Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Right Dog for the Job

Regular readers of Foothill Agrarian will know that we depend on our border collies to help us accomplish many jobs with the sheep, goats and cattle.  Over the last several months, I've realized (not surprisingly) that our two trained dogs, Mo and Taff, have different talents and abilities.  Increasingly, I find myself choosing the dog to fit the job on a particular day.

Taff, our oldest dog at 8 years old, is the best dog for general ranch work.  If I need to move a large group of sheep over a long distance, Taff is the dog for the job.  He's extremely loyal to me - indeed, he will not work for anyone else like he works for me - and with the right encouragement, he'll work until the job is done.  While he's the heaviest of our three working dogs, he also seems to have the most stamina.  Even on warm days, he'll keep going.  This evening, we moved 70 ewes about a half-mile to a new paddock at Sierra College.  Taff was the perfect dog for the task - he kept the sheep moving until we were done.  I let him cool off in the water trough when we reached our destination.

Mo, who actually belongs to our oldest daughter, Lara, has much more "eye" and precision than Taff.  "Eye" is an intangible quality in border collies - in essence, Mo can look at sheep and get them to move.  He's wonderful for loading the trailer, moving sheep in the corrals, or putting a single, recalcitrant ewe back with the flock.  Lara has trialed him once and he performed beautifully.  Unlike Taff, Mo is the type of dog that I can move 3 steps to the left and one step to the right.  However, Mo's athletic build doesn't translate into more stamina.  If he gets hot or tired, Mo is apt to take a break - whether it's appropriate for the situation or not.  Last month, Mo quit working for a stretch during a long move in Rocklin - allowing the sheep to graze on the golf course!

Ernie, our youngest dog, seems to be a combination of Mo and Taff.  At 19 months of age, he's still learning his trade (as am I).  I'm hoping to train Ernie myself - without the help of a professional trainer.  Today, I used Ernie to take the lambs from our corrals at Elster Ranch back to their paddock - a trip of about a quarter mile.  Ernie seems to have lots of "eye" and power - and he also seems to want to work until the job is done.  We'll see how he turns out - I hope I don't mess him up too bad!


Ernie - he has quite the sense of humor!

I'm pretty fortunate to have multiple dogs for the multiple jobs I need to accomplish.  In fact, I'm lucky that my work allows me to be with my dogs every day.  As I've said before, working border collies (or any animal) is a lifetime process - I'll always be learning something new.  I love it!

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