Shuffling the pack

Sheepdog Kay watches while Audrey and Eli wrestle for the frisbee

We’ve been lucky (so far) this winter; the snow and ice in the weather forecast has missed us!

We still have a covering of grass, can walk easily across the field and along the bridlepaths, and the strong winds brought down only one tree in the orchard.

Border collie puppies playing on a log
Amy and Ivy take advantage of the new log

It’s always sad to lose a tree, but it means we have some firewood for next winter and the dogs love to find something new in the field. The latest log has given the dogs hours of entertainment, and given us some great photo opportunities.

There have been a few changes here since Christmas. Not just puppies, though they change from day to day, but among the older dogs too.

Eli has left for a 30 day trial with a contract shepherd (Eli loves to work and we just don’t have enough for him to do, especially during the winter).

Young black Border collie sheepdog
Remus has no interest in leadership (Note Audrey, in the background, breaking the black and white monotony)

Audrey, our token red and white dog, and tenacious retriever, has moved to Shropshire to live with Andy’s daughter and her partner on their majestically placed farm at Cardington.

Eli and Audrey (see them in our header image above) were our alpha dog and alpha female, so there’s room for manoeuvre in the pack hierarchy. Eli left first, but with Audrey in place there was still some leadership in evidence.

Ezra, Remus and Oliver were tetchy and grumpy with each other for a day or two, but no decisions were reached.

Two black and white border collies - one smooth coated and one rough coated
Oliver in the foreground, and Ezra behind – where he’s most dangerous perhaps?

Since Audrey left there’s been no leadership, but no sign of a power struggle either.

I still ask the dogs to line up in the field, and I can do this three or four times in each session and see a different arrangement every time. I don’t think anyone wants to be the pack leader, so it isn’t a matter of one dog going to the front but, rather, all the other dogs getting behind one or other dog and hoping it’ll stay there.

This is how the leadership was handed over by Pearl to Maddie, all those years ago, but we haven’t seen it since. I thought Ezra would be a shoe-in for the job, but even he doesn’t seem terribly keen.

Border collie puppies playing
Bronwen and Isadora dispute woodpile possession

Arguments between young dogs and puppies, however, continue to be broken up by Ezra and, occasionally, Oliver, so perhaps we have a coalition?

We’ve been delighted by the progress of Meg’s 8 daughters (born on my birthday so, of course, Andy hasn’t a clue of how old they are at any time).

Four have gone to lovely homes where they’ll work as full-time sheepdogs, eventually, and four are still here.

Border collie puppy with sheep
The precocious Scylla

One of them is still available to buy, however, as we’ve learned by experience that keeping too many puppies just asks for trouble. After all, we have Kay’s puppies coming up too, and if we keep most of those then the yard (and our hands) will be quite full enough.

We’ll keep tricoloured Bronwen (she reminds us of Mel, so we’re keeping her as a warning) and Scylla, because she’s such a handful on her own that Andy took to her immediately.

Beautiful image of border collie and papillon
Carew and Chester have a special relationship. Or Chester’s found some tripe stuck to Carew’s nose…

Of the other two pups, Isadora and Gabby, Andy would happily keep either or both. They all remind me of their mother, and the entire litter has been a delight to have underfoot – just ask Carew! She’s done her usual sterling job as duenna, though she may have looked more relieved than usual when her hairy charges were once more consigned to the yard.

Kay’s puppies aren’t yet 4 weeks old, but they’re starting to come out and look around (a mild winter is such an advantage for puppies) and to climb into Kay’s food. Again, it’s a litter of black and whites with just one tricolour, a dog I’ve named Clovis.

Tricolour border collie puppy
Cometh the dog – cometh the name. Clovis!

The other dog is probably called Melvin, but he hasn’t confirmed that yet.

I’m hoping they’ll all be smooth coated like their father, Oliver, of whom I’m possibly unnaturally fond. (I’m just waiting for an excuse to move him into the house, where he can spend his evenings lying on my lap, where he belongs.)

Trials & Tutorials:
We don’t have a Sheepdog Nursery Trial series that’s close enough to home to be tempting, so Andy hasn’t been trialling for months. Just as well, as the online sheepdog training tutorials are taking up far more time than either of us ever anticipated when we started them. The original plan was for videos of 10 minutes or so each, and lots of them. We’re finding that the videos are getting longer (several are 30 minutes each).

Dog cartoon
Introducing the new FLEXI-DOG!

When we filmed the DVDs (First Steps, Off Duty, and Still Off Duty) we calculated on 1 hour’s filming generally giving us 1 minute of usable footage after 1 day of editing, so the maths is easy to work out! Not only that, but we find we don’t always know how we do what we do, until we try to explain it – does that make sense? And making a decision about what to leave out is almost the hardest part.

Andy’s currently working on a tutorial about sending the dog “the wrong way” i.e. not the way the dog would naturally go under the circumstances. It began life as the “slingshot” tutorial, to widen and lengthen the outrun, until we realised that you need to be able to stop the dog off balance, and send it in either direction, before you can start using the slingshot.

Sheepdog training
Training re-starts in just a couple of weeks’ time

Now, of course, the “wrong way” tutorial is making us think about what else we should have covered first. Typical. But the tutorial’s on its way, I promise, and will see the debut of Andy’s new virtual (animated) dog. It’s been a long and trying puppyhood and adolescence, but even the best dogs can go through that and they always come out good on the other side.

In “Going the Wrong Way” look out for a wagging tail, and far more flexibility through the hips. On the dog.


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