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Multi breed herding

We spent the weekend at a very interesting event. Sinikka Kumpusalmi, a stock owner in eastern Finland, had decided that it would be interesting to have people with all kinds of herding breeds come together for a common training weekend. She organized the weekend at her farm, where she has sheep and goats.

The original plan was to have all the three brothers train at the event, but Lotta and Taffy had to cancel, so it was Minna with Tykki, Maiccu with Svensson, and me with Petsu.

Cool as a goatCool as a goatThe goats were an interesting bunch, much more independent than the sheep. There were a couple of goats in each group, mixed in with the sheep, and the arrangement seemed to work fine. According to the owner, the goats add stability, as the sheep tend to look at them for guidance.

A surprisingly large variety of herding breeds were present. I recall at least bearded collies, border collies, a kelpie, Catalonian sheep dogs, Australian shepherds, a Lancashire heeler, a briard, an East Götaland spitz (a Swedish breed), and a Finnish reindeer herder.

Maiccu and SvenssonMaiccu and SvenssonWe started with a round pen, with the sheep inside and the dog and handler outside. I've never done this particular exercise before, but it was very useful. The handler walks backwards, and the dog tries to balance the sheep to the handler. Because of the pen, the dog cannnot really rush the sheep even if he is very fast, but the sheep still have enough freedom of movement that the setup is realistic from the dog's point of view. Here are Maiccu and Svensson doing the exercise.

I built a similar pen at home, and we tried it with a couple of beardies today. Pyry whom we know to be interested in sheep was working really well. A young bitch called Hilma also got turned on. We had tried her previously in a big round pen, but it had not really worked out well with our still very light sheep. This time she discovered that she could make the sheep move, and that made all the difference.

The more advanced dogs (including all three beardies of course!) then started with a large flock on an open field on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Sinikka's sheep are very dog broke, so even the less experienced dogs managed quite well, although for some reason the sheep were much more reactive on Sunday. It was a different set of animals than on Saturday, so I guess they just happened to be a less stable group.

The weekend was really quite something. People were nice, the sheep were nice, and everything rolled on very smoothly. We are already looking forward to the next event!