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Nickelsberg's Farm

German Shepherd Herding

The German Shepherd Herding Dog

Nickey
Alf von Fafnerhaus (Nicky) – 1998     
 

The German Shepherd Herding Dog

By Ellen Nickelsberg

The genetic roots of the German shepherd breed today go directly back to the blood of the working shepherd dogs in the fields of Germany. The generic shepherd dog of 100 years ago itself evolved over the centuries out of hunting, protecting, driving and herding dogs, in that order. The energy, temperament and working character of the shepherd dog was so highly regarded by the founder of the breed, von Stephanitz, that 25 years after organizing the SV in 1899 he wrote: “The dogs that are bred by our shepherds are indeed a fountain of rejuvenation for our race, from which it must satisfy its needs again and again in order to remain vigorous.” (From The German Shepherd Dog In Word And Picture, by v. Stephanitz: p.383; Germany; 1925)      

Over the decades the German shepherd dog has earned well-deserved recognition as the most versatile working dog in the world. Today, however, its sheep herding roots have been eclipsed by its successes in many other areas of performance.      

In my opinion, there is a great deal that can be learned about the German shepherd dog by understanding its roots and by observing it work under the guidance of a skilled shepherd in the field performing the tasks it was originally bred to do — namely controlling, containing, watching over and protecting the flocks on the road and in the pasture. My observations in the field have convinced me that watching a selectively bred and properly educated German shepherd dog herding sheep is to watch the full repertoire of selected instinctual behavior in the German shepherd dog channeled to be expressed without the effect of, or distortions imposed by, compulsion training.      

I have heard the comment many times that HGH dogs are “soft”. In my mind that is one of the more uninformed remarks I have ever heard. No dog that is able to control a flock of 200 to 1,000 or more sheep is a “soft” dog. One must be very careful to make the distinction between softness and genetic obedience. The German Shepherd herding dog is most likely to show genetic obedience because it is selectively bred to have a strong pack drive — a strong desire to help the shepherd. If training methods are used that ignore and, thereby, abuse the power of that drive, what you will end up with is a dog that will be useless for any kind of independent work, be it herding or protection work — chalked off as a “soft” dog when in reality the training method most likely destroyed the dog’s self-confidence to work >/p>  

Contents

  1. Background 

  2. Puppy Testing

  3. Raising the Young Dog

  4. Education of Nikko – First Year

  5. Education of Nikko – Second Year

  6. Education of Nikko – The Grip

  7. Education of Nikko – Graduation

  8. Reflections

1. Background

Each year for the past 10 years, I have spent some time with Manfred Heyne in the field in Germany while he tended his sheep with his German shepherd dogs. Manfred Heyne has been a Master Shepherd for over 50 years and has won the Bundesleistungshüten (the SV’s National Sheep Herding Trial) 14 times since its inception in 1954. He takes exceptional pride in his line of German shepherd dogs which he has been breeding for more than 50 years solely for their sheep herding ability or, as he prefers to call it, for their instinct. I have watched him work his experienced dogs, all Bundesleistungshüten champions, and watched him develop several young dogs from the beginning of their education in the field. I owe Manfred Heyne an immeasurable debt of gratitude for all he has taught me about German Shepherd herding. But, mostly I am indebted to him for having given me a glimpse of what I now consider the “art of sheep herding” and the “education of the herding dog”. I would like to share as much as I can of what I have learned from Manfred Heyne.      

Nikko at Schloss Eisenbach
Nikko with the flock at Schloss Eisenbach – 1990      

The German Shepherd herding dog was originally bred to control large flocks of 200 to 1,000 or more sheep. This task not only requires appropriate instincts, but it also requires courage and sound nerves. For example, Manfred Heyne loves to tell the story about how a friend of his brought his SchH III dog to him to show how any trained schutzhund dog could control sheep. Manfred told his friend to place his dog in front of the barn door to prevent the sheep from going in. Manfred proceeded to lead his flock out of the field and back toward the barn. As the large flock approached, the dog got up, ran into the barn and jumped out an open window in the back to escape.      

