I haven't been doing this sheepdog thing very long. I guess one would term me a neophyte in it. It's only been since 2006 that I started, and most of the first years doing that, I spent learning a lot, but thinking I knew a lot more than I did. I suppose it's sort of expected in some ways; you start a dog who looks to learn fast and you immediately think it has something to do with you as a trainer. In truth, it's more 80% the mentor/trainer, 19% the dog and 1% you. But, in all endeavors relating to animals, it's variable- your reward and your punishments.
Lucy is a Kelpie who is 3/4 working bred and 1/4 show bred. When I got her, I wanted a dog to do agility with, and I trusted her breeder, and the sire's breeder (one of the most well known members of the Working Kelpie Council in Australia- in fact, a charter member). When I got Lucy it just so happened that agility had been falling out of favor with me. My older Kelpie was doing well, but I began to lose my interest in agility when it became more about "criteria" and "yps" (yards per second), than a fun competitive sport with your dog.
So, I innocently started my time in sheep herding. Lucy immediately amazed me at how she knew what to do with the sheep. That was all that was needed to light the flame in my sheep herding interest. As time wore on, I did what all other novices do in sheep herding- went to lessons, clinics, and I even sent Lucy to a trainer for three weeks. That was the hardest part for me, for I was not a tough owner yet- one who would like to say good bye to her dog for a few weeks. After three weeks Lucy came back to me. I will say that when I went to pick her up, she acted so oddly- she smelled me, but was not effusive and almost ignored me, but stayed extremely close. I knew that from then on, I would have to keep her with me and muddle through any issues. She learned a lot of good things while away, and I am grateful for that.
Lucy did okay in the novice novice classes. We even won once at Fetch Gate. I chuckled a little as the placements were read, starting at 10, and then, when we got to number one, the announcer said "And, first place goes to... hmmmm... Julie Williams and Lucy". Wow. That was big for me! A memory I will not ever forget.
As life wore on, I ended up with a Border Collie pup, as I wanted another dog to train/work with. I really wanted another Kelpie, but I was extremely picky, and just did not see anything that I wanted. There are a lot more Kelpies out west, and that would have helped my search a lot, I believe. I then ended up leasing some land from my brother, and fenced a field and then another. My BC was coming on nice, but I always used Lucy for the hard stuff- I even used her on my brothers full grown steers (1800 lbs each of them). Anything I asked of her, she did, and never quit. The loyalty and ability to think on their own is one of the best and worst attributes of the Kelpie. I say worst, because when trialing, you need obedience as much as you need instinct and Lucy's instinct won over her obedience just about every time. No more trialing for Lucy. It just did not enhance anything for us, and it frustrated me. I had an offer to buy her recently, and entertained it for a while, as Lucy also has taken a strict distaste to the other bitches in the house. But, when it came right down to it, I knew I could not sell her. I know that some probably thought me weak, but they have not seen Lucy throw it ALL down for me. Take on the steers coming at her. Take on sheep who came up behind her and pummeled her, the list goes on. Recently, my ram who was not dog broke decided to give Lucy what for. He went after her - which caught her by surprise, and then, when he tried it again, Lucy gave him an attitude adjustment that serves us to this day. No more trouble from that ram. NONE.
Lucy doesn't get a lot of regular work, but I do pull her out when needed- like mustering the flock at my friend's place- an unbroke flock of Cheviots, who are basically feral- not handled, and not dog broke. They will come at a dog and do what they can do remove it's presence permanently. It takes a WHOLE lot of guts from a dog to come around the other side of 50 mean mothers and lambs and have them come at you and keep going on. They will tag team and come from both sides. Lucy always wins though, always.
So, this has been a long lead up to our most recent events. Which go as follows:
I had met a guy who had a farm nearby who wanted to buy a couple of of ram lambs from me to raise for meat. I lost his card, but wanted to try and look him up. That day, I was driving home and saw the guy in his truck with a placard with the name of his farm! What luck!!!! So, I did an internet search, found their phone number, and called them. The wife answered. She told me her husband was out looking for three loose lambs in the town of Poughkeepsie. They had been contacted by the animal control officer of the town, since the have a farm, and were helping her to try and catch the lambs. The lambs were hanging out in someone's back yard near a swing set. I offered to bring my dogs, thinking maybe Dan would be best (my 3 yr old BC), but I brought Luce, as I call her, just in case. I get there, and after the farmers back the trailer up, we go into the back yard and no sheep. No sign of them. They had been chasing them all day. Okay. Well, let me get Lucy, and I will send her. We walk into the woods, and I see it's FULL of excellent sheep food- Autumn Olive, Honeysuckle, you name it. I shush her and no sign of them. Mr G as I will call him (the farmer), and I walk and walk through the woods. No sign. He suggest we drive the car down by the police dog training facility down the hill from the woods and check in there. So, I put a hot Lucy in the car, give her water, turn up the a/c and we go. No sign. So, back to the place we started, and after Lucy was cooled off, we started looking again. We walk a little further and I see a Coyote den. Coyote den openings are quite large enough for a large dog to get in, and they also always have a back door. This gives me pause. Coyotes are extremely protective of their dens. You get within 50 ft of their den, and the normally reclusive animal will turn just the opposite and will take on any canine. We finally get back to the place we started (again) and I am telling Mr. G, that he should give his information to the neighbors (Lucy is still working) when I see three lambs run by. The elation I first felt was over come by the knowledge of knowing where these lambs came from. They were from that feral flock my friend has. These would NOT be easy to catch, if at all.
So, with that new information, we decide to move to the other side of the woods, where they were running to, and drove over there. I cooled Lucy off again, and rested her. Mr. G and I, started on one end, and his wife and the animal control officer on the other, so we could squeeze them, and Lucy could have a chance of getting them. It was getting really humid by this time and I didn't really want to keep trying- sort of a lost cause. Anyway as we started in, Lucy took off on a track near a house, and Mr G told me that that is exactly where the sheep had gone through. Lucy was tracking these sheep like a scent dog, and I had never trained her to do that. Simply "Look" and "ssshh" was all she was given as a command. As we near the house, here comes Lucy fetching me three lambs who were running for all they were worth. They split into three. One ran back toward the woods, and two toward us. One then split to the front of the house. I watched and then I saw it. This house was on a huge rock cliff. Lucy took off after that lamb and was gone. I honestly was afraid for my dog. We see one lamb laying down and it took off before we could get to it. Then, the two other women looking came up telling us they saw a Coyote. That was all I needed to end this search. Lucy would be NO match for a Coyote. So, I start calling her. Lucy finally comes to me. Exhausted. It was bad. She flop down at my side, and lay there. I ring the bell of the owner of the house and ask if he has a hose so I can cool off my dog. I pick Lucy up and she was limp- her head flopped upside down as I carried her. I get the hose on her and cool her off at her femoral and radial arteries and then, I have Mr G get my car. Lucy could not walk at this point. She was so exhausted. She had given all she had to get me those sheep. ALL she had. I put her in the car, and she lay down and when we got home she took a well deserved nap.
I wrote this story, because I think it needs to be read. Too many of us who do this sheepdog trialing thing, believe that if the dog won't make it as a trialing dog, it could go on to be a "farm" dog, as a consolation some how. A farm dog, big whoop. A sheepdog is so much more than "farm" or "trial" dog, it's heart, loyalty, brains and companionship second to none. You are nothing if you don't have at least one dog like this, and if you pass on dogs who have this, because they don't win, then you are the ones missing out.
Below is a map of the search area. You will see Ireland Drive- the wooded section to the right of that was where we searched. To the right of the woods is the Police Dog training facility.
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