Standing at the fence, enjoying a rare day of sunshine in January here on our farm, I watched our dog Channing circling the pasture in a sweeping motion and wondered what she was up to now.
Channing is our English Shepherd who still has enough puppy in her bones to get her into a bit of orneriness from time to time, but she seems wise beyond her years in so many ways.
Because of this, she is fun to watch from afar whenever the busy day allows it.
It was a Saturday, and all the snow from the previous storm had melted away. Channing seemed to want to reclaim the newly revealed pasture now that she could get her nose down to the wet ground.
She ran in a sweeping motion, first to the right, then doubled back quickly, seeming to have missed something. She sniffed the ground for the longest time and then shot off to the left, heading due north in the wide open pasture.
On the trail. Something had definitely sparked her interest, as her tail stood tall, her nose never coming up off the ground more than an inch or two. Channing followed this hot trail all the way to the fenceline, and then looked perplexed.
She thought about digging under the fence, but she seemed to quickly realize that was going to take far too long. She ran back and forth, looking for an opening in the fence.
Finally, she found her way to the livestock gate and was able to belly-crawl her way under it. It wasn’t long till I saw what had sparked her interest.
She found a small groundhog hole and went a little crazy with glee. She dug for a bit, then decided just to lie quietly, patiently, right next to that hole. Her ears were perked, her body drawn up in a compact way as if she was attempting to hide in plain sight.
Oh, did this ever bring back memories of every great farm dog I’ve ever known! The desire to hunt harkens back to fine genetics and makes these great dogs worth their salt.
Not long ago, I ran across a very old black and white photograph of my Grandpa and Grandma Young’s English Shepherd breeding stock. It was a photo they used in advertising in The Ohio Farmer and Hoard’s Dairyman back in the 1930s.
Letter. Lying next to this photo in the box of memorabilia that I keep was a letter sent to my grandparents from a satisfied buyer from New Hampshire, dated Sept. 10, 1939.
“I am writing to thank you for the fine dog I bought from you one year ago. Skip already knows how to herd both my dairy cows and my sheep. He uses a different nose with my contrary ram than he does with the young lambs.
“He knows how to be tough but he is smart about being easy when he should be. My children say he is the smartest dog in the United States of America. I don’t hire any extra hands, and now that I have Skip, I don’t need any.
“I think it was the best $10 I ever spent for my farm work.”
Smart. My father grew up with English Shepherds on the farm, and he often said the same thing about the dogs replacing hired help. He told so many great stories about these dogs knowing how to sort the fat hogs back away from the feed trough filled with whey, allowing the younger, thinner hogs to get their fill first.
It seemed incredible and almost impossible to me until I saw it with my own eyes in a new generation of English Shepherd. The only time I ever saw my father raise his voice to our “Bill” was when the dog got a little too aggressive while sorting hogs, drawing blood on a hog’s hock.
Anyone who knows pigs knows the worst thing to have happen in a large pen of pigs is to draw blood, as the rest of the bunch will be incited to fight that marked pig to the death.
We pulled that pig out and penned it up in a solitary spot. Dad gave Bill a real “talking to” and I swear that dog hung his head for days.
The great thing about a good farm dog is that they are Johnny-On-The-Spot when there is work to be done, but they are mighty happy to just lie on the porch with a calm and satisfied presence at the end of the day. Unless, that is, there is a ground hog hole needing their undivided attention.
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