Shepherd and His Sheep,

Charles Ceramano







Many beautiful artworks portray the shepherd or 

shepherdess and their flocks and shepherd dogs  

by Linda Rorem


           From the beginning of their domestication sheep have been watched over by shepherds or shepherdesses as they grazed.  The animals were encouraged to feed in particular areas considered to be the most suitable, or on ground left to them after parts of the land were taken up for other uses; they were moved to fresh grazing grounds, and protected from predators.  Over the centuries, dogs have aided in this work.  Earlier on, dogs performed more of a guardian role rather than being actively involved in the controlling the movement of the sheep.  Eventually, more active herding dogs were developed that played a more direct part in controlling the movements and placement of the flock.  In some regions, a larger guardian dog continued to be used in conjunction with a smaller, more active herding dog.  Tending livestock didn’t necessarily involve a dog.  Children were often set to the task.  But if Little Boy Blue had had a dog on the job, maybe the sheep wouldn’t have gotten into the meadow or the cows in the corn.   


         Sheep, goats, cattle, geese and pigs could be seen grazing in open areas under the supervision of their shepherd, goatherd, cowherd, gosherd or swineherd.      





Herdsman with Cows, in the Distance, a Village,

Johann Friedrich Voltz, 19th century, Germany





Tending geese; painting by Otto Weber, 1832-1888



           In his "The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture”, Capt. Max von Stephanitz wrote that in eastern Germany:  


          “. . . they [shepherd dogs] are also used for tending large flocks of geese.  The dog for such work must be carefully selected, for a goose is very short-tempered and has a very good idea about how to use its beak, but it cannot stand any grip.  In former times when the geese in large flocks waddled from Posen to the Berlin market, shepherd dogs generally trotted along with them to drive them.”



From The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture,

by Capt. Max von Stephanitz, 1925


Some years ago when I was doing some herding training in a large open area on the Stanford University campus with my Shelties and ducks, a lady who was walking by stopped and asked me if I was training the dogs to herd sheep.  When I answered that yes, I was, she related that when she was a young girl in Germany and spent a summer on a cousin's farm, one of her jobs had been to take the geese out to graze with two young shepherd dogs. The dogs were practicing for their future career as sheepdogs, and she said that they worked much like she saw my Shelties working.


           Sheep and goats were often to be found in the same flock, and at times a mixed group would include other types of farm animals as well.   



Painting by Paulus Potter, 1651, Holland  



       Conditions weren’t the same in every region, nor were they static over time.  Practices varied from region to region and in different periods as agricultural practices changed.


        In continental Europe, it was common practice for the shepherd to lead the flock, as a traveler from England visiting France related in the Sporting Magazine in 1828:


          “Early in the morning, or in evening's dusk, you see la mere and her famille carelessly lounging at the head of their flock, perhaps three hundred, and they trotting after in perfect order. She now and then turns round and gives an inviting look, or a sort of chirp, and they scamper to the signal— Monsieur Le Chien bringing up the rear with the skill of an Adjutant. In all France the sheep follow the shepherd, not he the sheep.”


Travelers in Germany observed:


          “Every village has its geese-herd, swineherd and shepherd. Every morning these respective functionaries blow their horns along the street, when geese, swine and sheep come running out of every gateway and alley, each to join its kind, to be led on a common village pasture. Long lines of gabbling geese run through narrow fenceless footpaths, without daring to touch a single blade not their own.  The shepherds sometimes remain on the neighboring hills for whole weeks.  At night they commit their flocks to their dogs.  These animals, not very unlike sheep in color and hair, possess a remarkable intelligence and faithfulness.  I have seen the shepherd walking carelessly ahead of his flock, while the dogs would run guard on each side.  The hungry sheep were tempted to browse among the rank wayside grass, while the faithful dog would check the slightest attempt at depredation.”

“Ramblings along the Rhine and in Switzerland,” 

from The Guardian, publication of the Reformed 

Church in the United States, Sept. 1875


          “A Scotch shepherd, with his dog, walks behind his flocks in removing them from one place to another; a Saxon shepherd walks before his sheep; and these instinctively following, are kept together by the dog, which saunters observingly in the rear.”

