The shepherd's job

For many people around the world, the word 'shepherd dog' could only mean German shepherd dog. But 'shepherd dog' simply means a shepherd's dog. The dog belonging to, and helping, a person herding and tending sheep (and / or other animals like cows or goats).
Sheep flocks are not an exclusively German phenomenon. All over Europe were shepherds going out in the fields and on the heath with their flocks. Those sheep were not all imported from Germany, and neither were the dogs ! Thus, almost every European country has at least one national shepherd dog breed. Two of those breeds are from the Netherlands: the Schapendoes, a shaggy little dog not unlike the Bearded collie, and the Dutch shepherd dog aka Hollandse herdershond.

Dutch villages commonly had a village shepherd, who went round every morning to collect the sheep belonging to the various farmers into one big flock. At the end of the day, the flock was taken home again and the sheep went each to their own place.
As shown below, old postcards can be an interesting source of information about sheep-herding in the Netherlands.


Flock grazing on the fields outside Oudenbosch, in the province of Noord-Brabant. The card's postmark is from 1917.

It's not always necessary to leave the village to enjoy a good meal! This flock is grazing in the middle of Zuidlaren, in the province of Drenthe. Postmark dates from 1944. (if you have any difficulty in spotting the dog in this picture: it's lying in front of the shepherd standing on the left.)

Another picture to contradict the popular image of big heath fields as the only place were sheep would be brought to graze. Even more than on the moors, it is here of the first importance that the dog doesn't let any sheep stray off or stay behind. Along a road with traffic, this can be literally a matter of life or death..... (No place name or postmark on this card)

More clearly than in the previous picture, we can see here how trustingly the sheep follow the shepherd. The sheep flock of Lia Helmers, a modern shepherdess from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (southern part of province Zeeland), is so well-trained in "following the person with the dog" that they sometimes make a mistake - and then an unsuspecting tourist, walking his dog, suddenly has some 300 sheep at his heels. For city folk this can be a somewhat frighting experience, even though they're being assured that "they don't bite"!
This card was published by Nature Watch in Meppel, province of Drenthe, in order to earn money for the sheep fold. The card bears a postmark from 1951.

We see here, as in several other old photographs, a shepherd keeping his dog on lead. One might think that this is to make the dog stand still while the picture is being taken. But a very eager and active dog is sometimes better kept on lead when there's no action needed. If not, it might spend all its energy before the day is through. If needs be, a shepherd dog is allowed to take hold of a sheep, but of course without really wounding it. Some dogs, however, are rather hard-mouthed when doing this. Presumably that's the reason why this dog wears a muzzle. (Picture was taken on a Veluwe moor. The Veluwe is a partly forest, partly rural area in the province of Gelderland. Postmark dates from 1936.)


*** Click here to read an interview with a shepherd, copied and translated from an old Dutch dog book. ***


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