Herding, The Art of Communication (a short reflection on herding…)
Herding is the art of communication between three distinct species. While one can teach almost every dog to fetch an object, jump over and navigate between obstacles, dive into water or even dance, one of the most fascinating aspects of herding is that it takes a complex cooperation of three distinct species to make herding to work. Of course, all dog sports and work, including herding, are far more complicated than this simple description. It involves, among many things, genetics, breeding, selection, environment, training and the very particular characteristics of the individual dog.
Although, we’ve been training dogs for over fifteen years, our short herding experience since 2008, makes us fragile novices in the field. We’ve gotten into herding primarily because of necessity, as
we have a fiber sheep and goat farm. Our working Pumis have made tremendous difference in our life working with farm animals. We’ve become faster, more effective and less exhausted by handling the stock. Gradually, we’ve also become interested in the sport of herding that is the sanitized, however, exciting version of real life farm work.
Seemingly, it is easy to pick a herding dog today, as the selection is so wide or perhaps for the same reason, might be the opposite is true because of the over abundance of herding breeds.
Conditions in the distant past, when geographical isolation, lack of infrastructure and limited or no availability of variety of dog breeds made animal husbandry a daily challenge, man must relied on some of the more intelligent feral and stray dogs whose ability to adopt, helped them to earn the trust of early farmers. This unique relationship of mutual dependence of man and dog, has been the dawn of the all around farm dog. We all have heard amazing urban and for that matter rural dog tales that when rationalized, explains the incredible ability of dogs to adopt to their changing environment.
In the macrocosm of animal husbandry, politics, history and most particularly land and agrarian reforms have played significant roles. Consequently, they have also influenced the selection of herding breeds and herding styles overtime.
In England, especially during the accelerated enclosure laws under the Tudors, that has significantly altered human conditions in England and perhaps the course of global history, the changing face of agriculture has promoted the appearance of large open continuos pastures to the detriment of hay and crop fields, due to the increased demand for wool. As a result, the need for a more efficient type of herding dog that could control large flocks on wide open fields has also grown. These changes have contributed to the promotion of the increased use of hard-eye dogs whose quiet stalking style, distance from the flock and fast speed provided better control of the livestock.
In contrast, agrarian history has taken different directions in continental Europe, especially, in the central and eastern regions. On the continent, share cropping and tenant farming systems kept arable land divided in small parcels and common pastures where a different type of dog appeared more suitable to do the job. Shepherds needed dogs like the Pumi who could navigate the stock swiftly and safely through narrow spaces, turn and stop them, control crossings of roads, bridges, and passing crop fields without damage. Therefore, loose-eye dogs, which style is significantly different from their hard-eye cousins, by working closely to the stock, have been preferable for these type of agricultural perimeters. Of course, styles have been further broken down and defined, and categorized by specializations and need such as droving, driving, fetching, tending and more…
In short, the development and specialization of various working styles have been the result of the method of agriculture, terrain, local situations, such as, the physical outlines of crop lands, pastures and farms. Tradition, as well as personal preference have also played significant role in the selection of herding dogs. The criteria to select the most ideal type of dogs are similar today.
We’ve also made our choice of herding breed, the Pumi, along the above lines. We breed Shetland and Merino crosses, a flightier and more aggressive type of sheep on a primarily hilly terrain, where smaller pasture areas are divided by fence and gate systems, with lots of turns, stops, narrow areas and dead-end spaces. Therefore, we’ve decided to put our bet on the Pumi, a Hungarian herding breed, terrier type, smaller, fast moving, agile that works close to the stock and tends to be tough if the need arrives (working with Shetlands there are plenty of occasions for a dog to become physical.) They are very devoted to their jobs, and prefer to be one person dogs, however, we are lucky that our Pumis have such great herding drive that they do not mind to work for others as well.
In our decision, we have also weighed some seemingly less important issues, such as hair type, the look of the dogs and the over all character of the breed after the most important aspects, the ability to work and the potential effectiveness of the dogs within the working conditions that our farm offers. Because we keep our Pumis in our home with us, it was a positive factor in our decision that the breed does not shed. This breed also offers so much more than work only. Pumis are true entertainers and it is a joy to spend time with them outside of work too.
Last but not least on the look of the dog; as the synergy of function and aesthetic has penetrated every aspects of our lives and work, we have concluded that herding should not be an exception…