Laura Piperno tells us the history of Italian sheepdog
About Laura Piperno
Laura Piperno is a valuable asset for sheepdog lovers.
She has been the founder and the first president of ISDA (Italian Sheepdog Association).
She participated with her Border Collies in numerous trials in Italy and overseas.
She was the first Italian person invited to participate in the Continental trials in 1998 in Austria.
She participated with her two dogs, Coed Nan and Dolwen Moss, at the first World Trial in 2002 in Wales. She has known the best European handlers and ISDS judges since the beginning.
We have known Laura Piperno for several years now and she has repeatedly delighted us with some fascinating stories about sheepdog and various anecdotes about its Italian origins. These precious memories should be shared and not lost.
But what we most admire in her is her sheepdog vision which strengthened in us the idea of interviewing a woman we always admired, in addition to her great technical experience she offers sincere passion and generous availability to those who approach her.
The following interview stems from this.
Italian sheepdog pioneers
1. Can you tell us how and when you learnt about sheepdog?
I had always wanted to have some sheep and when I moved to Ranello, a village of Castelnuovo Don Bosco, more than 30 years ago, I bought 10 Biella sheep. They were huge. I kept them at the end of a slope where there was not a real stable but only a low shelter. These sheep lived there and there was no way to get them out, it was impossible to move them. I had heard of Border Collies, so when a friend of mine planned to go to Britain I told him: “If you see a Border Collie puppy, buy it for me, please!”, so that was my first Border Collie: Meg, a split face bitch.
But I did not know how to train this dog. Some friends and I tied a huge and long rope on her and asked her to do strange things. We asked her to go inside that sheep place to bring them out. Meg was young, she was only 6 months old, but she already had the instinct to go inside and get the sheep out. That’s how I started!
Meanwhile, there were other people with Border Collies. Marco Abrate and Donatella Muirhead were the first in Italy, but we did not know each other. Donatella Muirhead knew a bit more about them because she had Scottish origins.
Maria Teresa Garabelli also wanted to breed Border Collies.
Then Garabelli invited some Swiss people to have their very first sheepdog training course in Italy. I went to this course with my border Meg, she was still very young, but I read a book written by H. Glyn Jones of Bodfari and I knew there was a different training method. So I left the course.
I continued training Meg alone, following H. Glyn Jones of Bodfari’s book.
Unfortunately, Meg suddenly passed away. She probably had a brain tumor. One day, while we were training, she had a seizure. After three hours she had another one, after two hours still another, I then put Meg in the car to take her to the veterinary clinic but she died on our way there. It was a horrible experience.
Then, in 1990, Luca Picchi gave me a border collie bought from Thomas Longton. She was the daughter of Thomas Longton’s bitch and Simon Mosse’s dog. Her name was Jill, she was a Border Collie with a white and black smooth coat.
Luca kept Jill for a while, he began training her with Swiss people and then he gave her to me.
Jill had a little bit of eye. I continued training her and I took her to one of the first sheepdog trials in Umbria, Italy, working on some Sardinian sheep which had never seen a dog. The place was beautiful, but the grass was high.
Jill was very good, she was a natural outrun.
She did a beautiful outrun, she stopped and she did not move from there for 15 minutes. I said, “Come by, away, walk on”. No, there was no way she moved from there.
I went to get her, I came back and I told the judge Norman Seamark, the ISDS President: “Well, she can only get better!” And she improved. Jill won many prizes, many in Switzerland. She was a good bitch.
As Jill was the daughter of Simon Moss’ dog, I thought I’d go to meet him.
When I met him I asked him to come to Italy to teach us. I liked him, he was very helpful, he was young, like all of us.
The agreement was: “Come to Italy every two or three months, give us clinics and lessons which we’ll try out and then you‘ll come back” And so it was.
the history of italian sheepdog at Laura Piperno’s home
It was a very fun time because everyone came to my house. There were Marco Abrate, Luciano Caio, Simone, all people who had income from sheep, people who thought “This is really useful for us!”. There was also Domenico Rosso, who would build a large sheep and goat dairy farm to make cheese, and Eros Tondella who lived up the mountains and had goats and sheep.
They all came to my house with a sleeping bag and something to eat.
We had a great time.
In the evening, after training the dogs all day, we talked to Simon about many things with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. And this went on for several years, I think for 3 or 4 years. Simon always came to help us.
