Let’s take a brief break from rescue dogs and return to look at dogs as workmates to humans. As to which is actually man’s best workmate, the dog or the horse, is historically quite a close contest. For centuries the horse, a noble beast, has carried man into battle and to the hunt, provided him with transport, pulled his ploughs and other implements, provided sport and fertilized his crops.
Although the dog has not actually carried anyone on its back, nor fertilized crops, it has been used for pulling things, but for sheer versatility the dog has the edge on the horse for the title of man’s best workmate. For example, you can herd sheep on horseback, but a dog will do the job for you.
The sheepdog is probably one of the oldest examples of a working dog along with the guard dog from which it evolved. Dogs are great for the role of guarding property, people or indeed sheep. They bark and raise the alarm when intruders approach and they have teeth!
Sheep are naturally nervous of dogs and mankind learned long ago to capitalise on this, once the natural herding instincts of some breeds of dog were recognised and then finely tuned through selective breeding and training.
Just watch an experienced shepherd working a flock of sheep with a dog and observe the superb synergy between human and dog. What team-work is demonstrated by these perfect workmates!
Practice makes perfect and shepherds and their dogs have been developing this working relationship over many generations. It all seems to have started with shepherds using dogs to guard their flocks against predators such as wolves and bears.
Apparently the keeping of sheep originated in the Middle East and the nomadic tribes who travelled across Europe to the British Isles around 2500BC brought with them both their sheep and domesticated, or at least semi-domesticated, dogs. In the lands south of the Mediterranean Sea it was usual to let the sheep roam far and wide over a large area and only round them up for shearing, slaughter, or moving to fresh pasture.
Their dogs appear to have lived with the people so they would already have been domesticated to a degree. It seems unlikely they would have been pets but would have earned the scraps of food thrown to them by the people, almost certainly by guarding the sheep and cattle against attack by wolves and bears.
In Northern Europe such attacks would have been more common, prompting a change from the Mediterranean system. Keeping the sheep together in a manageable area rather than allowing them to roam far and wide would have made the task of protection from predators far more achievable. The guardian dogs would help in this by constantly circling the sheep, encouraging them to stay together. Finding that some dogs showed signs of a natural herding instinct the shepherds would have favoured those dogs, encouraging them to breed so gradually strengthening the herding instinct, generation by generation.
By the end of the Middle-Ages in Britain and Ireland, wolves and bears were no longer to be found and the guardian dogs had given way to the more specialised breeds of herding sheepdogs and the beginnings of what we know as sheepdogs. More and more land became enclosed for arable farming meaning that in many parts of Britain allowing sheep and goats to roam all over the place became less practical, encouraging the use of sheepdogs to keep flocks together.
Another interesting development in shepherding in the British Isles compared with the Middle East and other countries is that when a flock of sheep is on the move together in the Middle East and elsewhere it was customary for the shepherd to lead and the sheep to follow. Bible references to the Good Shepherd leading his flock come to mind. In Britain, at least since mediaeval times, the shepherd follows behind the flock with the dogs keeping the sheep together. That would have made it much easier for the shepherd to spot any potential threat early and also to work the dogs.
CREDIT REF: www.janedogs.com/herding-sheepdogs.
Article provided provided by freelance copywriter UK, Pete Hopper of Write For You
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|Sunday, September 26. 2021|