Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mighty Dog - Part One

I want to introduce you to Mighty Dog.

I know you've seen her here in a couple of pictures, but this time I want to delve into this unsung heroine that works so tirelessly on our behalf.

If you have livestock of any kind--chickens, cows, sheep, goats-- I would venture to say you could use a Border Collie.  On the other hand, if you enjoy chasing and herding animals yourself, you can get along fine without one.

Jessie is ten years old, now, and still fit as a fiddle.  However, there will come a time, we know, when she is approaching retirement and wants to take her social security and Medicare.  So, we're 1.75 years into the process (oh, how long that process is!)of a 3-year program to get two more BC's trained enough that they (1) are somewhat effective in moving stock; (2) have shed their natural BC craziness so (3) they don't embarrass you, frustrate you, and make you want to lock them up forever!  When they're little pups and bigger pups--and I believe Border Collies have a much longer puppyhood than most dogs--they will drive you nuts at times.  They are arguably the smartest of all canines.  It's uncanny how they develop and understand the nuances of their masters' behaviors.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you about Jess--Mighty Dog.

As spring comes on, the cows make their way farther and farther afield, grazing peacefully toward a pasture water source in the morning after milking, and then lying down on top of the hill that overlooks the entire farm, where they spend the afternoon chewing cud and discussing the latest round of bank failures.

But let's just say we decide to move the cows....change of pasture, perhaps.

Do we walk out ourselves to retrieve the cows?  Nope.  We call Mighty Dog.  She knows where those cows are; she knows that even if she doesn't see them, they're there.  She knows their hiding places, too. And you know what?  The cows are one mile from the house.  That's right. A full mile away.

MM says, "Jess?  Go fetch 'em!"  That's all it takes.  As she dashes out, you can see that little white speck diminishing in size as she flies to the end of the field and gets around those cows.  The cows will usually be back at the front gate in about four minutes after Jess reaches them.  She's very orderly about informing the cows that it's time to move. We're not talking about a bouncy dog or terrified cows.  We're talking about a methodical Border Collie that gently, but firmly (if need be she will nip a heel or bite a nose if the cow questions her authority) brings the cows home.   Usually, they unfold their ungainly structures like a bunch of old-fashioned carpenter rules, muster up with Jess behind them, and go at her behest in the direction she implies with her eye, her stance and her will.

What's really neat is that Mighty Dog knows the difference between various types of livestock.  Yesterday, for example, she brought in only the cow Jess knows we need to milk. 

She's awesome with chickens.  Want chickens moved? Brought back to the chicken house? Brought out of the chicken house?  All we need to say is, "Jess, chickens."  She knows chickens and promptly asks where we want those chickens.  And it could be one chicken, five chickens or fifty chickens.  She does 'em all.  She sits and waits for a command.  Once received, she moves them slowly, to the left or to the right, whatever we want.  The only thing she can't do is put the door down on them at the end of the day.  Everything else, Mighty Dog does.

Lots of folks who come to the farm simply cannot believe what this Mighty Dog does.  (Sometimes we can't either!) She's intuitive, she's gentle but gutsy as all get-out.  How would you feel, being nose to nose with a 1,200-pound cow, eyeball to eyeball when you weigh just 35 pounds?  But the cow knows that Mighty Dog can be a flying fang dressed in white fur and the potential for a battered nose exists every second Mighty Dog is handling the situation. She is pure coiled courage, ready to strike.  She'll tackle any task you give her with a heart as big as the sun if she knows what you want.  She'll do her best to understand and perform.

What wouldn't you give to have a working friend like that? 

Want to know more about training a working Border Collie?  It takes years to develop a Jess.  Tomorrow, I'll share with you a little about working (and playing) with a Border Collie.  And please....feel free to share your stories of Border Collies you may have owned or enjoyed.  MM and I cannot imagine life without Mighty Dog.

More tomorrow.


  1. Elora, you write with a paintbrush! I can "see" Jess going about her appointed duties, tirelessly and with zesto, 'cuz that's what they do. I might have to argue a bit about which breed is smarter, the BC or the BF (bichon frise, my adorable and brilliant Coqui) but we'll call it a tie. I trained Coqui myself, and while she only tries to herd cats, an impossible mission if there ever was one, it was a time-consuming labor of love and determination. These animals are great gifts.

  2. You are so right about this breed! We are in love with ours, too. They are unlike any other dog. Our Comet has herded wild animals in our out of the meadow, depending on what he thinks we want. When Jon and I are out playing with him, we sometimes torment him by separating and then allowing him to "herd" us back together, much to his delight. He knows right from left, which is more than I can say for some humans. He understands my hand signals, but not Jon's, chuckle.
    My only fear is that he will eventually be able to beat us at Canasta, too.