Saturday, August 7, 2010

raising thunder

Raising a working border collie has been a non-stop education- not so much in dogs, but in people. When folks familiar with the breed run into Gibson and I at farmer's markets or on the sidewalk they have questions and they aren't always sweet. Lovers of the breed are wary of poor matches. Do you understand what kind of dog this is? Does he have a job? Have you any experience with the breed? Do you work away from home? Do you have a second collie? What are you feeding him? And so on into some time....They feel it is totally okay to ask strangers about their intentions and personal life when it comes to the dog. I find this both bemusing and somewhat creepy, but welcome the questions. They come from a good place.

So when we are grilled I assure them that Gibson was chosen and purchased from a reputable and knowledgeable breeder. That I had been a member of the local shepherding club for three years and have volunteered at trials and visited workshops. I told them I had land and livestock, and that this would not be a dog tied to a post or fattened on the couch. And yet even after I tell them this I still get a cold stare when they hear this is my first pup. No one who loves these dogs for what they are wants them to fall into the wrong hands. I understand. I myself was the wrong hands for a Border Collie once, and while it all worked out in the end for human and dog: I understand the mistakes of acting with impulse around loaded guns.

I don't think every border collie needs a trio of sheep and a mountain-top view. I know many friends and folks with pet herding dogs that live happy, active, and busy lives. I think it's more about matching wits than lifestyles. I'd rather see a border collie pup with a marathon runner who works at a home office in the middle of Philadelphia than on a farm where he has nothing to do all day but wear a ditch along a fence line. I am not a canine expert, but that is my stance. As someone who has trained previous dogs to AKC obedience titles, passed several CGC tests, and did therapy work with her old Golden. I know dogs enough to understand how not to ruin them for the world. I like the idea of that urban marathon team.

Gibson and I are doing well. He has grown into a lanky pup, 5-months-old and 36 pounds already. We work on basic obedience and socialization. Training together when he's seeming the most willing to please, never pushing lessons when he's too tired or too wound to focus. Yesterday we were at Gardenworks in Salem and he lay down beside me as I shopped for some beef and pondered cheesecake from New Skete. (I ended up not getting the cake, as I am still running every day and it seemed counter-productive.) He was well behaved, if still a puppy. No barking or fuss, and would sit still between jumping up and wagging at other customers. I'm grateful places like the farmer's market and Gardenworks welcome dogs. The training opportunities are wonderful. We travel, and train, and play together much. I can not wait till the season turns some more and we're driving to our first herding lessons. I hope he wants to work sheep as much as I do.

Hints of instinct come out of Gibson from time to time. When he spots one of the meat rabbits his body turns instantly into a stalker. His tail goes down below his back, his head lowers, and his eyes stare unblinking in a way that could cut the grass if he darted his eyes fast enough. He moves deliberately. His whole body quivers. All he wants to do is chase, but the look of a trained herding dog is there. The desire to control and stalk is there. I hold the end of his leash and watch him. Before he has the chance to bolt I call him back to me, "That'll do, Gibson" I say and lead him back inside. His brown eyes keep looking at the rabbit, like a toddler being pulled away from the candy rack. I tell him he'll run like thunder across a pasture someday, just as strong and dark. It's just not his time.


Blogger Unknown said...

Very well said Jenna. Great article.

August 7, 2010 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Velma Bolyard said...

yes, working dogs can be great pets as long as there is enough to stimulate them! my border collie makes my life a joy, and i'm glad she "didn't work out on sheep". she is a marvelous family dog, a great traveling companion, and i take her to work from time to time to work with the ED kids, she totally "gets" unhappy teenagers.

August 7, 2010 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Meagan said...

I am having a similar experience with my border collie Lee. Although he's not physically a puppy (2 years old) he kinda is one mentally, especially considering he was never a house dog and never a city or in-the-car dog. And he was used for breeding too, so the times he was interacted with were for studding. It's been a bit of a challenge so far in wrangling him when there are a lot of distractions around, but when it's just him and I or us outside with a few animals, we can manage quite well. I have also learned very the price of not exercising a border collie - you don't get much sleep the next day as they are so full of energy bouncing off the walls! But I couldn't imagine a better partner. Already he's put my ram in his place and herds back my goats.

August 7, 2010 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

You've got to start somewhere and seeing as you are already a mum to two other special breed dogs, I would think you'd have a working knowledge of dogs, even without all the certifications you've done.

I do get where they are coming from-I have a friend in Texas who does blue heeler rescues. She owns SIX that well-intentioned people have had, thinking this breed is just like any other, to the detriment of the dog (and probably a few couches!) and so they've dumped the dog somewhere or more kindly surrendered it to the rescue people for rehoming. It takes a special kind of person to raise a working breed.

