23 THE DROVERS AND THEIR DOGS
THE DROVERS AND THEIR DOGS
“Drovers’ dogs are singularly prompt in their actions, and all who have watched them in the crowded, noisy, tumultuous assemblage of man and beast, that used weekly to occur in Smithfield, must have observed their intelligence and courage. Nor in the busy streets of London, through which drove after drove of cattle were taken, could the same qualities fail to be noticed by any sagacious looker-on. These dogs were accustomed to bite severely, and always attacked the heels of the cattle, so that even a fierce bull was easily driven by one of them.”
The Drovers and Their Dogs
In his Cynographia Britannica of 1800, Sydenham Edwards writes, of the drover’s dog: “…he appears peculiar to England, being rarely found even in Scotland. He is useful to the farmer or grazier, for watching or driving their cattle, and to the drover and butcher for driving cattle and sheep to slaughter; he is sagacious, fond of employment, and active; if a drove is huddled together so as to retard their progress, he dashes amongst and separates them till they form a line and travel more commodiously; if a sheep is refractory and runs wild, he soon overtakes and seizes him by the foreleg or ear, pulls him to the ground. The bull or ox he forces into obedience by keen bites on the heels or tail, and most dexterously avoids their kicks. He knows his master’s grounds, and is a rigid centinel on duty, never suffering them to break their bounds, or strangers to enter. He shakes the intruding hog by the ear, and obliges him to quit the territories. He bears blows and kicks with much philosophy…” Those picturesque words are a concise summary of the dogs’ purpose, as well as showing their prowess as heelers too.
In his The Dog of 1854, Youatt wrote, on the drover’s dog: “He bears considerable resemblance to the Sheepdog, and has usually the same prevailing black or brown colour. He possesses all the docility of the Sheepdog, with more courage, and sometimes ferocity.” The drover’s dog would have needed ferocity to keep an endless stream of village curs from attacking the flock, great courage in facing every kind of obstacle and threat en route to the ‘fattening fields’ and the docility to obey every command from the accompanying drover whilst ignoring rustlers, thieves or the wrath of inconvenienced citizens finding their path blocked. Such dogs had to think for themselves, in the modern idiom, ‘think on their feet’. From that background come the gifted sheepdogs of today.