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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘The need for sheepdogs is still as important as it was 100 years ago’

In this week’s sheep farming segment, That’s Farming, speaks to renowned sheepdog trainers, Paul Walker and Alan Moran of The Newport Shepherds.

50-year-old Paul Walker is a horse trainer turned full-time sheepdog trainer and breeder, who resided in the Andes all his life, but now calls Derrada in Newport, Co Mayo, home.

He desired to come to the Emerald Isle to “learn how to train a good dog” and ended up in the picturesque town on the west coast of Ireland through the twists and turns of life.

He told That’s Farming: “My father was an outdoor educator, and we lived in the mountains.”

“We always helped to gather cattle and wild horses. The use of working dogs was a big passion we had since a very early age.”

“I used to spend a lot of time with a horse trainer, Pedro Andrade. He lived alone in the mountains and taught me many lessons of life and the importance of having a good dog.”

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“I studied anthropology to specialise in the lives of the mountain shepherds of the Andes and ended up living like one for 15 years. I started working as a goat keeper in the mountain when I was 14,” added Paul, who competed in the World Sheepdog trials in 2017 in Holland, representing his country, Chile.

The Newport Shepherds

In 2019, with Alan Moran, a renowned fifth-generation mountain shepherd and sheepdog trainer with extensive knowledge of breeding and training, he formed The Newport Shepherds.

As one of the country’s best sheepdog handlers and trainers, the Newport native is known for breeding Lad, “one of the most important” breeding dogs.

“We both have similar backgrounds from the mountains and share the same passion for sheepdogs. We love to share our passion with other people, especially young ones.”

The duo specialises in sheepdog demonstrations for tourists, but their main activity is sheepdog demonstrations for schools.

They offer sheepdog handling lessons, for all ages and levels of experience, from total beginners, with or without dogs. Furthemore, they also train dogs for others and breed the best lines for everyday work and trial.

The shepherds also offer sheepdog training workshops to help handlers achieve their dogs’ “highest potential”.

“We have top of the line kennels, round pens, training sheep and all sorts of fields, from small paddocks to open size fields and also access to some mountain. We are full-time at sheepdogs.”

“To note, we breed for ourselves and occasionally sell pups and trained dogs. Also, we train our own dogs and from other people too.”

They focus on sharing the experience of connecting to nature, sheep and dogs.

“Our approach is of great respect to the work that many generations of farmers did in the breeding of the Border Collie.”

School demonstrations

Their sheepdog demonstrations for schools involves travelling to schools with a round pen, sheep and dogs.

“This highly interactive experience that helps bring farming life and nature back to schools and also helps children to connect with the importance of the Border Collie in Irish history and everyday farming life.”

“Working with schools is a highlight. We have had great feedback from very young children to teenagers, and we love to share our passion for dogs with them.”

“We would like to specialise in school demonstrations as our main product, continue breeding and offering the best breeding to our clients.”

“Furthermore, we had an interview with the TV programme RTÉ’s Nationwide, and have had lots of attention from other media outlets. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had very little tourism and visitors, and it impacted us greatly.”

The Newport Shepherds, farming news, sheepdog, sheepdog trainers

Sheepdog trainers and breeders

According to the duo, breeding a quality sheepdog requires dedication, patience, hard work and persistence.

“We study different bloodlines and only breed from the very best dogs available,” they remarked.

“It takes a lot of work, patience, persistence and the ability to identify the right breeding and type of dog for your needs to be a successful sheepdog trainer. A dog that may suit one man may not suit another one.”

Paul added: “I was gathering goats in the Andes when I was 18 and had two dogs that helped me.”

“I learned their importance back then, especially in bad terrain and difficult conditions. I learned by trial and error. In Chile, there is no sheepdog training knowledge,” he added.

“Every dog has different training abilities and learning times. We normally start them at 10 or 11 months, but we put lots of handling and dedication into them before that. Having the right breeding for your needs and handling style also has great importance.”

The Newport Shepherds, farming news, sheepdog, sheepdog trainers

Daily routine and words of advice

Alan remarked: “Every dog is a new challenge and trained differently, depending on temperament and ability. Their age has to be taken into account also.”

Paul added: “I love to see and learn about the importance of breeding and developing my own training techniques.”

“We start early by checking pups and young dogs, letting them run in our exercise area while cleaning kennels. Then, we start training. All dogs have different routines, from round pen work to the open field and mountain work.”

Their advice to aspiring sheepdog trainers is as follows: “Have patience, persistence and do not be afraid to seek help. Go to clinics, and learn from people that have experience in breeding and training.”

Alan, who has a flock of mountain sheep and cattle, explained: “I started my first dog at 11 years of age. He was my main tool for everyday work in the mountain. I learned from my grandfather.”

“Our ultimate goal is to continue enjoying our dogs and our work, specialising in sharing The Newport Shepherds experience in Schools during the year and tourism in the summer months and giving sheepdog handling lessons and workshops.

Raising the bar

Alan added: “As the saying goes… ‘if you love what you do, you will never have to work one day in your life.’ Every day, I am thankful for having the opportunity to live and work in such a beautiful part of the country.”

“Every day, I see more and more young people training their own dogs and buying trained dogs. The need for sheepdogs is still as important as it was 100 years ago.”

Paul added: “I am happy doing what I love and enjoy sharing and helping other people.”

“I think the standard is getting higher every day, pushing us all to improve our breeding and training techniques, which is a great challenge that I enjoy every day.”

To share your story like these sheepdog trainers, email – [email protected]

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