The Londog’s November “Story” is dedicated to Tobin Bird, the shepherd, and his sheep dogs. Tobin is based in Woodside farm, in Kent, where he takes care of over 300 sheep, a number which can grow to up to 700 heads during the summer. Ben, Tess and Tig, his three border collies, assist him in his job.
The life of a sheep dog, obviously, looks very different from that of a “city dog” and it is interesting to see the tight bond between a shepherd and his canine helpers. You will discover more about this in this interview to Tobin.
Can you describe your relationship with your dogs and what you like most of each?
Tobin: “I have always loved dogs, and as border collies are so intelligent, they are great fun, and rewarding to own. The eldest, Tig, is extremely loyal, a real one-man dog. Tess is very friendly, and is an amazing worker. Ben, Tess and Tig’s son, is a great all-rounder, and again, he’s very friendly too.”
“They have made my life much easier, and it is incredibly rewarding to getting your dogs trained to help to the degree that my dogs do.”
“As a shepherd, I could not do the work I do without my dogs. Not only are they great workers, but also great companions; I probably spend more time with my dogs than with my wife or family! They can also help in difficult circumstances. Tig helped me to chase off and catch some youngsters who shot fireworks at our house. Basically, my dogs are invaluable.”
What does a typical day look like for your sheep dogs?
Tobin: “The dogs get fed at 6.30am, and start work around 7.30am. We go off and check the sheep round the farm, and the dogs help me catch any with problems. Then, we may have to round up a group of sheep for some form of treatment, or weighing for market.”
“If I have to bring the sheep into the yard, the dogs stay at the back of the sheep, and push them into a narrow “race” (where sheep are wormed, or shorn or weighed etc). Having the dogs push the sheep up for me saves me having to get someone to help me. They finish when it gets dark, so some days in summer can be long days for them. At lambing they are on the go almost 24/7, dozing off when they can.”
Are your dogs ever allowed in the house?
“No, except in thunder storms or when fireworks are being let off. They all have their own kennel and run, the best place for a working collie.”
When do they stop working and what does their “retirement” look like?
“Retirement comes when they want to stop working. Tig, my current oldest dog, is only allowed to help on simple tasks, as he is getting a bit deaf and blind. When he stops wanting to work, he will be allowed to retire to the house.”
How much does a good sheep dog count for sheep herding?
“To herd sheep without a dog is very difficult. Many years ago we didn’t have collies, and it was much harder work. Since we have had collies, life is easier and more efficient. Trying to move a group of 200 sheep with just a quad bike or car is not at all easy!”
On Dogs and Sheep
About “Sheep Proof Your Dog”
A few years back Tobin started to offer ‘Sheep proof your dog’ classes, with the aim to help dog owners undestand how to keep their dogs under control in presence of sheep (you can read about this in The Londog’s previous blog post). I asked Tobin to tell what he enjoys most about “Sheep proofing” and roughly how many dogs has he sheep proofed up to date.
Tobin: “What I enjoy the most about sheep proofing is the relief on the dog owners faces when they can walk through a flock of sheep with their dog under control. That is very satisfying to see and it feels good to be providing a badly needed service to dog owners. I imagine that I have sheep proofed over 1,000 dogs over the years, at a rough guess.”
Have you ever experienced situations where your herd was worried by a dog?
Tobin: “Yes, and it can be very unpleasant. I have had all sorts of damage done, from serious mauling (leading to death), to minor bites and damaged fences, as the sheep bundle over them.”
Hopefully Tobin will keep ‘sheep proofing’ and we wish him that the number of dog related incidents will decrease.
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