At last – the Spring weather tempts us to linger outside!

Alfie the chihuahua watches the sheepdog training
Alfie looks on in disbelief – he really can’t see what’s so difficult about penning a few sheep.

The last couple of weeks of dry weather have been a welcome relief after an unremittingly wet February. Of course, after spending the early part of the year worrying about wet ground and losing our grazing in a sea of mud, we’re now worried that the dry spell has stunted the grass growth!

Still, at least we’ve been able to catch up on some outside jobs – mainly of the digging up and tearing down variety – and the extra hour in the evenings has meant we’re able to relax in the orchard with the dogs (and a glass of wine) before we put them to bed for the night. It’s a sort of compensation for the dogs because we haven’t been training as much as we should. I’m beginning to wonder whether all this training is worthwhile anyway. The other night I moved 14 sheep between fields using two Chihuahuas whilst carrying two wine glasses. And I didn’t spill a drop. Alfie (aka Spice Weasel) has always maintained that collies are an inelegant solution to sheep handling – nothing that a small dog with a big attitude can’t manage perfectly well.

Andy’s favourite bitch, Mel (aka The Smoodler) has produced her last litter of puppies for us. There are only five, so the plan is to keep them all (well, there’s still a little space left in the spare room before we start keeping dogs in the office). They’re three weeks old now, so at the stage when they start staggering around, falling over each other and practicing their most ferocious barks and growls. They’re fascinating, and I could watch them all day. It doesn’t matter how many puppies you see in a lifetime, the novelty never wears off (if it does, it’s probably time to quit) and a new litter is like finding treasure. I’m already collecting plastic bottles and flower pots, for when they become more adventurous, and will make a foray around charity shops for puppy-friendly soft toys before too long.

Chihuahua chasing sheep
Alfie demonstrates how it should be done – showing a little more tail than I’d really like!

The weather was so nice, after the last Saturday training day, that we couldn’t resist the temptation of sitting in the sun with the dogs instead of working. We bought a ridiculous number of roasted bones (at least three more than the number of dogs – collies + Chihuahuas) and scattered them around for the dogs to take their pick and settle down quietly to some serious chewing. There’s very little trouble between the dogs when we do this. Kevin and his sister Midge, of course, couldn’t settle for long and were dancing about in and around the older dogs and generally getting in the way, but it’s all very good humoured and no-one gets seriously possessive. I’m sure it’s good for “pack bonding” too. On this occasion there were four visiting dogs, barely known by our resident core group, but they were all good mates by bed time.

We’re very lucky that we’re able to introduce visiting collies so easily into the pack. I suppose the core pack understands the rules, while the visiting dog really wants to fit in. Also, with Andy very much the pack leader, Eli (the second in command) assumes that if Andy says the newcomer’s OK, then it’s OK, and the rest of the group just agree with Eli. Any grumbling usually happens at the bottom end of the hierarchy, but is quickly finished so long as we don’t interfere. Those dogs who are naturally bound to work their way up to the front seem to do so quietly and without noise and fuss. I suppose these are the natural leaders, who don’t have to prove themselves with bluster. Much as with leaders of men, of course..



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