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Home » Working pumis

Herding pumis

Submitted by on Apr 02, 2010 – 1:33 PMNo Comment
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The herding instinct in pumis is a behavioural trait that most people think has been bred “into them” over the past two hundred years or so. On the contrary, the herding instinct exhibited by dogs is derived from two basic survival insincts: to hunt with the pack (prey drive) and to please the pack leader (pack drive). The dog that comes with really hard-wired herding genes has a modified prey drive: the instinct has been toned down somewhat through selective breeding to encompass the range of herding behaviours we see in the modern pumi. So in fact, herding instinct – the basic drive to keep the sheep in a flock and under the dog’s control – developed in pumis, like in other herding breeds, not because something has been bred “into them” but rather, “out of them”.

Veresi Akácos Anka herding
Beyond this ability, herding dogs have developed special herding techniques where the livestock economy demanded them. Therefore, the instinct to herd in pumis evidences itself differently than, for example, border collies (BC). Whereas BCs circle the livestock at the far end and bring them back to the stockman who may not even be within sight of the dog (known as “fetching”, or “mustering”), pumis push the livestock into a group and then control the group as the dog moves the stock away from the herdsman into another area (known as “driving”). To achieve the desired effect on the livestock, BCs tend not to use force but rather use “eye”, a threatening stare-down that intimidates the stock into moving in the desired direction. Pumis, on the other hand, are hot-tempered and quickly escalate the encounter into an ever-increasing use of force (barking, nipping, and eventually gripping) to get their message across. They are used to working side by side with the sheep, whereas BCs prefer to keep the distance.

A third style known as “tending” is more or less practised only by German Shepherd Dogs only and involves wearing (patrolling) alongside the flock to keep the herd in orderly movement or on a spot. These dogs act like a living fence between the hungry sheep and the valuable crops in the traditional German open field system of intensive agriculture. Of course, a competent herding dog can be trained to work even in a style that is not his preferred one, yet the trainer should always try to work with the nature of the individual dog and not try to make the dog work in an unnatural manner by placing the dog under command to the point that the dog’s basic instincts are frustrated.

Most professional herding dogs, as opposed to “hobby” herding dogs, would normally never have to go through a so-called herding instinct test. Rather, they are simply put to work as very young dogs and they either want to work or they don’t. In other words, there is no formal evaluation of the dog, but the stockman is looking for that certain something that he can use in his working situation. So instinct tests are a make of our modern world based on the assumption that the intrinsic power in the dog can be assessed by watching the response of the dog to the sheep. The instinct test can only be informative if performed by a knowledgable stockdog trainer, someone who understands the dynamic relationship between the stock, the dog and the handler. The trainer should, among others, make sure that the sheep are in motion when the apprentice dog first meets them since stationary livestock do not tend to motivate herding dogs to act.

As presented by its parent organisation, the Hungarian Kennel Club, herding instinct tests and performance trials are contained in a simulated stockyard with gates, pens and chutes that will show his driving ability. Since herding is a controlled activity, not a wild frenzy, it is important that the pumi be responsive to certain commands (especially STOP and RECALL) even before you take him for the test. However, the dog should be left with enough space for individual action – the handler controls the dog, but eventually it is the dog who controls the stock.

Apródombi Gabóca at her herding test
Dogs over 6 months can go for the test which consists of two parts. First: obedience. In order to receive HIC the dog must be able to:

  • Follow his owner in a straight line for about 20 meters, then sit or lie down on order and stay in the position for 5 seconds.
  • Stay in the position while the owner moves 10-15 metres away. The dog cannot leave its place or change positions.
  • Answer his owner’s call given on order of the judge and run to this owner for the first call.

Having successfully passed the obedience test, the dog is now ready to meet the flock. The first approach to the stock is usually on lead, so that the Tester can assess the dog’s level of interest without risking the stock. If the dog is too geared down by the lead or has an easy approach to the stock, or is simply clearly under the control of the handler, the lead will be removed. The range of canine interest in stock runs from “ho-hum, yeah-so-what to lemme-at-’em”; but generally any degree of sustained interest in and attempt to move stock with no evil intent or deliberate attack on the stock; and evidence of trainability should pass the test. Apart from the dog, it is also worth watching the response of the sheep – the more power a dog has, the greater the so-called flight zone of the stock. Softer dogs will be able to come quite near the sheep before they move, and other dogs will cause the sheep to move from across a wide distance. The sheep will “read” the dog’s intentions, and this can also be a good indicator of his future potential.

Whether or not your pumi passes an instinct test, remember that it has been one time on the day. It is one Tester’s opinion that the dog has or lacks herding instinct. Any number of conditions can adversely affect a dog’s performance while other dogs may pass from excitement at a new game and would never work again. The point is, if your dog passes an instinct test, you cannot know if he has any real herding talent. Training, exhibiting and using the dogs for farm work are the only mechanisms to accurately evaluate what talent the dog has. If your dog doesn’t want to work on the day of a test, he might well do beautifully under other conditions or when he is more mature. Some dogs don’t even turn on very young, and need more time before their instincts will surface. We have to be truthful to the public by explaining these limitations when performing a herding instinct test.

Therefore, for breeding purposes we should be very careful not to overinterpret what the presence (or lack) of herding instinct means and consider the introduction of herding instinct certification as a pre-requisite for breeding. Undoubtedly, heritability patterns for herding behaviors appear to exist, but the mode of expression and inheritance for most of these behaviors is fairly complex. Yet first it would be very beneficial to determine the exact role genetics plays in the inheritance patterns of the herding behaviour trait(s). Up to now, however, not even the most rigorous studies of BCs and other herding breeds delivered much conclusions that were more satisfying than what can actually be deduced by casual observation.

Anghiházi Dió herding with Zsolt FodorIt is a rare dog that begins its herding career by exhibiting pure talent from square one, so if you (and your pumi) are interested to work, the first exposure needs to be followed by training and more training. Next you might want to consider entering herding trials in which you get the chance to to compete at a reasonable level and move over the time to more difficult levels as your and your pumi become more adept. As you progress, you might want to try your skills as a team in herding larger animals, like Hungarian grey cattle. Work hard, and your pumi might be the next proud owner of the “Herding Pumi of the Year”, “National Herding Champion of the Year” or “Golden Bell Award Winner” titles, which have all been awarded to the founding bitch of our kennel, Anghiházi Dió, for her work with Zsolt Fodor.

Participation in herding helps preserve the special heritage of the pumi and opens up new opportunities for owner and dog. Few activities offer the variety of situations and the opportunity for real teamwork between handler and dog that are a part of herding, so herding is immensely rewarding for both parties involved. The herding dog must cooperate with the handler, yet use its own initiative and judgment. It must be able to work with gentleness, yet show strength in facing up to a stubborn animal. Getting outdoors, exercise, growing as a team, all are priceless results of training to herd livestock. The qualities that make a good herding dog – trainability, adaptability, loyalty, soundness of body and character, agility, grace – are important in many areas, and contribute so much toward making the dog an outstanding companion as well.

Dogs in our kennel with HAT

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