Whenever we have unusual weather conditions (flooding, deep snow, thunderstorms for example) we like to get all the dogs and puppies outside to experience it. It's particularly useful for the puppies to see that even when there's meteorological chaos, work and/or fun go on as normal and it's all OK. So this morning, when a fissure in the clouds let loose a shaft of sunshine, my impulse was to rush out to the yard and liberate the pack to come and play in it. Unfortunately I was cooking breakfast at the time, and in the time it took to turn off the hob the sun had dodged back in again. Ah well, perhaps tomorrow?
Needless to say, even though we're concentrating on other things, such as posting out the Christmas DVD orders and editing the sheepdog training tutorials, we're constantly aware of the unrelenting wet weather. We're not doing any training because the ground's so slippery and, besides, we're destroying the remaining grass every time we walk across the fields so even exercise sessions are curtailed (which we hate to do). Deep mud makes it hard work (for the sheep as well as for us) to run about much. I feel especially sorry for the sheep who, though apparently warm enough, are wet and muddy. Their fleeces are hanging in dreadlocks, which must be very heavy, and we all know what happens to wool when it gets wet, don't we?
Someone once sent me a birthday card showing a grey, armoured sheep with the caption, "The sheep that provides us with wire wool has no natural enemies." Perhaps, but let's not overlook rust.
Speaking of sheep with no natural enemies, Hebe, our bad-tempered (if righteously so) ewe has become a pillar of ovine society since Ezra explained the rules to her. So accommodating has she become that she's one of the regular training flock, not just for our dogs, but for the training courses too. Perhaps she saw the error in her ways, but I wonder if she has a plan to destroy the system from the inside. Who could blame her? I think it's important to remember that the sheep are a vital component of sheepdog training, and I always thank them for their patience after a long training day, or apologise if they're had any rough treatment. Sadly they don't seem to respond, but you never know what they're thinking and I like to think that they must recognise a conciliatory or gentle tone of voice and appreciate it.
Besides, if Hebe really is planning a coup d'état, I'd like her to think I'm one of the Good Guys.
People who don't get involved with sheep until they start to take an interest in training their dog, often believe the old adage about sheep being stupid. I believed it myself, for a while, until I realised that while they may not be what we understand as "clever", they're exceptionally good at being sheep.
To see sheep sense in action, take a turn* at the letting-out pen at the top of a sheepdog trials field. A packet of three or four sheep has drawn a swift, and often very accurate, conclusion about a dog in the time it takes for the dog to make the outrun. It's also a very interesting place to watch a dog. The dog might leave the handler looking like a determined predator, but often its confidence and bluster dissipate, the further they get from the "boss". If only a handler could be in two places at once! But this is where a friend with a video camera can be invaluable (if embarrassing). Having your dog's run filmed, especially from an angle that you can't watch from the post, will teach you loads about your dog (and your handling and training).
It's very easy for me to recommend this - I'm considerably more likely to be behind the camera than in front of it!
A couple of dogs have left us recently, the lovely Pip (whom a friend of ours described as our "busy little girl" - summing her up perfectly!) and the blue-eyed boy, Lucas. Both have gone to lovely, but very different, homes where we're sure they'll be very happy. As ever, we look forward to hearing from them occasionally via their new handlers. Border collies are said to be very intelligent, but we've only had two who wrote to us - Speck and her kennel mate, Bob…you know, now I come to think of it, the handwriting was the same from both dogs…
As I was saying, we've only had one who wrote to us, and that was Speck. I hope her sheep work's half as good as her punctuation.
(*Take a turn anyway; I know from experience that it can be very difficult to find enough volunteers for the job, but it can be a thankless task if the sheep are lively.)