From “Green Vaults of Dresden” (in Chambers’  

Journal), Living Age, 1848





Return of the Flock,

Jean-François Millet



A Shepherd and His Flock

Armand Guéry, 1910, France 



On The Way Home

Félix-Saturnin Brissot de Warville, France



           Leading the flock was not an invariable continental practice, however, just as there were shepherds in Britain and the U.S. who led their sheep rather than driving them.  Many European paintings show the shepherd beside or behind the flock.  Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton in his Instructions Pour Les Bergers discussed both driving and leading the flock


Q. How ought the shepherd to manage his flock, when driving it?

A. He ought to prevent any animal from separating from the flock, by running before, remaining behind, or straying to the right or left.

Q. How can a shepherd do all that ?

A. By the aid of his whip, his crook, and his dogs; when he makes his flock go before him, he drives the sheep behind, with his whip: the dog is before, and restrains the sheep from going forward too fast: the shepherd menaces those that stray to the right or left, to make them return to the flock, or if he has a dog behind him, he sends him after the sheep, which stray, to bring them back, or makes them return, by throwing a little dirt at them, so as never to touch their bodies, which is improper.

Q. How does he set the flock forward again ?

A. He speaks to the dog, which is before, to let them advance, and then drives forward the hinder sheep; he can make them go forward, or return by speaking to them in different tones, to which he accustoms them.

Q. Can a shepherd conduct his flock by going before ?

A. Yes, if he has at least one dog, on which he can depend, to prevent any part of the flock straying behind, or on the sides. The flock follows the shepherd even better than the dog, but it is necessary he should have regard to the sheep, behind. 

                  Instructions Pour Les Bergers, by Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, 1782



Von Stephanitz noted that practices varied according to local conditions, and that in Germany:


          “As a rule, the sheep there [Northern Germany] are always accompanied by two dogs at least, while to the South of the Main one is generally sufficient.  In this part, flocks of 200 sheep are already considered large, while in the North the average flock numbers 300 head and sometimes from 5-600 head . . . in Southern Germany the shepherd always goes ahead of his flock when on the road; while in the North, the shepherd always walks about two-thirds of the way down the flock, so that he can oversee such a large number.  This is very necessary, because the pilfering sheep are easily tempted to loiter, and the shepherd dog (“halben-hund”) cannot be everywhere at the same time.  It is also necessary, because it would be only too easy, when driving through the narrow turnings in a village, for a sheep to be stolen from the long procession.” 


With the smaller flocks of the Low Countries, the shepherd often walked among, behind, or beside the sheep.  



Return of the Flock

Anton Mauve, Holland




Return of the Flock

Cornelis van Leemputten, Belgium




Anton Mauve, Holland



A Shepherd With His Flock

Frans de Beul, Belgium 


Shepherd and Flock

Cornelis Westerbeek, Holland



           On the road to and from the grazing fields, the dog would keep the sheep on the path, working the sides, front, and rear.  They did not merely escort the sheep, but actively controlled their movement, taking any position around the flock as the situation called for.


          “Q. How do dogs serve to direct the course of a flock?

          A. When a shepherd drives his flock before him, he can greatly hasten its speed, and that of the sheep, which remain behind; but he cannot prevent it from going too quick, nor the sheep from running forward too fast, or straying to the right or left; it is necessary, he should have the aid of dogs, to place round the flock, to send forward, or to restrain such as go too fast, to bring up those which remain behind, or stray to the right or left.

          Q. How can a shepherd make his dog perform these different manoeuvres?

          A. He must train them from their youth, and accustom them to obey his voice. The dog goes on all sides; before the flock to stop it; behind it, to make it go forward; on the sides, to prevent it from straying: he remains at his post, or returns to the shepherd, according to signs given him, which he understands.”

