Border Collies

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.


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. 


It’s been a while since I had old dogs in the house, but I’m heading there again. My two border collies, Maggie and Gene, are eight and nine years old. Gene is still in tip-top shape at nine, but Maggie has been starting to show signs of pain in the last year or two.

Maggie is one of those extreme border collies that does everything at 150% effort. She is not able to pace herself or rest when needed. Her mental commitment to working sheep is so intense that even when she’s not doing something very physically demanding- like holding sheep in a corner- she still overheats easily and gets exhausted. In fact, even talking about sheep will make all of her muscles tense up and shiver, and she can become tired-out just by this kind of teasing conversation!

I started noticing that after a “job” during the day, that night, she’d have difficulty jumping up on the couch or bed. I took her to a veterinary chiropractor, thinking perhaps her back was out. But the vet felt that it was her joints- she said they felt “crunchy.”


Mid-December, we went razor clamming again at Grayland Beach. Such an aptly named town, since this time of year, the whole place is in shades of blue-gray. It was challenging clamming- very windy, and the wind blew a little skim of surf up over the sand, making it nearly impossible to see clam “shows.” We finally resorted to just digging in random spots, the suction created from pulling up one core of sand would dry out a radius, often revealing where nearby clams were hiding. We got our limit both days, with patience and persistence; but heard from the espresso stand lady on the way out of town that many people were disappointed with their haul.

The collies got some daily beach running.


MaggieWhen I went to my first border collie herding trial many years ago, I was appalled at how much yelling all of the handlers did. I swore to myself that if and when I ever trained stock dogs, I’d do it without all that yelling! Well, famous last words. I yell at my dogs a lot when they are working sheep. Sometimes I really get after them, even grabbing them by the scruff and getting in their faces. Afterwards, I always wonder, did a bicyclist or driver on the road just see that, and think I’m a terrible person? Smile

But the truth is, stock dogs can be very pushy. My idea of nice, calm stock work is their idea of bo-ring. They know what I consider appropriate, and they sometimes push the line when they are far away from me and think they can get away with it. And this can be dangerous for me, the dog, or the sheep- or all three! A friend of mine had her leg broken when her dog ran stock over her through a gate opening. Dog-run sheep can crash into fences and break their necks. And dogs can get hurt too, being kicked, butted or crushed by livestock if they are not using their heads. So I do take naughtiness seriously, and correct to the level needed to get the dog’s attention. Which sometimes needs to be quite a wake-up call for a keen border collie. AnnoyedOften I have to act like I’m literally ready to kill them, or they will just brush me off and keep doing what they’re doing.


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