That story is in marked contrast to the following story that Manfred also loves to tell which illustrates the degree of courage and sound nerves expected of the shepherd dog. In 1930, von Stephanitz was judging the Sieger Show. After putting the dogs through their paces in the ring, von Stephanitz made his decision. The dog he chose was a sheep-herding dog, Herold aus den Niederlandsitz. Some time earlier von Stephanitz had given Herold the following courage test. Herold was placed in the down position in the middle of a large field. The owner was sent out of sight while von Stephanitz and another man mounted their horses and began to ride around the dog in smaller and smaller circles. Herold held his down. Then suddenly both riders rode to opposite sides of the field, turned and rode at a slow gallop toward each other with Herold in the middle. Von Stephanitz’s horse reached the dog first. Just before his horse was about to run over him, Herold leaped up, grabbed the horse on the top of the neck with a full grip and held on until von Stephanitz had to knock him off with his crop. This was the kind of dog von Stephanitz knew was needed to improve the character and temperament of the breed at the time. Herold aus den Niederlausitz was selected Sieger again in 1931.      

German Shepherd herding dogs are used where large flocks must be contained in relatively small grazing areas and kept out of unfenced neighboring crop fields. The working style of the German Shepherd herding dog consists primarily of boundary patrol, or flock containment. Since the shepherd must pay the farmer for any damage done to his crops by the sheep, the shepherd cannot afford the expense of keeping a dog that cannot hold a boundary.      

German Shepherd herding dogs are selected for their strong prey drive since a strong prey drive is fundamental to maintaining a sustained high energy in the dog while working sheep. How the dog naturally expresses, or is allowed to express, this natural prey instinct while working sheep illustrates the fundamental difference between the German Shepherd’s style and other forms of sheep herding.   

2. Puppy Testing

puppy test
Ussa vom Küchenthal HGH – New York 1998

Manfred breeds only for his own sheep herding needs. He keeps at least two experienced working males and a young dog or two in training. When he needs to replenish his working stock, he looks for and leases, or buys, a breeding bitch selected for her proven working ability. Before making the final breeding decision, he arranges to work the bitch himself for at least a month to make sure she has the instincts he wants to complement his male line. According to Manfred Heyne a top working dog must be bred, it cannot be made by training.      

When a litter is whelped, Manfred spends as much time as possible with it every day right from the time it is born to familiarize the pups to him and to the tones of his voice. Testing begins at about 3 weeks of age with the following being some of his puppy tests:      

  1. At 3-4 weeks he puts a pan of food in with the hungry litter. When the puppies are eating and fully intent on the food, he makes a sudden loud noise near them but out of their sight. He does this several times over the course of testing and notes those puppies that consistently show no concern over the noise;
  2. At about 4-6 weeks, he stands by the pen and calls the puppies to see which ones consistently come to him. He notes those puppies showing the greatest interest and attraction in being with him;
  3. From 4-7 weeks, every other day he puts a lamb in with the litter. He starts with a very young lamb and increases the size of the lamb as the puppies grow. He notes those puppies consistently showing only an intense attraction to the lamb — i.e. ones, which approach the lamb with tail wagging and strong eye contact. He repeats this test every other day for 3 weeks to see if interest is maintained with the same intensity; and,
  4. After 7 weeks, he puts a size-appropriate lamb in with the litter to see which ones consistently grip the lamb in the three places allowed for gripping — the top of the neck, the ribs and just above the hock. He eliminates those puppies that grip in the wrong places.

Throughout the many weeks of puppy testing, Manfred constantly watches to see how each puppy relates to him and responds to the tones of his voice. The importance of this can be seen when he discusses the formal education of the dog in the field.   

Manfred developed this method of testing his puppies to help him accurately select dogs with strong natural prey drive appropriate for sheep herding, self-confidence and the willingness to accept the shepherd as pack leader. Manfred selects for himself only those puppies that meet his testing criteria 100% — if no puppy tests 100%; he will not keep any. Although Manfred assesses his puppies from the beginning, he acknowledges that he can still only hope for the best because he does not believe that the dog’s character, or potential for work, is fully set before the dog is three years old. He does believe, however, that by two years of age the dog’s qualities are about 75% set.      

One should keep in mind that Manfred’s standard of selecting only those dogs that meet his testing criteria 100% is extremely high and probably not realistic for the average hobbyist. One must also keep in mind that a working shepherd must be far more demanding of his dog than the hobby herder. While the hobby herder might demand that the dog concentrate on its work for relatively short periods of time, a working shepherd must know that his dog will maintain its concentration for a whole day, every day. According to Manfred this intense concentration is possible only in a dog with the highest instinct/drive/attraction to the sheep. Any dog with some degree of interest in sheep can be trained to herd, but that dog will never have the concentration or reliability to work sheep as the dog with the highest drive and attraction to sheep.       

