My younger border collie, Maggie, is still struggling with pain issues after days when she has a lot of exercise. Adequan and Duralactin are helping, but not solving the problem. I tried giving her buffered aspirin on working days, that also helped, but still not entirely. The vet has given me some NSAIDs to use on the days where she exercises really hard, which is usually about once a week for sheep chores. I’m just starting to try those now, and am finding that giving her one in the morning before she works seems to make the evening much better for her. But the next morning she is still very stiff and sore.

The other thing I’m trying out is having Gene, my older border collie, help out with sheep chores, so that Maggie doesn’t have to work so hard. There are some pro’s and con’s to  using two dogs at once. 

I use Gene on her own for some chores- she’s good at big, open-field gathering, but she’s terrible at holding sheep. She likes to be on the move constantly, so if I need her to just push sheep in a corner and keep they steady there, she cannot sit still. She keeps popping up and wearing for no reason, often diving in at a sheep just to get a reaction out of them.

This is really annoying if I’m bent over trimming one sheep’s hooves, and my dog makes another sheep, say, jump onto my head unnecessarily. AnnoyedSo, Maggie is usually my dog-of-choice for holding chores, and that’s most of the chores. But even just plain old holding sheep tires Maggie out and makes her muscles sore. I imagine she must lay there in tense readiness the whole time; so even though she doesn’t look like she’s doing anything, it’s as if she’s running many miles. In typical, neurotic border collie fashion, she can tire her body out just with her mind.

Many people with large flocks use multiple dogs together, so there is nothing new under the sun about that. But, it’s a bit addling to manage them both, especially if they each have a slight tendency to not listen and do their own thing. Sometimes I’ll have both dogs driving, and one will decide to whip out and head off the sheep in a gather, ignoring my instructions to stop. The sheep get frustrated when they move properly for a dog, or dogs, and then the dogs stop the very motion they’ve commanded the sheep to do! I get annoyed too.

So, I do some hollering when both dogs are working together. (Well, I always do some hollering when I’m working those pushy dogs, but more so when they are together). But, it does help to have two, as each dog needs to cover less ground. They are learning to work in tandem more, feeling the effect of the other dog and balancing off of it. If the sheep drift in the wrong direction, the dog closest to the drift direction can cover the re-direct, so it saves some sprinting. With two of them, they can bunch the sheep into a corner better, which makes it easier to do handling chores.

Gene is also much gentler about retrieving a sheep which has broken off from the flock. Maggie has a lot of cattle handling dogs in her pedigree, and her quickness to face-bite is evident. Gene is very smooth about body-blocking, and never, ever grips lambs. At most, with an adult sheep, she will do an open-mouthed grip to threaten, but never bites down. I trust Gene more when she sprints after a rogue sheep, I don’t need to say anything, and often don’t even watch to see what happens. I can just return to what I’m doing, knowing she’ll bring the sheep back. When Maggie goes after one, I’m already issuing a verbal warning, and am keeping a close eye to run up and get after her if she’s overly rough.

This solution seems to be a reasonable option for now, the combination of the NSAIDs for Maggie and using two dogs. I don’t enjoy training young pups, so it would be nice to delay getting a replacement dog for a couple more years. I also hate to retire Maggie too soon- she loves to work, and would be very disappointed to be relegated to a house dog that does nothing. There is no question in my mind that she’d choose to work even if there was the tradeoff of pain afterwards.