It’s not that I mind puppies . . .

While I write this, Chester is sitting on the window ledge, watching the dogs in the yard and shouting out encouragement or disapproval as the occasion demands. Mainly disapproval.

I know I said we’d have puppies in January, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t puppies here now. The current banes of my life are a bumbling 5-month old called Tony, Mel and Glen’s youngest daughter Mog - she’s about 5 months old, and Maddie and Glen’s daughter Maeve who, it seems to me, has been here for ever, but she keeps getting bigger so she must only be about a year old. Oh yes, and Doris. Doris is a newcomer, and she’s about six months old now. Tony has a smooth coat, the girls all have rough coats (anything tidy would be a waste) and all four are tri-coloured collies; it’s so monotonous.

Me? I’m a warm mahogany with rich autumn gold highlights and a charcoal mask. Sometimes the collies have charcoal masks but, in their case, it is ACTUALLY charcoal.

It’s not that I mind puppies; it’s just that they’re uncoordinated – they have no idea where their great clumsy feet are going, and I challenge any civilised dog to keep his fur clean in weather like this, surrounded by a mob like that. Now I’m as practical about mud as the next dog, but I prefer to be the one who chooses when I’m to get covered in it.

Maeve and one of the boys, Eli, have always been best mates and this morning Mog wants to join their gang. Mog doesn’t know the rules of Big Dog games yet (I’m assuming they have rules?) so Maeve has recruited Mog against Eli. Mog hangs on his ear to slow him down, while Maeve swings about on his tail, and they all go hurtling around the place until either Mog or Maeve loses her grip and spins into the mud. It doesn’t matter which one lands first because the other one joins her in any case. Then Eli piles in on top and the whole thing starts again. The only clean bit of those dogs is the grin.

I’ll say this for Border collies – they really can smile. Of course, most of the time they haven’t a clue what they’re smiling about.

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And as though border collies weren’t enough . . .

Great Dane Lily
Lily the Great Dane

There are two other dogs here that aren’t sheepdogs. Lily is a Great Dope (I mean, Great Dane) and Eris is a half-Deerhound lurcher. Eris (whose name is borrowed from the Greek goddess for strife and dischord – and I’m not surprised) thinks it’s funny to follow me about, ruffling my fur and pretending to bite me.  Lily wouldn’t dare to even pretend.

Deerhound lurcher - Eris
Deerhound lurcher - Eris

In fact, Lily’s very easily intimidated, especially if you have sharp little teeth and a natural air of authority (such as moi) or a beak. At mealtimes she’s usually fed, weather permitting, in the garden. As soon as the dish is in place the local gang of magpies and jackdaws (and a motley one who looks like a cross between the two) gather on the fence and gateposts, watching her. They seem quite casual at first, almost surprised to see her, “What? You here again, old thing? No, don’t stop, don’t you mind us.” But poor Lily looks self-conscious and less hungry, especially when the birds start to move in closer, invading her personal space. Eventually she gives up and steps back, which is the cue for the birds to move in and take what they want from her dish.

Credit where it’s due, Gilbertson & Page’s Dr John Gold has reared several generations of magnificent jackdaws, but they don’t get a mention on the bag!

I think Eris would have indigestion if jackdaws watched her while she was eating. Gill says that Eris has a sense of humour and that she’s the prettiest thing with a beard on the farm. I don’t have a beard – obviously.