Herding German Shepherds? As you know, German Shepherd Dogs fall into the Herding Category of dog breeds. The breed was derived in the late 1800’s from several different types of herding stock in Germany.
As this new dog breed gained popularity, it also gained new “jobs” and duties as varied as can be possibly imagined - from work in the wars, search-and-rescue, tracking, police work, protection, to guide dog, personal companion dog and more.
Tactics used by hunting wolves, witnessed by humans, such as driving and separating one animal from the flock, were further exploited and bred into these dogs. As in other dogs, the animals possessing the best inherent herding abilities were further developed to assist human shepherds in their daily duties.
Exactly what is involved in the process of herding? First, a willingness to work and to cooperate with others. In the wild wolves or wild dogs work as a unit when hunting prey and each animal may have a particular “job” to fulfill in order to bring down the intended victim.
Some may be following the prey while others attempt to head it off. Still, another may be the pack leader who in essence coordinates the events of the hunt. Herding German Shepherds now work essentially with a human as pack leader in attempting to control herds of livestock.
Herding German Shepherds may have basic natural abilities and fall in one of two basic categories- either that of gatherer or driver. Drivers generally move the stock away from the handler while still grouped, while gatherers tend to head off stock, keep them grouped and move them toward the handler. Generally speaking, gatherers are more versatile than drivers and it is much easier to cross train a gatherer to drive than it is to cross train a driver to gather.
Overall, the herding principles involved are based on the dogs natural instincts though other training methods abound. First dogs must obey the handler and follow commands. This, along with mutual trust and respect, are the most important aspects of the working relationship between the dog(s) and the handler.
After being introduced to stock, the German Shepherds are taught
to position themselves in relation to the handler and stock based on
their ”job” and the direction in which the flock is to be moved. It is
the handlers job to give the dog guidance in working the stock.
Later on in training directional commands are learned by the animal in training. Most herding commands are in the form of verbal cues or whistles although visual commands may sometimes be involved as well. Possible herding commands may include “easy” or ”steady” (move slowly), “stop”, “down”, or flanking commands such as move counterclockwise or clockwise around the livestock. Once the German Shepherd masters the basic gathering commands it is taught to drive the flock and as it learns each lesson, it is taught other more difficult commands.
Qualities a good herding German Shepherd
must possess to do this job are obedience, trainability, adaptiveness,
good health, responsiveness and, most importantly, being able to use its
own judgment. “Standing up” to uncooperative stock or being gentle
with cooperative stock are other qualities of utmost importance in an
actual working herding dog.
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Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs." - Christopher Hampton
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