Instructions Pour Les Bergers, by Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, 1782




A Shepherd With a Flock of Sheep

Charles-Emile Jacque, France



          “I should like above all things to have you see him on duty when the flock is on the road, going to market or changing pastures.  He walks behind, absorbed in his grave duties.  Dogs from the neighboring farms come to meet him, and they pay him the polite attentions customary at the meeting of comrades. 'Go away,' he seems to say to them; 'you see that I have no time to exchange civilities with you.'  And without glancing at them he continues his watchful following of the flock.  It is wise of him, for already some sheep have stopped to crop the grass at the side of the road.  To make them rejoin the flock takes but a minute. At this spot the hedge is open, and through the gap a part of the flock reaches a field of green wheat. To follow these undisciplined ones by the same breach would betray a lack of skill; the sheep, driven from behind, would only stray still farther into the forbidden field. But the wily keeper will not commit this fault; he makes a rapid detour, jumps over the hedge as best he can, and presents himself suddenly in front of the flock, which hastily retreats by the way it came, not without leaving some tufts of wool on the bushes.

          “Now the flock meets another.  A mixing up, a confusion of mine and thine, must be prevented.  The dog thoroughly understands the gravity of the situation.  Along the flanks of the two bleating flocks he maneuvers busily, running from one end to the other, back and forth, to check at the outset any attempt at desertion from one to the other flock.”

Our Humble Helpers, by Jean-Henri Fabre, 1918





Beauceron moving alongside the flock going down a

road; from the magazine Le Bas Rouge, Sept. 1988



Beauceron moving at the rear of the flock crossing a field; from Le Bas Rouge

Sept. 1988  



           Out on the pasture, local conditions determined the kind of work the dog might be required to perform.  In the mountain regions and other less populated areas, it was desirable for the sheep to spread out more while grazing.  There was less danger of the sheep trespassing on crops than was the case in more cultivated areas, although the dog would keep the sheep in a particular area as needed.   The dog needed to be alert to control the flock, but often remained fairly stationary, watching the flock from a position near the shepherd or some other vantage point.



The Shepherd

Julien Dupré, France  




Engraving by J. Gauchard Brunier,

1876 or earlier, France




Shepherds on stilts in the marshy Landes region 

of France, 1891; while watching over their 

flocks, they knitted  




Le Berger et la Mer, 1885, France



          Where large flocks were grazed in more cultivated areas, active work was required.  One of the dog’s most important jobs was to keep the sheep from trespassing on neighboring crops.  Frequently more than one dog was used, with the more experienced dog working the side of the flock farther away from the shepherd, another dog remaining closer to the shepherd.  Initiative and independence were needed for the dog to be efficient in covering the side of the flock where the sheep might try to step out of bounds.  



The Way Side Meeting,

Cornelis van Leemputten, Belgium  




Chicoré dans la Plaine de Chailly

Jean-Ferdinand Chaigneau le père, France  



          On the plains of France, boundary work was customary and frequently noted in travel accounts:


          “Soon after leaving Paris, our traveler, for the first time, saw a shepherd, with his flock.  Between the center of the main roads, in France, and the fields usually is a grass-plot, some two rods wide, upon which the sheep feed.  The intelligence of the shepherds’ dogs, which tend them, is surprising.  A dog will allow the sheep to nibble within a yard of the grain, but the instant anything like trespass appears, he will, of his own accord, drive off the meek-eyed intruder by a good-natured snap.  Cattle are also similarly watched by these dogs, which are of a peculiar breed.”

“An American in France,” in Travels and Adventures 

of Celebrated Travellers, by Henry Howe, 1854



          Often a field would be grazed in sections, so that the plants in the designated area would be thoroughly grazed down before the flock was shifted to the next area, a practice referred to as “grazing to the square”: 


          “We went straightway to see the flock of Dishley-Merino sheep for which Gonzangrez is famous. Out in the stubble-fields they were in care of the old shepherd, with his two dogs, a young one that he was training and kept close to him with a string, and an old Beauce dog that loved to work and did it willingly. It is no less than marvelous what the shepherds and dogs of France do with sheep.  For instance, the shepherd will walk through the alfalfa, telling the dog that the sheep may come thus far and no farther—  the dog will patrol that line and not permit a sheep to step beyond it, thus making them eat the alfalfa clean as they go.  The dogs seem to be absolutely tireless, always going up and down the line and never barking.  If a sheep is unusually rebellious they give it a gentle nip as a warning to be good.  The shepherd often carries a chair with him and sits out on the plain, or stands and watches his feeding flock.  On the stubble-fields they moved slowly forward, picking up the fallen heads, the little weeds and the blades of grass.”

