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There are dogs who gather sheep, dogs who stare at sheep, dogs who count sheep (the lazy ones, at least) and dogs who walk over sheep when the need occurs. Wait, a minute, did you just say "walk over sheep?"

Yup, that's correct. There is a dog breed in particular that's known for walking on the back of sheep.

Do the sheep mind? Well, that's beyond the scope of this article, but it's sure impressive watching these dogs in action when the need arises.

Introducing the Australian Kelpie 

The Australian kelpie, also formally known as kelpie, is an Australian sheepdog that is very talented in performing several tasks.

As one may imagine, it comes as no surprise why such a versatile dogs are so valuable to Australian farmers.

This breed is capable of moving herds of sheep, cattle and goats over long distances and gathering them up with little of no guidance from humans.

On top of being great herders, kelpies are also great drover dogs moving livestock over long distances despite difficult climate and conditions. 

The signature move of this breed though is something referred to as "sheep backing."

What is Sheep Backing?

Sheep backing is an Australian Kelpie's ability to walk on the backs of sheep. The reasons why a Kelpie would do this are several. 

One reason why this breed jumps on sheep backs is to make them move forward, often from the sheep yard towards the drafting gate. 

Another reason is simply a matter of convenience. With several sheep packed tightly like sardines within a pen, walking over their backs is the fastest way to get to the other side.

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In many cases, this is a behavior Kelpies will perform naturally, without training involved. Actually, some owners struggle with keeping Kelpies on the ground as all they want to do is stay on top of the sheep!

Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia) Australian Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep, The Shearing Shed, Yallingup, Western Australia CC BY 3.0

Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia) Australian Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep, The Shearing Shed, Yallingup, Western Australia CC BY 3.0

What Helps Teach the Behavior

Of course, there will be specimens who struggle walking over sheep and try to get off every chance they get. 

With these dogs it helps ensuring that the sheep are packed tightly within the pen and that their coats are wooly enough to provide a cushioned platform for the Kelpie to walk on. 

Of course, it goes without saying the importance of preventing as much as possible potential falls in between the sheep and being trodden and trampled.

Did you know? An early Kelpie named Sally was bred to Moss, a Smooth Collie, and  produced a black puppy called Barb after an Australian bred Thoroughbred racehorse, who won the 1866 Melbourne Cup. As a consequence,  black Kelpies are referred to as "Barbs."

Watch this video of Kelpie Sheep Backing

Koolies Engage in Sheep Backing Too!

While kelpies are often see sheep backing, Koolies engage in sheep backing too. Koolies are multitaskers and can be seen herding sheep as headers and heelers and may also walk over their backs as necessary. 

Here is a picture of Koolie Sheep Backing

Koolie backing sheep in Australia Author: Koolieoz, public domain

Koolie backing sheep in Australia Author: Koolieoz, public domain

References:

  • Working Sheep Dogs: A Practical Guide to Breeding, Training and Handling By Tully Williams
  • Photo credits: Koolie, Chance - backing sheep in Australia Author: Koolieoz Wikipedia public domain

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