One Man and Lots of Dogs
Friday, November 16th, 2007
Like many of the people we have met on this journey, Aled Owen is busy doing a lot of things but, when asked, he would say that first and foremost he is a farmer. However, he is most well known for being a master in the art of sheepdog handling and training and that’s how we had heard of him and ended up on his remote sheep farm in Denbighshire, North Wales.
Aled has been training and working sheepdogs ever since he was a young boy and has just been made the International Sheepdog Society Supreme Champion for the third time after winning with Roy (ISDS 266416) this year. He currently has 15 dogs, ranging from a 10-week-old puppy to 13-year-old Bob, with whom Aled won both the Supreme and the World Championship. He also has a small Jack Russell who thinks he’s a sheepdog and looks seriously disgruntled when he tries to follow Aled out into the field and gets sent home!
Sheepdog looking for Master
While we were there, he had six dogs that he was in the process of training and he let us watch as he began some early work with a young dog, getting it used to being around sheep (without wanting to kill them!). It was all done in an enclosed pen and was very interesting to watch as he mostly controlled the dog using body language, only raising his voice if he really needed to or hitting his boot with a plastic stick if the dog was getting too carried away.
Aled working in the pen with a young dog
Whilst there are other breeds that make good sheepdogs, such as New Zealand Huntaways and Australian kelpies, Aled only works with Border Collies as apparently they’ve got good brains and are more suited to the UK. At eight weeks old, one of his pups might be sold for between £300 and £500 but, once fully trained, they could go for anything up to £4,000. Interesting fact – did you know that at auction the dogs are always sold in guineas (£1.05) so the auctioneer can keep the 5p as their 5%?
Sheepdog puppy – a competition winner?
Aled doesn’t just train dogs; he also trains people, and has been running his sheepdog training courses at home and abroad for over 10 years. The courses are designed for people who want to compete in trials or those who want to train their dogs for day to day work on their farms and, whilst we’re sure people learn a tremendous amount with him, he’s such a character, we bet they’re really fun too!
With all the sheepdog chat going on, it’s easy to forget that he also runs a working sheep farm, which really is the whole point of having sheepdogs in the first place. Having learnt a bit about the competition side of things and watching him train a young dog, it was great to see him work with one of the older dogs, getting it to round up sheep from as far as five fields away. A fully trained dog will respond to five different calls:
• “Come by” – clockwise command
• “Away (to me)” – anticlockwise command
• “Lie down”/“Stand” – stop
• “Walk on”/“Get up” – go
• That’ll do – the end
The commands are also translated into whistle calls for when the dog is far away or Aled needs to save his voice and, as good Welsh dogs, they also respond to the same calls in Welsh…so basically they’re trilingual!
A sheepdog at work
Once the sheep had been gathered up, we watched Aled trimming their feet to help prevent foot rot. The idea is to reduce the number of cracks and crevices where bacteria can hide and remove any infected parts and, although it obviously needs to be done, it is not something to watch if you’re squeamish! We then helped him choose some of the fattest lambs to go to market by placing our hands on their hindquarters to see if we could feel their backbone. Those that were big enough got a squirt of paint on their wool to mark them out from the rest and will probably be making their way to a supermarket near you. Sorry lambs – it seems a large behind is rarely a good thing!
Emma feeling sheep’s bottoms
As if the day wasn’t action-packed enough, Aled also took us out on quads for a tour of the farm and to see the views. He has recently launched Adventure Mountain, which offers off-road quad biking and Raleigh cart racing, as well as opportunities for kids to meet Aled, his sheepdogs and his sheep at ‘Ewe-phoria’, his on-site entertainment and educational centre. Having been lucky enough to grow up on a farm with a quad bike to burn about on, we’ve always been a bit dubious of organised quad biking days, when you normally only get to go about 10 mph around a rubbish circuit. No need to worry about not having fun if you go out on the quad bikes with Aled though – the views are breathtaking, the hills are steep and you’ll be lucky if you can keep up with him! Guaranteed fun for all ages and abilities; helmet and much-needed splatter-proof trousers provided!
Lucy having a breather to look at the views
Quad bikes are also handy on the farm!
For more information about sheepdog training or breeding, contact Aled on 01490 460225, email him at email@example.com or visit www.aled-owen-sheepdogs.co.uk. For more information about Adventure Mountain, call 01490 460369 or visit www.adventure-mountain.co.uk.