In Foreign Fields by Joseph E. Wing, 1913


From In Foreign Fields by Joseph E. Wing, 1913  





Flock of Sheep in a Field after the Harvest

Camille Pissarro, France 

             Shepherdess with Her Flock, Jean-François Millet, 1863, France  






Even in the cultivated plains regions of France, however, the dog didn’t necessarily keep up an active patrolling all the time, but in suitable circumstances also kept watch in a more relaxed manner, while staying on the alert and ready to go into action as needed.


       “While the master rests in the shade or amuses himself playing on his box-tree flute, the dog, posted on a neighboring rise, keeps the flock under his eye and watches that none wander beyond the limits of the pasture.  He knows that on this side grows a field of clover where browsing is expressly forbidden.  If some sheep goes near, he runs up and with harmless snappings turns the animal back to the allotted place.  He knows that the rural guard would prosecute with all the rigors of the law if the flock should stray to the other side, newly planted with young oats.  They must not attempt it; if they do, he comes threatening and insists upon a hasty retreat.  Are the scattered sheep to be gathered together?  On a sign from his master he is off.   He makes the circuit of the flock, barking here, worrying there, and drives before him, from the circumference to the center, the straying throng, which in a few moments becomes a compact group.  His mission ended, he returns to the shepherd for fresh orders—a word, a gesture, a simple look.

Our Humble Helpers, by Jean-Henri Fabre, 1918  


If things were quiet, the dog might spend some time sitting or lying down.  Numerous artworks and accounts show the flock being tended, even in the more cultivated areas, by a shepherd whose dog moved only as needed to control the flock.   



A Shepherd and His Dog Guarding a Flock of Sheep

Cornelis van Leemputten, Belgium




A Shepherdess Watching Over Her Flock,

Julien Dupré, France




 Tending the Flock

Charles-Emile Jacque, France  


         In Germany, the use of active boundary dogs was particularly important in areas where large flocks of sheep were taken to graze through intensely cultivated and densely populated areas.  Von Stephanitz described this work in his book on the German Shepherd Dog.  While dogs in many countries were used to tend sheep, supervising the flocks as they grazed in unfenced areas – he said that the collie, for instance, was the “tending dog in England,” Von Stephanitz noted that a significant part of the work of the German dogs was “warding off,” or patrolling the edge of the grazing area to keep the sheep from trespassing on neighboring crops.  This kind of work was of great importance in the agricultural conditions prevalent in Germany, with grazing areas closely interspersed among cultivated but unfenced fields.  The shepherd would be fined for damage to the crops done by the sheep.  A dog tending a flock in a less populated or heavily cultivated area would not be required to work with the same attention to boundary patrolling.


          Dogs that have been bred with an emphasis on boundary work tend to be very keen, active dogs.  They are readily guided into moving along a demarcated field edge, roadside, etc., to keep the flock contained.  Those that have the true genetics for active boundary work will, with experience, pick up very subtle boundaries and can even make their own when shown a line to take – they will go out on the indicated direction, return along the same path, and then continue patrolling on that path.




From The German Shepherd Dog in Word and

Picture, by Capt. Max von Stephanitz, 1925  



From Kamerad Hund, published in 

Munich in 1952, featuring collectible 

cards of various breeds of dogs  




Nicky (Alf von Fafnerhaus), a herding-bred German Shepherd Dog

working on a farm in upstate New York, painted by Linda Shaw



          Along with describing the typical warding-off work required of the dogs in Germany, Von Stephanitz wrote of other tasks:  “If for any reason whatever, the pasturing flock must be quickly gathered together, the shepherd calls to the sheep and gives a short sharp whistle; then the dog, racing around the flock, gathers them up.”  A 19th century account stated:


            “[A] well-trained sheep dog is so very essential to the shepherd and has so much to share with him in leading and guiding the flock . . .

           “With our pasture conditions sheep dogs are indispensable; the more fragmented the marked-off field, the more necessary they are.  In the movement of the flock to the pasture and back, to the sheep market and so forth, the dogs are already extremely necessary, if the shepherd doesn’t want at any time to get into a  conflict with the street warden and the existing street laws.

