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.
Brand New Look
1 year ago