I have three dogs – all bitches at the moment – Skye, Jill and Ness.
Skye is the daughter of my wonderful old boy, Goss, who died a few years ago. Skye is bright, charismatic and sensitive, loving all the family, especially Will. She watched her father work and came to the conclusion it was a mug’s game so adopted a ‘flower child’ attitude to life – chased butterflies, bees and birds and pursues peace, happiness and harmony. She’s also very capable of working if she chose to do so.
The sheep recognised this attitude in her very early on and hardly lift a head when she’s amongst them. They show no fear or agitation, accepting her as one of them. They even tolerate her presence at lambing, later allowing their lambs to play touch and run with her! I thought when Goss died she might feel the urge to take over and begin to work – but no, she’d experienced the good life.
Jill came to me via Bill, a friend and excellent sheepdog trainer. Hearing of my predicament after Goss died and Sky’s unwillingness to take up the reins he offered Jill to me. He’d trained, worked and trialled Jill since she was a youngster but had recently felt he wasn’t doing her justice as he had to concentrate on his young dogs. We were both dubious if Jill would settle, being devoted to Bill. It was a bit touch and go, but with patience, encouragement and whole load of reassurance she, very suddenly, made the switch.
Jill is very, very different from Skye. She’s work (and me) obsessed. She waits faithfully by my boots in the porch and listens, ready and waiting for the moment I appear, filled to bursting with excitement at the prospect of ‘sheep work’. In her eagerness she’s convinced she knows exactly what I’m going to do, but often it’s what she hopes I’m going to do! Though not in her first flush of youth, her stamina and enthusiasm knows no bounds. She’s fast, strong and a little wilful!
What a difference when she walks into a field of sheep. Though small, compact and pretty to us humans, she’s a full on, hot-mustard predator as far as the sheep are concerned. Heads up, ears back, danger signals pulsing to other flock members as they begin a high-stepping stamp-walk, ready to run, alert to any signal from Jill.
Jill is well trained and knows we’re not always working sheep but usually just checking them, when they need to be calm and still. Even if she’s in a non-work-mode, tail up and wagging (a dog in work-mode always holds its tail down, and sheep know the difference), they are still weary of her. Jill is devoted and single minded – my right-hand in all things farm…
Then we come to Ness, my puppy. She needs a whole post devoted to her! Not what I expected – a wolf in dog’s clothing…