"Contribution to the history of Polish Lowland Sheepdog"

fragment of woodcut...

St.Maslowski -
woodcut 1882 r.

pasturage of sheeps ...

... from Borys...

our bitches

Danuta Forelle ( "Pies" Magazine 1965)

     Herding dogs inhabited Polish territory since ancient times. Evidence of this is present in archeological discoveries, written and iconographical sources. With the begining of Polish literature treatices regarding hunting and herding dogs already appear. Piotr Crescentyn in 1549 wrote that short note ought to be devoted to dogs protecting cattle from wolves.
The type of structure and temperament of the herding dog developedaccording to the requirements of the various farms. Lowland sheepdog was kept in sheep-folds as a necessary helper for shephards. In deeds of Zamyski's estate, where sheep farming on a large scale existed since XVI century,first note about herding dogs comes from 1775. From this note we learn that in Stroza village, 7 dogs guarded flock of 934 sheep and in Wilkolazy village 3 dogs helped with 335 sheep.
Between 1830-1843, in the times of the estates greatest flourishment of the sheep farming, herding dogs had to be specially selected due to exceptionally delicate and shy pure-bred sheep. Estates supported sheep farming of the whole Lublin region, no doubt propagating also local type of herding dog.
Jozef Gerald-Wyzycki in his manual (Science of domestic animal breeding-Warsaw 1938) writes about sheep dogs, that they are medium size, their head is narrow and their ears are pricked. They have a long soft co of different colors, most commonly black, blacked and speckled and less likely white or brown. Author of "Breading and Veterinary Guide for farmers" -Warsaw 1839 describes the sheep dogs as a medium size, good mannered and helpers for shephards. The author warnes that the dogs should only be white otherwise they could frighten the sheep and bring about procreation of speckled lambs. There are no illustration accompanying the above descriptions.
In " Weekly Illustrated" Magazine from 1882 I have found reproduction of a wood carving depicting a shephard boy with a small dog, looking like a described above sheepdogs. The view of the dog displays its distinctive mark, short tail. The short tail undoubtedly is a natural phenomenon because it is very unlikely that in the past farmers would dock tails of their dogs. Illustartor then fulfilling a task of todays photographer, produced pictures for magazines usually representing natural objects people and animals. It is reasonable to assume that the dog in wood carving executed by Stanislaw Maslowski is a faithfull portrait of an early sheepdog.
In  the early 20th century the downfall of sheep farms began in Lublin region. With the decline of farms the shaggy type of sheepdog disappeared as well. In 1924 magazine " Polish Poultry"-official magazine of newly formed Polish kennel Club printed an article urging breeders to work on Polish sheepdogs. Author  Ludwik from Kleczany (priest Ludwik Kleczynski) wrote that he received as a gift an original sheepdog with the distict spitz features. Dog named Burus had a very thick, coffee color coat. Burus, as  priest pointed out was born without the natural "ornament", that is without a tail. With the downy fur the dog looked like a ball of yarn. In the same year Ludwik from Kleczany (Magazine"Polish Poultry") in his report from dog show in Warsaw states that breeders Czertwertynska and Grocholska exhibited polish sheepdogs purchased from farmers in Siedlce area. Ms. M. Grocholska's female dog received silver medal. Couple of presented by Grocholska dogs were born  bobtailed and passed this trait to their offsprings.
In magazine "My Dog"- 1937, letter from a breeder of lowland sheepdogs was published stating that " In Podlasie( Lublin region) countess Maria Grocholska was the first to notice herding type of dogs on old farmlands. She purchased a few typical representatives and commenced selective breeding. This breed proved to be very strong because in spite of long standing neglect at the hands of peasants the breed's type remained uniformed. The puppies in our kennel's 12 year history were always consistend in type and color. Typically the height at the shoulders was 30-40 centimeters. Presently with the advances of dog nourishment and after 12 years of selective breeding height approaches 60 cm. The coat is usually white with biscuit markings on the back and ears. In our kennel sheepdogs display various abilities. They are used for herding sheep and cattle as well as guarding. They are also very pleasant house pets. One of our dogs turned out to be an excellant wild boar hunter. They are characteristically faithful, intelligent, brave and vigilant. They also have an excellent sense of smell." Sheep farming in the area of Siedlce was managed between 1808 and 1909 by gentry and peasants. With the early 20th century sheep farming began its decline (ource: "Studia do Dziejow Gospodarsta Wiejskiego", 1956) Around the same time the sheep dog disappeared as well and as Zoltowska states: single typical representatives of the breed could  only be found in the hands of old shephards.


