The purpose of the Bergamasco Sheepdog in history was to tend sheep. The way each herding breed works is unique to the place they originated and the function they were used for. The Bergamasco is considered a European tending breed. They way they work is unique to the Alps regions of Italy and Switzerland and the agricultural systems in place there.
In tending, the dog creates a boundary as a living fence while rotationally grazing his stock (Melville).
Because there is little to no need for tending dogs in the U.S., it is more important than ever that we continue to assess for ability to work and breed dogs with an aptitude for their work so that the Bergamasco does not simply become a house pet. The Bergamasco has evolved based on it's function. Function dictates conformation. If these abilities are not tested and nurtured, we can lose the most important part of their history in a just a few generations. It takes the right balance of assertiveness, confidence, gentleness, obedience and instinct to make a great herding dog. We strive for this in our puppies and it is something that we will always be assessing.
In the words of author and trainer John Holmes:
“It is of the utmost importance to remember that, when a young dog starts to run, he does so instinctively...The young dog herds, not so much because he wants to herd, as because he cannot help it any more than when he was born..” (Holmes 28).
At 8 weeks old, our puppies are introduced to chickens and later to livestock and horses. We let our puppies and young dogs build confidence with the birds so that they can explore their own instinct while not being deterred by bossier livestock.
We have been working with Lynette Melville at Nutmeg Farm in Portland, CT for several years to test the abilities of our dogs and train them to tend. Lynette has been studying all types of herding but has written a book “Hear My Voice” based on her study of tending abroad over the last 20 years. While tending is instinctual, we are training to work as a Shepherd and dog team while still allowing the dog to think for themselves and make critical decisions. We are currently in training for AKC herding trials and will be working on C Course until we are ready to compete.
Faggia is our most excellent example of tending ability. She has the right mix of independence and obedience to hopefully be successful. There is nothing she enjoys more than herding, it is who she is.