          “The sheep dog should quietly go in front, beside or behind the flock, as the shepherd instructs him, and respect the boundary line that the flock must not step over.  This shouldn’t be done by wild barking, or even by biting and tearing, whereby the sheep, which are naturally timid and fearful would be easily agitated and damaged, especially pregnant ewes.”

Praktisches Lehrbuch für Schäfer, by P. Fritz, 1866.


          In Germany, as in other countries, it was also common for the dog to remain fairly static if the situation did not call for greater activity.  Janet Larson worte that when she was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany in the early 1990s:


          “The area of Germany (Gelnhausen) I was stationed in was rural, with rolling hills, orchards, and patchwork fields with corn, safflower, cabbage, barley and grass. Farmers usually graze their cattle and sheep for a few days in one area, then move on to another. Often, the land they graze belongs to someone else, and has crops adjacent to it, so they cannot fence it, and need a good herding dog to stop the stock from straying into the land owners' crops.  At Coleman Kaserne ... we have a shepherd who has an open grazing permit, so sheep graze around the barracks, motorpool and other buildings. He has 600 head, so when he comes on post, the sheep clog the road until they are all through the gate and onto the grassy areas.  He has three Border Collie type dogs, about 75-80 pounds.  They have blunt muzzles and broad heads, and drop ears, one is black and white, one tricolor, the other blue merle.  He calls them Schottische Colleys.  The dogs 'wear' the sheep when he goes down the village streets, and out to his grazing area, and once there, he sits under a tree with the dogs, and watches them graze.  If one strays toward the road, he nods his head in the direction of the stray, and one of the dogs will be off like a streak, and herd it back to the grazing area using "eye."  When wearing, the dogs nip and run back and forth to keep the flock following after the shepherd.”


          Other herding dogs she saw in the Gelnhausen area and in Hohenfels were large black shaggy sheepdogs – Bergamascos or perhaps Sheep Poodles, Briards, Pyrenean Sheepdogs and Belgian Laekenois.  She related that the practical farmers’ dogs “seemed to have a strong gathering instinct, and moved flocks or herds by wearing, running back and forth behind the flock, nipping heels when needed to keep the animals moving.  The cattle dogs would leap up and nip the noses of cows who refused to move, in addition to nipping heels.”  The larger dogs would ram into the shoulders of the sheep to turn them back, and gripped as a last resort, and the Pyreneans sometimes barked.   


          I asked German master shepherd Manfred Heyne (who won the national HGH trial more times than any other shepherd) about this account of the shepherd who worked at Coleman Kaserne.  It turned out that Manfred Heyne knew this shepherd very well and had even worked his dogs on this shepherd’s sheep.  When I asked him his view of the manner in which the other shepherd’s dogs worked, his reply was that it was fine with him:  “Some do it one way, some do it another.”


          Larry Sisson, who lived in the Eifel region of Germany for about six years, related:


“During this time I was a member of the local SV Club (German Shepherd Club).  Our club was in a beautiful location placed back in the woods with the only way in a small one-lane road.  Adjacent to the club was approximately a slightly rolling 10 acre field of wonderful pasture grass . . . which belonged to one of the club members.  Across the road was a corn field and barley field also which was split it two by a dirt path which led to the back side of the village where I lived.  Every Sunday the local shepherd would bring approximately 150-200 sheep here to graze.  I was amazed how these dogs (which were Briards) worked so smoothly . . . .  The shepherd would bring the sheep down the road and then into the pasture.  One dog accompanied the handler, the other worked the flock from behind wearing covering the sheep by wearing keeping them moving forward.  Once all the sheep were led to the graze the shepherd then walked up to the club house, tying his lead dog to a tree, leaving the other dog at the rear of the flock.  He then joined us sitting outside sipping the local brew or two or three or four.  The sheep would eat and graze very peacefully under the watchful eye of the loose dog who in fact only moved from his cool spot in the shade when the sheep tried to leave the graze.  The dog would then herd them back to the grazing area away from the road and the barley and cornfield.  When it became time to move on the shepherd would call the dogs and the sheep were set in motion again off to another pasture.  During this time I never saw either of his dogs constantly patrol, but they did work the sides of the flock when traveling adjacent to crops.  The majority of the time the dog at the rear fetched the sheep toward the shepherd setting the pace as to not force the flock to move too fast.  Additionally, I did see him use the dogs to block traffic, and keep the sheep in graze areas.”




