ONE MAN AND HIS WELSH DOGS
A summary taken from an article I wrote about dogs in Y Cymro (31/12/1997), and from a forthcoming book about the old shepherds of mid-Wales:
Collumella wrote in AD 42:
`What servant more attached to his master,
What companion more faithful,
What guardian more incorruptible?'
There has been for a long time three basic types of dog in mid-Wales. There is the well known Border Collie, and their feats at Sheepdog Trials which have made them renowned the world over, and the Welsh sheepdogs, who have been around for a very long time, and these were sub-divided into two categories -- the heading dogs, and the driving, barking dogs. (photo)
In his book `A Shepherd's Life', W H Hudson mentions that Welsh sheepdogs were very highly thought of in Wiltshire well over 200 years ago. I would have thought that they would have been taken there by the early drovers, as they took cattle and sheep to the markets of Barnet and Smithfield, or to be fattened on the lush land of Kent.
These Welsh dogs work in a totally different way to the Border - their tails up, ears down - and have none of their inhibiting characteristics. They are free agents by comparison, with no eye - in fact, they are referred to as 'loose-eyed' dogs. One thing I like about them is that when you have got sheep into the yards, they go about their own business, whereas the Border Collie will be eyeing the sheep under a gate or through a fence, unable to switch off because of their overpowering natural instincts.
When the Welsh dogs are under pressure to move their sheep, they bark, and are at their happiest when they are working large flocks of sheep. They have a tremendous amount of energy, and work well in hot weather. Many Borders, especially if they have a thick coat, do not stick heat too well.
When there is a large mob of sheep on an open hill, you feel with a few Welsh dogs that you can dictate as to where the flock goes, because of their strong presence. Many people have handled sheep and dogs all their lives, but have no idea of the total cussedness of open mountain sheep or wethers when they want to escape, especially on rough ground or broken rocks which give them a big advantage in their intentions.
The driving or barking dog was, and still is, a very important aspect of a hill farm. They were instrumental in keeping sheep boundaries, driving sheep back into their own sectors, and also during the summer driving the sheep up from the lower slopes, therefore keeping the growth there for the autumn. Going back long ago before the time of stock-proof boundaries, this type of dog was the only means by which hill farms could keep their hay, oats and green crop from scavenging sheep. These dogs were kept out day and night, and as soon as they saw sheep within a certain distance, they would give chase. When gathering, they are invaluable in driving the sheep towards the point where they come together, saving the heading dogs a lot of work, and another very important factor, teaching the sheep to get their act together, and move in the required direction. These driving dogs should not be thought of as a race apart from the heading dogs, but a lot depended on how they were initially taught, and many of them after several years of coursing would graduate into heading dogs.
My Welsh dogs started in earnest with a mostly black bitch called Mag, which my father had bought from Mr David Jones, Rhos-y-rhiw, Pont-rhyd-y-groes in 1967, and she was a little gem, honest as the day is long. She was crossed with Lad, one of John Lewis Tymawr, Cwmystwyth's dogs. From this mating came Dick, who later made his home with Mr Tommy Davies, Ty'n Cwm, Capel Dewi. He proved a strong useful dog. Dick was crossed with a dark merle bitch called Meg that spent her working life with me. Her breeding went back to the dogs of Ochor-rhos, in Devil's Bridge. She was a total pleasure to work with, full of vim, always willing to please, and would work till she dropped. She will always feature in my mind as being the most instrumental in the breeding of true to type Welsh sheepdogs (photo of Tess). Having been mated to several different dogs, she helped retain some bloodlines that otherwise would have been lost.
In 1993 I took Meg to be served by Roy, a strong, noisy merle owned by Edryd Davies, Cae-Iago, Llanwrin, with the result that Madog Toss was born on the 17th of January '94. He spent his working life with me, and was a fit, tireless companion for many years.
John Lewis' other dog Roy had been crossed with Meg, a slick coated black and white bitch that had come from the breeding lines of Morgan Griffiths, Nanty, Llangurig, going back to slate-grey dog he had bought for a pound from Cwm-dewi in Brecon. Meg was owned by Jim Raw, Ty-Llwyd, Cwmystwyth, and she would move any amount of sheep, heading or driving as required. The outcome of the mating was Lad, who spent his life at Ty-Llwyd.
