Dogs For Work and Protection

Author Unknown

When it came time for the human race to settle down, to abandon its nomadic existence for a life on the farm, man created a new class of canine. A group we now call the working dog.

These animals were vastly different to the hunting dogs mankind had first associated with. Not as fast as the hunters and usually more placid, working dogs were prized never the less.

Farm dogs were bred to guard the flocks and had the strength and courage to fend off hungry bears or fight packs of wolves. Mustering breeds were blessed with nimbleness, intelligence and the instinct to round up anything that moved.

These qualities have not disappeared, even though many people think of working dogs as family pets. Breed enthusiasts have always tried to ensure the "working" aspect of their dogs, whether it be on the farm or in the obedience ring, is not forgotten.

Historians have had trouble ascertaining the origin of the working dog. Farmers bred dogs for their working ability, not breed purity and accurate records and pedigrees were unheard of. Writers and artists preferred to portray the exciting pursuits of hunting dogs and their aristocratic owners. However, it seems man started breeding working dogs as the Ice Age thawed 14,000 years ago. It was then people stopped following the herds of migrating beasts and formed villages, feeding off crops and domestic stock.

Early herdsman noticed the natural protective qualities of some dogs and selective breeding began, the aim being to create a large dog with a protective nature and the courage to stand up to predators. Often, for reasons of camouflage, these guardians were the same size and shape as sheep. To withstand the elements they had thick, waterproof coats.

Graziers weaned the pups early and brought them up to think the herd was their family. There are now more than 20 guardian breeds. Of course, as farmers started to fence properties and eradicate predators, the need for these dogs lessened. Many of these reeds are now household pets and exhibit the same loyalty to the family as they once did to the stock. When selling pups, breeders often recommend that visitors , even friendly ones, be introduced to these dogs. Having harnessed the skills of the guardians, shepherds realised they could use their dogs to work the sheep. By the Bronze Age (3500BC - 1000BC) shepherds were working fore-runners to what we know today as the herding dogs. They had heavy, double coats, jaunty personalities and pricked or semi-pricked ears.

Evidence suggests these dogs were spitz breeds that originated in northern Europe, where people had trained them to work reindeer. Early shepherds crossed their dogs with mastiff type animals for guarding their stock to gain extra aggression or toughness. This created a dog capable of both working and guarding the herd.

All countries developed their own style of working dog and breed uniformity arose, not through design, but isolation. Scotland, the home of the Collie, seems to have had the greatest influence on the working dog. All working dogs from Scotland are called collies, a name possibly derived from the Colley, a black-faced sheep.

Last century, almost every large property in Scotland had a collie named after it. And although the dogs varied in physical qualities, the Scottish were adamant about certain points. They demanded a working dog that was sturdy, agile, intelligent, able to cope with rough terrain and inclement weather and trustworthy. Shepherds preferred coloured dogs for their visual dominance over the sheep.

Collies registered in Australia now include the Rough and Smooth, the Bearded and the Border, the Shetland Sheepdog, the Australian Kelpie, the Australian Cattle Dog and the Old English Sheepdog. They all have collie ancestry of some type.

Today’s herders fall into two main groups: those that "head" the stock and those that "heel". Headers stand on the opposite side of the herd to the handler, while heelers bark and nip at the heels of the livestock to force them to move in a desired direction. These herders must be quick and agile, without excess bulk. They are built for short bursts of high speed, but also have the endurance needed for a full day’s work.. Although they rely heavily on their master’s commands, and in most cases crave his attention, these dogs must have a degree of independence and self-confidence,

In the canine family, these dogs have the closest affinity with humans. Bonding and socialising are vital in these breeds. Work and play with them and they will die for you, but when ignored they will suffer. Australian Cattle Dogs, when bored , are known to round up anything that moves, including the washing! Neglectful owners of German Shepherds soon complain that their pet is vicious and barks all night.

While a large backyard is ideal for a working dog, they can be kept in smaller areas, but must have considerable exercise. Some breeds, such as German Shepherds, are all-rounders, but others are more specialised. The Kelpie for instance, is too soft to be a guard dog. They love to turn upside down to say hello to everyone they meet. =

Submitted by John Chandler

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