A tranquil scene by Walther Georgi

in the art magazine Jugend, 1900, Germany





           In this old postcard of a shepherd with his flock in a park in Munich, it can be seen that his dog is lying down, and the sheep are still grazing in close proximity.  Sheep grow accustomed to how they are handled by the dog, patrolling or not patrolling.  What sheep do not become accustomed to, and which was frowned upon by shepherds, was the dog that would hide itself from the sheep, watching them approach the forbidden area, then spring out suddenly, startling them.


          While most of the tending work in America has not involved the kind of practices seen in the HGH, in the 19th century there were some instances where a German immigrant applied his traditional management practices in the new land.  In the 1850s an American sheep breeder in Virginia, S. S. Bradford, imported Silesian Merino sheep and brought over an experienced shepherd to manage them:


          “Mr. S. S. Bradford . . .  rarely has less than a thousand fine wools in a flock.  His German shepherd seldom leaves them out of his sight for more than an hour. In good weather he hurdles them nightly on the poorer spots of the field in which they graze, and gun in hand, to punish intruding dogs, he sleeps in a box or house on wheels, which is rolled wherever his charge is penned for the night.  In rainy weather they are invariably housed day and night; as during intensely cold weather.  He feeds them daily about a bushel of oats to 100 head.  In the grazing season they require no other such feed; when housed in the day time they get corn fodder to pick, in addition to their oats.  The shepherd has them so completely  under his control, as that with the assistance of a single sheep dog he manages them as easily as though not more than half a dozen in number.— His well known whistle and a wave of the hand, will turn the flock in any direction, even from too near vicinity to an unfenced patch of wheat or better grass than that on which it is desired to graze them.  If a single sheep is obstinate or stupid, the dog is despatched to teach him his place.  He performs his task with wonderful sagacity indeed, relieving his master from the care of watching for hours. He comprehends what is forbidden ground for sheep, and will not permit one or more to stray from the rest; always promptly driving those so inclined back to their proper position.  When with the flock in the day time, the shepherd, though keeping them in sight, usually relies almost entirely on the watchfulness and intelligence of his canine companion, and employs himself in cutting or grubbing briars, making baskets, or something of the sort.”

American Farmer, Dec. 1858


          By and large, however, this form of closely supervised grazing was not needed in American conditions, and the practice fell by the wayside in the U.S. as the newcomers adapted to local conditions.


          Transhumance has been practiced in many areas – regular seasonal movement of very large flocks and herds of sheep, goats and cattle between winter and summer pastures.  Much of this now takes place using trucks, but there are still areas where it is practiced the traditional way on foot, with the guardian dogs and smaller herding dogs accompanying several shepherds on the trek.  Usually several shepherds are involved.  Some lead the flock, some walk partway down the sides, while others bring up the rear.  The 1956 French book, On the Road to Pastures New, recounts the three-week journey of a flock of 2,000 Merino sheep in Provence from their winter home to summer grazing land.  The recent movie Sweetgrass  portrays the last journey of one American flock to and from summer pasture in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains of Montana.   



Large flock on the move during the transhumance in Provence;

the guardian dog finds a shady spot under the basket of the donkey. 

Return of the Flock, Eugène Burnand, 1890, France



           In both Europe and America, sheep were grazed in public parks to keep the grass trimmed.  A shepherd and dogs tending sheep in a public park in Belgium:




Very like his counterpart in Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, Maryland:




In the American West, huge flocks were (and still are) tended from horseback:




And for awhile in the east it was not unusual for a flock to be taken out for supervised grazing in various unfenced areas.  There were the city park flocks, and on the estates of the wealthy there were flocks taken out to graze the big lawns of owners who wanted a naturally trimmed look.  John D. Rockefeller in 1913 decided to use a shepherd and flock to keep the grass mowed around his country mansion after determining that it could be done cheaper by sheep than by the mowing machines of the day.  




