Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sheep

To shake things up, today I don't have a journalism trend or scientific discovery to talk about. Instead, I want to discuss sheep, more specifically sheep herding.

I mentioned a while back that I'm taking a zoology class this semester with Patricia McConnell about human and animal behavior. Today our class was held in the stock pavilion (yes, I attend a University that has its own stock pavilion) and Prof. McConnell brought in her own sheep from her farm for a demonstration of how her herding dog Willie gets the sheep to do what he wants them to through body movements, and also how she controls Willie.

Not my professors sheep (my pics didn't come out so well)
There sheep are from Wikimedia Commons.
To prepare for class we had done some readings about how animals respond to sounds. In the demonstration we were shown that short, staccato sounds are best for motivating an animal to move and low long sounds are best for getting it to slow down or stop. I find it really interesting that this is a universal trend among animals. Its also interesting that the sounds to get the dog to go clockwise or counterclockwise (moving the sheep right or left) vary by the animal's handler, but also tend to be short yet distinguishable sounds.

It was fun to demonstrate the principles we are learning in class in real-life settings and not just through reading academic papers. Plus, I got to see sheep and for a Jersey Girl that still has a lot of novelty.

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