The Science Of Sheepdogs And The Secret Of Rounding Up Sheep

Senior Author Andrew King behind a flock of sheep carrying the GPS devices. Image: Stephen Hailes.

Sheepdogs use just two simple rules to round up large herds of sheep, scientists have discovered

The findings could lead to the development of robots which can gather and herd livestock, crowd control techniques or new methods to clean up the environment.

Scientists used GPS technology to understand how sheepdogs do their jobs so well.

Until now, they had no idea how the dogs manage to get so many unwilling sheep to move in the same direction.

Andrew King of Swansea University in the UK fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing extremely accurate GPS devices designed by colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College, London.

The team found that sheepdogs likely use just two simple rules: to collect the sheep when they’re dispersed and drive them forward when they’re aggregated.

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“If you watch sheepdogs rounding up sheep, the dog weaves back and forth behind the flock in exactly the way that we see in the model,” says King.

“We had to think about what the dog could see to develop our model. It basically sees white, fluffy things in front of it. If the dog sees gaps between the sheep, or the gaps are getting bigger, the dog needs to bring them together.”

At every time step in the model, the dog decides if the herd is cohesive enough or not. If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it’s already cohesive the dog will push the herd towards the target.

Sheep carrying the GPS devices. Image: Jennifer Morton.

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