3. Raising the Young Dog

The cornerstone of education is the acceptance by the dog of the shepherd as pack leader and the dog’s understanding of voice communication. This is why it is so important to expose puppies from birth to the meanings of the intonations of the human voice. Puppies must be exposed from birth the variations and subtleties of the shepherd’s voice — the pleased, cooing voice (brava/good) and the displeased, sharp voice (pfui/bad). Just like puppies learn the meaning of the mother’s tones of voice, the shepherd’s voice must become the means of praise and correction in the education of the shepherd dog — not the hand or the crook. If, from the beginning, the shepherd has established himself through trust and confidence as pack leader and has conditioned the dog to understand the meaning of the tones of his voice, there should be no need for physical corrections. During early exposure to sheep in the field, the dog is restricted on leash — but the leash must only be used with the voice to guide the dog, not to punish. The dog is not taken off the leash until it has learned to view the sheep as subordinate members of its pack — to defend and to keep in order — and until the dog understands the meaning of boundaries — that sheep inside the boundaries are in the proper place and that the sheep outside the boundary are to be put back inside.      

There is no place, according to Manfred Heyne, for force training or punishment in the education of the shepherd dog. Force training and harsh physical corrections only serve to weaken or destroy the dog’s confidence, the dog’s willingness to follow its own instincts and the dog’s ultimate ability to work on its own — qualities irreplaceable in the shepherd dog. This gets back to the basic reasons for instinct testing: if a dog has the instinct, drive and attraction to the sheep and wants to help the shepherd, the instincts only need to be channeled. Force training cannot create instinct, drive or attraction to sheep, nor can it make a dog want to help the shepherd, it can only serve to distort or suppress these qualities.      

During the dog’s first year, all obedience work must be play training and building voice communication. Early play training should be aimed at building confidence and establishing a bond of trust and respect between the dog and the shepherd: the dog is praised when it happens to do the right thing; the dog is ignored or calmly restricted, but never punished or corrected, when it happens to do the wrong thing. The idea being that the dog, because of its desire to please, will eventually correct itself. No corrections other than voice corrections are made, and the dog must always be given the opportunity to work things out for itself. Serious education can begin at any age after the dog is one year old. If the dog has the proper instincts, it can be introduced to sheep at any age and achieve the same results. Serious education should not begin until the dog shows that it is ready — the timing varies with each dog.      

Sheep herding should not be obedience training; rather it is the working together of the shepherd and his dog. The dog must be allowed and encouraged to work on its own instincts more than on the commands from the shepherd. The stronger the instinct, the better suited the dog will be to working sheep and the less it must rely on commands. The education of the shepherd dog should be built 100% on the dog’s instincts.       

  

Practicing What He Preaches

I met Manfred Heyne in 1987. He invited me to join him in the field for three days just before the Bundesleistunghüten to demonstrate what HGH herding is all about. That was when I met Nikko. Nikko was nine months old in September 1987 and had never been in the field with Manfred and his flock before the day I joined them. It was my good fortune that Manfred had decided to test Nikko’s readiness to begin his education at this time.      

4. The Education of Nikko – The First Year

Manfred led his flock to pasture with Nikko on lead and Luki, his experienced herding dog and Nikko’s father, working free. Once in the field and the boundaries established, Luki patrolled the far boundary while Manfred stood on the opposite boundary with Nikko on lead. Nikko’s full attention was focused calmly but intently on the sheep. After about a half-hour, Manfred quietly unsnapped Nikko’s leash while they were standing on the furrow — the visible boundary. Nikko was free. We both stood quietly waiting to see what Nikko would do. Almost immediately Nikko, with all his attention focused on the flock, began to move back and forth on the furrow. At first Nikko moved about 10 feet back and forth then, as he gained confidence, gradually extended his distance along the entire length of the flock. Nikko did not once come off that boundary. During the time Nikko was moving on the boundary, the only sounds from Manfred were soft, quiet praises: “Brava, Nikko, brava.” Manfred was very pleased. He put Nikko back on lead after about 1/2 an hour on the boundary saying that after the Bundesleistungshüten he would begin Nikko’s formal education in the field. Nikko had shown that he was ready to learn to tend sheep.      

