By Leah Fox
A dog trainer trained her intelligent pet sheep to do tricks and run an agility course – and now the farmyard animal thinks she’s a dog and loves going on walks with the farm’s 20-strong pack of pooches.
Vicki Dawe, 39, first met one-year-old Flossy after moving to a farm in Rochdale, Gtr Manchester, six months ago, and discovered the farmyard animal was a little different from the rest of her flock, as she had been hand-reared by friend Daisy since birth.
The professional dog trainer of 10 years decided to step up her game and take on Flossy as her next challenge, starting off with clicker training and building up to the unusual pet running a dog agility course, which she picked up in just 30 minutes.
Flossy now can’t get enough of human attention, refusing to stay in the fields with her own kind and opting to play with the farm’s troop of 20 dogs instead – and Vicki has plans to continue building up her incredible skills to wow those who aren’t aware of how clever sheep are.
Vicki, who is originally from Portsmouth, said: “I started training Flossy in September – I thought I’d give her a go at some clicker training and she picked it up so fast.
“The reason I started was to widen my own skills, other dog trainers usually have a go at trying to train a different species because it’s meant to be quite difficult.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve never had the opportunity to do it until now.
“I’ve done about six sessions with her so far because she learns so quickly, it really surprised me.
“I taught her how to run an agility course the same morning I did the clicker training and she picked it up in just 30 minutes.
“I think she picks it up so quickly because of the treats she gets – she really likes food!
“Not a lot of people know that sheep are actually really clever, but I think part of it is because of the fact she’s been hand-reared, so obviously she’s super tame and likes being around people, so she doesn’t have that fear to overcome beforehand.
“She’s just a huge character – she’s very attached to us and plays with the dogs, hangs around the chickens, and goes on little wanders.
“She can be bossy at times as well, when you try and shoo her out of somewhere she’s not meant to be she will turn around and headbutt you.
“Sometimes you’ll walk into the house and Flossy will be climbing on the sofas but she gets shooed out quickly because she’s not house trained.
“She’s very cheeky, very full of herself and lots of fun!”
So far, Flossy’s tricks include turning in a circle both ways, weaving around cones, leaping in the air and climbing on equipment in a mini agility circuit.
Her dog-like skills, intelligence and love for humans spans to the farm’s other animals, mainly the dogs, so much so that she has begun to think she’s one of the pack.
The dogs on the farm are all pets, which Vicki mainly trains for Flyball competitions.
Vicki said: “Flossy comes out on dog walks with us because we usually stay on the farm land so if she’s feeling particularly sociable that morning she’ll just follow along.
“She does like to play with the dogs as well and chases them around the farm – she definitely thinks she’s part of the pack.
“We have three other pet sheep on the farm that act like normal sheep and stay in the field.
“We also have two donkeys and a pony but Flossy doesn’t really want anything to do with them.
“We’ve tried to let her live in the field with the other sheep but she won’t have it, she goes wherever she wants – she’s very stubborn!
“In the winter she sleeps in a sheltered tractor shed but in the summer she will go wherever she fancies.
“She always comes over for attention and she always wants to be with you.”
Vicki has been filming videos of Flossy running agility courses and showing them to her friends, who think it’s absolutely hilarious.
Flossy is so talented, Vicki even decided to sign her up with animal agency, Animal Direction, for the chance to be in the spotlight in films and television.
She plans to continue training Flossy to build up both of their incredible skills, and has even started to teach a hen, Pavlova, how to do similar tricks too.
She added: “People think it’s hilarious and I think some people are just baffled by it.
“I have a lot of dog training friends so it’s not a massive surprise to them, but some of my friends don’t know you can train sheep.
“You can train any animal really, even a fish with a laser light and treats, through positive reinforcement.
“We’ve recently got rescued battery hens on the farm and I’ve started training one of those.
“At the moment it’s just target training where I teach her to touch a target, then she gets a click on the clicker and then she gets some corn, similar to how I train Flossy.
“I have moments every now and then where I wonder if I can go and do some new training with Flossy – I just make it up as I go along.
“I’ve started working on a jumping trick with her, where she leaps in the air, and I’d like to go into trying to get her to move her feet on cue but we’ll see!”