Our Four-Legged Sheep Herders

“The Navajo Nation doesn’t have a shortage of dogs, but there is one type of dog that is sought after by many – sheep dogs.The sheep dogs found on the rez have the ability to take care of those wooly creatures the Navajo people have relied on for survival, as the furry herder is usually seen trailing behind them.”  S. Silversmith, Navajo Times

Dog trainer Shawna Davis works with her five-year-old Australian shepherd Gauge during a sheep dog demonstration at Navajo Technical University’s Veterinary Hospital last week. Times photo – S. Silversmith.

Dog trainer Shawna Davis works with her five-year-old Australian shepherd Gauge during a sheep dog demonstration at Navajo Technical University’s Veterinary Hospital last week. Times photo – S. Silversmith.

“But how do those dogs herd sheep? Is it instinct or perhaps training? Those were questions the staff members at Navajo Technical University’s Veterinary Hospital wanted to be able to answer, so they brought in a professional.

Little guardian-in-training. Rearing this Great Pyrenees pup with sheep creates a bond that will be important in determining the dog’s future success as a protector.Photo- nal.usda.gov

Little guardian-in-training. Rearing this Great Pyrenees pup with sheep creates a bond that will be important in determining the dog’s future success as a protector.Photo- nal.usda.gov

Dog trainer Shawna Davis visited NTU last week to lead a sheep dog demonstration where she showed people the basic techniques needed to train a dog.
Twyla Zoey Benally, veterinarian at NTU, said they wanted to offer this demonstration to the community because surveys from their sheep workshop last year showcased it was an area of interest.

Navajo Technical University Veterinary Teaching Hospital offered a free class on training and using dogs to herd sheep. Kob News

Navajo Technical University Veterinary Teaching Hospital offered a free class on training and using dogs to herd sheep. Kob News

Benally said this demonstration was just a way to help those sheep owners who aren’t able to watch their livestock all the time. Sometimes you don’t have folks around to help you. If you have a dog it will make it quick.

To protect large numbers of sheep on open rangeland or pastures, more than one dog may be required. These two Great Pyrenees guard a large rangeland flock. nal.usda.gov

To protect large numbers of sheep on open rangeland or pastures, more than one dog may be required. These two Great Pyrenees guard a large rangeland flock. nal.usda.gov

The training approach Davis introduced is called ICE, which means instinct, connection and enjoyment.
The whole point is to have fun and the dog gets to work, Davis said, and once that is understood you won’t have to walk all over the place to get your livestock.
You’ll have a working partner with what you’re doing…Davis wanted people to know that pet obedience is not the same as training a dog to herd sheep because basic obedience is sit, laydown and come.
Davis said when you are training you have to remember that “dogs understand touch and they understand sound.”

Category: Animals