Friday, December 23, 2011
Here's the first applicant for the job vacancy recently announced. And it looks like he's got the job.
His name is Ernie and he's a rescue dog. He came to us from National English Shepherd Rescue, or NESR. He was a troubled puppy, apparently, but is now much improved in temperament, thanks to the efforts of NESR, particularly NESR foster carer Heather Houlahan, who has her own blog here.
Ernie's history is somewhat mixed. He was a pedigree English Shepherd puppy sold to a couple in Cambridge, MA. We have the papers. They apparently couldn't manage him, which is unsurprising. These proper shepherd dog types that actually still have the herding instinct -- Border Collies, Australian and English Shepherds -- generally make very poor candidates for an urban existence.
They need a proper job to do, and they need more or less constant companionship, either from their people, or from another dog.
When young, they are best apprenticed to an older farm dog who knows the ropes. In their proper farm environment, when they're not herding sheep, they're on guard, and so although they like to play, they're never really off the clock. Having known Ernie for a day or so now, I can easily imagine that if some ill-advised attempt was made to keep him in an apartment 22 hours a day, with his only exercise in streets and parks full of humans and other dogs that he couldn't get all properly herded up and in the right pen, then, well, he would likely have gone stir crazy.
(So would have I, by the way. That kind of existence is not for me. I like my sheep barn, my woodpile, my apple trees and my gardens.)
These hapless Cambridge urbanites gave Ernie up at 7 months to NESR, and to the expert care of Heather, who had him mess in with another half-dozen shepherd dogs on her farm, a lifestyle not unlike our own (only we have fewer dogs). Ernie was exposed to the proper kind of shepherd dog lifestyle, and got a little farm training, as well as a second chance at a more contented, playful kind of late puppyhood, without the stresses of an urban existence. He calmed down, learned some of the ropes, and figured out what his job in life was going to be.
We're very pleased with him so far. He's very well-behaved, he minds his manners, he already is house-trained and puppy trained, he can sit, lie down, walk to heel, and go in his crate. He gets a little stressed out by cats and small children, but we expect that our moggies will sort him soon enough.
He has all the proper shepherd dog instincts for protecting the farm, and getting all his people all herded up together, and so on. He's still plenty young enough to begin his sheepdog training. It shouldn't take us long to get him to move sheep on our farm where there are lots of fences and alleyways that make the job easy. But I'd like to have him try the more open-ground kinds of techniques, where the dog learns to go all the way around the herd and bring them back to the handler.
Something to look forward to for me and Mr. Ernie.