The Herding Dog’s “Eye”

A loose eye enables the Cattle Dog to see & react to a herd of hundreds of cattle & give attention to just those requiring it – but what does a “loose eye” mean? An eye that falls out of its socket?????

No! And too many people make the mistake of thinking that “loose eyed” means “non-eyed.”  Let’s examine the types of “eye” in herding breeds:

Dog with a “strong Eye” make strong, and essentially continuous eye contact with the animals. Sometimes, it’s a “fixed stare.” It’s typical of Border Collies and Kelpies, though exceptions occur. Dogs with a “Strong-eye” often accompany their style with a crouching stance, so much so that these dogs can look like a predator stalking prey. If these dogs cautiously approach the stock,  the sheep or cows tend to warily move away to keep ahead of the presumed predator. Strong-eyed dogs work really well with light livestock;

Deliberately looking away from the stock to reduce pressure, on the other hand, is called “anti eyed;”  

Conversely, dogs that continually survey their entire flock (and by that, we mean watching not only every head, but every ear of every cow or sheep for signs that they’re thinking of bolting) are referred to as having a “roving eye.” These dogs zero in on an individual and warn him or her: DON’T DO IT;

A “Medium Eyed” dog makes makes good eye contact with the stock, but not with every breath, or on a continual basis;

A dog with an extreme expression of strong-eye is known as being sticky-eyed or just plain “sticky.” These dogs tend to challenge their handlers because they seem to get “stuck” in a holding pattern with the livestock,  and it can be really tough to get them to stop. They just want to stare down livestock. They’re more comfortable when keeping livestock from moving, than they are when they are moving livestock;

Then we have the No Eye” dogs who have no instinctual eye style at all.

And finally, we go back to the beginning. A Loose Eyed dog often works standing up, and while these dogs do make eye contact, it’s not on a continual basis, and control is kept with presence rather than pressure. Most loose-eyed, upright breeds use their bodies to control the stock rather than their eye.

So, if you have a herding breed, do you know your breed’s working style?

“On Duty” Working Border Collie by Debbie Gillingham. Find and support this artists here.


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