”A dog can be the most under-valued asset that a farmer owns.” - The Dictionary for New Farmers, 1st edition.
Our dog Meg is much smarter than I am. As a border collie, Meg’s breed is known for its intelligence. Her ability to focus on a task is only equaled to the devotion teenagers (and some adults) have to their smart phones. Rounding up chickens — she has an app for that! Catching frisbees — the software is built in!
Although complex mathematical equations are perhaps beyond her (as they are to me), she can calculate the trajectory of a flying frisbee better than a Cal Tech physics major. This inherent ability comes from a long and distant past when her breed was first used to help herd sheep and goats.
Some historians have suggested that the dog’s usefulness in this endeavor is partially responsible for our initial domestication of sheep, cows, and goats. I cannot imagine attempting to round up sheep on the rugged mountainsides of Scotland or Ireland without the help of a dog.
It must be noted that when we were first married, my wife and I attempted (without a spit of success) to round up a flock of 300 sheep by ourselves on a very hilly eastern Ohio farm where we worked. It was like playing “whack-a-mole” with only one hammer and 300 moles. Or like trying to control a herd of six-year-olds in a store stocked by Willie Wonka. Having a couple of border collies on the job would make the task do-able. Meg’s instinctive desire to herd is as strong as my desire to shop the nearest Little Debbie store and I have no doubt that she enjoys herding as much as I enjoy the snacks.
Border collies have perfected the wolf’s instinctive “stare” that can freeze an animal in place much faster than Elsa from “Frozen”. A person, facing this stare for the first time is uncertain if the animal is considering them as dinner or the likelihood of a new frisbee partner. It could even stop a politician’s continuous fundraising attempts right in its tracks. Perhaps we should elect some border collies to Congress!
It is partially for this reason that our cats have a problem with Meg. As much as my wife and I love Meg, our cats certainly do not. Meg feels that all animals on the farm are ultimately her responsibility and, of course, cats feel no responsibility except to themselves. It is not uncommon for Meg to enter into staring contests with the cats that can last for hours. Neither are willing to break that gaze and admit failure which, for cats, is the ultimate humiliation.
My wife is much better at this kind of stare than I am. I think it is her years at being a teacher that honed this ability. For this reason, Meg is much more willing to listen to my wife than listen to me. Meg knows that I am a sucker when it comes to all things play. Where I must tug the frisbee from her mouth, no matter how much I stare, growl or pout, my wife simply uses her stare to get Meg to gently place it in her hand.
It is important for all potential border collie owners to know that all border collies need a job. If they have no job, they will invent one and this may not be to the owner’s liking. Fortunately, there are all sorts of jobs on our farm that a border collie can do, so that is not a problem for us. Unfortunately, a border collie’s early start-times are not so enjoyable and they do tend to work much longer than an eight-hour shift.
Meg makes sure I wake up at seven and bed time is promptly at 10. Meg also makes sure I take my regular runs while she helps pull me along and I get my upper body workout while tossing a frisbee or ball for her enjoyment — for hours on end if it were up to her! So I suppose, if you want to hire an exercise trainer who works for just a cuddle or two, you might want to consider a border collie.
Jeff Crisler wrote this column to be published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.