Scientists Use GPS Tracking Devices To Study Sheepdog Behavior
A team of researchers in the United Kingdom used GPS tracking devices to study the movements and behaviors of working sheepdogs and their flock of sheep. The BBC reports that the sheepdogs do not just chase after the flock.
The relationship between a sheepdog and their flock of sheep has always seemed magical but now, thanks to GPS tracking devices, it can be explained. The GPS data revealed there are actually mathematical secrets of how one sheepdog can herd over 100 unruly sheep.
The GPS tracking devices uncovered two rules for the sheepdog and their flock of sheep. Rule one: The sheepdog first learns how to make the sheep flock together. Rule two: Once the sheep are flocked in a tight group, the dog pushes the group to where they want.
The sheepdog sees the sheep as fluffy white things. If they see gaps or notice the gaps getting bigger, the dog knows to bring them together. Dr. Andrew King, the study co-author, was shocked to discover how simple the rules are for the relationship.
Dr. King worked to design specialized backpacks with GPS tracking devices for the sheep and the sheepdog. The backpacks were then attached to the animals. The researchers had many different ideas when they first started. After looking at the relationship from a birds-eye-view, the researchers determined they needed to study it from the sheepdogs’ point-of-view.
The GPS data was used to develop computer simulations and the shepherding model. The mathematical algorithm, revealed by the GPS tracking devices, solves what is known as the “the shepherding problem”. The shepherding problem is how one agent is able to control a large amount of reluctant agents. The data could be used to develop “shepherd robots” that can be used for crowd control or oil spill clean-up.