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Working Dogs, Part 2- The Herding Dogs

We have about 50 herding dogs on the ranch, and we go through A LOT of pallets of dog food throughout the year. But these dogs are essential help for herding the sheep each day, which is an every day task for our Peruvian herders that live with and care for the herds all year round. It is actually impossible to herd sheep without a dog or a few. They are honestly needed just to get the sheep to move sometimes and then to keep them going in the right direction. One man, which is the case when trailing the sheep anywhere, simply cannot keep a herd of 2,000 or more ewes and lambs moving and going where he needs them to go by himself. That is why he has dogs. These dogs are essential when trailing the herds several miles each day. They are essential when the men are trying to keep track of all the ewes and lambs scattered throughout the thick timber where they can’t all be seen. They are essential when trying to rope a ewe that the old gelding can’t keep up with and the dog needs to slow her down and keep her close enough to rope. They are essential when the herd is grazing on a steep, rocky ledge where the guys have a hard time getting to, but the dogs traverse with ease. These dogs are the herders' best and only help. Not only are they essential in every herding task, they are constant companions to the guys while they spend countless hours in the saddle and herding alone.

The many black and white dogs seen at the sheep camps and trailing behind the men horseback are Border Collies. A breed known for their strong herding instincts, athleticism, loyalty, and intelligence. These dogs are all owned by the ranch, but each dog belongs to a certain herder. The men name their own dogs, such as Paki, Oso, Negro, Lassi, Chito, and Niño, train their own dogs, and work with their own dogs on a daily basis. Besides supplying the dog food, transporting them from camp to camp when needed, and feeding some at the ranch throughout the winter, we have nothing to do with these dogs. They are the sheepherder’s dogs; working only for them, many of them only allowing to be touched by them, and understanding their Spanish commands.

As puppies, they spend their time either under the camp in the warmth of the hay bedding, or curled up under a cot or stove in the wall tent during the summer months. When moving camp, the pups are either transported in the pickup, oftentimes in the driver's lap, in an orange barrel in the commissary wagon, or tucked in the saddle bag with the rider. They learn at a young age to hide from incoming traffic so as to not get run over and to stay out of the way of the horses near camp. They are ambitious little buggers, wanting to start going out to herd with their master and other dogs when they’re still just little fluff balls! They are raised and live with the herders, horses, sheep, and other dogs from the day they’re born and get continuous on-the-job-training all growing up.

As older dogs, they very seldom leave their master’s side. They go everywhere with them, eager to help herd the sheep in any way they can. Most of these dogs are shy and don’t like much human interaction, a couple of them can’t even be caught by their own man! But surprisingly still listen to all of his commands. Some of them are friendly, usually the ones we get to spend time with as puppies, and are excited to see us when we pull up. They all bark furiously at any incoming vehicles to their camp and like to chase them as they drive by.

In the winter, when many of our guys go home to Peru for 6-7 months, they must sadly leave their dogs. Imagine spending every day for 2-3 years with your dog, your best friend, your best help, and then having to say goodbye for half a year. It is a very hard time for many of our herders to have to go to their other home and leave this home that they become so accustomed to behind. Not only is it hard for the men, but I imagine it is quite sad for the dogs as well. As mentioned before, Border Collies are a very loyal dog; they become very attached to their person. With the men gone and no camps for these dogs to be at, they must stay at the ranch for the winter until their masters return. We have kennels with shelters that we bed with hay, just like they’re winter camps, for the dogs to stay warm. We feed and water them daily. A few of the dogs become my pals, excited to see me enter their pen each morning, while others remain shy and timid to me, waiting the return of the only human that can touch them. When the guys return from Peru for lambing season, their dogs are hauled out to camp with them where they all begin their 3 year work contract together. These dogs are just as much ranch employees as their human companions.

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Gosh! I can’t believe how much I’ve just learned…

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