Soundness, Health, Intuition, intelligence, drive, off-switch, versatility.

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Clips from the farm diary: Our Shepherd dogs

Sampling of mostly Benji stories to give an idea of what our dogs are like day to day.

4-21-2017

We rotate our sheep. Most will follow willingly for food and are easily penned without upsetting anyone. Except that one. Everyone who has sheep knows all about "That One." This time, I had Benji on a sit where I thought this rogue sheep might run through in hopes of doing this the easy way. However, "That One" would have non of it. Benji remained stoic as he watched the silly two humans scramble. My husband and I looked at each other, positioned ourselves, and released the Benji who was more than happy to show the silly two how it was done. Did he let his enthusiasm rule? No, Benji was too cool for that. Plus, this was a super-easy job. "That One" attempted to switch directions often, and did inverted double flip-backs mid stride. Benji met turn for turn and somehow still managed to look bored as "That One" attempted blow after twist after kick unfurled. Though things seemed slow motion to us human novices, really, everything ended in quite short order. "That One" knew she had tried all her tricks and for the first time ever ran to me for mercy. Our valueless time-saver super dog smiled up at me, and then sat back down at my feet with a placid look. Did we praise him? You bet we both did with gusto! His response? Why would you ever praise a calculous professor for performing one simple arithmetic problem? Well, we silly humans have a great respect for Super Benji. Around sheep, he is always quiet and even submissive acting. In this sudden change and show of force, we got to see the infinite span of practicality and love that a good farm dog can offer. Benji is submissive and tough, obedient yet a heavy evaluator who acts when needed, sweet and sassy, calm and fierce. I only hope that we live up to his expectations!


11-18-2017

Benji worked for two hours keeping a trio of bucks away from us while we built an improved shelter for them. Sure, we could have moved the bucks, but they are all in heavy rut and more wound up right now, and this location is the most secure. Benji almost never stopped to rest as one buck was far more interested in our project than the rest. Here's what I love about these traditional Farm Collies: They know when it's time to work and when it's time to rest. Mostly, they don't need to be taught, but watch you for an example and join in to help. Ours uses least force necessary to get the job done, and reads animals like a wizard. Several times, I made the wrong call, and Benji chose to act on his correct intuition. Don't know how we would have gotten this done without him yet again! Needless to say, we spoiled him last night. He saved us so many hours of frustration. 


4-16-18

Just took Benji out with us to give shots and clip ram hooves. Did the two tame ones first while Benji was told to lay. Then, with Benji's help, rounded a large CVM, Finn ram, and horned Karakul into the corner so we could do them next. Every time, even though the rams know they cannot win, one tries to break away during this process. Super fast and an able fence jumper, Benji cuts the transgressor off before the he can rocket his adrenaline to the fence of freedom and rounds him back to the corner for us. A black streak chasing a storm cloud. I tell him to lay in a certain place where the pressure is just enough to hold the rams and not get them panicked or running again. Benji stays while we perform basic care on all the rest. He watches his chickens walking right up to him. Barks at the school bus backing into a neighbor's yard. Listens carefully to the kids as they're doing chores. Mostly, Benji watches us while he patiently waits. He wants to help more, but I've not yet been able to train him to clip hooves for us. Staying will have to do. Good dog.  


5-1-18

Benji seperated 3 ewes from 2 cows. All this in flimsy electronet - Can't have too much pressure or the fence doesn't mean much. The ewes tried to hide behind the cows. Benji put them in an opposite corner without upsetting the cows where we were waiting to halter the girls. No prep training for this. Just good old desire to please and instinct. The Old Time Scotch Collie.... Every farm (and possibly home) needs one!


6-14-18

Mushroom picking on the farm is fun. The kids decided to bring Benji along. Suddenly, they realized he was gone. My kids called and called. Benji wouldn't come. They looked and found our dog.... growling and working to keep a lusty fox den full. We have wanted this fox gone for months! This sly vixen has devastated so many farms around here, ours included! The perpetual damage and nights that she has kept us awake have caused major pain and havoc. Benji smelled. He knew. He heard her calling out in the night, unafraid. Benji found her den and would not leave. John's out to try to finish the job. Thanks to Benji, more than just the chicks are safe.


3-28-2019

The kids say they don't know how they'd do things without Benji. Benji just assumes his role and doesn't seem to think himself amazing at all. He's just a part of the family doing his part like everyone else! 

