I recently had the opportunity to fulfill an odd, yet lifelong dream (at least lifelong since my first viewing of the movie Babe). I was able to work with a sheepdog and sheep in the beautiful Lake District countryside of Northern England! And let me tell you, it was amazing!
First the nitty-gritty; this is not a cheap experience. If you are interested you must book a reservation in advance, you can go with a group but keep in mind that only one person gets to actually heard the sheep with the dog, the rest are viewers/bystanders and they must pay a smaller fee to view. However, I do think the experience was worth it and it’s something I know for sure that I will remember with delight for the rest of my life.
A Lesson with the Pros – Man and Sheep Dog!
When we arrived at the unsuspecting and very empty field in the dramatic countryside I really did not know what to expect, or even if the experience was real or not considering there was no one there to greet us. But we waited about five minutes and sure enough a woman carrying a shepherd’s staff and followed by two gorgeous black and white sheep dogs greeted us at the gate. We then walked through a couple fields to get to the training area. After our short introductions, we learned all about the company and how many dogs they have, how much they love their dogs, and what a normal day for them looks like. I have to admit it sounded like a lot of work from sunup to sundown, but working with dogs all day has just got to be fun.
Upon arriving at the dog training field, we met the woman’s husband who was seated in a small tent and was attending to a very young and hyper dog. We were introduced to the farmer and all the dogs properly, they were very excited and it was obvious that the dogs loved their job. This is their element and it’s a great thing to see animals use their basic skills and instincts!
After a quick demonstration I realized that I was then up to bat and I became very nervous thinking I had to command this amazing sheep dog. However, my nerves soon subsided as I slowly started to learn the terminology, “Come by” which means to move around in a clockwise circle, “Away” which means to move around in a circle in a counter-clockwise direction, and “Stand by” to stop, slow down, or wait. I was given a trial run with Max, the oldest male sheepdog, who was so excited to do his job he couldn’t contain himself! It took just a few moments for him to listen to each of my commands as I said them. He was definitely the most well trained and focused dog I have ever seen or met. I started saying the terms loud, then from prodding from the shepherd began to quiet down, and even though Max was about 200 yards away at times, he could hear and follow demands as quiet as a whisper.
After a few trials, we went through an entire routine, me whispering demands, Max following them to a T. We rounded the sheep from one end of the field to the other using “come by” then when we went a little too far, I said “come by” a few times, then the ever important “stand by”, in which Max slowly herded the sheep straight ahead to make it finally through the gate and once we were all done, the iconic phrase from Babe, “That’ll Do”.
Although we were there for about an hour it felt like fifteen minutes, it was exhilarating fun and watching the dogs do what they do best was awe-inspiring. This was certainly a Sheepdog Experience to remember!
If you love animals check out this post: Encounters with Wild Ponies – A Weekend in the New Forest.