5. The Education of Nikko – The Second Year

In 1988, I arranged to spend two weeks with Manfred including five days before the Bundesleistungshüten and seven days afterwards in the field. Even though the weather was cold, windy and rainy this was one of the most rewarding times I have ever spent with anyone. Nikko was 21 months old in 1988 and really full of himself. What a difference a year makes. Nikko was no longer a big puppy — he was a big teenager. If I had one word to describe Nikko then, it would be HAPPY: a full of energy, love of life, deep down life is great happy. While working, Nikko literally had a smile on one end and a fiercely wagging tail on the other.      

After a year of education, Manfred still took Nikko on lead at the head of the flock to the graze while Luki worked free on the road. Once the sheep were in the graze and the boundaries designated, Nikko worked free. By now Nikko was doing two-sided boundaries on his own and taking verbal and visual commands for positioning from Manfred in the distance.      

The difference between Nikko at 9 months and Nikko at 21 months was most apparent in his increased confidence and his broader focus of attention. Nikko’s heightened self-confidence was most apparent from the uninhibited joy he displayed while working. At 9 months when first out in the field Nikko was focused on only one thing — the sheep. He was instinctively attracted to them but was not quite sure how to relate to them since he did not yet understand what he was expected to do with them — you could read this in his body language. At 21 months after a year of education, Nikko retained this same level of attraction to the sheep, but he had also developed the confidence that comes with knowing what he is supposed to do with them. Nikko’s focus of attention also changed. At 9 months, Nikko’s focus of attention was only on the sheep: at 21 months, although his attention was still focused on the sheep, Nikko had also learned to focus his ears on Manfred at the same time. Manfred demonstrated this broader focus of attention: Nikko was several hundred yards away from us on a cross furrow with his eyes focused on the flock when Manfred whispered “Nikko”a voice barely audible to me standing next to him — with eyes never leaving the flock, Nikko wagged his tail in response.      

During my visit, Manfred decided to introduce Nikko to the far boundary — the boundary opposite the shepherd. To begin this education, Manfred left Luki home and took Nikko on line by himself to the graze. At the graze, Manfred released Nikko on the near furrow. Nikko began patrolling the near and cross furrow as he was accustomed to do. Once Nikko realized that Luki was not on the far furrow, Nikko took the far corner by himself and began to move out along the far boundary without any command from Manfred. Just as when he began Nikko on the near furrow last year, Manfred’s only words were “Brava, Nikko, brava” when Nikko began to move out along the far boundary by himself.      

As one might expect during the introduction of a new task to a young dog. Nikko tested the limits of his new freedom and responsibility. While Manfred’s attention was diverted answering my questions, Nikko, on the opposite side of the sheep from Manfred, saw an opportunity to cut a sheep out of the flock and chase it inside the boundary. As soon as he saw, Manfred calmly called “NIKKO!” — Nikko did not stop the chase. So, Manfred called “NIKKO!” a second time with the same calm, firm voice — Nikko still ignored him. The chase was quickly over when the sheep ran back to the flock and Nikko resumed patrolling the far boundary again as if nothing had happened. When Manfred showed no sign of doing anything to correct this violation of the boundary, I asked him why he did not correct Nikko. Manfred’s response was: “If two commands do not work, I know the next time I must give a more emphatic command with a harsher, deeper tone of voice.” In other words, Manfred interpreted Nikko’s breach as the dog testing his new limits in order to learn what they are; and, he interpreted the ineffectiveness of his commands as being his own fault for not making them strong enough to make those new limits clear to the dog the first time. In this new learning situation, Manfred considered the ineffectiveness of the voice correction his fault – Nikko’s next breach would bring a more emphatic command from Manfred to make the new limits clear. Manfred had complete confidence in Nikko’s willingness to please him. Manfred saw his job as one of letting the dog learn himself from the displeased tone of his voice that it is NOT to violate the boundary to run a sheep. It takes more time and patience to educate a dog this way, but there is little risk of dampening the dog’s confidence.      

According to Manfred, the result of this type of education is a dog that will ultimately learn to correct itself with no command from the shepherd when it realizes that it has done something wrong. Like the time I saw Manfred give Luki, his experienced working dog champion, a signal to shift to another boundary. Luki began moving along the cross furrow to the new corner and overshot it by a few yards. Manfred said nothing to the dog and turned to me whispering “Watch and see what happens”. As he spoke, Luki stopped in his tracks and turned slightly. He saw the missed corner behind him. His ears went down, his tail went down, and he looked totally deflated. Luki turned back sheepishly and went to the proper corner and began moving along the correct boundary. As he did this, his ears went back up, his tail went back up and his confidence returned. As soon as Luki was on the correct boundary, Manfred began his calm, quiet praising “Brava, Luki, brava”. Luki began to prance along the boundary wagging his tail when he heard the praise.      

