Sheep herding for city dogs ‘saving’ bored and badly behaved working dogs in suburbia | Ralph-Lauren

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Penning energetic working dogs into suburban backyards can result in destructive behaviour, uncontrolled barking, nipping and chasing cars.

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 border collie chasing sheep.
Many working dogs have been specifically bred for their herding ability.(

Supplied: Kelcy Whittington, Sheep Herding for City Dogs

)

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.

A man on the rise of a hill at sunrise, surrounded by sheep and a working dog.
John Borg brings down sheep for early morning training.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

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.

A smoky grey collie lying down next to a swag of ribbons.
John Borg first competed in sheep herding competitions with his border collie Bonnie.(

Supplied: Sheep Herding for City Dogs

)

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.

A man crouches down and hugs his dog.
John Borg was devastated after losing Maddi, an experienced dog he says was his teacher in sheep herding competitions.(

Supplied: John Borg

)

“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.

A woman with short hair holds a little black and white dog.
Business owner Sheila Marchant hired Mr Borg as a trainer after she recognised his talent in working with dogs.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

Career change

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.

Women with dogs waiting their turn.
The dogs are worked for 15 minutes and then rested, before being allowed back into the yard.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

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.

A woman crouches next to a black dog with sheep in a yard.
Amanda Vassallo regularly brings her working dog, Loki, for training.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

“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. 

A lady with blonde hair crouches near a fence with a kelpie.
Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Society president Penny Brischke says working dogs need mental stimulation.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

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.”

Dog licks ladies face as she holds her daughter.
Stephanie Street says her kelpie, April, is high energy but great with her children including young, Ava.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

Animal enrichment

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.

Mother and child look over a fence to the sheep herding yard.
Stephanie Street and her daughter, Ava, were fascinated to see how April took to herding sheep.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

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.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Sheep gathering at the burial site for Maddi the dog.(Supplied: Sheep Herding for City Dogs)

Mr Borg recently bought the farm, with Sheila Marchant as his business partner.

Man sitting on grass surrounded by seven black and white border collies.
John Borg relaxes with his working dogs at the end of the day.(

Landline: Jennifer Nichols

)

They’ve improved the road and fencing, with plans for an all-weather, undercover training area.

“I am making a change,” he said.



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