Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Learning how herding dogs work a herd of sheep may yield favorable implications in crowd control, say researchers

Dogs have long been used to work alongside humans, and one of the oldest ways is in herding sheep. 

In order for the effort to be successful, there are two simple concepts that are in place.

Sheep, by their nature as a prey species, employ what is called the "selfish herd theory": putting something — in this case, other members of the herd — between themselves and a threat, thusly making every effort to move toward the center of the group. 

Herding dogs capitalize on the "selfish herd theory" to bring the sheep together and manipulate them to be where they want.

With a joint effort on the part of researchers from Swansea University, Uppasala University, University of London and University of Cambridge were eager to learn how dogs bred for this purpose get the cooperation of the sheep, but their interest went a little further than that. The researchers are hoping that the knowledge gleaned from the study might be able to facilitate new ways that robots are designed and perhaps implemented in helping to control crowds and even clean up environmental catastrophes, like an oil spill. 

To try and learn how herding dogs do their job, researchers used collars fitted with GPS technology and attached them to a flock of 46 sheep and a trained Australian kelpie so that their respective movements could be tracked during herding trials for the study.

Using the GPS data, the math was able to unfold how herding dogs work their magic. 

With that, computer simulations were developed and from there, a shepherding model was born. 

Watch a video of the simulation below.

Click here for more on the study, Solving the shepherding problem: heuristics for herding autonomous, interacting agents

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer — most recently contributing to MLive — and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.


  1. Replies
    1. Isn't it though, Daisy's Mom? Watching a dog like a border collie work in tandem with their handler is such fun. Glad you enjoyed this topic as much as I did.


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