Sheep Herding for City Dogs ‘Rescues’ Bored, Badly Behaved Working Dogs in the Suburbs

Placing energetic working dogs in suburban backyards can lead to destructive behavior, uncontrolled barking, nipping and chasing cars.

But working dog owners in South East Queensland have found an outlet for their smart dogs to exercise their instincts.

Sheep Herding for City Dogs is one of the few facilities open to all breeders for training rather than competition.

“These dogs are working dogs and they want to work.”

Many working dogs were specifically bred for their ability to herd.(Provided: Kelcy Whittington, Town Dog Sheep Farm)

A former retail chain manager, Mr Borg was unsure where enrolling his long-haired border collie, Bonnie, in pedigree herding training would lead him.

A man on the rise of a hill at sunrise, surrounded by sheep and a working dog.
John Borg descends from the sheep for the morning training.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

Within months, Sheila Marchant had hired him to become a part-time trainer at her breeding school in Woodford, northwest of Brisbane.

Both dog and handler went on to win a handful of ribbons in pedigree breeding trials.

A smoky gray collie lying next to a swag of ribbons.
John Borg first competed in sheep herding competitions with his border collie Bonnie.(Provided: Town Dog Sheep Farm)

The gift of an experienced collie, Maddi, helped him realize a dream of competing with farmers, working wild sheep.

“Maddi has become my shadow,” an emotional Mr. Borg said.

“She was a spinster, she was nine years old and I recently lost her before her 15th birthday.

A man squats and hugs his dog.
John Borg was devastated after losing Maddi, an experienced dog he said was his teacher in sheep herding competitions.(Provided: John Borg)

“This [competing] was a huge thing for me. Don’t forget I’m a city guy, I achieved my goal.

When Ms. Marchant sold her business, Mr. Borg began part-time training on a farm in Peachester.

A woman with short hair is holding a small black and white dog.
Company owner Sheila Marchant hired Borg as a trainer after recognizing his talent for working with dogs.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

Career change

He had already survived two heart attacks and three strokes, but the pressure of paying mortgages on investment properties forced him to take on his full-time job as director of forest operations.

“Forced me to do this full time and it just grew and grew and grew, to the point where I see over 200 dogs a week.”

Mr Borg thinks that working dogs belong on farms – unless their owners are committed to providing their intelligent and energetic pets with the stimulation they need.

Women with dogs waiting their turn.
The dogs are worked for 15 minutes, then rested, before being allowed back into the yard.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

Exercise the mind

Getting away from the bush was a matter of life and death for Loki the kelpie.

“He was five months old in a pound in central Queensland and was about to be put to sleep if not rescued,” owner Amanda Vassallo said.

Mrs. Vassallo’s family lives on a small acreage and she believes the opportunity to herd sheep has helped improve Loki’s state of mind.

A woman crouches next to a black dog with sheep in a yard.
Amanda Vassallo regularly brings her working dog, Loki, to training.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

“Loki is a dog that needs something more, he’s constantly running along the fence chasing motorcycles or trucks, whatever comes his way,” she said.

Mr. Borg’s sheep move in sync with him around the yard, sticking close to his legs.

“I take great care of my sheep, they are my livelihood and they are not afraid of dogs, they are very tame,” he said.

A blond-haired lady crouches by a fence with a kelpie.
According to Penny Brischke, president of the Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Society, working dogs need mental stimulation.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

The Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Society (SCARS) sends high-energy animals to Mr. Borg to help them deal with the enclosures.

“We’ve had about 70 of them in the last year that are working breeds or crossbreeds of working breeds and the main thing we notice is that they’re incredibly excited in that environment,” said the president of SCARS, Penny Brischke.

“People have to understand that where there [the training] is executed, it is very safe.”

The dog licks the ladies face as she holds her daughter.
Stephanie Street says her kelpie, April, is full of energy but great with her kids, including young Ava.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

Animal enrichment

Mr. Borg explains that using human language, human instincts and human emotions is not the way to interact with dogs, which communicate through body language.

Stephanie Street and her daughter, Ava, brought along their energetic kelpie, April, to strengthen their bond.

“She jumps, she licks people, she’s usually annoying, but she’s the nicest dog,” Ms Street said.

Less than 15 minutes after herding the sheep in the yards, April is ready to rest.

“For this mental stimulation and also the fact that she is exhausted now, I would definitely come back and try again,” Ms Street said.

Mother and child look over a fence leading to the sheep farm yard.
Stephanie Street and her daughter, Ava, were fascinated to see how April got into herding sheep.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

Mr. Borg’s personal pack of dogs has grown to include 13 border collies and a kelpie.

The day her beloved collie Maddi passed away, a customer captured the moment the baaing sheep gathered at the dog’s grave.

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Play the video.  Duration: 59 seconds

Gathering of sheep at the burial site of Maddi the dog.(Provided: Town Dog Sheep Farm)

Mr. Borg recently purchased the farm, with Sheila Marchant as his business partner.

Man sitting on the grass surrounded by seven black and white border collies.
John Borg relaxes with his working dogs at the end of the day.(Landline: Jennifer Nichols)

They improved the road and fencing, with plans for an all-weather covered practice area.

“I’m making a change,” he said.

Bette C. Alvarado