog is half Border Collie and it’s amazing that she is SO driven to “work”. She’d love a few sheep to keep in line. She has play dates with a group of five Shih Tzus and she’s very good at herding them. Also once when we were at the beach, a group of five children came running all around here with that distinct “PUUUPPPPPY!!!!!” look. I was very worried as her training wasn’t 100% yet and was afraid in her excitement she would jump on them and knock them over. I had nothing to be concerned about. Her instincts are always good. But as their mothers began trying to get the children off the beach, they started to run around and challenge their mothers to catch them. Well Barbie (my dog) picked right up on this and began herding the children! She zig-zagged the beach and inched them together. She didn’t nip their heels, but darted in front of them and did that signature Border Collie crouch. In no time the children were grouped and the mothers had control. One of them told me “I think I need a Border Collie at home!”.

    • Deborah Silver says

      love your letter Stephen! Dog stories never fail to interest me. Yesterday my dogs were stuck inside-10 below zero outside is too cold.How they hated that.Just one more reason to hope spring is not far off. best, Deborah

  16. Janice Casper says

    This reminded me of the books by James Harriot. He was a vet in England starting before WWII. He often talked about the working animals on the farms he visited. Look up his books starting with All Creatures Great And Small. I think I will spend the rest of this dreary winter re-reading them. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Janice, I have read all of his books, and watched the TV series on PBS over and over again. They are great stories. best, Deborah

  17. Candice Kimmel says

    Dear Deborah,
    I noted you use many containers that probably don’t have drainage holes. How do you work around this. Do you fill the lower level with gravel and then dirt. Sorry if you’ve covered this, I’ve searched and can’t find the answer. Thank You!

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