Thursday 25 February 2010

"That’s a bonny looking dog"

... praise indeed from an International Sheepdog Trials handler.

A few days after arriving back home with the new member of the pack we went to our first Open Sheepdog Trial, organised by friends of ours. We went along to watch the experts at work. On arriving at the trial, I found myself chatting to a tall, friendly gentleman. I asked if he’d run and if he’d had a good one. He seemed to be quite happy with his run. I was asked if I was entered … “no, not today, maybe next year we'll be starting” ...

I got New Boy out the car, he stuck his nose in the air and instantly started whining in excitement. This is good, he’s smelling familiar smells and he’s keen. The tall gentleman took a look at him and said to his friends “that’s a bonny looking dog”. I felt pleased. I felt even more pleased when I was later told who it was I’d actually been speaking to - only one of the top handlers in the country. He won the Trial that day.

The trial ended and my friends took New Boy and I to the sheep pen. 14 sheep were let out. “Not that many, surely” I exclaimed. I was used to training my two part trained dogs, Café Latte Girl and Handsome Lad, on smaller groups. However, New Boy at the grand age of 19-months had already been working large flocks of sheep for his living on the Shetland Isles. He was let off his lead to run round the sheep. Wow, he knows what he's doing. A few times he yawned and stopped working to go and piddle … signs of anxiety. I’d had him for less than a week and there had been a lot of changes in that time, so that was to be expected. As he moved around the sheep, his tail was very relaxed and he worked calmly. I was told he was working in quite close, which is the norm for the way he would have been required to work so far. I asked Alan what he thought to him, he replied with “what do you think?”. “I’m impressed” says I. I think Alan was pleased with him too. It looks like I’ve got the makings of a fine young Nursery dog. We’ve got a lot of work to do, he needs his confidence building, he needs to get used to a crook and not be afraid of it, and I need to be taught how to get him working out.

I’m looking forward to being trained myself, and to training New Boy as well as trying to get more regular sheep work in with Handsome Lad and Café Latte Girl – they need to catch up now!

Entering the world of sheepdog trialling isn’t quite so simple when you don’t come from a farming background, don't have land or sheep. However, many of the people taking part in trials are non-farmers and come from all walks of life. All you need is enthusiasm, commitment to do the training on a regular basis, a pocket of land, some sheep, lots of patience and just a little bit of know-how. Easy!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

"How many?"

… these two little words are usually the first uttered when people hear my response to their question about the number of dogs I have. I’m not sure what the response will be now … now the New Boy has arrived.
At 6.40 it’s a cold, dark winter’s morning and I’m sitting in my car on the harbour side in Aberdeen. I’ve driven for nearly 4 hours through snow and ice to reach this point. Finally the big, blue and white ship comes into harbour and docks after its 13½-hour sail from the Shetland Isles via Orkney. I start to feel impatient and I urge the passengers and vehicles to unload so that I can go onboard to collect my lad. Finally, Security gives me the go ahead to drive onboard. I enter the car deck, yellow-jacketed men are all over the place, but no one seems to be interested in waving me in. After touring the car deck I finally find the kennels and am ushered in by yet another Security person. Four big kennels face me and I’m asked which dog I’ve come to collect. I take a look in the bottom kennels, just one occupied – a very big, very sedated (or ultra cool) English mastiff … nope, that one certainly wont do, can’t see it having a very good outrun. I look in the upper kennels. In one a half-black half-white face peers at me inquisitively. Nice looker but not the one for me. In the next kennel, sitting right at the back, calmly wagging his tail is my lad. Although I’ve not seen him since he was 11 weeks old I couldn’t mistake him, striking markings and as handsome as his dad. This marks the much awaited arrival of the 5th dog to join our pack.

New Boy jumps into his crate in the car and off we head, through blizzards back to the West Coast base that is our temporary home. We were both keenly welcomed by the rest of my pack, together with the extended pack of other family members. Aunty Womble Bum instantly told him who was in charge, ‘that’s fine by me’ he indicated. Handsome Lad, his dad, told him ‘don’t keep getting in my face son’, he took it in his stride. Sister, Arctic Fox, sniffed and instantly dismissed him and future mate Café Latte Girl went over, gave him the once over, told him she was boss and turned her back on him. This is going to work out just fine I thought.

The New Boy fits in well. He’s calm, a good traveller and just the right personality to slot into the group. He coped well with the next few days … with mountains, snow, blue skies and brilliant sunshine there were many places to visit. Beaches to run on and photographs to take, lots of photographs with dogs.