Alf von Fafnerhaus (Nicky) 1998


by Ellen Nickelsberg - 1990

There has been an ongoing controversy surrounding the different working styles of the herding dog - especially regarding the "fetching & gathering" style more typical of the Border Collie and the "boundary" style more typical of the large flock German shepherd herding dog. All herding breeds work sheep, but each breed works in a different style according to the varying needs of the shepherd and the agricultural region. Fetching/gathering dogs are used more often where sheep range freely - their working style consists primarily of fetching and gathering widely scattered sheep out of a large ranging area to the shepherd. Large flock HGH dogs are used where sheep must be contained in smaller unfenced grazing areas and must be kept out of neighboring crop fields - their working style consists primarily of boundary patrol, or flock containment.

Both fetching/gathering and boundary dogs are selected for their strong prey drive, among others, since a strong prey drive is fundamental to maintaining a sustained high drive in the dog while working sheep. How the dog uses its natural prey drive in working sheep illustrates the fundamental difference between the fetching/gathering style and the boundary style. Therefore, the manner in which the dog is tested should be of utmost importance in determining for which style of herding a dog is instinctively best suited.

In testing a potential fetching/gathering dog candidate on sheep, circling behavior as an expression of the prey drive is primarily selected for since it can be channeled naturally into the fetching and gathering style desired. The smaller the number of sheep used in testing and the lighter the sheep are, the more the natural prey drive in the dog will be activated and the more intense the circling behavior should become. If the dog rushes the sheep and must be corrected, a high prey drive fetching/gathering dog should come out of the correction and continue circling as before.

In testing a potential large flock HGH boundary dog candidate on sheep, circling behavior is not the primary behavior needed for this kind of work. Therefore, the number and type of sheep used for testing should be different than those used for testing the potential fetching/gathering dog. In fact, in Germany in the HGH work with German shepherds, the dog should never circle around behind a moving flock, it should only change sides in front of the shepherd leading the flock. The potential boundary dog can be tested on a small or a large flock of sheep as long as they are quietly grazing. The dog should be walked calmly to the edge of the field and allowed to watch the sheep from the boundary until the dog appears settled. The dog should show an intense interest in watching the sheep but should be settled - not looking like it has an uncontrollable urge to rush in and grab the nearest one. The dog should not be taken off the line until it is calm and responsive to verbal commands. When the dog is taken off the line, the handler should not have to say or do anything - only be aware of the dog. A good potential HGH dog should start moving by itself back and forth along the boundary - gradually lengthening its patrolling distance while keeping its eyes intently focused on the sheep. If the dog moves to rush into the flock, the handler should throw down his shepherd's staff in front of the oncoming dog with a sharp "PFUI!". This must be done forcefully enough to "shock" the dog out of the chase drive and to teach it that the sheep within the borders are to be left alone. A good potential HGH dog should handle this correction by moving back onto the boundary and patrolling the line as before. The potential HGH dog should not come out of the correction showing circling behavior like one would expect of the potential fetching/gathering dog. If the dog does show consistent circling behavior instead of straight line border work on the flock, you can still train the dog to do boundary work but you will be working against the dog's natural instinctive style.


Ellen Nickelsberg
Nickelsberg's Farm
44 Chase Lane
Medusa, NY 12120
Phone: 518-239-4972