6. The Education of Nikko – The Grip

By the time of my next visit in October 1989 Nikko had received his full education as a herding dog. Nikko had earned his HGH title in the summer with a score of 98 points out of 100. He had qualified to enter the Bundesleistungshüten for the first time this year. Later, at the Bundesleistungshüten, Nikko would take 4th Place with a score of 94 points.      

In the field with Manfred before the Bundesleistungshüten, I could see that Nikko at almost 3 years old now had developed an even more energetic, happy attitude toward working sheep. Nikko was a wellspring of energy that never seemed to run dry – you could feel the electricity just watching him work. He pounded those boundaries back and forth, tail wagging, every nerve coiled and waiting for any sheep to violate his boundary. No sheep dared. Yet with all of this tremendous energy flowing out of Nikko, the sheep and Manfred were totally calm as always. However, I was on edge thinking that this dog is going to blast those sheep like a cue ball at any moment. It never happened. Nikko’s energy was totally channeled. Channeled by his basic instinct to help his master and by now his clear understanding of what his master expects him to do. If all of this energy was fueling an unguided missile, you could be sure that the sheep would sense it and act nervously. But, the sheep were calm, grazing and totally undistracted while Nikko continued to pound out his energy on the boundaries.      

This year became the year I learned to appreciate the grip and to understand exactly how gripping sheep in herding work and biting the sleeve in schutzhund protection work can exist side by side. (NOTE: In his younger years, Manfred used to title all of his herding champions to the SchHIII level — the only reason he does not do it now is because he does not have the time anymore.)      

When I first met Manfred in 1987, he had explained the use of the grip in sheep herding; why it is necessary for the dog to use it; on which areas of the sheep it is allowed to be used; and, under what circumstances it is permitted. Manfred also had his experienced herding dogs demonstrate the proper grip on command in the field so I could see what he was talking about. However, all of the talk and all of the demonstrations could never have prepared me for what I was about to see.      

Luki
Bundesleistungshüten Champion Luki von der Stammherde Ramholz
doing HGH protection at 1988 Bundesleistungshüten 
  

The night before the Bundesleistungshüten, Manfred asked me to meet him at the sheep barn where his dogs are kenneled. From there we would take Nikko to the local schutzhund club where he would show me how Nikko does protection work. Bear in mind that Manfred only occasionally works his dogs in protection nowadays because the courage test for the HGH no longer requires biting the sleeve. However, Manfred does believe that the complete education of the herding dog should include protection work since one of the original tasks of the herding dog was to protect his flock and the shepherd from thieves and robbers.      

We got to the club and introductions were made. As I was talking to one of the members, someone else said rather disdainfully, “Look, there goes ‘the shepherd’ with his ‘shepherd’ dog — ha, ha, ha.” Meanwhile Manfred was asking the helper to do the basic schutzhund courage test which is: the helper threatens the dog with a stick from a distance of about 30 feet then the helper turns and runs away from the dog and handler for about another 30 feet; after the dog is commanded by the handler to “get him” while the helper is still running away, the helper turns and runs at the dog again threatening him with the stick; the dog must bite the helper’s sleeve with no hesitation and hold the helper until he is told to release. Manfred sent Nikko out to stop the helper. Nikko charged out, the helper turned and ran toward the dog with his stick waving. Nikko hit the sleeve so hard that the helper was laid out flat on the ground with Nikko still firmly attached to the sleeve. There was silence at first in the clubhouse and then there was loud applause. From then on, the shepherd and the shepherd dog were treated with the respect they had just earned.      

As we drove Nikko back from the club, I kept asking Manfred questions about gripping and bite-work, to the point that he realized only a demonstration might possibly help me to understand. We put Nikko onto his kennel and went into the barn.      

In the barn, Manfred told me to wait in an enclosed 15′x20′ open area, which was surrounded by sheep in various pens. Manfred went downstairs and reappeared with two large 6 to 8 month old dogs sired by Luki, one of which he was hoping to keep and begin educating the following year. Neither of these dogs had had any direct contact with grown sheep before. Manfred left the dogs behind a fence outside the open area that I was in. The dogs had full view of the whole barn. Manfred lifted a large sheep out of a pen and put it in the open area. The electricity in the barn became palpable. I felt I was going to witness something primal but never expected just how powerfully primal.      

