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Working Sheep Dogs: Featuring Shepherdess Emma Gray

Pictured: Emma Gray with her husband Ewan Irvine and son Len.


People have been using dogs to herd livestock for thousands of years, and they are still an essential part of farming life to this day. To celebrate International Working Animal Day, we have the honour of featuring Shepherdess Emma Gray in our blog to share some facts about the humble sheep dog.


Pictured: Emma and her miniature American shepherd Ocean Eyes.


Introducing Shepherdess Emma Gray

Emma is a third-generation shepherdess, who now lives with her family (along with her sheep, cows, cats, and her faithful sheep dogs) in a 680-acre holding on the Scottish isle of Bute. She was the first woman to win the Northumberland Nursery League in 2014 and the English Nursery Championship in 2016. Not only does Emma train and breed award winning sheep dogs, but she is also an avid writer with her first book ‘One Girl and Her Dogs’ being penned in 2012 and her latest release ‘My Farming Life’ that chronicles the past nine years of her life. Her family joined the fourth series of BBC 2’s ‘This Farming Life’, a show that follows the stories of farming families across Scotland and England.


Pictured: Emma’s border collie Telf Joff.


What are Sheep Dogs and What do They do?

When walking past fields filled with sheep, we often see dogs hard at work rounding them up for the shepherd. Sheep dogs have historically been bred to do working tasks such as herding or guarding livestock.

When asked about the importance of sheep dogs to farming, Emma proudly said:


“In my opinion Sheepdogs are invaluable in the countryside, they do the work of many men for the price of a clean bed and a bowl of food.”


Pictured: Ocean Eyes, Emma’s miniature American shepherd.


Most Common Sheep Dog Breeds

When asked about breeds of Sheep Dogs, Emma was eager to share that:


“Sheepdogs are unique in the fact that they are a breed that has been selected for hundreds of years purely based on their talent and ability, not their looks. As a result, there is a huge variety in shapes, sizes, and colours in the breed.”


And she is totally right, there is an endless number of breeds of sheep dog, all with different sizes and quirks. Some of the most iconic breeds that come to mind are the border collie, bearded collie, huntaway, kelpie, and sheltie to name a few.

Emma also added that:


“Border Collies are internationally known as the most intelligent breed of dog.”


So, if you are looking for a good breed of sheep dog, that’s Emma’s recommendation! She clearly knows her stuff, with a border collie puppy bred from her dog (Reiver Gray) breaking the world record for the price of an untrained sheep dog at £7,600. Her working border collies are also fervently sought after for their intelligence, in 2020 she smashed the world record price for a working sheep dog, with £18,900 being paid for one of her dogs.


Tip: If you would like to know some of the most common sheepdog names, published a list of the 110 most popular border collie names in 2020.


Pictured: Reiver Grey, Emma’s lilac border collie.


Tips for Training a Sheep Dog

When asked about training Emma said:

“I think my biggest tip would be not to expect too much from a young dog, I tend to allow my puppies to be puppies and don’t start training till they are ten months old.”


News site ‘That’s Farming’ adds the following tips for training sheep dogs:

  • Training sessions should last at max 15 minutes.
  • Start small (e.g. only a few sheep to start with and only basic commands).
  • Take advantage of your dog’s breed, e.g. a herding dog will be easier to train.
  • Recognise your dogs body language, as sheep dogs have very specific behaviours.


Pictured: Emma and her miniature American shepherd Ocean Eyes.


What do Sheep Dogs Eat?

Unlike pet dogs, working dogs need to have the right diet. The Working Sheep Dog Website recommends that sheep dogs eat dog food that is manufactured for working dogs, and most farm suppliers will stock large commercial bags of working dog food. They recommend for sheep dogs that work from dawn till dusk, you need to get working dog food with a higher protein content.


Thank you again to Emma Gray for contributing to this blog, her Instagram account is @emmagrayshepherdess if you want to follow her life on the isle on the Isle of Bute. Let us know if you enjoyed the blog, we would love to keep in touch on social media with #ahumetakemehome.