WORKING dogs living in the suburbs can now enjoy rural experiences.
Working dogs are synonymous with rural Australia.
But what happens when they live in suburban backyards?
They get up to no good and end up in a shelter, says the founder of Diggers Herding, a training centre for city working dogs.
Dave Higgins and Geoff Burling own Diggers Herding, 30km northwest of Melbourne, where they run sheep herding workshops and obedience classes for suburban dogs.
But as David points out, it's not always the dogs who need training.
"Mostly what we do is train owners," David says.
It all started when David and Geoff were searching in animal shelters for suitable dogs for scent detection work, and they were astounded at the number of working dog breeds they found.
"It tore my heart to see really good dogs sitting in a shelter without a home, ready to be euthanased because they chased the neighbour's cat," David says.
"They were surrendered as they were uncontrollable, chasing cars, nipping at heels and basically doing what they were bred for."
At the same time David and Geoff were being approached by dog owners with herding breeds, from obedience classes they ran in Tullamarine, saying their pets were bored.
At this time David and Geoff leased a 20ha property near Tullamarine and ran a few sheep to train their own dogs for competition.
"It all started because we had the sheep," David says.
They started a basic obedience class six years ago for working dog breeds such as Border Collies, Kelpies, Blue Heelers and even Rottweilers.
Now they run more formal obedience classes on their 23ha property at Diggers Rest with canine theory and herding schools. They also work one-on-one with clients.
David says in the past year demand for their courses has gone through the roof.
Which is not surprising, with Border Collies and Kelpies making up 14 per cent of the dog population and most spending up to 40 hours alone each week, according to a University of Melbourne survey in 2006.
"Some people just come once and some become part of the furniture or even train their own dogs (for competition)."
He says he is still surprised by how strong the herding instinct is in dogs who have never worked with livestock.
"We had nine-year-old kelpies that had never seen sheep before. You get goosebumps, because once a kelpie is in with the sheep, it just knows what to do.
"You can see the handler gets really tense straight away and thinks they are going to kill the sheep, but the dog is just manoeuvring and starting to work. Kelpies are bred to work.
"If they end up in a suburban backyard, the predatory drive they are bred for has to have an outlet - whether it is chasing butterflies or the neighbour's cat."
He says during the classes and workshops they show owners how to be part of a team with the dog and influence it with body language. Then, after time, they can introduce vocal commands.
"The dog has the instinct and what we have to do is get the information to the handler on how to control the dog and work with the dog," David says.
"Local obedience classes teach static drills but these dogs need something else so they can chase and do what they are bred to do."
- Diggers Herding, details: www.herding.webs.com