Did you know that there are almost as many sheep as there are humans in Ireland? According to Ireland’s 2016 census, there are 3.9 million sheep versus 4.7 million people. Even more interesting… Cattle outnumber humans by 25%! The second bit of information is irrelevant, but I found it to be a fun fact. The more you know… You’re probably wondering: “Why on earth is she talking about livestock!?” Well, my sister was visiting for a few days and I had to come up with the most Irish thing to do during her stay, besides drinking Guiness.
So, I enlisted the help of Little Gem Private Irish Tours to help plan a two-day trip not too far from Dublin . After exchanging a few emails with Robbie, owner and tour operator, we had the perfect itinerary planned. One of the activities that stood out was a Sheep Dog Demonstration up in Wicklow. Which brings me to this next question: “Is your dog as bright as the Border Collie?” Well, we found out ours isn’t and chances are after reading this, yours isn’t either.
The Handler And The Super Star
As we made our way through the Wicklow mountains we drove into a quaint village called Annamoe. This is where Michael Crowe, a well-known sheepdog handler, welcomed us onto his farm, more on his farm here. With him was Dale, an 11 y/o border collie with more energy than a sugar laden toddler. Nothing like our 3 y/o English Bulldog, Gnocchi, who’s mastered the art of laziness.
The Cheviot Sheep is an indigenous sheep to the Wicklow mountains which is a large open national park with no fence. They stay on the mountain because they are hefted or imprinted. Kindda like Jacob imprinted on Renesmee in Twilight. Michael explained that if three farmers each had a flock of sheep, each flock would stay roughly where they put them. A few might mix, so when they gather them at the end of the year they return them to each other. You’re probably wondering: “If they are imprinted, why would you need the dog?” It is nearly impossible for a farmer to heard a flock of 200-300 sheep back. As a result, the dog is a great aid to the farmers, they can get more work done and it helps save loads of time. Why the Border Collie?
The Most Intelligent Dog In The World
Border Collies, the most intelligent dogs in the world, are used to shepherd the sheep. They are known for being workaholics and having sharp instincts, making them the perfect dog for the job. These dogs are bred like race horses, from the best to the best. They must possess certain characteristics that make them desirable; a strong will to work and a razor-sharp focus on their job. On the list of top 10 least intelligent dogs: English Bulldogs.
Michael explained how the instinct of the border collie is to hold the sheep to the Shepherd at 12 o’clock. While a puppies’ instinct is to run through the middle of the heard and grab onto the wool; also called gripping.
Dale The Border Collie In Action
The dogs must have power and push. This is recognized by the sheep and causes them to move away. The sheep are not stupid. In fact, if the dog doesn’t have this trait the sheep will refuse to move. A more assertive dog will come on strong and show power while the weak dog will be more passive. The sheep is more likely to disregard the weaker dog and potentially run them out of the field.
Several commands are taught to the dogs and that is what they respond to. Come-bye = to the left away-to me = to the right. Whistle commands are also used. There is a whistle to lay down, one to get up and several others. Therefore, different dogs are trained with different whistles but still respond to the same voice commands. This way the shepherd can work each dog independently from one another. All this training helps make the farmer’s job much easier. Consequently, the dog is a great aid to the farmer. They can get more work done and they help save loads of time.
A perfect example of the Border Collie holding the sheep at 12 o’clock is shown in the following video. The dog in the video, Dale, is used everyday of the week and not only for demonstration purposes.
While Gnocchi can give paw, but only for a treat...
If you are visiting Dublin and are a dog lover like myself, I highly recommend this fun activity. This is a real Irish experience! Finally, Michael also mentioned that to keep things authentic, he changes the sheep regularly or they get used to the procedure.
Is your dog as bright as the Border Collie?
As a result of this experience it was very clear that our “little” Gnocchi’s only job would be to eat, sleep, poop and repeat. In spite of this, it is important to note that I love my dog to bits! Even though she is lacking in the trainability or intelligence department, or whatever you want to call it. Most of all, these are the reasons why English Bulldogs make wonderful pets: incredibly affectionate, funny as hell, snore like a banshee and they are so damn cute!
Where would you rank your dog on a scale of 1 to 10? 1 being dense and 10 brilliant. And why? You can answer in the comment box below.
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For more on Ireland check out: A Weekend Break In Northern Ireland