The Purpose-Driven Dog - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

The Purpose-Driven Dog

The Purpose-Driven Dog
By: Amy Jacquin

A busy dog is a happy dog. The key is figuring out what their purpose is! That's easier with some breeds than others, like herding dogs.

But how strong is the instinct? And does it fade with age? That's what Amy Jacquin finds out, with the help of a herding expert right here in the Heartland.

Blade the border collie comes alive when he's working sheep. So does his trainer and owner, Jim New.

Jim is a herding expert, hidden in the heart of row-crop country - the Bootheel of Missouri.

"Because these are the only sheep for 30 or 40 miles around!" laughs Jim New, herding dog trainer. "Since it's all flat, row crop farm and, you'd be surprised at the people who slam on their brakes to stop and see what's going on."

Specific commands direct the dog right, left, forward, backward. And instinct takes them the rest of the way. Instinct certainly helps with human trainers, like Jim, too.

"Some people fish," reasons Jim. "Some people hunt. A few people herd!"

Jim got involved in this sport by accident. He took his first bearded collie to a sheep trial just to see what it was about.

"I took the dog, knowing nothing whatsoever," Jim recalls. "And when I got done, the judge asked how long I've been working that dog. I says it an't never saw a sheep till five minutes ago! He said, do you have some place to put sheep. I says, yea, I have a few acres here. He said go home, buy sheep, and put that dog to work! So that's how I got started."

That was 15 years ago. Today, Jim does the AKC border collie club instinct testing at their national meet. He travels to Sweden to test the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog club and hosts sold-out clinics at Flickerwood Arena in Fruitland, and at his farm near Parma.

Jim is going to test Amy's dog for herding instinct, and tells her to take the lead.

"Why not? He's your dog." says Jim.

"But I don't know anything about sheep" exclaims Amy.

"You don't have to!" he laughs.

Amy's dog, Pepper, is an Australian Shepherd adopted from the shelter several years ago. He's five now, and about to meet his first sheep.

"I want you to come in and start down the fence," Jim gives instructions. "I want you to keep him on the fence and you walk beside him."

Pepper is interested in the smells, but not the sheep. And it looks like he'd rather play with Jim's adorable granddaughter than the herd. So Amy tries to coax him a little.

"Don't talk to him!" holler Jim. "Quiet, yea. When you say anything, it interrupts your dog's train of thought."

Jim explains the dogs have to figure much of this herding stuff out all by themselves. And suddenly, Pepper seems to notice the sheep.

"We've got a lot of interest now," nods Jim. "We didn't have any interest when we started."

The goal -- and instinct -- is to keep the sheep moving together, in one herd. So when they break apart, the dog chases.

"See him look back?" Jim analyzes Pepper's actions. "He knows that one is back there, see. but he's not sure how to handle this."

"It looks like he's just playing!" says Amy doubtfully.

"That's how it starts," Jim explains. "He's having fun! He's having fun because this is what he was born to do!"

Jim uses a plastic rake to help guide Pepper to the most effective spots."He finally got to the outside of the pen," says Jim. "When he got to the outside, he put them together."

"And you think he's really thinking that?" asks Amy, always the skeptic.

"Yea, he's thinking that!" laughs Jim. "I don't 'really think' ... I know he's thinking that!"

After less than 20 minutes, Pepper looks like he knows what he's doing! And he does seem satisfied when the herd is still and together.

"He's doing a very good first job," Jim admits.

"I'm proud of you, Pepper!" Amy cuddles her dog. "I knew you could do it!"

Jim's right. A busy dog is a happy dog.

Other breeds of dogs not commonly used to herd include poodles, rotweilers, and some terriers.

Jim suggests finding something active your dog is good at, whether it's chasing toys, catching Frisbees, or navigating an obstacle course, and giving it plenty of regular exercise.

You can reach Jim New for more herding information by calling 573-396-5730 after dark.

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