H. Glyn Jones, Bodfari
I also contacted H. Glyn Jones, Bodfari. I met him during clinics he had given in Austria and I invited him to come to Italy and teach us. Glyn was also a very generous person. He taught us a lot.
Afterward, Norman Seamark and Sue Main also came to teach us.
ISDS judges were extremely helpful and they still are, they are always ready to explain you, teach you, and tell you that they’ll come, they’ll help you, they welcome you to visit them. It was great.
But no one at that time gained money out of sheepdogs and did not even have an idea of making money out of sheepdogs.
Simon came for free for a long time. And also Glyn came for free. Later, when we started to organize stages, he got paid, but very little.
2. Why these people came for free?
Because the ISDS was committed to help the sheepdog growth in Italy.
In fact in the ISDA statute, which is inspired by the ISDS’s guidelines, you can find that one of the aims is precisely: “to encourage and help all the shepherds and livestock breeders with advice, training courses, and information regarding all aspects relevant to sheepdogs for the optimal training of the dog-owner pair in sheep farming”.
It is not just a written rule in the statute, this is the philosophy and spirit of sheepdog.
history Italian sheepdog: the first trials
3. During this learning period were you also doing trials?
Yes, we did trials abroad, we went to Switzerland, Austria, Germany and met ISDS’ judges who were always willing to explain, suggest and help.
4. And in Italy?
In the meantime the group slightly expanded, but our problem was that there were no sheep available for trials, and we could not work.
Roughly before 1998, we organized the first trial at a farm in Buttigliera d’Asti with Biella sheep that had never seen a sheepdog. Then we organized another trial at Riva di Chieri where I won with Jill.
Later we organized a trial in Cavalese and in order to do so we formed the Italian Sheepdog Association (ISDA). But after the trial in Cavalese, the secretary dissolved the association without our knowledge.
history Italian sheepdog: Laura Piperno first president of ISDA
5. Afterwards you have formed the ISDA Association again, and by the way, you were the President and you have been for many years. But why did you create this Association?
The ISDA Association was founded because we were trying to keep the sheepdog under the ISDS rules so that the dogs were not selected and bred from a morphological point of view but from the point of view of their working ability, character and trainability. And also because sheepdog could be tied to livestock breeding, as the ISDS says, as a working tool for those who had sheep first of all.
For example, in order to go to a sheepdog trial in Germany it was compulsory for the dog to have done a beauty show and that it got a good or very good rating. Moreover, a dog could not be registered with both ISDS and FCI, although, deep down, many were.
In this way, all the selection work done for centuries based SOLELY on working ability could be lost.
When you start saying, “I want both beautiful and good dogs” we are in danger.
When you have a good dog and you choose not to breed it because it has the ear down, or because it has the ear up, or because it has a short coat (at the beginning they did not accept short coated border-collies) or because the dominant color is white and so on, you’ve already taken out of the gene pool a dog that could instead be useful. For me it makes no sense.
Then, at some point, the organizing committee of the Continentals. of which I was a member, decided that each nation must have had a single reference Association.
So, in Europe everyone decided. And they agreed, but in Italy there was no way to reach an agreement between ISDA and CLB / ENCI.
Therefore, the Committee decided for us (of course I have not taken part in the decision) and chose ISDA as the reference association in Italy.
Let’s go back to your dogs.
6. After Meg and Jill which dogs did you have?
After Jill came Eve who I took because I felt sorry for her. Eve was Jill’ sister and she was a very sensitive bitch, I say sensitive but she was crazy, she was pretty much afraid of everyone and you could not use her because she was too scared.
Then Broadhead Lady came. She was a very big bitch from Thomas Longton’s bloodline.
She was a very strong bitch but with the skills that I had at that time I could not train her. She was not even very enthusiastic but she had great puppies.
And then Pip came and he was a great dog. I got him in Ireland, Simon Mosse found him for me. Pip was the son of Pip, Tim Flood’s dog, 3 times Irish national champion, and of Pop, the mother, Tim Flood’s bitch too. Pip was a very intelligent, very generous, and very strong dog. While being tight in the outrun he did not bother sheep, therefore he was not normally penalized by the judges.
He was a great dog. Pip died young of liver cancer.
After him, Dolwen Moss came.
He was Raymond Macpherson’s dog who made the sheepdog continental championship the year I got him, I think in 1995. The dog was 3 years old. When Raymond finished the sheepdog continental championship he told me “Do you want to buy him? I can sell him to you” and I said” Yes! “And I bought him.