Case-in-point: We moved the chicken coop. Usually our poultry are locked inside for the night to keep out the marauding predators. Our layers are usually quite content with this situation, but this time they were confused about where to bed for the night. Benji rounded the willing poultry into the coop in the dark, but then there were the outskirters - Muscovy Ducks. Vicious and unwilling. Especially the drakes. Night changes moving patterns and comfort levels for prey animals. Also, the coop had to be kept shut so the other winged creatures would remain inside and not scamper out to join the fun. A typical move for Benji is for him to put a paw down on the duck until we come to transport the offender into the coop, clipped wings, or whatever needs to be done. The Muscovy drakes honked and struggled, flapping their strong wings across Benji's face. One even nipped his nose. We have asked Benji to be gentle. He always looks to us for permission to up his game. The kids gave him permission, and he rested both paws between the shoulders of the drake to dismantle the powerful slapping wings keeping them well-spread on the unyielding ground. (How did he know to do this?!!) As an added failsafe, he gently held the drake's neck with his mouth until a child came to put each drake into the coop. Imagine trying to thank a dog for such intuition, intelligence, gentleness, fierceness, biddability! Above all else, loyalty and love. All we can say, and all he seems to want is a "Good dog, Benji." and a loving pat on the head. His eyes say it all. My heart wants to burst. It's the simple everyday things like this that Good dog Benji does for us.  


4-11-2019

Today, I'm afraid I must debunk the rumor that opossums only are scavengers. My son came running in the house yesterday out of breath, gasping, trying to explain that a huge possum had jumped a chicken and was trying to kill it. Apparently, John David chased him off.... BUT we knew he would be back. "Hurry! Get Benji out there!!!" I told him. I trust my dog. I knew he would know what to do. John David called eager Benji. "Get him!" spelled doom for the offender. Benji ran to the broken down barn following every single track. Excitedly, he seemed to know exactly what to look for and ran straight for the jagged hole that must have been home for the scoundrel. He jumped as far in that hole as physics would allow! My husband, by that time, was jogging down the lane to finish the deed while Benji began the inevitable fight. Thankfully, the opossum met a quick end and Benji saved many future eggs and chickens. That heavy sucker was the size of a small horse's head. I love my dog! He knows what's wrong and how to fix things. He knew it was not time to herd chickens. He transitioned his many talents and began to barn-hunt with no training. My kids all want Benji's when they grow up. I know that I am spoiled rotten to have him! The best I can do is give Benji his favorite treat - cheese - and say: "Good Dog Benji!"


7-16-19

We often play games as a family.... Benji, being a member of the family, makes every effort to find a way to contribute. There are so many games which require skills difficult for a non-human to attain. Recently, we played a game where one member had to pretend to be a drill sergeant while speaking as if a golf ball was in his mouth, keep wrists glued to his head while shooing phantom mosquitos, and whenever the bell rang (which was often), this player had to fake cry and faint! This caused Benji no end of distress as he was seriously worried about the family member's mental stability and state of health! We all laughed uncontrollably, of course, but faithful Benji continued his attentive care and shadowing. 

Other games are more intuitive for Benji. He is happy to retrieve a baseball that was not caught while staying out of the way and not chasing when it is thrown. Ping Pong is a real hoot as he seems to think that I should always be the one serving. No matter whose turn - if he has the option, he will bring the ball faithfully to me. Hide-n-seek, we often play just for him. He is usually it, but doesn't seem to mind. He wishes he could help me more in volley ball, but is happy to wait on the side of the court and watch me work the ball instead. 

There is often a fine line between work and play. Sometimes I wonder if there is any line at all for Benji. Either way, he smiles.


8-23-19

Lorna's relationship with the sheep continues to fascinate me! I always thought you were privileged to be either a dog person or a sheep person when you used dogs for moving the flock. After all, the typical move when a battle occurs is that you have to chose sides. On most farms, the sheep either perceive you as siding with the bossy dog, or protecting them from a predator. Our farm shepherds have changed my perspective in amazing ways! I'm not sure what Lorna is whispering to the sheep as she kisses their ears, or how they know that it is time to move as the young boss lady asks and then immediately slip back into who gets the next round of sniffs and tail wags.

We're in the middle of flushing our ewes and getting them in prime condition for the next season and all that follows. Shearing is keeping our hands and minds busy. The kids have been working on halter training the lambs, as always. They have done a fabulous job, but no lamb wants to walk up from the only home that it has known away from the whole flock to come into the yard where strange things are happening and where there are dogs! Except our lambs we found out?!!! Benji is my personal shadow and helps in the nitty gritty as we work. Lorna surveys the perimeter and does family member checks and watches the fences while staying back as she has been asked. She is a perfect lady about the whole thing. She has picked this spot pictured on the top of the hill under the apple trees which overlooks pasture and all sundry farm activity. She is not tied, but drags a line as is typical for pups learning here on our farm. As the the lambs come one by one with trepidations out from the shaded lane into the open yard, they see Lorna. Lorna, Lorna! Here they recognize a friend. Many of them, instead of pulling back with scared little baa's and needing gentle nudges forward, now run towards Lorna, their daily shepherd dog and caretaker! Lorna calmly waits for them one at a time to give them her kisses, then settles back into her spot where she can watch the now confident and happy lambs get their pedicures, etc. 

