Baavet country files Report March 2017
I was sitting at home looking at the photo I had of our late dog Gwen, a Border collie who died 3 years ago.
No farm is complete without a dog and no hill farm is complete without its working Border Collie.
Border Collies are renowned for their intelligence and great working abilities, you only have to watch One Man and his Dog on TV. But not all Border collies make good working dogs. You can’t make a dog round up sheep or cattle, they have to show a real interest and keenness in the sheep, only then can you train them. Many farmers can’t train a dog so they buy one already trained, and a good working dog can cost thousands. The old farmers say you only get one really good working dog in a lifetime of farming, well if that’s true then Gwen was that one dog for me.
But for some time Gwen was far from being a great dog.
Gwen first came to us from the local dog rescue centre as a 9 month old pup. We took her home and within 24 hours she was seriously ill and passing blood. We rushed her to the vet who thought it might be Parvo Virus and didn’t rate her chances of survival. But she was a tough little thing who battled for a week before she was declared fit enough to be taken home.
The next problem we found with her was we couldn’t put her on a lead. If we tried she just lay down and wouldn’t budge.
Then she had a phobia of cars. If we were out in the fields near the road and a car went by she just ran off in a panic back to the house. She wouldn’t get in the van and if we did get her in she wouldn’t get out. And if that wasn’t bad enough at the sound of anything like a gun or general bang she would just take off as though her tail was on fire often just running in any direction, and we would have to chase her until she stopped.
So at that point there was no way she was going to make a working dog. We had tried taking her to puppy classes where the lady was sure she could solve her problems. She couldn’t even get Gwen from under a chair. I still remember the lady pulling Gwen by the lead and Gwen digging her claws in the wooden floor as she was pulled across the hall. In fact Gwen was so bad we nearly took her back to the rescue centre.
In the end, in desperation, we phoned a dog psychiatrist, yes a dog psychiatrist! We told him her problems over the phone, and as he was a long way away we asked if there was anything we could try. He suggested putting her on a lead and dragging her along by it until she got up and walked. It sounded rather extreme. But we had to give it a go.
So we drove to a very lonely lane and Lesley put Gwen on the lead. Gwen immediately sank down and rolled over in a submissive pose. Then Lesley dragged her along the road. It was a good job no one witnessed it or we would have been reported to the RSPCA for cruelty. Lesley dragged and dragged along that road and then quite suddenly Gwen got up and started to walk behind her. It was as if she had always done that! From then on two things happened, first Gwen started to improve dramatically and became more like a normal dog and secondly, from that time on she became Lesley’s soul mate following her everywhere.
It wasn’t long after that we could take her on the mountains with us on our long walks. But with all Gwen’s problems we still didn’t think she would ever make a working dog. Little did we know just how good she would be?
One day as we were coming back from a day on the mountains Gwen was in the back of the van when we came across some farmers moving their sheep down the road. There were several hundred sheep with dogs all around and the men whistling and shouting commands. Suddenly Gwen became very agitated inside the back of the van running up and down. We couldn’t do anything but wait for the flock to move. Gwen got more and more agitated. At first I just couldn’t understand what was wrong with her but then I realised this was her first encounter with a large number of sheep and other dogs working and the farmers whistling commands. I had a hunch that she wanted to get involved, she was showing keenness and interest.
At that time I hadn’t got any sheep so the next day I took her to a neighbour and asked if Gwen could work with his dog. He was more than willing so we set off into a big 10 acre field where there were 40 or 50 sheep grazing.
He told me to keep Gwen on a lead while he worked his dog around the field gathering in the flock. He then moved the sheep with the dog this way and that. All the while Gwen was pulling on the lead so eager to join in. Now you wouldn’t ever normally do what I did next, and I don’t think my neighbour was too keen either. I simply slipped her lead and let her go.
And why shouldn’t you do that?
Because the average untrained young dog would tear into the middle of the flock and just scatter them everywhere then start to chase small groups of sheep around, but Gwen didn’t do that, she did something quite unusual, she slipped in alongside the neighbour’s dog and just followed it wherever it went and just copied what it did as the dog moved the flock around the field.
We stopped for a moment and I called Gwen to me to give her lots of fuss and praise.
I asked my neighbour if we could just give her another run with his dog.
Then something even more amazing happened this time instead of following the other dog she took up the brace position and began to work the flock from the opposite side. Gwen just instinctively knew what she should do.
If you watch One Man and His Dog you will know they have the brace competitions where a handler can work 2 dogs simultaneously. What happens is that the dogs work opposite sides of the flock and that’s what Gwen did. Within half an hour, with no training whatsoever, and just following another dog she just got the whole thing....I couldn’t believe it!
And that was just the beginning of her talents because she wasn’t just a good working sheep dog, we could walk through fields of sheep or cross the mountains with sheep around and Gwen wouldn’t take the slightest notice unless I gave her commands to work. Gwen became an all round mountain /adventure activity/ working sheep dog.
She really was a once in a lifetime dog and we miss her terribly.