That dog has taught me a lot because he was professionally trained by Raymond, he had a perfect outrun, a perfect lift, a perfect fetch. You had to do nothing.
He was the first dog arriving in Italy with a good outrun. I think he also showed the others what was meant by an outrun, a lift and a fetch.
While he walked around he watched the sheep and when he reached them behind he knew by himself how far off and at which pace to work them.
Dolwen Moss has taught me a lot even though he was not an excellent dog, in my opinion, because he was a bit lazy.
He left the job half done if you asked him too much. Not during a trial, but during the work.
I remember once on the hill, it was unbearably hot, I had to bring down the sheep.
There had always been a stream of water in a certain point of the land, he looked for water but there was none, so he looked at me and made me understand “You know what? I’m leaving”.Oh, he left me there, alone, in the vineyards!
History italian sheepdog: Laura Piperno at the Sheepdog Continental Championship
7. In 1998 you have participated with Dolwen Moss at the Sheepdog Continental Championship in Austria. You were the first and only Italian person to participate. Can you tell me how it went?
I knew Sheepdog Continental Championship existed, but it was something completely unattainable for me, I thought I could not even be able to participate. ISDS sent a letter to Donatella Muirhead and me inviting us to participate at the Sheepdog Continental Championship. And I thought “How could I possibly make it to the Sheepdog Continental Championship?” And someone said to me “Just do this and this…” And I got to the Sheepdog Continental Championship in Austria which was organized by my friends Fritz and Sandra Mayerhofer. Donatella could not participate.
8. Which dogs did you get after Dolwen Moss?
I got my bitch Coed Nan, perhaps the one I loved most among my dogs.
Nan was a bitch with a funny history.
Armando Tonelli bought one of my dogs, his name was Tweed, and after a couple of years he told me “I would like a female dog, if you go to Wales buy me one.”
I went to Wales and asked H. Glyn Jones, Bodfari “Do you have a female puppy to sell me for a friend of mine?” And he said “Yes” and gave me Nan, Coed Nan. Coed was the suffix of John Griffith’s dogs. Nan’s father was Bwlch Ross and mother Coed Bep, so she had the blood of the legendary Bwlch Bracken.
I got this bitch who was roughly two months old and carried her around with me.
This bitch was very small, with such round eyes. I would say that she had a sense of humor.
When I gave her to Armando I did not want to leave her there. But I thought: “This is not possible, I’m going to buy a dog for someone and then I do not want to give it to him, I cannot do that”. In fact, I gave her to him. She was not happy. Anyway, after about a year and a half, Armando called me and told me that the bitch did not work. And I said: “How come she does not work? She was working when she was 2 months old!”. And I went to check it out.
Armando got the bitch on the leash and took her to the sheep and she looked the other way. Then he took her to the other side but she looked the other way. The bitch was completely refusing to look at the sheep.
And I thought to myself: “It is strange, I want to try”. I got the leash, I took her to the sheep, I said “ch ch ch” and there she goes.
I think she did not fit well with Armando, who by the way is a good person.
Then I said to him, “Give her to me.” But he said “I do not know, she is my son’s bitch” and he is a kid and I said “She is a working dog, not a pet” and then he said, “Take her home and then we’ll see.”
The day after he called me and said: “My son wants her back”. I spent sleepless nights for this bitch and thought “I cannot give her back to him, I cannot give her back to him”. So I said: “Let me keep her until the Alpen Trial.” Well, I took a chance on it but I had a guilty conscience because I was thinking “She will stay here with me and the emotional bond with his son will drop”. I went to the Alpen Trial with her and she was in 2nd place.
Bwlch Bracken’s head
Nan was a great bitch, thinking alike her grandmother Bwlch Bracken.
In fact, when I took her to H. Glyn Jones Bodfari he also told me that when she entered the trial field she started to look right and left like Bwlch Bracken, she looked around and when she thought she knew where the sheep were she shook her ears and was ready to move. She had the ability to know where the sheep were at huge distances.
Continue history italian sheepdog with Coed Nan anectodes
However, at times she did not get it right and when she was wrong there was nothing to do, she absolutely did not change idea.
Once, during a trial in Switzerland, I told her “Look at the sheep” and she looked at the sheep. But then she looked up to see some white hay bales on top of the mountain!
