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Thursday, August 01 2019

I always knew my life would go to the dogs. I added it up a couple of days ago and I’ve been training dogs over 45 years now. Training dogs and training people to train dogs has been really rewarding, and I’ve made so many lifelong friends doing it. My perspective has changed a lot over the years. Now I no longer have my show dogs, trial dogs, search dogs, or police dogs. There are only my ranch dogs. These scruffy farm dogs have less obedience training than my other dogs but far more responsibility. They aren’t my toys, they’re my tools. Truth be told, they’re more - they’re partners. They’re co-workers. They aren’t pets, but they are family. 

Things change when your paycheck depends upon the work the dogs do. It gets serious then. A hobby farm with outside incomes can take the hits that a small working ranch cannot. Around here a dead calf is a mortgage payment. I depend upon those Livestock Guardian Dogs, they aren’t just decoration. And the Border Collies do so much work that I cannot even imagine how someone runs a ranch without them. 

This week an internet bully on a large Facebook group poked a stick at me because I said that I always have my Border Collies in tow when I’m doing farm chores, thus the house dogs and the LGDs must interact. She said that if the BCs were so needy that they couldn’t be separated from me when I was doing chores then I needed to train them. Pardon me? 

Isn’t that their freaking job? 

I bowed out of the discussion because I don’t entertain internet bullies but I chewed on her words and wondered why someone would believe such foolishness. She wasn’t a Border Collie trial person. I could understand her logic if that had been the case. Often trial people want to control every time their dog is exposed to livestock. I can wrap my mind around that concept. What I don’t understand is anyone who thinks you can create and use a good stockdog without actually using that dog for the chores. 

My Border Collies are handy for two reasons – they are there, and they know the routine. The dogs have work ethic. They see everything and want the world to spin according to the rules. Let us take, for instance, this morning. 

I never move rams without having a dog with me. If you think your tame ram won’t hurt you, then please sign me up as beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Normally Wyatt handles the rams and the calves, but today I allowed Lily to come with me to open the gate and let the rams back in with the calves. She’s getting older and is retired now, but since she just had to be a presence, I brought her. Neither of us counted on what would unfold. 

As I was locking the first gate behind me, the adult ram left the group of rams and rushed across the pen at Lily. She sidestepped his assault but fell into a deep crevice created by recent rains and he bowled her over. Lily was able to get out from underneath him as I yanked the gate open to release Wyatt. 

And that, Friends and Neighbors, is why you take Border Collies along when you’re doing chores. It’s not because they’re needy, it’s because YOU NEED THEM. 

Wyatt easily handled the ram with his signature M.C. Hammer “can’t touch this” move. The ram respects the young dog and obediently rejoined the group. Wyatt then moved them back into the pasture without incident.  Lily’s pride was hurt but otherwise she seemed fine. 

For Wyatt, it was just one more task in his already busy day. He and Mesa are the backbones around here. My day runs smoothly because when it doesn’t, I whistle for a dog to solve the problem. And they are there. Because they are always there. Watching. Waiting. Wanting to help. That’s the way Mesa learned to be a ranch dog, and that’s the way Wyatt is learning to be a ranch dog. They can’t learn the chores if they’re not there when I’m actually doing the chores. 

And so my perspective on dog training has changed a lot over 45 years. For dog people it’s easy to let your ego get wrapped up in the performance of your current working dog. Most of us have been guilty of it at some time, but hopefully after a while, we gained the wisdom to see past that, and we’ve become better people and better dog trainers because of it.  The other pitfall I see is that with years under the belt, it’s also easy to talk in absolutes, to see the world in black and white, with no gray, to bully people as you proclaim there is only one way to train a dog. I see it all the time. Mostly on the internet. Far too often it comes from someone with many years in the game, but few real experiences outside the familiar.

 Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” 

That’s pretty much my yardstick for assessing someone’s experience in anything. Not the years, but how much they think they know.  Often these people are simply victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect, an overconfidence born of limited experience. Not years, but experience. There’s a difference. The people with the most experience in a subject tend to be more open-minded and less apt to pound their beliefs into someone with a stick. 

So despite the advice of someone with 30 years of training dogs, I’ll continue to bring my Border Collies along when I do chores – because it’s their damned job. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 12:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email

Red Feather Ranch, Failte Gate Farm
Email:   sheri@sheridanrowelangford.com  failte@farmfreshforensics.com

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