Sheepdogs in the Ohio Valley During the 1800s

After 1840, the center of the sheep industry moved westward from the Eastern seaboard. By 1850 the nucleus was in the Ohio Valley. Besides the British dogs, there was a noticeable number from European extraction. The Germans have long been known for their animal husbandry and farming practices. It was not unusual for settlers to bring sheep and dogs from their homeland. On June 24, 1834, Alexander Philip Maximilian, Prince of Wied discovered a German shepherd [the human kind] at Zoar, Ohio, crossing a large flock over the Ohio Canal.  He observed, “His dogs were exceedingly careful in keeping the flock together.” 

A German shepherd penning sheep with Old German Herding Dogs –

German sheepdogs in Ohio, an article that appeared in the February 1846 issue of The Cultivator (a monthly paper published in Albany New York devoted to agriculture and rural affairs) had this to say, “There are several breeds of dogs which may be trained to watch and drive sheep. We have seen at least three varieties which came from England and Scotland, one or two from Germany, and a very large kind from Spain.”*

“The above figure [reference to illustration in 1846 article] seems to have been taken for a rough-haired dog, such as we have in two or three instances known brought from Germany. Mr. Bymler, the principal of the German community at Zoar, Ohio, had sheep-dogs of a similar appearance, a few years ago.”  The cattle and sheep dogs of Germany were Altdeutscher Hütehunde (Old German Herding Dogs), before the development of the modern German Shepherd Dog in the 1890s.

See Old German Herding Dogs: (Altdeutscher Hütehunde):

In America’s Sheep Trails, E. N. Wentworth  wrote, “When the mixed bands of cattle, sheep, and swine are trailed to New York and Philadelphia markets from the Ohio River Valley more than a century ago, the principal need was for a cattle dog to snap at the heels of the bullocks, fat cows, and calves. Such dogs were too rough for sheep, which had to be worked more slowly and patiently. A smart sheep dog was like a smart herder – he made the sheep think they were going the way they wished, rather than that they were being driven there.  Drovers frequently used two dogs – one for sheep and the other for cattle and hogs.  Many of these dogs were well trained.” By the middle of the 19th century when the Scotch collie was imported without restraint, they spread fairly quickly in the north, particularly in New York, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Through the middle and late 1800s gentlemen farmers were importing fancy purebred sheep and cattle along with dogs to care for them. By the end of the century they were almost as common as shepherds. In his writing, Wentworth states, “This dog was not the so-called “show type” of collie but was smaller framed, broader headed, and quicker in action.”  The black and white, and sable and white varieties were the more popular.” * In Memoirs of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society, John Hare Powell describes some Spanish dogs, imported with early Merinos into this country, and then owned by himself, as possessing “all the valuable characteristics of the English shepherd’s dog, with sagacity, fidelity and strength peculiar to themselves.” He adds: – “Their ferocity when aroused by any intruder, their attachment to their own flock, and devotion to their master, would, in uncultivated parts of America, make them an acquisition of infinite value, by affording a defense against wolves, which they readily kill, and vagrant cur dogs, by which our flocks are often destroyed. Their force of their instinctive attachment to sheep, and their resolution in attacking every dog which passes near to their charge, have been forcibly evinced upon my farm.” When Mr. Powell’s paper was reprinted in the Memoirs of the Board of Agriculture of the State of New York (Vol. 3, 1826) it included an illustration of a Spanish Sheep Dog. Powell was unhappy about the drawing and said, [it] looks like a cross between a cur and a bull-dog. It is so completely out of drawing that I am let to infer it was drawn by a wholly incompetent artist and that it bears no resemblance to the original.”

Copyright © 2009 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor.

All Rights Reserved.