The dogs at the fence were straining to get at the sheep. Their intensity was like nothing I have ever seen before. Not one sound came out of those dogs. Their eyes were riveted on the sheep and their bodies were straining so hard against the fence I thought they would push it over. Every fiber in those dogs was straining forward toward the sheep in absolute silence. Even the sheep in the pens were watching in silence.      

Then, Manfred opened the fence. The dogs torpedoed in. The sheep tried to run, but the two dogs, one on each side of her, grabbed her by the top of the neck and flattened her to the floor. There was still no sound from either dogs or sheep. The sheep lay still with both dogs holding it firmly in their grips — they did not tear at her — they just held her tight with firm, full-mouth grips. After what seemed like an eternity to me, Manfred took one of the dogs by the collar, pulled him off the sheep and took him silently out of the area. The other dog continued to hold the sheep to the floor with the same hard grip until Manfred came back and pulled him off too.      

As Manfred took the dogs back downstairs, all I could think was “Poor Manfred, he must be so embarrassed at having me see this display of uncontrolled behavior.” To my amazement, Manfred came back upstairs as proud as a peacock. I am sure my mouth was hanging open down to my knees as he told me how pleased he was with the way the dogs had handled the sheep and how proud he was that they had demonstrated the instinct he was looking for so well for me. Since neither dog had had any direct contact with the sheep since puppy testing, he said that he was not sure how well they would respond to this test. I was speechless and home I went to try to digest all of this.      

My image of the gentle shepherd was shattered, not to mention my image of the gentle shepherd dog. Yet, oddly enough, after these experiences, I found myself feeling a profoundly new and different respect for the shepherd and his dog. If I had not gotten to know, trust and respect Manfred so much before this demonstration, I probably would have chalked him off as a head case. But, for three years I had actually watched him educate his dogs EXACTLY as he preached. I saw the tremendous energy his dogs had while working. I saw his dogs’ intense attraction to the sheep. I never once saw his dogs harm any sheep, even when commanded to go into the flock and hold one for Manfred. I never once heard Manfred utter a harsh word to his dogs in the field or anywhere else. I have never seen him raise a hand, use a leash or use any thrown object to correct his dogs. I have never seen him do anything other than “guide” and encourage his dogs calmly and deliberately through their education in the field. How could I reconcile these observations of Manfred’s totally inductive teaching methods with the primal scene I witnessed in the barn? As the months passed and the shock wore off, reconciliation was easy.      

Pure prey drive, attraction to the sheep, is the energy/power source that the shepherd will transform during the course of education in the field to serve his sheep herding needs. During the test in the barn, Manfred was looking to assess the degree and quality of the pure prey drive in his dogs. What he saw, and what I hope the reader can see from my description, was an exceptionally high degree of prey drive of exceptional quality. This was demonstrated by the fact that the dogs’ drive did not decrease at all during or after, catching and gripping the sheep. The quality of the drive showed no apparent flaw in temperament. For example, the dogs showed no uncertain, defensive behavior toward the sheep — no raised hackles, no hesitation before striking the sheep, no swerving from a direct line of impact and no hectic biting of the sheep. No wonder Manfred was pleased. He looked forward to transforming this high prey energy flow into service in the field.      

It is important to note two things. First, Manfred uses this test on HIS DOGS ONLY. He knows what to expect from his dogs. He would not perform this test on any dog that he had not thoroughly tested earlier. The sheep was not injured — the dogs were not injured. He would not have done this demonstration if he had thought they would be. And, second, Manfred does not praise or correct his dogs for any behavior before, during or after the test. He calmly releases the dogs, he calmly watches the dogs and he calmly pulls the dogs away from the sheep. It should be obvious that he cannot praise the dogs for their behavior because it is not the behavior he will encourage later during their education in the field. He cannot correct his dogs for this behavior because it is the uninhibited expression of the drive he wants — the drive he will later channel during the dog’s education in the field.      

