Having great sheepdogs is an honour that I appreciate more and more. Of course, how you train a dog is very important but there are things that you can't really train for; things that money can't buy either.
A dog which can think for itself is priceless and we are extremely lucky to have not one, but two dogs which can think.
On our sheepdog training courses, we regularly use Kay for demonstrations and to keep the sheep in from the edge of the training ring, but her most valuable work comes when the trainee dog and sheep move out into the open field.
Whenever this happens, Kay discreetly watches from a distance (often under the shade of a tree).
If the trainee should lose control of one or two sheep, Kay will quietly bring them back to the perfect place for the trainee to gather them, before breaking off and returning to her shady place. If the other dog is fairly capable, Kay will just position herself ahead of the runaway animals to slow them down just long enough to allow the trainee to gather them back together. Amazing - and all this without a word from anyone - she just knows what to do!
Mel on the other hand can apparently read my mind. She often knows which particular sheep I want to catch, without me saying a word. Mel had a really bad accident (broke two ligaments in one knee joint) when she was two and because of it, she's not the fittest dog now.
She's quite slow but she still flanks out wide and doesn't stress the sheep. She has tremendous power but is calm and steady when she works. The sheep just know they have to go where she wants them. Years ago I said that if I want to be certain the job gets done, I take Mel. That's still true today, but I might also take Kay to do the running around, and let Mel do the highly skilled part.
Mel works just as well for Gill as she does for me. Yesterday, after getting the sheep in with Mel, she remarked that the only thing Mel needs her for is to shut the gate!