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Border collies a hit in Naperville
By Jon DePaolis | Daily Herald Staff

John Seraphine tells a crowd at Naper Settlement about the history of herding sheep during a demonstration Tuesday in Naperville. Seraphine brought four border collies and eight sheep to demonstrate techniques of working with the animals.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

The crowd can't keep their eyes off the herding action.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

John Seraphine puts his dog - and his sheep - through their paces during a herding demonstration Tuesday at Naper Settlement.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/21/2008 12:01 AM

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John Seraphine grew up loving dogs.

And that passion continues today as he trains his border collies and takes them to herding trials and demonstrations throughout Illinois and beyond.

He had his dogs in Naperville on Tuesday during a set of demonstrations at Naper Settlement to display some of their unique talents in herding sheep.

Seraphine brought four dogs and eight sheep to show how the dogs could herd the creatures through areas marked by red flags and around a fenced area.

During the demonstration, Queen, a female collie and daughter of one of the other dogs, started to have trouble rounding up the sheep. Seraphine, like a baseball manager calling to the bullpen, asked his wife to take Queen's mother, Floss, out of her kennel to help the younger dog.

Mirk, another collie, was raised in Scotland. Mirk looked like a black and white lion with a white mane and a thick black coat. Age and experience give Mirk confidence and power, Seraphine said, and the dog made short work of the herd.

In a lighter moment during the demonstration, Mirk's son Cap was having too much fun herding the sheep and refused to obey several whistles from Seraphine. Eventually, the shepherd had to use a voice command and the dog moved like a fox, crouching lower to the ground with his ears pointing straight up, separating the pack of sheep into two groups.

"Lay down now!" shouted Seraphine and Cap quickly obeyed.

Seraphine knows how important it is for the shepherd to trust the dog and vice versa. He also knows that owning such a unique animal requires work.

"The one thing I try to tell everybody is that the partnership with the dog is precious but takes dedication on (the owner's) part," he said.

Seraphine says he became a fan after acquiring his first border collie. He said he found the dog to be a good companion and he would take it running every day and frequently play Frisbee.

But while he finds the dogs to be great pets, he says it's crucial that owners give their collies a serious daily job to do. Border collies aren't bred for their looks, he said, but for their physical talents. They are hard-workers and need to be given daily tasks.

Seraphine's regular job is as a minister at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn.

He and his wife recently purchased a farm in Sycamore so he could raise dogs and sheep. While he isn't a shepherd by trade, he certainly knows the lay of the land.

According to Seraphine, the greatest shepherd in the world is a Scotsman who can train a collie in six weeks. However, for normal owners, it takes about a year.

"If you take a collie that's 9 months old to a year old, it usually is trained by the time it's 2," he said.

To train a collie, Seraphine says the dog must have both the desire to herd and the necessary instincts.

The collie must try to not disturb the sheep, while maintaining a balance with the sheep and the vocal commands of the shepherd to guide them to the herder.

The trick to training the collies is to have them obey the shepherd's commands, but still be able to work independently and demand respect from the sheep, Seraphine said. The shepherd says the sheep come to know each dog and what each pooch will let them get away with.

Seraphine said each of his dogs is trained to respond to a different whistle, but they share the same voice commands.

To learn more about Seraphine's work with dogs, call (815) 895-9736 or e-mail him at heatherhope@aol.com.