Sunday, January 6, 2008
Mr. Haggis at Attention
Haggis is a dog, named for a Scottish sausage, which I occasionally make myself made from various odd bits of sheep and deer not normally eaten by Americans. This is appropriate naming because he's an Australian shepherd, so there's a kind of circularity of reasoning. We like circular reasoning at the Womerlippi Farm Enterprise.
He's about six years old, and was raised by the Amish. This, we suspect, made him a little pious. His main piety his his extreme diligence. Being a shepherd, he has to have a job. If shepherd dogs are not given a job, they'll make one up for themselves. Before Haggis had sheep, he would spend hours rounding up chickens, which is actually very counter productive, because chickens hardly ever need to be, and never want to be, rounded up. Chickens are well behaved without needing a sheepdog.
So we had to get him some sheep. Getting a sheepdog before getting sheep might be putting the cart before the horse, but we knew we wanted both, and had a vacancy for a dog before we had facilities for sheep, so it all made sense to us.
The are a lot of things that make sense to us that don't make sense to others.
Haggis's job now is actaully threefold, which makes him very happy, to be so important. He is hired to be 1) the somewhat boy-scoutish, over-eager leader of the Womerlippi dog pack, 2) to guard the house and land, 3) to ride to the hardware store in the pick-up truck (this is actually his favorite job, and he takes it very seriously, sitting to attention in the passenger seat the whole way) and finally, 4) to assist in rounding up sheep.
I say assist, because at six years old, and even with his extensive prior experience in chickens, Haggis has yet to get the full hang of being a sheepdog. He can move sheep, no problem, get them running with one quiet word. Very satisfying. He just doesn't know where to put them. Not so satisfying.
Most sheepdogs know instinctively that the sheep have to go through the gate. That's how they work. There's a big field, the farmer stands by an open gate, which goes to the pen, to the lane, to the next field, or to the barn. The farmer is actually just the helper. All he has to do is operate the gate. (If operating gates were hard, sheepdogs would have to do it.) The dog is the main worker. He runs out and around, gets the sheep going in a nice tight herd, moves them towards and through the gate. The farmer then does his part. He shuts the gate. That's really all there is to the sheepdog job. Sheep. Gate. Farmer close gate. Done. Time for dinner.
What Haggis tends to do is have the sheep circle the field a few times. After a while, they find the gate themselves. This can be really disconcerting right in front of the house, where the road makes a turn-around loop. Haggis will happily chase the sheep around this loop a couple of times before they make a break for the gate.
He's really pretty good at the important case of One Loose Sheep, a special and perennial case in the sheepdog portfolio. One loose sheep is easy, because the sheep really wants to be back with the herd. All Haggis has to do is go move the lone sheep, and the sheep will come back and go straight through the gate.
Very helpful, Mr. Haggis. Time for dinner.