Wednesday, January 14, 2009

nature's grace

After including a picture of Sophie herding in a previous post, there have been some requests for more of that story. I don't have a lot of pictures of her herding as I am usually in the pen working with her. This piece of writing was published in the fall issue of Animal Wellness magazine last year. It's one of my favorites about Sophie, so rather than come up with something new about our herding, I am posting my original: Nature's Grace. Hope you enjoy! :)

I remember watching her run. It was an early Sunday morning in August…early enough that the heat had not yet captured the day and a soft breeze was flirting with the fragrant dewy air. I was standing on picturesque farm just north-east of Toronto. That’s where I was standing watching Sophie run.

When Sophie was about 6 months old I introduced her to world of sheep herding, the traditional work for her breed. Driving along those worn and dusty side roads, the trainer’s words of caution played over in my mind. Sophie was too young to start any official training, but I could bring her out and we could see if she “took to it”. I shouldn’t expect too much due to her young age. My future competitive notions for Sophie and I had been focused on the sport of Agility, but I thought perhaps it would be possible for us to compete and excel at both events. My own competitive drive had visions of sheep herding medals dancing in front of my eyes even as we turned down the freshly gravelled driveway of the farm.

some of our first sheep

The trainer was waiting for us with a few dogs of her own and three sheep in a pen just behind her. The trainer was brusque and down to earth; her dogs lean and alert; and the sheep were steely eyed and statuesque. I felt unsure, ill prepared and completely out of my element. I could barely contain my disbelief as the trainer led us over the pen and opened the gate, indicating that Sophie and I should follow her in. Her only instructions had been directed at me: Don’t get run over by the sheep. I was unclear how Sophie and I would possible know what do with these sheep without even a little bit of guidance. As Sophie and I entered the pen with the trainer, my grumbling thoughts of disbelief quickly melted away. Two facts became vibrantly clear to me: one, sheep are surprisingly quick and light footed; and two, while i t was definitely true that I had no idea what I was doing in that pen, the same could not be said of Sophie.

perfect form! (she's just over a year old here)

I watched with amazement and wonder as Sophie, my young pup who had never seen a sheep before in her life, began to do the work of a Border Collie. Tail and head low, her eyes never left the three sheep. Suddenly she was off! Running in big, wide sweeping circles she began moving them from one side of the pen to the other. When one of the sheep broke off, she quickly darted over to him and just through her quick, sure movements and unwavering, steady stare, brought him back in line with the other two. Her natural instincts were shining through and I found myself feeling extremely proud of her, as well as extremely humbled.

After Sophie’s session with the sheep, the trainer took us out to a pasture behind the farm and showed us what herding was really all about with one of her adult dogs and flock of about 20 sheep. I have never seen a more spectacular sight and was again struck by this notion of humbleness. The beauty and grace of this dog working in his natural environment was breathtaking. There were no leashes, no Sit for a Cookie or Shake a Paw, no crates, no costumes…barely a human influence of any kind. It is rare these days to see a dog under those circumstances. While I believe the majority of owners give their dogs a wonderful, caring life, I also think we sometimes underestimate the inherent intelligence and ability in these creatures that no human can lay claim on or take credit for.

rounding them up

These glimpses of nature’s grace always manage to change my perception of the world in a profound and whimsical way. I realized, with Sophie that day, that being able to catch these glimpses and understanding their beauty and importance is a privilege. They are moments to be recognized and cherished. I can remember the first time I saw my brother holding his newborn son, his first child. Despite having no real experience with children up until that point, his movements and demeanour with the baby were perfectly fluid. It was a glimpse of nature’s grace that took my breath away. Watching Sophie and the other dog with sheep left a similar footprint on my heart.

