I love rabbit holes. I enjoy learning all the things I do not know, and the Terra Norte Herding Symposium in Wellington, Colorado is the end result of just such a rabbit hole.
Back in May I had a breed out for herding that I usually turn away. He had seen a trusted trainer in Phoenix and she vouched for him not eating my stock. I had seen him once before in December. His name is Konan, and he is a beautiful beauceron, which is French herding breed.
As I watched him again in May, I saw that he really wanted to 'let go' of the sheep and I could see that his instincts, while very much present, were also different than those I see in border collies and similar dogs.
Most French Breeds (Beauceron, Berger Picard, bouvier des Flandres), and most of the Belgian breeds (tervern, malinois, lakenois, and shepherd), and the German Shepherd, are tending breeds, rather than the gathering breeds (border collie, kelpie, Aussie, etc...) or drover breeds (corgi, Rottweiler, etc...). The latter two working similarly enough to train and trial in a similar manner.
Tending breeds, while required to gather stock, and drive or move stock, also create 'living fences' to contain stock grazing a delineated pasture. They are trotting dogs rather than long-strides galloping dogs like the gathering breeds, and they like straight lines over the arcs of the gathering and droving breeds.
Watching Konan (pictured above) I really wanted to hone the genetics he brought to his job. But I have no idea how tending dogs work. I know no one in Arizona trains tending breeds to work as they are bred to, so I reached out to Laura De La Cruz in New Mexico, who I knew had had a tending workshop a year or so ago.
She hooked me up with Val Manning in northern Colorado, a breeder or German Shepherds, and a trainer of tending dogs. She puts on a weeklong herding symposium with multiple trainers. She invited me and my student up. I immediately said I would try to make it. She offered me the opportunity to train several class sessions to help defray costs.
It was an incredible week of learning! I watched and learned so much from her, and Benoit Voisin a French pastoralist and judge brought in to teach tending. All week I watched Belgian breeds, German Shepherds, and other tending breeds work within their genetic paradigm. Val offered me the use of one of her green dogs to train with, and Benoit took the time to walk me through some of the details of his work through his interpreter.
As always happens at such events, I met some wonderful people and watched some incredible dogs. I owe gratitude to Val for the invitation, hands-on work with her German Shepherd, and warm welcome during a very hectic and busy week; Benoit for the wonderful information, and conversation, as well as the opportunity to see a skilled handler work dogs with minimal pressure and deep understanding of how to best show dogs what he was looking for; and lastly, beautiful Konan and his parents who sent me on this journey. I hope to honor his genetics and see him tending next fall.
We will be setting up some tending pictures for dogs in the coming months, and I will begin inviting the 'other' herding breeds out to work.