During  our spring mountain trip this year we have found a familliar sight...
Near Nowy Targ on the pasture the flock of sheep was grazing under the supervision of shephard and his helper - a dog. I could not restrain myself from taking pictures. For 200 years nothing has changed, it seems on Polish countryside. In the cities life goes on but in some secluded corners time has come to a halt. Striking similarity of the situation as well as the dog itself to the wood  carving executed by Stanislaw Maslowski was hard to miss.Of course we spend some time with the shephard talking and taking pictures. As it turned out Borys (dogs name) was born without a tail. Generations of similar sheepdogs are bred on Podhale.The selection process is aimed toward  their utility. Highlanders often exchange the dogs with Slovacks or buy from them promising puppies.The dogs often look like the one on the included picture.Borys reminds PON in size and proportions. His coat is coarse, goaty, long, significantly worn- out on his legs and shorter on the muzzle.Borys`s ears are pricked.From the first moment it was obvious that the dog was not there to protect the flock but to keep sheep in order. When we approached with our three PON girls Borys did not let out even one bark  but sniffed us over with  curiosity. This accomplished,  he stepped to the side and observed us from the distance. We were engrossed in a discussion about dogs with the shephard. The shephard was quite amused when  he learned that our tenderly caressed furballs are also sheepdogs. He became less sceptical when we told him that this Polish breed used to herd sheep until very recently. We were very proud of our PON girls because they completely ignored sizable flock,as long as sheep moved out of their way.We could  peacefully set to taking pictures of dogs and sheep. The first film was very quickly
finished and my husband went to the car to pick up another one.  

Norma and Wiki followed him. Panda remained with me by the flock. At some point she changed her mind and decided to follow my husband as well. With her nose to the ground Panda did not realize that she was walking into a flock of sheep. Finally 2-3 meters to the nearest sheep she lifted her head. The sheep were very much interested   in the lonely dog. Panda and the sheep sniffed each other carefully almost touching noses.Finally one of the
ewes, out of tension, stamped her feet (obviously the intruder smelled suspiciously). Surprised Panda jumped off and growled. This irritated the sheep even more and she stamped again...
But Panda did not have time to react . Borys suddenly materialized and quickly restored the order, saving his quest from the oppression. I was enchanted by Borys and his reaction. The dog demonstrated  an exceptional intelligence and initiative. His owner was standing by ,observing and waiting for developments but not reacting. I`m confident ,that the shephard had a very good idea how his dog would respond. The shephard summarized the episode stating that Panda would make a good sheepdog. From this moment  the herdsmen started to treat Panda with affection (if pat on the head counts as such...)
This man was not an emotional type but we managed to gain his liking by admiring Borys. The shephard was obviously very proud of his dog. Neighboring shephards were also full of respect and admiration for Borys. Their Polish Tatra dog were guarding sheep at night. At the end of our visit (our cameras already packed) we has an opportunity to witness Borys at work with the flock of sheep. Until  now we could see this only in the movies or on herding trials of border collies. This visit certainly will stay in my memory. It also inspired some suggestions regarding directions PON breeding should take. Most contemporary specimens of this breed are not fit to work as sheep dogs, at the very least, because of coat that is too long and too soft. Sheep herding dogs in the past as well as presently charcteristically have coarse type of coat that does not mat easily. Coat should be softer than GSD's but it should not be to wooly prone to matting. Doubtfully the dogs were groomed in the past. Todays PONs are covered by abundant long, soft coat that requires multitiude of grooming measures. It is true that coat like this looks impressive on the show ring but for the owner and the dog it is a great burden.
Often times dogs end up trimmed. Wouldn't it be better to breed dog with shorter, coarser and easier to manage fur?. In the show ring dogs like this are underestimated and often ommited but what a comfort it is for the owners!
There is not many dogs like that around...I 'd like to discuss here one more problem pertaining dogs intelligence. Preoccupation of breeders with an exterior diverted attention away from this important trait. At times also temperament is taken under consideration but intelligence is completely ignored. This feature was in the past the most important during development of the breed. Only selected, very intelligent dogs were able to perform the required tasks. And too bad...It is much more rewarding to have as a friend an intelligent dog able to understand and communicate with you. In our household three PON girls reside with us. Panda is by far more intelligent than the other two. She is a very stubborn doggy and at times arbitrary but uncannly communicative. According to our long standing observation, she would be able to perform many various duties. She understands our intentions in a flash. She performs  requested task eagerly, because she hates to be bored. Although as a very respectable PON she does everything in her own way. At times we have a chance to observe a performance of a few border collies, universally known as the most intelligent breed. The crowd gathered around has an opportunity to admire mutual understanding between the owner and his dogs.
I trust, that PONs performans would be perhaps louder but as impressive. Unfortunatelly, I know some PONs that are simply dull. Such a dog is convenient "couch potatoe" or show dog. However it is impossible to developed a close friendship with this type of dog. Perhaps I am too demanding but I was raised with a very intelligent mixed breed colled Aga. For a long time I believed that all dogs are like her. Only when I acquired subsequent PON girls I reallized how exceptionally lucky I was having Aga and Panda for friends. To be honest I am happy with Norma and Wiki because they are not dense. They also have wonderful personalities but I am unfulfilled...