Herding Dogs are Watch Dogs.
Please notice that I say “Watch” not “Guard” Dogs.
Now don’t get me wrong, they are loyal. If someone hurts or tries to hurt a member of their pack (i.e. your family) don’t think that they won’t be ready to fend off an attacker and protect you.
They are bred to watch the sheep and alert you. And wow are they GOOD at it!
Meet Lucy, a blue merle Old English Sheepdog/Australian Shepherd mix (as a grown dog [left] and as a puppy [right]):
Meet Blue (I couldn’t find a pic, but he was a blue merle Australian Shepherd). . .
And meet Clancy (red merle Australian Shepherd):
For years they were our watch dogs on our farm when I was growing up. One day we started noticing that every morning there was a dog at the front door, a dog at the back door, and a dog in the driveway by the barn. Each dog didn’t always end up in the same spot, but those locations were always covered.
So one night we decided to watch them for a while.
Clancy was at the back door. Blue was in the driveway. Lucy was at the front door. We kept checking on them and managed to finally catch them about two hours later. Clancy started the move. He got up, looked around and then trotted down by the horse pastures and looked in . . . all was well. He went around to the front door. When Clancy came in sight, Blue got up, looked around, and then went to the front door. When Blue got up, Lucy got up and then went around to the back door.
We were floored. We did NOT teach that to them. It was instinct.
When we woke up the next morning, Lucy was in the front driveway, Clancy was at the front door, and Blue was at the back door. WOW. . .
Since then, I have noticed that herding dogs feel that their jobs include sleeping anywhere they consider a vantage point or a gateway. Given the option they like to sleep high, almost like a cat. Percy likes to sleep on top of a sofa. Or they prefer in front of a doorway. If you’re inside, they will face away from you so that they make sure to see if anything is coming. If something does come that they don’t like, they will let you know.
We learned quickly on the farm that the barking meant something was happening. I can’t tell you how many times we were awakened by one or more of those three dogs over the years. Sometimes it was to tell us that the horses had gotten loose. Deer often break through wire and horses are always looking for a way of escape. Sometimes it was a coyote or a fox going after our chickens or kittens. Sometimes it was something we couldn’t see.
But the nights where we got up and were able to put the horses back before any of them were hurt, far outweighed the nights that we got up and couldn’t see anything. I realize how much of a treasure and blessing those three dogs were.
Lucy and Blue have passed away since then and Clancy is now 15 year old. My family has left the farm and there are no more worries about horses getting out or coyotes getting chickens or bobcats in the backyard. Clancy now lives in cushy, well-deserved retirement with my dad and stepmother inside their house.
But I haven’t forgotten their service. I never will.
I woke up this morning and found Psych curled up on the floor in my bedroom facing the doorway. He slept, but if something stirred, his ears would go up. I called to him and heard Percy jump down from the sofa in the living room by the window, keeping watch over who came near the outside of the house. They remind me every day of the amazing gifts herders can be and of their incredible, God-given instincts that we don’t – and I will venture to say probably can’t – teach.
And I’m thankful and Psyched!