I’m in trouble again . . .

Chihuahua Alfie with a border collie puppy
This is me telling a border collie puppy, who's wears the trousers around here!

No I don't mean the picture - that was taken in April 2007 when I first arrived here. When you're so much smaller than the other dogs (there are about 15 border collies, a great dane and a deerhound x lurcher to contend with) you have to assert your authority right from the word go.

The reason I'm in trouble is because I forgot to mention the Working Sheepdog Blog - that's the blog for the Working Sheepdog Website.

We're having some pretty bad weather here in the UK (well, bad compared to what we're used to) and so Andy and Gillian thought it would be sensible to keep everyone informed about sheepdog training and other boring stuff like that.

For lots of information about sheepdog training and up to date news of the Working Sheepdog Website, read the Working Sheepdog Blog. (OK, I've done it - now do I get to sleep on the radiator)?

Who said Chihuahuas aren’t tough?

Chihuahua x Papillon and Chihuahua dogs in the snow
Chihuahua x Papillon Chester (left) and Chihuahua Alfie, enjoying themselves in the January snow.

I thought you'd like to see this picture of Chester and me in the snow today - and not a dog coat in sight!

We both love a good run in the snow (as long as it's not too deep). The cold doesn't really affect us - unless it's cold and wet. That really makes us shiver.

Elitist? . . Me?

I can’t believe it, but I’m getting complaints. I’m accused of elitism. It’s not elitism, it’s called noblesse oblige - we Chihuahuas have responsibilities. Chihuahuas are born to be adored leaders, firm but fair (ish). Collies, Kelpies, Huntaways and Corgis, for example, are born to work with sheep and cattle; Labradors collect shot birds (ugh) and St Bernards deliver brandy in the Alps. All dogs have different jobs. One of Pearl and Glen’s puppies actually works on a lifeboat!

Chester’s asked for a few minutes to consider what he was bred for: he’s trying to choose between dancing, rolling in fox poo and lying on the radiator.

There are days when he does all three, but I don’t lie on the radiator with him on those days.

I never asked to be transported to the Worcestershire wastelands. There are no pavements, no street lights, and you know what that means – no lampposts. It took me months to acclimatise.

I came here from a management role in the suburbs. The family I was living with decided to keep tropical fish. I kid you not. Fish in, Alfie out: it was a disgrace. I’d done all I could reasonably be expected to do. I’d rushed around the house, yapping hysterically, to alert them to strangers in the house – and for as long as there were strangers in the house. I’d assiduously cleaned up after the toddler’s mealtimes – sometimes not even waiting for him to drop food, but saving time by taking it off the plate. I cleaned the plate. I even cleaned the toddler! And I’d hate to think what state that child’s toys would have been in if I hadn’t constantly tidied them up.

But some people won’t be managed, so I was transferred down here. Gill claimed I was a rescue case, but didn’t specify who was being rescued. Anyway, Andy couldn’t say no. Chester was surprised to meet a dog that was smaller than he was. I really think he thought he was just a Border collie like the rest, or perhaps a Lurcher. Eris was Chester’s special friend until her legs started to get so long that the two of them grew apart.

As soon as I’d got over the shock I explained about the One True Breed. I think it’s lucky I turned up.

Sheepdog in the making.

Border collie sheepdog Jill produced a litter of puppies last night

Mog may only be very young, compared to some of the sheepdogs, but she’s already started work (well, nursery) and Andy’s extremely proud of her.

She can’t do much at the moment, but that’s not because she doesn’t want to - far from it.

I can’t tell you how many playtimes Mog’s spoiled by slinking off to fetch the sheep. She’s so quiet that no one notices ‘til it’s too late, and there are 28 sheep mixed up with 20 sheepdogs and everybody wants a turn.

The dogs are soon called back - there’s no harm done - but Eli always gets so excited when the sheep arrive that he drops the ball and loses it and that’s the end of playtime ‘til someone finds it again (and owns up).

Closup of Mog lying in an orchard with apple blossom in the background
Mog went on to become an excellent sheepdog, working with a large flock in Wales

Because Mog might get the idea she’s not allowed to work sheep, Andy’s started to take her for short, steady sessions – nothing too exciting, just a few minutes of flanking and stopping.

At four months old it seems Mog already knows her flanking commands (all that Come-Bye and Away stuff), and will stop when she’s told (there are a few older dogs here who could learn a lesson from her!) though, when Mog stops, she just sits down in a heap looking sorry for herself until Andy sends her off again.

Apparently it’s really easy to get excited when you have a promising, keen young dog; you have to be careful not to work it too often, or for too long, or you’ll spoil it.

I suppose it loses its squeak. I should try to remember this when I get a new Fluffy-Mousey: I lose interest when the squeak wears out.

It’s not that I mind puppies . . .

While I write this, Chester is sitting on the window ledge, watching the dogs in the yard and shouting out encouragement or disapproval as the occasion demands. Mainly disapproval.

