If the pasture is sprawling and the flock is many, you are going to need help getting those wooly beats back into their enclosure. Thankfully for the average shepherd’s budget, it doesn’t have to be a full-time employee that will need a wage and benefits package. A dog will do the job just as well, and arguably more reliably than a person would. That is why dogs have been used in shepherding for thousands of years. Historians believe it was ancient Mesopotamia when sheep were initially domesticated, which consequently created a new role for the dogs of the time. But while a good sheep dog is much cheaper than hiring a person in the long term, it will most certainly be a considerable initial investment.
First, you must evaluate yourself as a dog owner and dog trainer. If you have no experience with training or even working with sheep dogs, you might want to talk the peers and neighbors who have, to get a feel for what to expect and what to avoid. While there is no strict division between these, you generally have two choices on the sheepdog market – a puppy, or a trained dog. As you might imagine, the better the training – the more expensive the dog. You need to get comfortable with the idea that you won’t be saving any money on the initial purchase. A healthy puppy, both physically and psychologically, of about eight weeks old will set you back on the upper end of three digits. A fully trained mature animal will easily cost you several thousand. Training a sheep dog is a special skill that has high market value since not many have it.
The main advantage of getting a puppy is that you’ll likely get maximum value out of them. It sounds rather callous, I know, but the longer the dog can serve you the better value it is to your farm. You as a shepherd have to think in these terms because a sheep dog is a worker first, and a pet second. This is the real challenge with the puppy, which are both fantastically and potentially catastrophically cute. If you have a family of young children, training a puppy to become a worker might be hard, as you will be competing for it with the kids, who will likely refuse to allow you to subject the poor creature to discipline, when clearly its only purpose is to be loved. You’ll need to have good counter arguments prepared in advance.
If you insist on a pup, make sure you educate yourself in both theory and practice of sheep dog training. Like any other learning experience, the puppy will have to be introduced to the sheep herding in gradual stages. Its initial excursions might be just for you to show it around the pasture, introduce sheep to it and vice versa, gauge the puppy’s interest in them. Simple commands will be taught next, with increasing difficulty over time and increasingly within the context of herding.