Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pack versus Herd Behavior

We witnessed an interesting example of the interaction between herd behavior (our sheep) and pack behavior (our guard dogs) last week.  We've always been curious as to whether the sheep think the guard dog is the lead sheep or whether the guard dogs think the sheep are part of the pack.  We're still curious, but last week's behavior was incredibly fascinating.

We moved the ewes to a property owned by the Placer Land Trust here in Auburn.  We couldn't get water to them right away, so we herded them to a watering spot daily for their drink.  On the third day on the project, we set up an expanded paddock with a water trough at the top of the hill.  Vegas, our young female guard dog, immediately patrolled the boundaries of the paddock (as our guard dogs typically do) and discovered the water trough.  While she was doing this, we tried to push the sheep out of the shade of a live oak at the bottom of the hill up towards the water.  They didn't want to move.  Vegas came back down to the sheep, and then followed us to the water trough.  As we were watching, she ran back down to the sheep.  She must have communicated something to them, because they followed her back up to the water trough.  Somehow, she conveyed to the sheep that they could drink if they'd follow her.

I've heard stories of guard dogs leading sheep to safety during grass fires.  I'm not sure how the communication happens, but Vegas obviously told her "pack" to follow her up the hill.  Pretty amazing!

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