“Nan, no, look here…at the sheep”, she looked at the sheep and then …. she raised her head and bang. “No! No! Look at the sheep, here” she looked at the sheep and then …. she looked at the bales. Oh! I told her to go and she went far away … then, when she got to the hay bales, she must have thought “Oh no, they are bales” and she came back down to get the sheep. So she made me lose the trial because she did not respect the time limit.
Another time, we went to a trial, maybe in Ireland. Behind the post there was a long path that led to a grazing and inside there were some sheep. They had forgotten to close the gate that led to this grazing. When Nan got to the “post”, she reached the sheep, she began to bring me the sheep and then she just stopped and said: “Oh sorry, the other sheep!” she turned, went down the path, went into the field, and brought me the other sheep …. and that’s it!
But you could not get mad at her, the things she did were too funny.
During another trial in Ireland I made a mistake because she brought me the sheep but behind me there was a field with some free sheep inside. Nan brought me the sheep, I saw them coming and I thought, like an idiot: “I stop the dog so the sheep will slow down” The dog stopped, but the sheep at the trial saw the other grazing sheep behind me and went towards them. Then I said to Nan “Those, Those, Nan”, so Nan went, got them and brought them back. Well done! It was very hard! They all came to me and congratulated me. But I lost the trial.
She was like that. She died when she was 15 years old. She died as she lived. She fell asleep. An exceptional bitch.
History Italian sheepdog: World Trial in Wales
9. In 2002 you were in the Italian national team at the World Trial in Wales with Coed Nan and also with Dolwen Moss. Can you tell me more about this experience?
Marco Abrate, he was also in the World Trial team, had a dog that was called Hemp who as soon as saw another dog he would attack him. I had to start the trial with Dolwen Moss and he was there beside me with his dog. I asked him: “Marco, is not that your dog will attack my dog?” And he said “No, absolutely not” and in that moment Hemp started running and reached Moss from behind, grabbed his ear and began to pull it. Marco launched himself on Hemp, lifted him, but the dog did not give up. So I took Hemp’s mouth and tried to open it, but he did not give up, at some point the dog was no longer able to keep his mouth shut, so he opened it, my dog turned around and chopped one of my fingers.
I got two stitches on it and immediately went into the trial but I was not so excited, I was distracted. However, it was an amazing experience.
The World Trial was very well organized. Sue Main organized it in Bala, in north Wales. In Bala took place the first ever sheepdog trial in history. Bala is a beautiful place, with endless fields and excellent and very light sheep which were Welsh mountain sheep so very sensitive.
10. Which dogs did you get after Coed Nan?
I got Joe. One day Derek Scrimgeour called me and said: “Do you know if Luca Zini gave away Joe?” And I said: “No, but he wants to sell him” And he said “Buy him” and I said “No, I have no money” and he sent me the money.
I sold him a horse and gave him a bit of money, but in the end he said: “Ok, forget about it, just keep him”.
Joe was a great dog but loved to bite. He was very dangerous because if a sheep faced him, he, who had a little bit of an eye, became more and more tense and then bit the sheep but he did not bite lightly, he would bite the articulation of the front leg and break it. This was terrible. I got into some trials with him but then I thought “That’s it” because I could not see the sheep destroyed anymore.
Then I got Jess, a great bitch with a great courage, she did not do any trials because I was not able to stop her well but she did work. Unfortunately, Jess passed away a few months ago, she was very strong and courageous.
One day, a very bad mutton was stuck between a tractor and the wall and did not want to get out of there. Jess placed her nose against the mutton’s nose and did not move, did not go backward. And so, nose against nose, without biting him, she took him out of there. Then she turned away and spat two teeth.
Then I got Mirk, a dog bred by Lightfoot, trained by Hafgan Pugh and sold to Jo de Maist who then sold him to me when he was 3 years old. It was a very big dog.
He did a few trials but then he stopped because it had seizures. Initially, I treated him with Gardenale. And after a few years luckily a new drug called Pexion was released, and Mirk returned normal. He is 12 years old now and still works. However, he is a bit jealous of other dogs and does not cooperate when he has to help me with young dogs, in fact, he plays nasty tricks.
I remember a wonderful trial with Mirk at Imbimbo. It was a pity because I made him do the wrong path. The outrun, lift and fetch were beautiful and then I got wrong the drive!
Then I got Rock from Ireland. Rock was an unlucky dog because he got blind from a disease that puppies get when they do not get cured during an important parasitic infestation. The disease is the Multifocal acquired retinal atrophy, however, it is not a genetic disease like PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy).
