They say that barbed wire changed the face of the American West. It was easy to use, affordable, and highly effective. In much the same way that Glidden's invention renovated ranching, the Border Collie has changed our lives here on the farm.
Last week someone argued "A guy on a horse can do the same thing!"
Wrong! Try three guys on horses! AND those three guys need to have horses that are already saddled and ready to move when you notice the calves are out. AND those horses need to be able to slither through barbed wire fences like warm butter to head off those calves! Trust me, we have cowponies, and each and every time that I see cattle out, there is NEVER a cowpony saddled! Calves are amazingly agile when it comes to melting through a fence, horses are not. A Border Collie can fetch that calf before you can even get the saddle on the horse.
Border Collies are also ready to work in any kind of weather, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for wages that include little more than room, board, and a scratch behind the ears. We started with a single dog to help with goats, and she was invaluable. As we added sheep, her responsibilities grew. When we saw how effective she was with the sheep and goats, we couldn't help but turn to the Border Collie for our cattle.
Now we are convinced that using dogs to handle cattle is the easiest and most cost-effective method. We have accepted that life is just simpler with Border Collies in the bunkhouse!
The board members of Barbed Wire Border Collies, Inc. just voted to approve the membership application of the newest hand in the bunkhouse - Wyatt!
Since I first launched the website, the dogs have been a major focus of the Farm Blog. They all have their fans, but the infamous Trace the Troll Dog has garnered more than his fair share. Here's why:
Behind The Shower Curtain
I share this tale not to frighten, but to serve as a Public Service Announcement.
While in the shower enjoying the well-earned ecstasy of hot water cascading down my spine after a bone-chilling morning doing barn chores - the shower curtain is ripped open!
(Cue music from the movie, “Psycho.”)
It isn't Norman Bates, but it is a psycho. A red and white furry face appears. Trace, the red Border Collie, has his green Kong dumbbell. He smiles at me and drops his toy in the shower. It rolls to my feet and rudely bumps my toes. He stares at me like Obi Wan Kenobi.
I wait for the adrenaline still coursing through my body to settle while he grins impatiently, then I reached down and toss the damned thing out of the tub. And a monster is born.
I don't even have enough time to reach for a bar of soap before he reappears with another cold blast of air. He tosses the cold green toy at me and disappears behind the curtain. It rolls to my feet again. What have I done? The cold hard reality of my error is bumping against my toe. Just in case I am uncertain, the shower curtain is ripped back again and his laughing psychotic little eyes order me as deliberately as a Jedi Master to a Star Wars Storm Trooper.
"Throw it," he whispers.
Helpless, with the cloudy mind of the feeble, I bend over, and toss the toy out of the tub.
Yes! The subject has been trained!
I take a side note here to point out that the subject being trained was not the dog. Life with a clever dog involves lots of patience and persistence on both sides. Be keenly aware that if you live with a Border Collie, they will spend as much time shaping your behavior as you spend shaping theirs. It is a fact of life. Don't fight The Force.
And here is the really sick part:
I stand in the shower, well aware that I've created a monster, or more precisely, have just been trained by a monster and have thus cemented this behavior firmly into his repertoire of annoying yet charming job skills. After all, who doesn't want to play fetch while taking a hot shower?
Even as I toss the toy again I consider how I will explain this to the other member of my household. The toy reappears at my feet. I let it lie there as I shave my legs and ponder the implications of my error. Obi Wan Kenobi runs out of patience and climbs into the tub to retrieve the toy. He then flings it up in the air and out the tub. I listen as he plays fetch with himself outside the shower curtain before it is ripped back again, and the toy once again rolls to my feet.
The little red leprechaun stares at me with laughing eyes. I know what he’s doing. He’s counting. How many times must he roll the toy to my toes before I toss it? At what angle must it hit my big toe before he is rewarded? He is playing with the variables in his head. I continue shaving my legs. He wriggles into the tub, grabs it again, and flings it out. There is more bumping around as he sets himself up for his next try. He is a golf pro. He studies the slope of the tub and the position of my feet as I shave the other leg, and slowly, ever so slowly, he opens his mouth and takes the shot. It bumps my foot and I toss the toy out of the tub.
