When we bought Zeke we weren’t looking for anything specific, just a
pet; an aussie to replace our beloved dog, VB, who had died 6 months
earlier after 15 years of loyalty and love. She had been from a
ranch, from herding lines. In our home, however, she was a frisbee dog,
a running partner, and a nanny. The perfect canine companion.
We found Zeke from a random web search. He was 6 weeks old when we took him home from a small ranch not far from where we live.
Zeke is bred from good working stock on his mother’s side (Hangin’
Tree) and confirmation lines on his father’s (Yawn. Whatever. He was
very pretty though). The breeder’s website featured fierce pictures of
Zeke’s mother, and pups from former litters, herding livestock, biting
at the faces of beligerant looking cattle… sheep nicely arranged by a
confident looking dog.
There was one photo of Zeke’s sire looking pretty and harmless, sitting
on a platform standing next an anonymous matron in an a-line skirt and
sensible shoes holding a blue ribbon, and a pumpkin. (Runner up?) A merle, like Zeke, he matched the
woman’s sweater. Like the perfect alternative to a handbag.
A couple of years ago, when Zeke was two years old, my then 13 year old son, Carlos, suggested we take Zeke out to livestock.
After hearing about a herding "Playday" where people and their dogs could come out to a farm and try their hand at herding sheep, Carlos and I drove 30 miles one Saturday to put Zeke on sheep. Zeke chased and barked and ate poop and seemed to have a good time, we had a good time, reading way too much in to the offhanded "Yeah, he seems to have some instinct…." comment thrown out by the woman hosting the playday. I immediately translated that into "He exhibits a greatness not seen in a dog so young and from such pretty lines…look how he immediately picks out the choicest, freshest poop morsels! It’s a sign!"
So I continued to take Zeke to sheep for the remainder of the fall, moving from the flaky "playday" hostess, who sometimes was there and sometimes wasn’t and who, frankly, giggled way too much for my taste, to an actual trainer who lived 50 miles away in Oregon.
Roy taught me and Zeke the basics. By "taught" I mean, Roy waxed knowledgable on technique and reading livestock, herding instinct and balance…He gave us time and opportunity and patience. I nodded at everything he said and got knocked down by sheep a lot.
"Think of it like dancing, Katy," Roy said, trying to come up with an analogy I might relate to….sadly, perhaps aptly, his reference was something that I am uncomfortable doing and prone to avoid lest someone get hurt.
For months I nodded and lurched about the pen like a clubfoot ballerina. Very dog broke sheep following me like tired fat chaparones. Zeke circling and barking.
Zeke did catch on much faster than I.
Still, for Zeke it’s been more about me, less about the sheep. He’ll shut down if he feels I’m getting frustrated. His focus is usually more on me than on the sheep, and he often barks incessantly as if arguing about most of my decisions in the field. HE doesn’t like the presence of a trainer. I think he feels as if we’re somehow missing the steamy green point and spending way too much time on the chasing the dispensers. I think I’ve screwed up during the learning process too many times for him to believe I know what I’m doing. It’s like I’m the pumpkin in the picture.