I know I said we’d have puppies in January, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t puppies here now. The current banes of my life are a bumbling 5-month old called Tony, Mel and Glen’s youngest daughter Mog - she’s about 5 months old, and Maddie and Glen’s daughter Maeve who, it seems to me, has been here for ever, but she keeps getting bigger so she must only be about a year old. Oh yes, and Doris. Doris is a newcomer, and she’s about six months old now. Tony has a smooth coat, the girls all have rough coats (anything tidy would be a waste) and all four are tri-coloured collies; it’s so monotonous.

Me? I’m a warm mahogany with rich autumn gold highlights and a charcoal mask. Sometimes the collies have charcoal masks but, in their case, it is ACTUALLY charcoal.

It’s not that I mind puppies; it’s just that they’re uncoordinated – they have no idea where their great clumsy feet are going, and I challenge any civilised dog to keep his fur clean in weather like this, surrounded by a mob like that. Now I’m as practical about mud as the next dog, but I prefer to be the one who chooses when I’m to get covered in it.

Maeve and one of the boys, Eli, have always been best mates and this morning Mog wants to join their gang. Mog doesn’t know the rules of Big Dog games yet (I’m assuming they have rules?) so Maeve has recruited Mog against Eli. Mog hangs on his ear to slow him down, while Maeve swings about on his tail, and they all go hurtling around the place until either Mog or Maeve loses her grip and spins into the mud. It doesn’t matter which one lands first because the other one joins her in any case. Then Eli piles in on top and the whole thing starts again. The only clean bit of those dogs is the grin.

I’ll say this for Border collies – they really can smile. Of course, most of the time they haven’t a clue what they’re smiling about.

And as though border collies weren’t enough . . .

Great Dane Lily
Lily the Great Dane

There are two other dogs here that aren’t sheepdogs. Lily is a Great Dope (I mean, Great Dane) and Eris is a half-Deerhound lurcher. Eris (whose name is borrowed from the Greek goddess for strife and dischord – and I’m not surprised) thinks it’s funny to follow me about, ruffling my fur and pretending to bite me.  Lily wouldn’t dare to even pretend.

Deerhound lurcher - Eris
Deerhound lurcher - Eris

In fact, Lily’s very easily intimidated, especially if you have sharp little teeth and a natural air of authority (such as moi) or a beak. At mealtimes she’s usually fed, weather permitting, in the garden. As soon as the dish is in place the local gang of magpies and jackdaws (and a motley one who looks like a cross between the two) gather on the fence and gateposts, watching her. They seem quite casual at first, almost surprised to see her, “What? You here again, old thing? No, don’t stop, don’t you mind us.” But poor Lily looks self-conscious and less hungry, especially when the birds start to move in closer, invading her personal space. Eventually she gives up and steps back, which is the cue for the birds to move in and take what they want from her dish.

Credit where it’s due, Gilbertson & Page’s Dr John Gold has reared several generations of magnificent jackdaws, but they don’t get a mention on the bag!

I think Eris would have indigestion if jackdaws watched her while she was eating. Gill says that Eris has a sense of humour and that she’s the prettiest thing with a beard on the farm. I don’t have a beard – obviously.

As if we don’t have enough collies around the place already!

A nice man, who trains dogs for sheepdog trials, drove all the way from Powys a few days ago with some dogs for Andy to see. They seemed to spend the afternoon chasing sheep into pens and then chasing them out again, and getting very wet in the meantime. Thank heavens for the wood burner! Luckily, with Andy usefully occupied, I was able to spend my afternoon lying in front of it, to be absolutely sure someone would be there to see if it burned out.

Rough coated black and white border collie bitch Connie, looking at the camera with her tongue out!
Rough coated black and white border collie bitch Connie, looking at the camera with her tongue out!

The new dogs are two bitches, called Connie and Mist, and another dog called Glen. Won’t there be confusion (more than usual) when all the dogs are out together?  These three will be trained up to a useful working standard and then homed with sensible farming families. For now, they’ll be part of the Kings Green Pack and once they’ve learned the ropes will find their place in the hierarchy.

Mist and Connie will probably be quicker to find their place than Glen; collie dogs don’t seem to worry so much about status. Chester and I are right at the top (i.e. on the bed), so we don’t worry about it, either.

Female border collies causing chaos as usual!

The yard has been in chaos all weekend. Some of the girls have come into season (apparently that’s what happens when females live together in a group) and they can’t play with the other dogs out in the field. Don’t they make a fuss when they get left behind! And I’m afraid that there have been some lewd comments coming my way when I walk past the pens. Of course I can see their point, but it’s so undignified.

Glen’s singing has been a feature of the early mornings; ‘howling’, Gill and Andy call it, but Chester and I join in from time to time and I’m sure the neighbours enjoy the harmony. Glen’s voice is surprisingly soprano (girly) for a dog of his size, but we don’t say so.

There’ll be a litter of puppies around the place by the end of January but don’t get excited – they will all be collies.