Penning energetic working dogs into suburban backyards can result in destructive behaviour, uncontrolled barking, nipping and chasing cars.
- Working dogs can develop problem behaviours in suburbia
- They are high energy, intelligent animals
- Sheep herding provides mental stimulation and exercise
But working dog owners in south-east Queensland have found an outlet for their intelligent dogs to exercise their instincts.
Sheep Herding for City Dogs is one of a small number of facilities open to all herding breeds for training, rather than competition.
“These dogs are working dogs and they want to work.”
A former retail chain manager, Mr Borg did not know where enrolling his long-haired border collie, Bonnie, into pedigree herding training would lead him.
Within months, Sheila Marchant had hired him to become a part-time trainer at her Woodford herding school, north-west of Brisbane.
Dog and master went on to win a swag of ribbons in pedigree herding trials.
The gift of an experienced collie, Maddi, helped him realise a dream of competing against farmers, working untamed sheep.
“Maddi became my shadow,” an emotional Mr Borg said.
“She was an old girl, she was nine and I recently lost her before her 15th birthday.
“It [competing] was a huge thing for me. Remember I’m a city bloke, I’ve achieved my goal.
When Ms Marchant sold her business, Mr Borg began part-time training on a Peachester farm.
He had already survived two heart attacks and three strokes, but the pressure of paying mortgages on investment properties kept him lumbered with his full-time job as a timber operations manager.
“Forced me into this full time and it’s just grown and grown and grown, to the point that I see more than 200 dogs a week.”
Mr Borg believes working dogs belong on farms — unless their owners are committed to providing their smart, high-energy pets with the stimulation they need.
Exercising the mind
Moving away from the bush was a matter of life and death for Loki the kelpie.
“He was a five-month-old in a central Queensland pound and he was about to be put to sleep if he wasn’t rescued,” owner Amanda Vassallo said.
Ms Vassallo’s family lives on small acreage and she believes the opportunity to herd sheep had helped improve Loki’s state of mind.
“Loki is a dog that needs something more, he’s constantly running up and down the fence chasing motorbikes or trucks, anything that’s going past,” she said.
Mr Borg’s sheep move in sync with him through the yard, sticking close to his legs.
“I’m very mindful of my sheep, they are my livelihood and they are not afraid of dogs, they are very tame,” he said.
The Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Society (SCARS) sends high-energy animals to Mr Borg to help them cope with being in pens.
“We’ve had about 70 come through in the past year that are working breed, or working breed crosses and the main thing we notice is that they are incredibly hyped up in this environment,” SCARS president Penny Brischke said.
“People need to understand that where it [the training] is run, it is very safe.”
Mr Borg explains that using human language, human instincts, and human emotions is not the way to interact with dogs, who communicate with body language.
Stephanie Street and her daughter, Ava, brought their energetic kelpie, April, to build on their bond.
“She jumps up, she licks people, she’s generally annoying, but she is the sweetest dog,” Ms Street said.
Within 15 minutes of herding sheep in the yards, April, is ready for a rest.
“For that mental stimulation and also the fact that she is exhausted now, I would definitely come back and try it again,” Ms Street said.
Mr Borg’s personal pack of dogs has grown to include 13 border collies and one kelpie.
The day his beloved collie Maddi died, a client captured the moment when baaing sheep gathered at the dog’s gravesite.
Mr Borg recently bought the farm, with Sheila Marchant as his business partner.
They’ve improved the road and fencing, with plans for an all-weather, undercover training area.
“I am making a change,” he said.