“Old Major completed his herding of the milk cows and somehow came to realize that he had two full hours until he was needed to drive the cattle back to the far pasture. Those two hours became the dog’s social time — we later learned that he visited a neighbor, stopped by the village bakery, waited for affection and sometimes a treat or two outside the barber shop. But that old dog always, without fail, returned to the farm when my father and I ended our milking chores and took over his herding work.”
— Robert Smith, 1915
I just found out I have a two-timing cheater on my hands. And I have no idea what I’m going to do about it.
For two years, Channing has been our happy farm dog. When we realized about a year ago that our young English Shepherd had begun wandering down the long farm lane when we were away, we decided it was time to consider investing in invisible fencing. It would be worth every penny to keep our dog safe at home without restricting her sense of freedom to go groundhog hunting when the mood struck.
Our farm sits back off the road such a long way with lots of room to roam far behind the house and farm buildings. It is a farm dog’s dream and it makes us all feel glad to be able to provide this great dog with such wide open country. It is a thrill to watch Channing’s mind working, contemplating what she should be doing next. It is enjoyable to watch her hunting or to observe her reaction as she watches Canada geese land in the fields she considers her territory.
Her ears perk up when the loud honking calls invade her space. She surveys the scene and decides her herding abilities have been summoned.
From the very bones of her being, Channing is pure stock dog. Something so keen as the desire to drive livestock is simply there from birth, pulsing through her bloodstream, pushing her to work. I know and understand the look in those brown eyes from having grown up with this great breed on a working farm.
I think of our old Bill dog — a black and tan English Shepherd with a blaze of white on his chest — as I watch Channing fly stealthily across the hay field toward the gathering geese. Channing slows to a crawl, hunkering down as she encircles the rag tag crew of geese until she has them where she wants them — in a nice, tight circle.
Our Bill dog would sort hogs on market day in a way that was simply stunning to watch. He drove the fat hogs up the ramp to the waiting livestock truck, nipping at their heels as if to say they weren’t loading fast enough to suit him. There was something incredible in his instinct, cutting and slicing through the noisy pen of feeder pigs, pushing the smaller ones back.
Dad said he had grown up with an English Shepherd similar to Bill, and he recalled that dog — after having observed what the humans wanted done — would keep the fat hogs from drinking the whey they fed to fatten hogs in those days, allowing only the smaller, runt pigs up to the whey troughs to drink their fill.
Channing eventually watched in dismay as those tightly herded geese just up and flew away from her herding prowess. She has seemed a bit down in the dumps ever since, as though she didn’t complete her job successfully.
Suddenly, Channing started coming up missing for an hour or two. When I would arrive home, I was aware that she wasn’t here showing off the minute she spotted me, pretending to have been running full-steam, on-guard on this farm the entire time I was gone. I would call for her and wonder why she wasn’t right on my heels. My husband noticed it too, especially wondering why she wasn’t by his side in the barn at chore time. Eventually, she would come running, hanging her head, acting a bit guilty about something.
Today, we found out the rest of the story. Channing has learned how to get around her invisible fence confinement by escaping our property on the far side of the fields where no barrier was trenched in. Complicating matters, Channing charmed her way in to the home of a kind family who simply adores her, inviting her inside their home, feeding her, letting her entertain their 4-year-old granddaughter who has fallen in love with her. Channing is a two-timing enchantress, doggone it.
The costly invisible fence is now worthless. It makes me sad to think of penning this dog up, but it sickens me to think how easily she could be hit on the road now that she is living this double life.
The challenge is on to determine how to deal with this latest development. How do you herd in a herding dog?