Shepherd Cecil Fawkes and his wife with collie at John D. Rockefeller's Pocantico Hills, NY estate; from Country Life in America, Aug. 1918



Shepherd Archie Fawkes at William Rockefeller's Rockwood estate near Tarrytown, NY, with Old English sheepdog; from Country Life in America, Aug. 1918





On farms, use might be made of open fields or even roadsides.  One task of farm children was to go out with the farm dog and a flock of sheep or some cows and watch over the animals while they grazed in unfenced areas.   




From Country Life in America, 1903



A Flock of Sheep

Winslow Homer, USA 



          In Britain, too, sheep were tended in earlier days.  In Scotland and Northern England this generally took place on open, hilly land, but in southern England sheep would be grazed among fields of crops, where the shepherd and his dog or dogs would be required to keep the sheep out of the crops.  One of the first books to cover the training of sheepdogs, The Shepherd’s Sure Guide, written in England in 1749, describes the jobs required of the shepherd’s dog.  It would vary according to the local conditions, but a “nimble Shepherd and his nimble Dog” were needed:


          “. . . in an open champaign Country that lies in common Fields . . .because, in an open Country, most of their Acre and Half-acre Ridge Lands, that are always plow'd one Way, lie in many Places intermixt one Man's with another's; and in most Parts have only a narrow Cart Way between their growing Crops of Corn. Now, as many thousands of Acres lie in narrow Roads, Lanes, HeadLands, &c. in such open Countries that are not above a Pole, or a Pole and Half wide; and which serve as common Grass Ground to feed the neighbouring Flocks of Sheep on, a Shepherd and his Dog had need be here of the nimble Sort, to feed them in Safety, free of their biting, and getting among the green Corn that thus grows on each side of them; else Pounding [trespassing sheep would be impounded] and Restitution of Damage must be the Recompence: For which Purpose, vigilant Howards are in many Parts and Vales, and other open Countries, appointed to watch, and take the Advantage of such Breaches. So that a Farmer may be presently brought under a considerable Damage, if he has not a nimble careful Shepherd, and a Dog of the right Sort; for if they both had more Legs than they have, they would be sometimes wanted, to run and prevent Sheeps straying and doing Mischief.”


 A century and a half later, flocks in England continued to be taken out to graze unfenced fields:


“In England and other portions of Europe, when cattle and sheep are pastured where there are no fences, a shepherd is employed to take charge of them, who, with the assistance of a well-trained dog, will keep large flocks and herds under perfect control, and as strictly confined to prescribed limits as though there were fences for this purpose.  This practice of employing shepherds is based upon the principle that it is less expensive to take care of the herds than to keep up the fences.”

American Farming and Stock Raising

by Charles Louis Flint, 1892





Return of the Flock, Walter Frederick Osborne,

1885, England (note the shepherd's hut

in the background)  



Shepherd Boys Tending Their Flock at Sunset

James Thomas Linnell, 1899, England



Watching The Flock,

by George Vicat Cole, 1867, England  


        Over time, however, with the enclosure movements in England in the late 18th/early19th centuries and the modernization of agriculture, fences came into more general use in southern England and the practice of supervised grazing declined. 


          The use of fencing for sheep is growing on the Continent, with portable net fencing often used nowadays.  Portable net fencing is also used by the shepherds who graze large flocks of goats in California for brush-control near urban areas. 


          The practice of supervised grazing continues in many areas in Europe and North America and other regions of the world.  In Canada, cut-block grazing is used in forestry, where flocks are taken into areas where tree seedlings are planted, the task of the sheep being to cut down on the number of weeds.  During the grazing period, the shepherds camp out with the flock.  Large-scale grazing continues in the west.  And on small farms here and there, people sometimes take their sheep out to graze an unfenced field on their own or a neighbor’s property.  Boundary work continues to be used particularly in Germany, but tending that does not involve boundary work is more usual, and is just as much tending as the work of the boundary-patrolling dog.  Local conditions led to the practices that were most suitable for that area, which is as true of tending as of any other agricultural practice.



Mowing the lawn at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.  

1905 photo by Elmer S. Gardener, the photographer for the

Experiment Station, 1904-1907.  Courtesy of the  University

Archives, Iowa State University Library.




For additional background information, see the following articles:

The Way They Work (eighth section, “Continental Herding”)

Herding Practices in France






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Linda Rorem