Working Dogs - Dogs as Shepherds
Nearly every country in Europe has developed its own pastoral breeds for guarding or driving the flocks and herds. Some have been adopted (and occasionally adapted) as show dogs and for obedience or agility competitions, but many are still rare even in their countries of origin and totally unknown outside of them.
Some of the larger breeds are undoubtedly descended from the Epirotic, Laconian and the Molossian dogs mentioned by Aristotle, later used by the Romans as war dogs. They in turn probably evolved from the great Mastiffs of Tibet - the Anatolian Sheepdog from Turkey is typical of these. The roll-call of working breeds is formidable. Egypt has the Armant; Israel the Canaan Dog; Russia four types of Owtcharki (called in Poland Owczarek), or Sheepdogs. Rumania and Yugoslavia each have their own sheepdog, plus the Croatian. Hungary has five distinct breeds; two of them the Komondor and the Puli (of the unique corded coat) are said to have been introduced by the Magyars when they emigrated from the steppes of Central Asia. From Italy come the Bergamaschi Herder, the Maremma and the Italian Spitz. The German Shepherd dog (Alsatian) is the great all-purpose breed. France has four sheepdogs: the Beauceron, the Briard, the Picardy and the Pyrenean. Holland has two: the Dutch Sheepdog and the Schapendoes. Belguim has four:
the Groenendael, the Lakenois, the Malinois and the Tervueren plus two Bouviers, de Flandres and des Ardennes. Switzerland is the home of four Sennenhunde or Mountain Dogs: the Appenzell, the Bemese, the Entlebuch and the Great Swiss. From Spain comes the popular Pyrenean Mountain Dog and the Catalonian Sheepdog; from Portugal, the Alentejo Herder, the Serra des Aires and the Castro Laboreiro sheepdogs, plus the Estrela Mountain Dog.
The Samoyed people living near the Arctic Circle developed the lovely breed which bears their name to tend their herds of reindeer. In Lapland, the Lapphund serves the same purpose. Norway has her Buhund, Sweden the Vastgotaspets or Vallhund and there is even an Icelandic Sheepdog. All five dogs belong to the Spitz group.
In Australia, where dogs were indispensible to work the huge flocks on vast ranges, over rough ground and often in extreme heat, breeds emerged that were as tough as the terrain, including the Kelpie to work with the sheep and the Australian Cattle Dog, a mixture of many breeds including the native wild dingo. The Australian Shepherd has nothing to do with the Antipodes but was bred in the USA from nearly all the old droving breeds. There are almost 50,000 hard at work in America though none of them are recognised by the AKC.
In Britain there is a long tradition of sheep and cattle dogs. The Bearded Collie’s ancestor was the Polish Lowland Sheepdog or Owcarek Nizinny, much prized by Scottish farmers in the sixteenth century, but only recently reintroduced to Britain. The Old English Sheepdog is possibly also descended from Polish (or maybe Russian) sheepdogs, as are three Scottish breeds - the Rough and Smooth Collies and the smaller Sheepdog from the Shetland Isles.
Cattle were kept under control by the Welsh Cardigan and Pembroke Corgis (though the latter are now more at home in royal palaces), and by the Lancashire Heeler. These three breeds are obviously related to the Swedish Vallhund. Unequalled for working with sheep, the Border Collie is in a class of his own. Still universally used as a farm dog, since gaining Kennel Club recognition he is now popular for showing and obedience and work ability. Sheepdog Trials have become a popular sport as well as a way of life. The majority of guide dogs are Labradors or Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses.
The ‘hearing ears’ for the deaf scheme originated in the USA and came to Britain in 1982. These dogs can give to the profoundly deaf the same sort of independence that a Guide Dog gives to the blind. Dogs are trained to alert their deaf owners to any sound; a knock at the door, whistling kettle, alarm clock, fire alarm or crying baby.
Dogs are also being trained to help physically handicapped people by, for instance, switching lights on and off, bringing cordless telephones, opening and closing doors, picking things up from the floor and helping their owners to rise from chairs/wheelchairs or climb stairs.