He is now both a mathematician and a pool shark, counting tries and converting perceived angles in his head. I waste hot water and play fetch with him while I wash my hair. Even as I create, shape, mold, and fire the monster in the kiln of a hot shower, I am charmed. What a delightful little creature! What a terrifying little psycho! What a mess we made on the bathroom floor!
So the lesson here is this: If you don't want to be the trainee as often as you are the trainer, don't get a Border Collie. But if you are charmed by a leprechaun-pool-shark-mathematician-clown-into-world-domination, run, don't walk, to your nearest Border Collie rescue organization. And if you do, buy lots of Kong toys and bath towels.
Return of Norman Bates
The key to a good horror flick is suspense. When armed with popcorn and a supersize coke, suspense isn't a bad thing. When you're naked in the shower, suspense is highly overrated.
An arctic cold front was rolling across the country, and we were trying to juggle a farm and too darned many dogs. On that particular morning, in preparation for nasty weather and lots of time spent in dog crates, I had shuffled the indoor dogs outside and vice versa. Thus I found myself, once again, taking a shower with young Norman Bates, Trace, the Border Collie. Since the first time was such an adventure, I removed all dog toys from the bathroom before stepping in the tub.
But the problem with clever dogs is that PetsMart doesn't have to carry it for an object to become a dog toy. And so it was that I took a quick scan of the bathroom before stepping in the shower. Let the suspense begin:
Pull curtain back to peek at Norman Bates. He is staring at me with yellow wolf eyes. Close curtain and pick up soap. Begin to mull over his expression. What was he thinking? Did I puppy-proof the bathroom properly? Mentally run through a diagram of the bathroom in my head. What can he turn into a toy?
Peek through curtain again. His yellow wolf eyes are still staring at me. This time he's smirking. Close curtain. I'm certain the little creep was smirking at me. What's he up to? Peek through curtain again. He is lying on the bath rug. He raises a Spock eyebrow, daring me to question his innocence. I close the curtain. My cell phone by the sink rings. Because I'm soaking wet, I stay where I am and continue washing my toes. The shower curtain is ripped open.
A cold blast of air rushes into the tub. His dancing eyes smile, "Your phone's ringing!"
He stays there, with the shower curtain draped over his head, staring at me intently, letting in the cold air. I assure him I will return the call later. He backs out. The phone continues to ring. Norman Bates slashes the curtain open again.
"Your phone is ringing! Want me to get it?!"
I see the direction his mind is working and assure him that, "No, I'll return the call."
He disappears again. The phone stops ringing. I go back to my soap, but the ominous music soundtrack in my head begins. Something is going on. I peek out the curtain. He is staring at me. Staring at me. Staring. Staring. Staring. Playing his Jedi mind games. Staring at the phone. Staring at me. I refuse to be trained by a dog. After all, I'm the trainer here.
I tell myself that I won't be long and go back to my shower. Still, the music dances in my head like his dancing eyes. I reassure myself that there is nothing in the bathroom he can hurt, but the mental picture of an expensive iPhone being thrown into the shower pops in my head.
I peek through the curtain again. He would. His front feet are already on the toilet and he's staring at the phone like the RCA puppy listening to his master's voice in a phonograph. It rings again. He grins at me from the toilet seat. His smile says, "Your phone is ringing again! Must be important! Want me to bring it to you? Huh? Huh?"
The music in my head has reached a climax. The chance that an iPhone will come flipping into the shower like a hockey puck is about to become a reality. I bounce out of the tub with a bark and answer it. It's Other Half. I'm wet, so I put him on speaker phone. The glazed yellow eyes at my dripping feet point out my error.
"Dad? Dad? Dad's in the box?"
Hmmm.... yes, to a Border Collie, Dad is indeed in the box. And that is a bad thing. I hop back in the shower. I peek around the curtain. He continues to stare at the phone like a puzzle.
How is it he has never noticed cell phones before? Judging from his expression, Kong is about to add an iPhone to their inventory. I doubt Otterboxes cover that. I'm sure AT&T Insurance wants to hear this excuse.
"Yes, my dog tried to get my husband out of the Otterbox. No, he's not a Labrador, he's a Border Collie. Yes, you're right. It wouldn't be a bad idea to upgrade my insurance."