In order to be successful at herding sheep one must first study and begin to understand the animal itself. This will give the sheepherder many valuable clues into the behavior of the sheep and make sheep herding a much easier process.
Sheep have excellent hearing and are easily startled by strange or loud noises. Their vision is also very excellent as well with a visual range of 270 to 320 degrees, enabling the sheep to see behind themselves without turning their heads. On the other hand, sheep have very poor depth perception, which may cause difficulty when the sheepherder tries to herd the sheep over uneven ground or across dips in the landscape. The sheep also tend to want to herd from the areas that are dark into lighter areas.
Sheep will follow the leader of the herd toward new pastures. This is a behavior characteristic that the sheep herder can exploit to his advantage by herding sheep using buckets of feed to entice the herd to follow the sheep herder. This method works quite easily in sheep herding.
In areas where sheep have natural predators, sheep tend to exhibit strong flocking or sheep herding behavior finding increased safety in numbers. However in small groups of sheep this herding behavior is not as strongly exhibited. The process of hefting is a natural tendency in some breeds of sheep to remain in the same area throughout most of their lives. This instinct is handed down from the ewes to the lambs. The sheepherder who takes advantage of this method of capitalizing on natural breed characteristics has an easier time of the sheep herding process.
Sheep become extremely stressed and panicked when separated from the flock. They also recognize the faces of their sheepherders and become anxious by the appearance of unfamiliar persons or animals.
The primary method of defense for sheep is simply to flee from a perceived or real threat. Sheep have a comfort zone or flight zone. When an unfamiliar presence crosses into their flight zone the sheep flee. The sheepherder can stimulate the sheep to herd simply by skirting the comfort zone of the sheep; this tendency can also be of great assistance to the sheepherder by using working dogs, which stay just outside the sheep’s boundary.
The avoidance of loud startling noise and understanding the natural sheep behavior characteristics can greatly improve the results in the work of the sheepherder who is herding sheep.