He was crossed with a coursing bitch that was owned by Clifford Pugh, Bodtalog, resulting in a dog called Pip. At this time I had a blue merle bitch called Scot from Islwyn Jones, Llwyn-teifi, Ystumtuen. She was descended from an old line of dogs from Fuches-gau, Ponterwyd, and I took her to be mated with Pip from Bodtalog. It was from this crossing that I had Tip, a very strong, black and white dog, who was a no-nonsense sheep mover. He was a clever dog in many respects. If I lost him, he would always find his way home. He came with me to a sheep sale in Machynlleth on a Wednesday, and he went missing, probably on a romantic errand. On the following Wednesday I was on Llechweddmor, the hill of Glan-fred, Llandre, where I worked for seventeen years, and Tip came to me pleased as punch after his `holiday'. He was able to climb ladders, as well as opening the latch of the shed he slept in, which thankfully I have on video, as well as a bit of his work with sheep.
In 1987 Mr E J Evans, Pant-anamlwg, Nebo, brought his bitch Fan, whose lineage went back in his wife's family for a very long time, to be mated with Tip, resulting in his dog Wag. Meantime he had bought from me a daughter of Meg called Floss (her father being Dick, already mentioned) which he in due time crossed with Wag, and their offspring have pleased me no end, and I will always be grateful to him for his part in helping to preserve a very valuable part of our heritage, which I've always striven to promote, even selling a Welsh bitch to Holland in the late 1980s.
Wag and Floss have produced some of the best possible type of Welsh sheepdogs, and to name but the following three as examples:
1. Prince, who has been worked and trained by Maldwyn Jones, Sunny-Hill, Tregaron.
2. Mot, owned by Mr David Evans, Garn-fach, Nebo. Having witnessed his work several times, I have no reservations whatsoever to put Mot down as the foremost example of what a Welsh sheepdog should be like. He would totally boss a fair sized bunch of ewes and lambs, being forceful, without any aggression. He was equally at home working cattle as well.
3. Pant-yr-odyn Floss - a strong, fit, enthusiastic worker owned by Mr John Evan Morgan, Pant-yr-odyn, Nebo. Floss not only eagerly looks forward to every opportunity to work sheep, but also to play football with his grand-children!
Pant-yr-odyn Floss has been crossed with my Madog Toss several times with very pleasing results, which to name but two of their offspring who work in the manner of the dogs of yesteryear; Pant-yr-odyn Taff owned by Dafydd Gwyndaf of Llechwedd Hafod, Penmachno, and Pant-yr-odyn Lad owned by Gareth Hughes, Allt-ddu, Tregaron.
My present brood bitch Pant-yr-odyn Mag (from the same cross as Taff and Lad) is, hopefully, doing her bit for the future. She was most recently crossed with my current stud dog Pant-Mawr Ben and the offspring are proving their worth on the hills of mid-Wales.
About two years ago I was able to oversee a mating that, in effect, virtually brought together most of the different lines of Welsh sheepdogs I have worked with, thanks to my cousin, Gwylon Davies, Llangwyryfon, who had kept one line going that I'd lost. That line is preserved in Esgairweddan Cardi owned by John Parry, Esgairweddan, Pennal. Cardi's mother was my Meg already mentioned, and his father was Gorslas Dot. Dot was a very strong dog that would have made and excellent hill dog had he been given the chance. His father was Roy, a strong tri-coloured dog I had for many years, and the only issue from Lad, an excellent dog owned by Tom Morgan, Nant-cae-rhedyn, Ponterwyd, from the breeding lines of Morgan Griffiths, Nanty, Llangurig. Morgan Griffiths was very much a champion of the Welsh type of dogs throughout his life. Moc Nanty, as he was familiarly known, passed away on the 30th of August '03, aged 90. I was very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time years ago, and from what was then only routine breeding, the genes of some of the Welsh dogs around this area at the time have been preserved.
Border Collies are predominantly black and white, but I prefer those with a little tan in them. Welsh sheepdogs can be any colour - black and tan, blue merle, brown, brindle, or black and white, grey, and some were black, with flecks of white in their coats (ci bwrw eira - a snowstorm dog). There was hardly a farm in years gone by that did not have a black and tan, or blue merle, in the yard. A society was set up in 1963 to promote the Welsh Blue Merles. These were referred to as the `Cambrian Sheepdogs' and in the North of Wales as cŵn llwyd (grey dogs). Colour was very much the owner's choice. My father's cousin, John Rees from Trisant, insisted that a sheepdog of his choice was black, while most hill shepherds shunned brown dogs because they were difficult to see at a distance in the autumn amongst the decaying vegetation. My favourite colour is black and tan, which seemed to have gone into a minority, but thanks to a few dedicated breeders they are making a come-back.
The breeding of any species can be a complicated business, and it is very easy to veer from the right track. There is a danger of moving away from the true type and becoming finer, therefore losing the unique Welsh sheepdog character.