I find it fascinating that Lorna has managed to be so human-like. Humans shepherd sheep. Sometimes hard things must be done: shots, hooves-trimming, first ever hair-cuts, etc. But humans also bring food, water, forage, and love on our farm. The sheep seem to understand all this and trust us even when there are days that are less relaxing for them. Lorna has figured out how to offer guidance and rest, discipline and love, a sense of always being there for them and us whether the days are good or bad. She brings peace. The ultimate gift to sheep and us. Lorna, keeper of the sheep - her friends. Lorna the Wise


10-30-2019

Lorna has had some large paw prints to fill. Benji has made a special trip, and little Lorna has had to step into her role as lady of the farm. She is eight months old now and has watched Benji's work plus done her own. Now, Lorna gets to move the stock, keep the fences, and love on the people all by herself. Benji will be back soon, but Lorna the Wise has enjoyed practicing all grown up farm shepherd activities and done a fine job at that! We are thankful for her help.


King of the Yard

The pastures are always greener on the other side of the gate, as they say, and today, that included our yard as well. Today, we had a bull in our yard. An excited one! Hay was being loaded, and a gate was momentarily left open. Animals always get excited about hay, but the Bull saw opportunity of grass and a new girlfriend across another fence.... We saw danger, chaos, unpredictability, and destruction. Children coming to help were told to stay back. The Bull was gleeful in his new domain... or so he thought! Benji immediately barked and headed off the bull to push him back to the gate with timely and perfect success. Unfortunately, a worried and misinformed human interrupted Benji's near success by calling our most needed canine farm help off. A desire to please, but confusion clouded Benji's usual decisiveness and gave the observant Bull a renewed opportunity and desire to go visit his adoring female fan across the fence. He nearly skipped her direction with triumph and great self-possession. Muscles pumped. Head tossed. A crown of horns held high. King of the Yard! 

But a prideful Bull must fall and Benji was the dog to do it. Now the Bull's head was over the next fence ready to schmooze on his new queen when his blissful illusion was interrupted. Nipping, barking, herding, fierceness clouded what the Bull perceived to be his rightful fairytale! For the love of a perfect Queen and all things green, would that infernal dog never give up? Bull kicked his solid back appendages. No, not Benji. Benji was the shepherd of the land and shepherds rule over bovine royalty no matter what crown they wear! So endless was Benji's aggravation... usually Bull would move off for love of peace overcoming his desire for food. But this involved romance love. Love that needed union! But Benji...  But BENJI! Quickly the bull turned. Angry! Defiant! War screamed in the bull's thoughts, but the thought of romance reigned supreme as he stopped moving towards the studious and reasoning Benji. Benji had a plan. Benji has always moved and worked with efficiency. Benji does not need to work hard when he can work so smartly. Suddenly, Benji went all in a motion cloud of nipping, barking, rounding, tempting the bull in a fury of well-managed moves, and this time the frustrated love-stricken bull could not resist the bait!!! Decisively, the ego-possessed crowned-bovine turned to teach the little devious thwarter a lesson to remember. Head, horns, hooves followed Benji who bee-lined straight into the original gate, barking and running with Pride. Pride of a dog who did not challenge or fight a bull around children. Who thought carefully about the quickest and safest way to encapsulate such drive and power. Who could easily have chosen a more dignified manner to move said bull, but not without a dangerous throw down too close to Benji's precious charges. A false retreat which proved most clever and effective. And just to prove that said shepherd was in charge, as soon as Benji put an unaware cocky bovine back into his boundary line, he circled around to drive the disgraced off from behind further into the field. Benji then came back up to watch the gate with Lorna shadowing. How I wish I had a flawless mind and could play this scene back over and again in my head! I dropped to my knees and hugged my dog. What more can you do? Benji knew I was pleased. Benji smiled. His best way of speaking back. The kids fawned over him. The bull was no where to be seen, suffering defeat and realization in the privacy of the field. I love my dog. Benji. We are hefted together. Good dog is not good enough. My Dog Benji.


