Herding Dogs Have Your Back

Border Collie

By Sarah Wilson, MA

I slipped between the fence rails, heading toward the trough with a bucket. There was a lone sheep at the far end of the paddock that I didn’t think much about. Then, off to my left, the instructor’s Border Collie, Skip, dropped into their signature crouch, moved a few feet toward me, stopped, and glanced over his shoulder toward his handler. Skip did this a few times until his handler noticed, tracked where his dog was looking, then gave him a quick nod.

Skip was under the fence in a flash to take a position behind me, facing that lone sheep. I didn’t know what to make of it as I sloshed up a bucketful then headed back out. The dog moved with me, doing an elegant sidestep so he could stay in position. When I stepped back through the fence, he returned to the instructor’s side.

“Never turn your back on a ram,” the instructor called out. 

“Oh, that was a ram?!” 

“Yup. Skip was on it.” 

“Thank you, Skip,” I said to the dog, who was paying me no attention. I was not the point; Skip would have done it for anyone. Protecting humans was part of his work. He did it because it needed doing.

Most dogs are well aware where we are looking (ever turn away from your plate for a moment only to find half your sandwich gone when you turn back?) But herding breeds can take that awareness to the next level; they can understand that you are vulnerable from behind. These dogs then can task themselves with keeping you safe — whether you ask them to or not. 

Years ago, a good friend’s young son tried to kill a fly with a swatter on the wall right behind me. Caras, my Australian Shepherd, who was ever near me, roared in alarm. Of course, the kid meant no harm, but Caras had no way of knowing that. As far as he was concerned, the boy had attacked me from behind with a weapon. ‘Nuff said.

Herding dogs of all sizes and shapes can think and act this way. They, quite literally, quite tirelessly, and, in my opinion, quite miraculously, have your back.