The more they work, the more determined they are, hears Jackie Keogh, when she visits a sheepdog training camp in Ballineen
THE Southern Star met its namesake recently – a border collie who spends her days putting manners on sheep.
We met her in Ballineen where we saw Martin Murphy of MJM Dog Training Services put the two-and-a-half year old through her paces as he called and whistled out the instructions, commanding her to turn right, turn left, stop and then bring the sheep on.
It’s a demo, and it’s for our benefit, because Martin is keen to promote the proper training of working dogs.
Through his business he’s keen to record the fact that the art of sheep trials in West Cork is not lost.
The use of properly bred and trained working dogs is big in Donegal, and in Kerry too, but the closest most of us get to it is watching it on the telly. Who could resist an hour or two of One Man and His Dog?
I was lucky enough once to see a sheep dog in action at Maulin on the Beara Peninsula. The truth of it is that a second ‘summit’ on that particular walk with Skibbereen Walking Group had defeated me and a splinter group went around. But we were rewarded with a scene that beats any theatre performance I’ve ever witnessed. A farmer – the size of a matchstick on the valley floor – called out the instructions and the dog hared left and right, causing sheep to spring from rock to rock, all in the right direction.
Even in a small green field in Ballineen, you can see that Southern Star, a two-and-a-half-year-old sheep dog, is a bundle of contained energy.
Martin describes what we are seeing. He describes that energy, that almost nervous quivering, as ‘determination.’
He said: ‘They are so determined to work all the time they don’t make good pets. They are bred to it. And the more they work, the more determined they become.’
‘They are,’ he adds, ‘high energy dogs that are bred for work, but they are good natured, and they are tough.’
To paraphrase something else Martin said: the kennel clubs never got around to showing sheep dogs so they were never messed up in terms of breeding.
‘These dogs are pure bred. It has got to be in them,’ said Martin, who, as part of his business, takes in farm dogs for about eight weeks of obedience training, but can also devote a year to fully training a sheep dog.
Martin said their value is in the work they do, and the fact that their territorial nature makes them excellent in terms of farm security.
He said some sheep dogs, through bad handling, have been allowed to get into bad habits and end up chasing cars, or biting cattle.
‘If they have been tied up for too long that can create problems because being tied up makes them extremely frustrated,’ said Martin.
He believes that, despite a lot of the mythology about dogs, ‘it all comes down to training.’