Demonstration at CSBarks Dog Festival
Our Border Collies Cap, Abbie and Nell felt like we were in Scotland, but it was Armstrong Park in Carol Stream, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
We were there for that town’s annual CSBarks Dog Festival this past Sunday, September 18, 2011. Event coordinator, Suzanne Waghorne had invited us to add a herding demonstration to the many doggie events they have customarily offered to visitors at the free event. We were in a ball diamond that had been temporarily made into an enclosed arena with the addition of a little snow fencing. To one side of us agility competition was going on. To another there were other shows, all while a dog sled team was pulling a handler in a special cart.
We had brought along seven of our North Country Cheviots that we had sorted out that morning. We chose ewes with high ear-tag numbers so that we had our younger stock. Still, we had a couple of larger (fatter!) ones that soon took exception to being pushed around for the enjoyment of the crowds, and took to charging at the dogs—heads lowered with an intent to hammer the canines into the ground. It gave us the opportunity to show how a dog must dodge a head to avoid being killed, but quickly come back and nip at the nose, neck or ears to regain respect and move the sheep around. As the demonstration went on from noon to 4 p.m., with a few short breaks, the ewes got very stroppy indeed, and the dogs had to work hard to dodge, weave and still keep things moving. We were quite happy with the confidence, power and ability of the dogs.
At the request of one of the park staff members, a young woman named Connie, we used two of the dogs in tandem (called a brace), and twice demonstrated using all three dogs. We normally don’t use our dogs in teams, but just that morning, knowing it is sometimes hard to get ewes into the trailer, we used Cap and Nell together and they accomplished the job nicely. So too the crowd was awestruck when all three dogs kept the sheep moving, without a contrary move from any stubborn ewe, as I lead them in figure eights around the outfield. When I noted that we usually don’t work the dogs together, one man shouted out that it looked like the dogs were quite used to it.
Connie and I deeply enjoy sharing our love and admiration for our dogs. We are especially proud of their stamina, intense work ethic and intelligence; but we like to stress the things that all dogs and most pets have in common. Our pets are counter-cultural in this day and age. In a world where electronic and mechanical devices of all sorts do our bidding, we turn to pets because they provide companionship. As companions each animal we keep near us has its own personality. We cannot treat them the same, but must either respect or at least surrender to the truth that they cannot be forced into the same pigeon-hole. We can read training books and watch experts do their thing on TV, but our pets defy easy paths to success. They make us grumble and gripe, but it is their uniqueness that also makes us smile at their antics and cry so hard when they are gone. We told that mutt a thousand times not to paw the back door, but now that he’s gone, we will not try to rub out the scratch marks.
Each of our herding dogs does the job differently. Each person and pet we cherish is an “interesting personality.” And we too, when we get right down to it, have our own flavor of weirdness about us.
Thanks be to God.