Rock did some trials, getting to the 2nd place in a Novice at Pinto with the Judge John Griffith. It was already a bit blind during that trial, he had run too wide, but we did not realize yet he was becoming blind. When he began the drive he lost the sheep because he did not see them.
Then I got Moss who was Floss’s son. Moss was Luca Fini and Spot’s bitch, a Ponzano’s dog.
Moss was a very intense dog, very young, and I think he was not ready when we started the training. Sheep used to like him a lot. The relationship with him was not easy because he was struggling to bond with me, he was working only for himself. He used to run too wide when he was stressed. He has great qualities, but he is a difficult dog to manage in trials.
After Moss, I got Dell, the daughter of Llangwm Cap of Aled Owen and June M. Jones, Welsh. She is a very sharp dog, firm with sheep, wanting to please me, who listens a lot and has a good instinct, and an ability to keep the right pace and distance from the sheep. But we still had to work a lot on the outrun.
She was one year old when I got her from Viet van Dongen. She did not do much yet, was not trained, she only ran around the sheep, occasionally entered but we easily solved the problem because she was a calm bitch, actually a good bitch in the end. Now she is 2 and a half years old and she is gaining a lot of work experience and quickly learning from it.
The last one
And the last one is Bracken, she is 9 months old and should get ISDS registered, otherwise, I will make R.O.M.
She arrives from Sweden by Eva Erickson. Daughter of Zara and Gary van der Sweep.
She can work, she has an instinct but she is not ready to be trained yet. Sometimes she does not know what to do, she is a thinker, she is not the one throwing herself on the sheep, she never does anything dangerous and she keeps the distance from the sheep. But she needs to increase her enthusiasm. She has not yet fully developed her instinct. But she is 9 months old and we still have time for that. I make her work with sheep from time to time but she is not ready to get disappointed and so I give her time to grow. It’s important not to force anything when they are like this.
sheepdog is not a sport
11. Can you tell me if you like the definition of sheepdog as a “utility sport?”
No, because sheepdog is not a sport, but rather a work tool.
Trials are a game for people who make shepherding, they are a moment of reflection and examination. After a trial you can go back home and say “I have to work on this.”
Trials are useful because the dog changes the field and the sheep, and because confusion and noise is there. On these occasions you can see your dog’s difficulties. Trials allow you to refine some skills of your dog. But they are only a GAME. Sheepdog is a job, after working we can play and the game is the trial.
Then, it is also true that there are big interests and everywhere in Europe sheepdog is increasingly directed to becoming a sport, it is a fact, it is a reality that must be considered, but for me, sheepdog must not be a sport.
Border collie in sheep farming
12. Has the Border-collie spread in Italian sheep farming?
Yes! The border-collie has spread, a lot of border-collie hybrids have spread in Italian sheep farming, and that was what we hoped at the beginning, such as that border-collies would adapt to the type of sheep farming they were in.
Border-collies were used intensively by a sheep farmer in Foggia.
It happens very often that from the south of Italy they ask to being taught, even from Sardinia, many people who have dairy sheep ask for sheepdog training at their farms according to their specific needs.
Shepherds do not know how to use border-collies and very often fail, however, border-collies are much more common and very popular than you think.
I could name some shepherds, also in the Piedmont region, who bought a dog in England and need our help.
But in recent years no attention was placed on these issues.
In the statute of ISDA, such as in that of ISDS, it is written to provide knowledge, training and everything else that can be done to support livestock shepherds and farmers.
All this is totally lacking. And there is a need to get it back.
the spirit of the sheepdog
13. As for the last question, I want to ask you if there is a way to learn from your experience. And if yes, how?
Yes, you can come to work here at any time, or you can call me and I will be available to talk to you.
I have always had a huge help from handlers around Europe, and I still receive it, in turn I also give it with pleasure. I think this is part of the spirit of the sheepdog.
There are people who I am particularly grateful to:
Simon Mosse and H. Glyn Jones Bodfari are the first ones to thank . But Peter Hetherington opened my eyes when he told me that “the dog is not disobeying, dogs do not disobey” And also Norman Seamark, Raymond Macpherson, Colin Gordon. I would like to thank all those who offered help.
Calvin Jones, and before that Sue Main, gave me a great help, Derek Scrimgeour, Gwyn Jones Penmachno, Serge van der Zweep and many, many others.
I thank them all.
You can contact Laura Piperno at
+39 366 496 6490
or write your comment below and Laura will answer you
History Italian Sheepdog