Tag Archives: sheepdog

Using GPS to understand sheep herding

Border collie for herding column

Dr Andrew King of Swansea University has used GPS technology to understand how sheepdogs do their jobs so well.

He  fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing extremely accurate GPS devices designed by colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College, London.  Daniel Strömbom of Uppsala University and colleagues then used data from these devices, together with computer simulations, to develop a mathematical shepherding model.

The team found that sheepdogs likely use just two simple rules: to collect the sheep when they’re dispersed and drive them forward when they’re aggregated. In the model, a single shepherd could herd a flock of more than 100 individuals using these two simple rules.

Andrew King explained,  “If you watch sheepdogs rounding up sheep, the dog weaves back and forth behind the flock in exactly the way that we see in the model. We had to think about what the dog could see to develop our model. It basically sees white, fluffy things in front of it. If the dog sees gaps between the sheep, or the gaps are getting bigger, the dog needs to bring them together.”

Daniel Strömbom said, “At every time step in the model, the dog decides if the herd is cohesive enough or not. If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it’s already cohesive the dog will push the herd towards the target.”

King believes that the research team’s model will have many applications for tasks like crowd control, herding of livestock, and keeping animals away from sensitive areas.  The algorithm developed could be used to program robots for these tasks.

Source:  Natural Environment Research Council media release

Maremma sheepdogs protect penguins in Australia

The Middle Island Maremma Project is a flagship project by the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group.

Middle Island in Victoria is home to a Little Blue Penguin colony.  The penguins were suffering dearly because of predation by foxes and wild dogs.  Between 2000 and 2005, the population of penguins went from more than 600 to only 10.

In 2006, after a suggestion from a student who was familiar with the work of the dogs on a chicken farm, trained Maremma sheepdogs were introduced to guard the penguins.    In 2010, the project won the National Landcare Award sponsored by the Australian Government.  87 other competitors were vying for the award.

Maremmas on Middle Island, photo courtesy of Middle Island Maremma Project website

According to The Blue Penguin Trust, blue penguins are the smallest breed of penguin, reaching only 35-43 cm in height and weighing up to a maximum of 1.5 kg.  They are found throughout locations in Australia and New Zealand, but are vulnerable to development (often getting run over by cars)  as well as predators.

As for the Maremma Sheepdog, they were originally bred in Italy to guard flocks of livestock from the threats of attack by bears or wolves and have strong protective instincts.  The dogs have a double coat that is water repellant, so they are able to work outdoors for long periods of time.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand