I Don’t Know If It’s All True . . . .
Ramblings, Amblings and Thoughts by Janie Nafsinger
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion." (1)
In dog years, I'm dead, but in people years I grow with each season and the traditional reflections of what has past and expectations of what is to come. I wonder at the simplicity of owning dogs and the complexity of understanding them.
I've always had one of those inquiring minds that enjoys trivia, thoughts and ideas. For some strange reason, connecting the dots, is especially interesting when it comes to training a dog.
Can dogs think? Maybe yes, and maybe no. What dogs do quite well, though, is make people think that they can think. I remember not so long ago taking the sheep across the drive way and having Max (Ohadi Max Pack HXAsd) push them a little too hard, causing a Lone Ranger to miss the gate, scoot down the fence line to the back yard. No problem, stand, wait, send the dog. I stand. I wait. I hear thrashing about and splashing, then woof, woof! (come look Mom) The sheep is chest high in the fish pond. Koi reasonably concerned and Max nose to nose, strategizing the fetch. Was there a plan to put the sheep in the pond or was it a situation of cause and effect? Did Max think? Well, yes and no. Probably not any more than a teen age boy (for those of you who can reference teen age thinking). Was this Funniest Home Video scene pretty funny? Well not right then, but later, sipping tea with my friends playing “I got one better.”
Teachers call them “teachable moments” when the “ah-ha” happens and a “yea but” moment when left scratching my head to wonder, “just how did that happen?” Think about this . . . . What do you think a dog new to herding is thinking when they enter the round pen for the first time? Over-stimulated with the interesting world of discovery, discovery of the up-close and personal with sheep and discovery of the actual classroom, the field, the dog wants to discover it all. What does that discovery look like? First it has to do with a check-out system, a “need to sniff the ground; it's how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking dog news items.” (2) In that case quite a few dogs a literary. Or perhaps they are lacking something in their diet as the scarf up an endless supply of round green treats scattered about while the sheep stand tightly grouped in a corner, all heads and ears points at the dog, stomping a foot in warning, awaiting the dog’s next move. Is the dog thinking what the next move will be, or is it a “wait and see” event?
Perhaps dogs can even reach into their canine tool box and behave in such a way as to convince their people that they share human traits. (Look into my eyes, I am really sorry!) If so, that would be an amazing specialization. If dogs could write books, a good topic would be: "How should dogs behave in order to get people to think that dogs are thinking like people, so that people will behave as dogs want them to?” (5) (Hasn’t that book been written already?) Sometimes it’s a look, a whimper or gesture as we try to figure out what the message is, or the right answer. It is tactics and maneuvers. "Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful." (3) It’s all in perspective and a means to an end. Dogs do a pretty good job of getting their people to do what they want. As evidence, how many times have we heard a trainer’s question “who is the pack leader?” Aren’t those dogs expert at getting their people to do what they want?
If it isn’t the thinking or the human aspects of our dogs, what is it that draws us to them? Is it that "no one appreciates the very special genius of our conversation as the dog does.?" (4) Or is it that they teach us the meaning of unconditional love, they make us smile, they agree with everything we say, or that they treat us like celebrities when we come home? Probably that is part of the picture for our collies, but the other part has to do with herding and the home grown exercise program they promote. "If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise." (1) Is that not a truism? Doesn’t the aerobic part of herding help us to live a little longer by lowering our blood pressure? Doesn’t herding test how fast we can run. Think how therapeutic it is that herding gets us outside on beautiful fall days, rainy days, snowy winter days and hot summers? All of this is true about our collies.
Herding is not one of those Sit-in-the-Shade clubs, or SITS, but an activity in which the participants can sometimes share the warm fellowship of the emergency room after a hard day (as with many dog activities). (6) Herding brings balance and perspective against a sometimes chaotic life. It teaches humility and brings laughter, sometimes totally unexpected.
At a trial in Hillsboro, Oregon I watched a participant in the started class. Her run had been one of defending the sheep while her dog was in hot pursuit. She moved to go through the cross drive, backwards. The sheep came running, somewhere between hell bent for election and mock. The lead sheep skimmed her leg, while the second, lacking room to get around, dove strategically between her legs, lifting her rightly off the ground. She fell in slow motion backwards, like a lumbering brontosaurus, taking forever for all her different parts to finish setting onto the ground. Everyone on the sidelines gasped and waited, holding back the type of laughter that shoots things out your nose. She jumped up, brushed herself off and looked around, hoping that nobody noticed. Of course we all had. Another truism: "Some days you're the dog; some days you're the hydrant." (1) Today was her day to be the hydrant and I got to see it all.
Herding brings evidence of loyalty and faith. Quite early this morning I noticed the water tank empty and no hose in site. I had been headed out the drive on my way to work. All pretty for the office. I thought I could probably open the gate and scoot the sheep to an adjacent pen where there was plenty of water, without causing too much damage to my “outfit.” I hoped that Murphy, as in the one who makes the laws, would not have an influence on the outcome of my plan. Open the gate, coax them to the nearby gate, close it and be on my way, minus mud or the fresh scent of sheep on my shoes. The majority of the sheep cooperated until they realized that there was no treat waiting for them inside the gate. Doing a quick reverse, several slid out, disappearing into the darkness. Crap. Plan B. This is the when senior moments occur or I go get the dog. I got the dog. Lucy (Ohadi Interlude in Blue HXAsd) bounced up and down in her kennel with the typical “pick me, pick me” attitude. Stay down Lucy. See my pretty clothes. Good girl.
Lucy had no idea (nor I) where the escapees were. The pre-dawn blackness revealing nothing. I sent her, hoping she would figure it all out. She zipped down the drive way. I waited. Minutes past. A blur of white was coming my direction. I opened the gate as a grateful lamb slid past. Another minute past. More blurs. Gate open. Everyone secure. Work clothes in one piece.
Was Lucy thinking or was this all a wonderful game of Hide and Seek? What had just happened was what true herding is all about. I don’t think it would have mattered if I had been there or not, she would have taken care of business. I have that faith. I don’t know what happened out there in the dark, but I do know that I trusted her. I am not sure what it all means when she looks at me with one blue eye and one brown, but it seems to me that we have a partnership and I think I see a bit of . . . well . . . human in her. I just know, with collies, it all comes together, the friendship, the faithfulness and all the rest.
I don’t know if it’s all true, but seems a noble goal to become worthy of such devotion.
(1) author unknown
(2) Dave Barry
(4) Christopher Morley
(5) Bloomburg, Bruce & Coppinger, Raymond Natural History Feb 2005
(6) Brewer, Steve “Beware of the dangers of dog walking” May 2007