7. The Education of Nikko – Graduation

1990: This year I had only a few days with Manfred, however, this time I was there during fall lambing in late October. Nikko was almost four years old and had undergone a remarkable transformation. Nikko had become a mature, responsible, very serious adult working dog. He was no longer that devil-may-care teenager. I was absolutely amazed. Perhaps it was because Luki was now nine years old and Nikko had to do most of the work. Perhaps it was because Manfred was now starting to work young Fax of last year’s barn demonstration fame just as he had started Nikko three years before — only now Nikko was the chief dog. At any rate, if I had one word to describe Nikko this year it would be SERIOUS. Nikko still had the energy and intensity of his youth, but he was no longer out there testing Manfred’s limits any more. Now he was working with Manfred, smoothly, confidently and seriously. Nikko was in complete harmony with the sheep.      

Nikko on patrol
Nikko patroling the boundaries while sheep graze among maneuver equipment
camouflaged in the field  Americans prepare for Desert Storm 1990 
 

This year there were a number of ewes with new lambs in the flock. If I was still worrying about reconciling last year’s primal and schutzhund demonstrations with the HGH herding dog, what I saw this year would have cured me. Nikko worked the sheep with greater care when lambs were present. He avoided any contact with the young lambs. If a ewe with a lamb moved out of the boundary, Nikko would approach her quietly, always from the side away from the lamb, and use only enough pressure to get her to move back inside the boundary gently — the lamb of course would follow its mother. Nikko never touched a lamb and never rushed a truant ewe with a lamb.      

8. Reflections

While writing this, I found myself reliving all of my experiences in the field with Manfred, Nikko and Luki. And, in doing so, I realized that the power of those experiences did not so much excite my intellect as they did my sense of harmony. This is very difficult to explain. However, I will try to explain because, in my mind, maintaining this sense of harmony is the key to the art of HGH sheep herding. I cannot emphasize enough that I have NEVER seen Manfred Heyne try to subdue, distort or extinguish ANY instinct or drive in his dogs — I have only seen him channel them. First, he makes sure to select only those dogs to educate which he believes have the drives, instincts and behaviors he wants. Second, during education, he never gives the dog an opportunity to use its drives, instincts or behaviors until he is certain the dog is ready to use them in the way he wants them to be used: during education, he never sets the dog up to make a mistake. And, finally, he has shown that he values the dog’s drives, instincts and behaviors above all else — if they are damaged by one error of education, by one misguided correction, the dog may no longer be of any use to him. This is a risk I have never seen him take.      

So what is the bottom line?      

The bottom line is that I learned to appreciate Manfred Heyne as a man who for over forty years has developed a talent, an instinct, call-it-what-you- will a gift to work in harmony with his dogs and his sheep. A harmony that he has demonstrated consistently; a harmony that comes from a bond of mutual trust and respect which holds the shepherd, his dogs and his sheep together as one unit. Damage any part of that bond between the three and the harmony will be destroyed.      

I have come to understand how the shepherd is responsible for establishing and maintaining the bond of harmony — that flow of energy holding all members of the group together as a balanced unit. The shepherd must see to it that each member of the unit established and maintains a mutual bond of trust and respect between itself and each of the other members. For example, the dog must respect the sheep and the shepherd; the shepherd must respect the dog and the sheep; and, the sheep must respect the shepherd and the dog. The task of the shepherd as leader is to create and to maintain balance and harmony within the unit by guarding against any actions by any of the members that might result in damage to any part of that bond.      

Since respect implies acceptance, it follows that the shepherd must be accepting of the total dog — accepting the dog’s full repertoire of selected drives, instincts and behaviors — trusting that they can be channeled by education to serve his sheep herding needs. This is exactly what Manfred Heyne does. Manfred’s puppy tests allow him to select a dog with a strong prey instinct and they allow him to select a dog with an equally strong willingness to accept him as pack leader. At nine months, Manfred reconfirms the results of his early puppy testing by testing again for the degree of the dog’s prey instinct/drive (as he demonstrated in the barn in 1989) and, by testing for the degree of the dog’s desire to help coupled with the willingness to accept him as pack leader (as demonstrated by the boundary test in 1987). An equal balance of these two drives is the key to successfully channeling the dog’s instincts into herding sheep: it is this balance that allows the dog’s natural prey energy to be channeled completely into the service of the shepherd without frustrating or inhibiting that flow by the use of compulsion training. It is that uninhibited flow of energy which Manfred’s dogs exhibit when working sheep.      

Hopefully, I have been able to provide the reader with some glimpse from Manfred’s example of how the dog’s intact natural prey and pack drives can be channeled successfully without compulsion training to serve the shepherd and to create that unique sense of harmony while herding sheep in the field.

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