Once upon a time, Americans got dogs for their sheep. Now they get sheep for their dogs:
Sue Foster knew what she needed to do when her border collie, Taff, was expelled from puppy school for herding the black Labs into a corner.
She rented some sheep.
Then she bought another border collie and rented some grazing land. Then she bought some sheep of her own. And a third border collie. Now, like the old lady who swallowed the fly, Ms. Foster keeps a llama to chase off the coyotes that threaten the lambs that go to market to finance the sheep that entertain her dogs.
This presents a business opportunity:
Each day, an average of 18 dogs visit Fido’s Farm outside Olympia, Wash., their owners paying $15 per dog to practice on the farm’s 200-head flock of sheep. Herding revenue at the farm is up 60% over the past five years, says owner Chris Soderstrom, who bought the farm in 2004.
“We get many people sent down here from the dog park in Seattle,” says Ms. Soderstrom, 63 years old. “They need to get their dog a job.” Newcomers get a 30-minute herding evaluation, to weed out biters and ovinophobes. One crucial test: Does the dog instinctively know it should circle around the sheep, not charge into the center of the flock?
Border collies appear willing to herd until they drop. In fact, they never appear to grow bored of organizing sheep. If they do, for an extra $5 dogs at Fido’s Farm can also herd ducks.