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Working dogs. September 27, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.

Silence Dogood here. I read a feature this morning about 18 dog breeds that were trying to get official sanction from the American Kennel Club, in other words, to get official acknowledgment that they exist and are real breeds. And yet some of these breeds date back to ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, and even Sumeria.

As a dog lover, I was fascinated to read about them. Many were sighthounds (like greyhounds), valued for speed. Many were shepherds. Many were vermin-hunters. And some were guard dogs. Every single one was a working dog, bred to do a job.

I’ve grown up with dogs: cocker spaniels, springer spaniels, poodles, golden retrievers. Not one had the least idea about doing a job. They were happy, carefree, lovable, taking life as they found it and enjoying each moment as it came. I adored them all.

But it wasn’t until our friend Ben and I got our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh that I saw what breeding could actually accomplish. Shiloh, like all German shepherds, comes from a breed line developed to herd sheep. And her herding instinct is astonishing.

Today, people tend to think of German shepherds as ferocious guard dogs or steadfast police dogs. They forget about sheep herding, since not many people raise sheep, and sheep-raising doesn’t get a lot of press.

But Shiloh hasn’t forgotten. She herds her toys. She herds our cats. And she herds us. She’s really only happy if OFB and I are in the same room so she can keep an eye on both of us at once. If I’m in my office and OFB is in another room, Shiloh will split the difference and lie exactly in the space between us, watching and waiting.

I’ve never seen anything like it. But I’ve read about it, in a wonderful book about Border collies called Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men by Donald McCaig. The book tells the true story of how the author went to Scotland to find Border collies for his farm back in Virginia, and in the process discovered as much about the men who bred them as about the dogs themselves. In Scotland, the appearance of the dog matters not at all; everything depends on its sheep-herding instinct and ability.

I think Shiloh would be popular there.

                 ‘Til next time,




1. narf77 - September 28, 2012

Earl has a job…his job is to wander up and down the deck in the moonlight barking at the feral cats and possums who also have a job… to keep Earl in bark fodder…sigh…

Good heavens, Fran! You have ‘possums in Tasmania? And here I thought they just invaded our deck at night to eat our feral cats’ food! (Actually, we no longer have feral cats, as our resident chipmunk and squirrel population has noticed, so we no longer put out food and no longer have ‘possums or raccoons either.) I miss them. (The cats, that is, not the ‘possums and raccoons. Just the sight of a ‘possum’s naked tail gives me the creeps.)

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