Sheep herding is a wonderful way for a handler and a dog to work together as a team in a time-honored tradition going back hundreds of years. Herding is the process of moving livestock by using a dog, such as a border collie. It requires close coordination between the handler and dog, moving the sheep in an orderly and predictable manner to the desired location.
I once read “sheep herding is a dialogue of instinct occurring between dog and sheep” but I suspect that was written by someone who was either a shepherd, or a border collie. One summer my friend Renee worked my sheep with her herding dogs.
Renee and her dogs were clearly having a great time working with the sheep, as my Labradors looked on with puzzled expressions. Buddha, Gandhi and Jake seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about. I wanted to know what the sheep thought of it so I asked them. Our conversation went something like this…
Dan – G’morning girls. How are you today?
Pearl – As a Southern Belle I am quite accustomed to hot weather, but I must say this heat wave is becoming a bit tiresome. Why, I nearly perspired yesterday and that would have been quite unladylike, indeed.
Shirley – Tiresome my butt. It is hotter than blazes out here in the paddock. When are you going to install some air-conditioning for us?
Bluebell – Oh Shirley, stop complaining. You are such a whiner.
Dan – C’mon girls, be nice. I would like to ask you some questions about your recent sheep herding experience.
Shirley – Oh, is that what you call it? I’d say it was more like sheep terrorizing! Who were those sheep-stalking brutes anyway? I never saw such determined dogs!
Pearl – Shirley, dear. Please don’t use such vulgar language. It is not ladylike.
Shirley – Well excuse my French! Those border collies had a Charles Manson look about them. You know…something about their eyes. And they kept stalking us too. Every time we tried to move one way, they made us move the other way. I’m an American, darn it. I have my rights!
Bluebell – Oh Shirley, you are such a complainer. All you ever say is “Baa Baa Baa!” all day long.
Shirley – Well of course I say “Baa”. What do you suppose I am going to say? Get off my back. Just because you are Daddy’s Little Favorite didn’t stop those bullies from chasing you all around the paddock like the rest of us!
Dan – OK girls, can we get back on track? So what can you tell me about the dialogue of instinct between you and the border collies?
Pearl – Oh my, they were certainly not gentlemen. I dare say they scared the Southern Baptist out of me by the very look in their eyes. I nearly fainted straight away and felt utterly compelled to run as fast as my dainty little ladylike cloven hooves would carry me, as unladylike as that must have appeared. My goodness, they gave me quite a start and I surely must have blushed. Now those three Labradors who live here are true gentlemen. Why, Gandhi licks me nearly every time he sees me and showers attention on me at every opportunity. It reminds me of the night when I attended my first promenade.
Shirley – There you see, Bluebell, even Pearl was afraid of those beasts.
Bluebell – Pearl did not say she was afraid, she said she was startled. You never listen to anyone else, you big rolly-polly!
Shirley – I’m not a big rolly-polly, I am just big-boned.
Bluebell – You are big-mouthed, that’s what you are…you rolly-polly!
Shirley – That does it! I’ll show you a rolly-polly and butt you right in the head. Then you will be rollin’ across the ground!
Dan – Girls! Girls! None of that now, I have some more questions to ask you.
Bluebell – OK Daddy dearest. I could listen to you all day long…
Shirley – Oooh, I am going to butt you so hard that Pearl is going to feel it!
Pearl – Now, now. That is no way for a lady to behave.
Dan – Thank you Pearl. Now girls, what did you think about Renee?
(In Unison) – Oh she was such a darling! Every time one of those bully collies came running after us, she made them lie down, and Renee stepped between us and kept us safe. We love Renee!
Dan – So would you mind if we arranged for some more herding practice one day?
Pearl – It would be charming, I am sure. Will Gandhi be watching?
Shirley – I wouldn’t mind running around the paddock if you would spend a few bucks and buy a darned air conditioner. Do you think that could be arranged, you big cheapskate?
Bluebell – Don’t you call Daddykins a sheepskate!
Shirley – I said “cheapskate”, not “sheepskate” you dummy. Get the fleece out of your ears and pay attention.
Bluebell – Oh, that does it. I am going to butt you so hard Pearl and Gandhi will feel it!
As the girls fought I scrambled to safety and hopped over the paddock fence, wishing there were some trusty border collies around to restore order to my once peaceful barnyard. All I had were a bunch of lazy Labs, standing there with their tongues lolling and their great otter tails waving about. At least they created a breeze. I was beginning to agree with Shirley; maybe it was time to buy an air conditioner.
Always the lady, Pearl was dignified enough to stay out of the fray as she sauntered slowly away, spinning her colorful parasol in the summer sunlight, coyly peeking over her shoulder to see if Gandhi was watching.