imageI’ve been stressing for a couple of years about a succession plan for our two remaining border collies, Maggie and Gene. They just turned thirteen and fourteen. Though they can still help with farm chores, their endurance is short, they aren’t fast enough to catch renegade sheep anymore, and they pay for it later- sore joints for a day or so. They love it and will want to do it til the day they die. But obviously that’s not practical. Yet, facing getting a replacement dog is also facing that they are getting old and we’ll someday lose them. That’s hard too.

I’d mentally waffled between replacement options. Getting a  young pup has the advantage that they usually bond best and make the best pets and companions. You can train them exactly how you want. Plus, you get the longest useful life out of them. But housebreaking a pup when working full time has its challenges. I didn’t think I’d have the time to put into that, plus also training the pup on sheep. Some border collies aren’t ready to even start working sheep until they are yearlings. I thought about whether I could send it out for training, but sending a housepet to a kennel situation for a month is a little cringe-worthy. Bottom line, a pup would be a big investment.

 

I also pondered looking for an adult dog. Sometimes sheep dog trial people, especially professionals, start training a dog only to realize it’s not going to make the cut for high-end competition. Sometimes dogs “wash out” early in their careers. I don’t need the dog to be exceptionally talented, it just needs to do basic chores, and I can step in and help it much more than you can in a competition. My reservations around this path were that taking on someone else’s dog, especially a kennel dog, can often mean it never turns into a very lovable pet. And I worried that I’d have to settle for a middle-aged dog, where the working life is reduced. But, I told myself, the primary mission is a dog that can help me with farm chores, asap, so I may have to make concessions on other priorities.  image

I started putting feelers out with a few friends who trial, to keep an eye out for a potential match for me. This came to fruition a month ago, when my friend SJ connected me with a trial acquaintance of hers who was looking to sell a started yearling. These folks are cattle trial dogs, so they want a pretty tough border collie. Not all border collies are suited for working cows, especially difficult, stranger cows in trial settings. I called the breeder/trainer and indeed, “Quincy” was a dog with good trainabilty and skill with sheep, but showed a lot of hesitation with cows. She was looking for a sheep home for him. I was able to watch several videos of him working, and it was clear he was pretty far along in his schooling, and had very good natural skill and balance with sheep. His style was very much what is useful for me, here: a gentle, thoughtful dog that listens carefully to his handler.

The timing was great, as I was traveling to Eastern WA in February for Lambing School, with my part-time farm helper. I added an extra day on to hit Northern Idaho first. I wanted to see him work in person and interact with him a bit before I committed, but I brought crate and accessories along with the assumption that it would be a good match and I’d take him home. Indeed I did, it was obvious within minutes that not only does he work sheep well and has a good foundation of training on him, but he’s also a friendly, laid-back dog that would be easy to have in the house as a pet. image

He was very patient with the long weekend of driving,  hoteling, and hanging out at Lambing School for a day. I worried he’d be freaky while traveling with strange people, and had brought two collars and very secure leashes to make sure he couldn’t bolt. But he was totally calm and cheerful, if not a little clingy. He jumped right on the hotel beds to snuggle. I felt a little guilty that I forgot to bring sheets to cover the beds, but the hotel charged a $20 pet fee, so I suppose that covers the extra laundry required.

When I got home, we did a yard introduction with our two old ladies, then proceeded into the house. They were very upset and huffy all evening, but he stayed out of their way and things settled down over the next few days. One area of risk was how he’d react to our eighteen year old cat. But she’s very confident in her ability to ward off a naughty dog, and he sensed that immediately, resulting in her cornering and holding him a couple of times! Open-mouthed smile He’s curious about her, but also quite afraid of her, so I don’t think there will be any trouble there.

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He was a kennel dog and was not “housebroken” before, so this was another risk. My plan was to kennel him in a run in the barn during the day, crate him at night, and only let him loose in the house while I was present to work on housebreaking. He did lift his leg in the house several times. We did the standard thing of catching him in the act, scolding him, sticking his nose in the pee, and escorting him out the dog door to try to communicate the right place to pee. By the next Saturday, it was a nice day out, and he was learning to enjoy going out the dog door to sit on the porch and watch the world. By that day, he also simultaneously mastered housebreaking, and didn’t lift his leg indoors once all weekend. I  did farm chores and ran some errands all while he was loose in the house and everything seemed fine. So I took a gamble and left him loose on Monday while I was at work. Everything was still fine! I  left him loose during the night, and still no problems. He even seems to have good judgment about playing with the toys I’d given him, but not picking up shoes or other inappropriate things. So, just like that, within a week he’d graduated to a house dog with full privileges! I’ve had some really difficult-to-train pups in the past, so this is a huge blessing that he’s integrated so easily.image

I worked him on my sheep a little bit the first day we were home, and took some videos of that, they are below. The next weekend, we used him for a big chore- pushing all the ewes through the Sydell system for vaccinating. He will still need ongoing training and practice, as he had some bobbles- hesitation, taking directions wrong, crossing over on an outrun, sometimes being a little sticky, and sometimes just getting in the way. But he was still a huge help and can take most of the load off of Gene and Maggie, so they can just “help” without having to do much exertion. I have to remind myself that he’s just shy of twelve months old, so is really far along training-wise, and will only get better from here as he matures and gains more skill and experience.

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