That said, irresponsible owners can latch onto any breed. On Wednesday night, my sweet, gentle 2 1/2 year old lab Indy was attacked by a Great Dane, whose owner should not have a dog. The dog is always muzzled for agression and for some unknown reason, he decided to take the muzzle off IN A DOG PARK.

Fortunately, Indy was okay, but my poor huband, who LOVES animals was forced to get physical with the Dane in order to prevent injury to our dog. He (my husband) was traumatized.

CLearly, a dog is a huge responsibilty and too many people like the IDEA of a dog or a breed and get in well over their heads.

You are right, it's a matter of taking the time to make a good match. People should choose a dog much in the same way they choose a life partner, after all, their dog will be with them (hopefully) for their lifetime.

August 7, 2010 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I would love for Gibson to come cut my grass! ;)

August 7, 2010 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

You are a wonderful pet owner, and you don't have to justify yourself to anyone. :)

August 7, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger m said...

We don't have a dog, but I do have two young boys, so I know all about inappropriate questions and unsolicited advice!

It looks like you're doing a great, responsible job with Gibson. I love reading about him--it's a world so far removed from my own.

August 7, 2010 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger E said...

Everyone has to have a first pup first.
It seems you are doing really well by Gibson.

August 7, 2010 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

I must admit, I am guilty of less than fuzzy behavior when I see frustrated BCs with pet people. As a boarding kennel owner, I see so many poor choices for companion dogs and so much lack of training. The one that drives me through the ceiling is, "we rescued him, he was abused, and he just needs to be happy". Meanwhile the dog is barking, peeing on the merchandise, clawing at my reservation desk or spinning his feet grooving thw waxed floor among other things. Agh!!!
Jenna, you can go to Benson's and probably other places that I don't know of, and get a single slice of New Skete cheesecake. That way you won't be tempted to eat a huge amount but you can still enjoy it.

August 7, 2010 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger windhaven farm said...

Even those fancy breed snobs had to have their first pup of their breed. Honestly... but then everyone loves to have an opinion on who YOU should run your life, even if they didn't follow that advice themselves! (g) I'm very well aware that there are some awful dog owners, but then I've seen a good share of awful kid parents too, and frankly, no one seems to mind that as much as they do the dog people... I guess it's easier to be a touch rude when it comes to a dog or pet, then it is to point out the same in children. :-) And yes, I've owned purebred herd dogs as well as mutts and they are all well behaved and we work and train with them. And my children are awesome because we work and train with them, too! (haha but in a good parent way...) Commitment, is commitment, and like someone said, people fall in love with the IDEA of having a dog (or a kid) and just don't realize that there is a lot of background work involved to get to that perfect situation... Jenna, you're doing great if you have a 5 month old busy and smart pup that will hang with you in a public place and behave, people should be commending you on your training! A lot of pups that age are still on the silly goofy wiggly stage! He's going to be a great dog...

August 7, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger LouisianaMom said...

I really appreciate this write up... and honestly I don't know why people aren't more discriminating in bringing home any breed. We are a young family with kids one is 10, 9, and 7 they have begged for a dog since they could say dog. I ve had relatives berate and tell us how much the kids "needed" a dog even before they were crawling. My husband and I were hugely opposed in bringing any dog into our home until we knew for sure we had the time to devote to training, socializing etc. I mean lets be honest had we gotten a dog when I had 3 kids under 3 it would have been locked up in the back yard the majority of the time! The majority of my friends have dogs that are not excercised, and are merely an afterthought. We brought home a puppy this summer, but thought carefully about the breed etc. (also we didn't buy from a pet store rather took a puppy that would have ended up in the pound otherwise) Our entire lives have changed, activities now center around whether we can take the dogs with us...and we enjoy our time outdoors with the kids and the dogs! I just think more pet owners should be conscious of who they are bringing home!

August 7, 2010 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Moose Nuggets said...

I grew up in suburbia with working class Shetland sheepdogs. We had no sheep, but our dog's "herd" were me and my siblings. My mom trained Shaughnessy to know the perimeter of our yard and that dog had no trouble herding us back into the yard when we wandered. LOL
that dog was trained to respond to sign language and was the best dog we ever had. The only time he ever "got out of line" was when a person he perceived as a threat to his herd came on the property- and it turns out that the dog was right about that guy! He was bad news.
Would love to have another dog like that someday.

August 7, 2010 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Lenni said...

Last year when we were looking for a perfect fit of a dog we haunted all the local shelters and websites to find a rescued dog. There were so many border collies and pit bulls in the shelters! I knew that they would not fit with our family but it broke my heart that they may not "make" it. I wish all people would really research who a dog is before making a commitment to one. We settled on a super loving, narcoleptic dog who plays but has lazy tendencies. Perfect!

August 7, 2010 at 11:02 PM  

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