Mona Lisa sheep and sheepdog art, explained

Were the makers of that sheepherding-art video I put in an earlier post (and further below in this post as well) pulling the wool over our eyes? Can you really get sheep to do that stuff? My sister Ann, who sent me the link to start with and who has spent some time training sheepdogs and watched others do so, says Yes:

I think they're being true to "extreme sheepherding". Watch the tiny dots in the Pong game and you'll get a good idea; the tiny dots are the sheepdogs. The walking sheep is speeded up, but yes, it's great sheepdogs and great shepherds, hence the "extreme sheepherding". From what I can see, beyond the shepherds attaching the LEDs to the sheep, shooing them out of a pen, and the individual sheep in the pen being physically rearranged for the Mona Lisa "painting", it's ALL done with dogs being handled via verbal/whistle commands. (The whistle instructions are "verbal" commands as the dog sees it.)

The moving sheep feet are probably done using 4 groups of sheep that don't know (or don't like) the other groups; those little flocks won't mix with each other and would go straight through the other "leg" without mixing. The sheep's head is probably done with the same method. The shepherds may have helped put individual sheep in place for the eyes and pupils of the sheep, but the rest is ALL done using excellent sheepdogs and very knowledge shepherds.

The shepherd and dog anticipate each other's thoughts and actions beforehand and ask accordingly. Not too surprising considering both have to anticipate what a sheep will do and they're the most unpredictable factor! A good team can even turn a sheep's head in the direction they want and can split some marked sheep out from the rest and manage both flocks separately. Both are routinely done in Open class sheepdog trials; the first task is essential to calmly handling sheep and the second is always one of the obstacles to be passed at that level. They're also routinely done by working shepherd/sheepdog teams.

People who've never watched good sheepdogs and their handlers at work tend to think there's no way creating art this way could be done without a wee bit of cheating. Shepherds think that the idea of using sheep and LEDs to create the art is neat; they already think that working with a good sheepdog and sheep is an art in itself.

Watch again and decide for yourself:

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Who knew? You take a bunch of sheep, put LEDs on them, choreograph via sheepdogs: you can paint! I'm not fully convinced they're playing straight all the way through, but this is good entertainment regardless. HT: My sister the sheepherder.
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Truly awesome.

By Laura Miller (not verified) on 20 Mar 2009 #permalink

I have posted a link to this page on my Facebook account; I would have gone to the original on YouTube, but I really enjoyed your sister's explanation as well and thought it added to the impact of the video. I've seen sheepherding demonstrations and it is indeed amazing what good sheepdogs can do.

By Laura Miller (not verified) on 20 Mar 2009 #permalink