12-24-19

Our farm shepherds are no joke! Watching over the smallest little thing to larger threats…. Benji has always been there and now has Lorna to help! When we had kittens, before Lorna had come to stay, Benji kept the little ones tightly corralled under the carport. Furthermore, he was barking in a rather loud and randomly obnoxious pattern. I thought that he was being a nuisance and scolded him to no avail. Then I noticed that kittens were missing. Was this Benji being too involved or eager? Surely Benji wouldn’t… I feared the worst and was contemplating what to do when, one day, while I was out on my normal morning routine, I caught sight of the real menace! Hawks! Swooping to grab hold of a kitten, but before I could even react, a flashing streak of mostly black shaved the ground with his blur and saved the unsuspecting kitten. The kittens, of course, didn’t know what had happened, and had also found Benji to be rather a nuisance. I, however, coming out of my ignorant state, knew what a hero he was and sang his praises! I encouraged and promoted him to free will barking and corralling. Who was I to interfere in the first place? Benji knew what he was doing and we lost no more kittens.
 I have so many more stories of his barking and alerting to things that I would never have noticed: foxes crossing our driveway, animals in the wrong area, a donkey tied that needed attention… Or like when he was a pup, he would come over to the bookshelf noticing one new book, give a little woof, and turn to look at me. “It’s OK Benji.” I would say. “OK, that’s our new book.” Benji seemed to accept and communicate with his eyes… always so expressive, as if he wanted to force his emotions and feelings through the air straight to my heart.
 Now we have Lorna and today, she and Benji worked as a team. Benji remembers big destructive birds. Vultures are not afraid to pick on new and healthy live animals. The dogs know. Today, Benji and Lorna move forward and give chase to the whirl of a black clouded avian creatures that loom over the yard coming in low. Lorna jumps to reach and snaps. Pure protection and love in her mind. Benji, actually nipping one! He has had more practice. We praise him! They kiss our cat. She need fear nothing when her protectors are there.
 Benji and Lorna together. Noticing the little things. Noticing the big things. Both settling deeper and deeper in our hearts and lives. We are so grateful for the wisdom and care and faithful love of our good dogs! 


3-19-20

 Lorna is a full partner here now. She communicates instinctively. When the goats won't get out of the barn, my daughter (having diligently tried to move them), in conversation expresses herself to Lorna with groans of frustration. "Of course!" Lorna seems to say as she bounds in to help. No directions. She just knows what to do. 

And then we come to walking the large horned buck out of the pasture. He outweighs my daughter and knows it. "Lorna," my daughter pleads, "I can't make him move forward. Can you please just get behind him and make him move?" What does Lorna do? Like a pro, she moves behind this buck and works back and forth in a perfect arc with a gentle and needed nip to get the buck to take her seriously. Lorna found the perfect balance of pressure to keep him walking without running anyone over while moving forward at a consistent and even pace. 

Who trained Lorna? Well, Lorna has always had basic training, but these things she figured out on her own after learning to really respect and care for the animals with my family together. She likes to follow pointing of a finger to find a job or move an animal. She watches routines to anticipate the next move and how she can contribute. Lorna has indeed grown wise. She and Benji are our big farm helpers. We don't know what we'd do without them!


4-10-20

What a windstorm we had a couple nights ago! So loud we could hardly hear each other speak, but we had to finish our work in the gardens. It was joy and adventure! We needed the rain so badly and looked so forward to the rush of life it would bring. In anticipation, we were laughing… gasping at all the whipping wind that stole their own kind back and forced new alive breaths deep inside us. Living this together and hurrying to beat the liquid refreshment as sheddings of trees loosed cascading down around us. Exhilaration! Benji and Lorna seemed to be living this excitement with us. Chasing, running, leaps for joy, tails wagging expressing differently. Benji’s a marvelously happy stump and Lorna’s a glorious sail in the wind. Eventually, the dogs separated to go peruse their shared realm separately. We were getting so close to done with our work and focused to be able to enjoy our accomplishments being nourished when Benji started barking and running to my boys who were weeding the strawberry bed, and then to me. Well, I thought it was all part of the fun, but Benji continued the same pattern in earnest. Boys to me and back again. Bark! Bark, Bark, Bark! Bark! The boys came running before I could investigate. A few seconds later a 40-50 foot tree came down nearly across the fence close to where they had been weeding. I was dumfounded! Benji did his best to save the day again! My boys were safe. Benji was looking out for them and communicating in the best way that he knew how. I only wish I could better read my dog. 

Do any of you ever wish that you were as smart as your dog? It seems counterintuitive as we think about what we as a human race have accomplished. But we lack some very important basics. If I had paid attention better, I would have noticed that these signs were direct earnest communication and not just random motions of play sooner. I am never as faithful as my dog. I do not love as purely and unselfishly as my dog does. I do not take in my surroundings and smell the flowers quite so well without the influence of my pure and simple farm dogs and animals. Happiness can be accomplished in different ways, but the roots of it are things that dogs have excelled in. Faithfulness, love, hope, joy, honesty, unselfishness to name a few. Benji reminds me of these things that I better need to be. Perhaps, beyond his protection of my children, these are his greatest gifts.  

That night, the rain never came. Nevertheless, I went to bed refreshed and in peace with Benji laying faithfully beside me.