On Work Well Done


They say a Border Collie can replace five farm hands, but thus far in Tripp’s life he’s been more like adding one. He helps, but his help has been in addition to our usual human team, not as a replacement for anyone.

Was, I say, because late last week he and I rounded up, sorted out and checked over all of the sheep by ourselves. In fact, at first I’d left him inside altogether. He hasn’t done a bit of work since November when we brought all the sheep into their winter pen and I knew he was probably going to need a tune up and a confidence booster before he would be of much help. I figured we three humans — The Man and I, plus the oldest kid — could probably more than handle the job. But it turns out, we couldn’t. The ground was icy and the sheep were jumpy and we weren’t getting anywhere quick.

Eventually, and with some trepidation, I decided to bring him out. The problem when he hasn’t worked in a while isn’t so much with him, but with the other humans I mentioned. If you’ve never worked a dog or seen many dogs worked it can be frustrating when they mess up. And if they haven’t worked in a while, like Tripp hadn’t, you can pretty well expect mistakes — especially from a young dog.

Sure enough he made plenty. He was too sticky in some places and too eager in others. He was unsure of the ram at times and of the boss ewe others. He was reluctant to get in there and push them out of the corner when they got stuck and on more than one occasion wanted to turn an away into a come bye and vice versa if the direction I’d asked for put him in a tight spot.

It was getting later than we’d planned and the other humans got impatient. First the kid, “he’s not helping!” And then The Man, “He just laid there and got beat, AGAIN!” And normally I might have agreed with them — especially on the latter count. His clappiness is a problem from way back and let me tell you, it’s no fun when you get a flock right where you need them, lie him down and then, just when you need him to stand up or walk up for the next move he decides his belly is glued flat to the ground and, instead, lets them scatter to the other end of the field only to have to start all over. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD; GET ON YOUR FEET!” has been bellowed on this property more than once. But for whatever reason, this time I was determined. Determined not to get impatient or frustrated with him, determined to let the task take as much time as it needed, to let him take as many turns as he needed to figure it out.

Each time he blew it I set it back up and asked him to try again. Each time he needed help I came in for him and we pushed them together. And when the other humans got fed up with him I sent them away, not him. And wouldn’t you know it, not even five minutes after I’d sent The Man to find something else to occupy his time we had the sheep rounded up, half of their body conditions checked over and the ones I didn’t need loaded sorted back off into the pen.

I came in well past dark, smelling of lanolin and manure and wet wool, but it was worth it. If nothing else just to watch him prance around for a good 48 hours pleased as punch with himself. Besides, it wasn’t just he who gained confidence. I don’t think I’ll be as reluctant to try to accomplish tasks on our own in the future. Which should help both his frequency of work and the tight schedule we always seem to bump up against running such a small farm.

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