The trainer had turned to me after Sophie’s turn with the sheep and said: “I think you’ve really got something to work with there. We could start training her when she’s a few months older and she could compete in her first trial maybe a year from now.” It was exactly what I had hoped to hear as we drove into the farmhouse driveway an hour ago. But my humbling glimpse of nature’s grace in this case had changed everything. I would definitely bring Sophie back to work with the sheep and would endeavour to learn to be her able partner in the task. But we would not compete. I would not take this beautiful dance and inflict the pressures of scoring, winning and losing or any other human criteria on it. A year from that wonderful Sunday morning, rather than at a herding trial aiming for a perfect score, I hoped to be back on that farm…out back in the pasture with the morning sun shining down on me and reflecting off the dew on the green grass that stretches out for miles, watching my dog run with the wind. Running in those big, wide sweeping circles as she gathers the sheep and has the time of her life doing just what she was born to do…simply because she can.


Katherine Aucoin said...

I had no idea Sophie was such a celebrity! I enjoyed this story immensely.

gigi said...

I am so amazed at her and her talent! Yall are lucky to have each other, what joy!

Muddy Boot Dreams said...

It is simply wonderful that you can nurture what is instinctive in Sophie, that you now have the means and the time to do this.

In turn, obviously you are getting as much or more back from her.
What a beautiful relationship the two of you have.


Hilary said...

You're so right. We try to humanize our pets in so many ways... some close to obscene. Too few people really allow them to be what they naturally are. They rarely disappoint. Sophie is beautiful. And so is your writing.

Anonymous said...

What a thrill for both of you. A wonderful story you shared with us and love the photos.

Neas Nuttiness said...

Beautiful Post
Beautiful Dog
Beautiful Owner

Janie said...

Great entry. Nature is a wonderful and amazing thing! Blessings, Janie

Ed said...

Cool story, it amazes me how some dogs are just naturally able to do things.

b&g girl said...

get another one Andrea!

Sophie Brador said...

Hi There,
Very glad you happened upon my blog. I haven't had a chance to read much of yours yet, but am marking it so I can. In my completely unbiased opinion, any dog named Sophie is sure to be the best dog on earth!


(that's for Sophie la Brador)

Carol said...

Hey Andrea.........thanks for the visit to my blog. Sophie is delightful! I sure enjoyed your Saturday Morning post. History in the form of the people and their lives just fascinates me."If the walls could talk type history".
I love to give old buildings
"a family of sorts". The writing was supreme! Glad to meet you too!

Sherri said...

Andrea, check my blog.

a corgi said...

I enjoyed reading this; having a corgi, I always wondered if he got a chance to herd, what would he do? he herds us and although God compares us to being like sheep, we pretty much outsmart him most of the time when Koda (corgi) tries to herd us. I think it would be awesome to see him at work doing what he was intended to do; I think it is neat that you decided not to have Sophie compete but just have her enjoy doing what she also was intended to do


Pam said...

Another great post. Sophie is an incredible dog.

Barry said...

Absolutely beautiful story, and great pictures.

Amazing how strong the herding instinct is.

Dog_geek said...

Herding is such a rush - I wish we had more opportunity where I live now. Maybe someday we will get our own sheep!

gtyyup said...

Great story! You write beautifully. Sophie is amazing! Look forward to reading more~~

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

one word - beautiful

That was nicely written - I could almost see her working the sheep. It's times like these that we realize all those days when we wake up to find our house chewed apart from teething puppies (etc)were worth it if only for one of these moments.

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I've added yours as one of my favourites - I'll be back ... Can you hear the ominous music? haha


Jan said...

Andrea I can't believe that I was your first follower and now you have 18. Congrats. Your photos are wonderful and you seem to be a very sensitive and beautiful person. Glad to know you.

Natashya said...

What a dog! I had no idea that herding was an instinct for working dogs, I figured it was all training.
I love the picture of the sheep too. Like they are posing.

3 Cat Blog said...

Such gorgeous faces! I used to have a pup that looked just like that ... awwww.

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a wonderful story! Absolutely beautiful Andrea!

dw said...

That's a beautiful story, Andrea.