Gyp is maturing into a beautiful, loyal, helpful farm dog, and is exactly what I've always wished for in a canine companion. He's not even six months old just yet (one week shy!), but he's already a working partner that I hate being without. A few weeks ago, all of the animals got out (except the cow; bless her heart!) and were wandering willy nilly on the neighbor's property (98 acres total). It was one of those moments where you don't know what to do except laugh, because getting them all back to one spot seemed impossible. So laugh I did, and then I called my dog. Gyp's training in herding is very little since he's so young yet, but he knows the basics. I can send him around the stock by saying "Come By" (clockwise), or "Away" (counter-clockwise), and then he and I sort of just jerry-rig things after that with commands of Come, Lie Down, Go Back, Leave it, Get it, and Wait. That, and I put a lot of trust in that puppy to figure things out on his own. Normally I wouldn't have put such a young dog to work like this... Everyone has always told me that you should wait until a dog is 6-10 months before you introduce them to stock, but I've had no choice with Gyp. I NEEDED him, so we're both just forging ahead.
Wrangling that small herd of miscreant ruminants was probably one of the first jobs that has managed to wear my pup out. I'm not kidding you, he was exhausted. It took the pair of us three hours to get everyone rounded up. Gyp had the time of his life getting to herd the goats (he seems to like them better, since the sheep have a tendency to scatter), and even in his tuckered out state he was in, he still had a huge, blissful smile on his fox-like face. I was beyond exhausted by the time I was done; so tired that I could barely stand, and I was almost past being coherent (running for 30-45 minutes I can do. Sprinting for three hours, I cannot.). But we did it... That little English Shepherd and I did it.
Last week I had another problem. An easier problem, to be sure, but I wasn't sure how Gyp would handle it. I had two broody hens that had both hatched out clutches of eggs on the exact same day; so I had fluffy little chicks running around all over the place. One morning I found that five of them had gotten separated from one of the hens and they were a good distance away from where they needed to be. I had absolutely no idea what Gyp would do with a bunch of fluffy, cheeping, bite-sized chicks. I wouldn't have been surprised if he went nuts and tried to eat the little things. But I sure wasn't having any luck getting them anywhere on my own; they kept scattering. Ever tried herding little week-old chicks??? Not exactly what I would call a walk in the park. So I did the most logical thing at the time: I called my dog.
Not surprisingly, Gyp was excited by the little fluff balls. Tail wagging, ears perked, and tongue lolling, he thought for sure this was a new toy for him. Worried about the safety of my chicks, and of Gyp learning how to kill poultry, I gruffly told him to "leave it and come by". Wonder of wonders, that little dog obeyed. He drove those five little chicks all the way through the pasture, through the barn, and then up to where the hen was; weaving left and right with each "come by" and "away" I gave him.
This dog amazes me.
And today was the day where it really hit home as to what a good dog he is.
I've got barn swallows nesting in my barn. Yeah, surprise, surprise... Barn swallows in a barn. Duh. Okay, to continue... It's not uncommon at all for a chick or two to fall out of the nest and be raised on the ground. It happens every year. Three days ago I found a teeny, tiny newly hatched chick on the gravel floor; it was barely bigger than a quarter, and only had a few feathers here and there on its small body. It didn't take long for Gyp to find it and I wondered what he would do. Sure, he handled the chicks well, but those could at least run away. This thing just sat, wiggled its wings and made noise. Can we say "squeaky toy"!?!? I stood back, and watched... Gyp was almost vibrating with excitement and intrigue towards the little bird. He walked tight circles around it, sniffed it, whined in uncertainty, and then finally sat down. And stared at the little bird. The whole time I did barn chores (which isn't too long these days... But still a good thirty minutes) Gyp just sat there. Two feet away, and watched the strange creature that he had found.
And that became his routine. Instead of following me around for chores, he instead sat and watched "his" bird. Never touching it, never getting closer than two feet, he simply guarded it; keeping the broody hens away from it. It was HIS bird.
This morning started out the same. I went to feed the calf, and Gyp went to find his bird. But then I noticed that he couldn't find his charge as I saw him walking around the barn in an agitated manner. After a few minutes we found it: Dead. It looked like one of the broody hens found it after all and decided that it looked tasty. Gyp sat down in front of his little dead bird and the dejected look on his face fairly screamed the words, "Fail... Epic fail..." If a dog ever looked sad, this dog sure did right then. He'd failed his mission, and his little bird was no more. Sorry pup; better luck next time.
But it was right there and then that I realized just how grateful I was for this shepherd pup. It's not every five month old pup who you can trust completely to herd ruminants for three hours and guard day-old swallows. How I ended up with a pup this special, I really don't know... But I'm glad that he's mine. Every day I'm glad for him.
I do wish that his bird has survived though... Bless his canine heart, that bird was HIS. Maybe he'll get another chance someday...