Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words | Chapter 12 of 27

Author: John W. Pilley | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1083 Views | Add a Review

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Listening to the Farmer

THERE WAS A lot to be thankful for as Chaser turned four months old. The danger of the feral cat had passed, she had learned to be safe from cars, and most of all she had bonded strongly with Sally and me.


I couldn’t see the cattle, but that wasn’t anything unusual. I could cast my dogs at livestock that was out of sight, and they would find them and bring them to me. However, this day they were gone so long that I got concerned. So I walked over to the woods. When I got there I saw Maud and Gail bringing the cows through the old hog lot. The cows went in through the north gate, but when they came out through the south gate they turned back around through the woods.

I don’t know how many times they had done that, and forced Maud and Gail to round them up again. They did it once when I got in sight. I watched Maud and Gail gather them from among the trees. Their teamwork was something, because of how thick the woods were around the old hog lot. I was still far enough away, and they were so focused on the cattle, that they didn’t see me watching them.

Once the dogs got the cattle together and headed back down through the north gate, I was going to intervene so the dogs’ efforts didn’t go to waste one more time. But something made me wait. This time, before any cows got down to the gate at the south end, Maud went around them inside the hog lot and cut off, say, eight or ten. When they went through the gate she went through beside them so she could force them to go on straight south toward the pasture.

Gail understood what Maud was doing and just stopped and waited, didn’t push the other cows on through. Then Maud went back and cut off eight or ten more and brought them through the gate like that and kept them from going back north. I just stood there and watched. And that’s the illustration I told the Sunday school teacher. I said, “If that dog could not have reasoned out the problem and the solution, she would have never done that.”


Wayne West shared similar experiences of sending dogs to work out of sight and unsupervised. Wayne told me, “If I can’t see where the dog and the stock are at, the dog has got to reason. He’s got to think for himself what he has to do to get the stock from point A to point B.”


All of a sudden I saw Craig start turning in too quick. I had walked up on a little rise and I could see where the sheep was at, much farther back in the field. And I thought, “What’s wrong with him?” Then I see something lift up, but I can’t make out what it is because of the rain.

In a few seconds I see it’s a flock of wild geese flying about three or four feet off the ground. And Old Craig is right in behind them, herding them toward me. They fly like that toward me until they get close enough to see me, and then of course they lift up and go on over me.

In exhibitions I’ve had dogs herd ducks as well as sheep and cattle. Craig saw those geese before he saw the sheep, and he thought that’s what I sent him after. I wish I had that on film, because a lot of people won’t believe that it actually happened.


Wayne West and David Johnson both learned about Border collies from the grandfather of Border collies in America, Arthur Allen. The son and grandson of sheep farmers who imported top dogs from Scotland, Arthur Allen did more to foster appreciation of Border collies in this country than anyone else. He competed in and won all the important sheepdog trials. Beginning in the 1940s, he put on exhibitions with Roy Rogers’s traveling show. Two of his best dogs starred in the 1955 Walt Disney film Arizona Sheepdog. And he wrote books that became the bibles of breeding and training Border collies in America.


When I asked him to go get anyone in the family, he brought them regardless of what they were doing. Anyone that was on the farm very long knew when Tweed started pushing them with his nose they had no choice but to go wherever he wanted to take them. He had a wonderful ability for finding sick sheep and would come after me and would not give up until I went to see about the sheep or a ewe with a young lamb. He also had a great ability to recognize a sheep that had gotten out of a pasture and become mixed in with sheep from other pastures. He would cut him out and bring him in to be put in the pasture where he belonged. [Tweed] would do this all on his own without any help from me whatsoever. . . . He was a fine trial dog when the going was rough, and . . . when the sheep were impossible for others to handle, Tweed looked his best. But he always seemed to resent exhibition work, as he could not see the purpose behind it.


In the same book Allen says, “I like a dog that is an individualist; one who thinks for himself and will act without orders.” He adds that the number one mistake that people make in training Border collies is not trusting the dogs’ instincts. The number two mistake is not allowing the dogs to think for themselves. His close observation of Border collies showed how intertwined their instincts and reasoning abilities are, and how their instincts support their ability to solve problems that dogs could never encounter in the wild or could never be specifically trained to deal with in advance.


I was working Maud one day on some cattle, demonstrating for some visitors. She had to nip the cattle on the heels to move them, and I probably worked her for ten minutes. It was only when I called her to me with the “That will do” command that I noticed she had bit through her own top lip. One of her long top teeth was sticking through the lip. As she came out through the gate she was swiping at her face with the front paw on that side, trying to get the tooth free. Until I called her to me she never faltered, she never quit working or anything. She kept right on like it wasn’t a thing wrong. She had to be in pain.

Another time I was demonstrating for a visitor with Gail. She was working some sheep, and I had her bring the sheep up into the corner of a big pen. Then I gave her the command to “down.” I left her there holding the sheep up in the corner while I took my visitor over to a different lot to see another dog work some cattle.

We did that for probably twenty minutes, and then I put the dog that had worked the cattle back in the kennel. My visitor said, “Where is your other dog?”

Understand now, we were completely out of sight of Gail and those sheep. We walked back over there, and sure enough there she’s laying right where I left her, still holding the sheep right in that corner. She was what I call a honest dog.

Some dogs are so dedicated, they want to please so strong. And then there’s other dogs that aren’t dedicated at all­—they’re just obeying you because they think they have to. Once they get an opportunity where they see you’re not looking, they will start chasing the stock for fun or doing things the way they want to.


Dogs that have had opportunities as puppies to bond with people are the ones that become “honest dogs,” in David’s terms, and put their willpower and cognitive ability to work for their human companions with total dedication.


He was a great dog to move ewes with baby lambs. Roy would move them so cautious, ’cause if he got in a big hurry and went to pushing the ewes too fast they would run over the little lambs and break a leg or whatnot. And ewes will fight to protect their lambs just like cows will fight to protect their calves. If a ewe turned and came back to fight Roy, he would nip her on the nose and turn her. But he let the little lambs wobble and bobble in against his face. He worked with his head low to the ground, and although the lambs might bump into him he would never bite them. He took his nose and just kind of pushed and rooted them along, but he never put his mouth on them. He had enough sense to know that they were fragile. Roy, if the grown ones fought him he’d nip them on the nose and turn them. But he was kind to the little ones.


David also said:


I had a customer come here one time, and he told me something that I did not believe. He said he had an old female and a young male dog. The female had gotten too old to jump into the back of his pickup truck. He said the young male dog would jump in the truck, then the female dog would rear up to put her front feet on the tailgate, and the young male dog would reach down and catch her in the scruff of the neck and pull her on up in the truck like a mother dog lifting up a puppy. He said the dogs had figured this out entirely on their own.

When the customer left, I told my dad, “That’s just a story trying to impress me. The dog won’t do that.”

A couple of months later the customer came back. And this time he had the two dogs in the back of his pickup. He said, “I want you to watch my dogs.”

He asked them to jump out, which they did. And then he told them, “Get in the truck.” The young male dog jumps in. The old female rears up and puts her front feet on the tailgate. And darned if that male dog doesn’t reach down and catch her in the scruff of the neck and pull her up into the truck.

I apologized to the man for doubting him, and I thanked him for bringing the dogs. What that young male dog figured out to do showed his intelligence, but it also showed his compassion. To me that’s pretty amazing.


Hearing these stories from David brought to mind an experience I had in Learned, Mississippi, one July day in 1944, when I was sixteen. My sister, her husband, and I were staying with my brother-in-law’s mother, Miss Lillian, on her small, hardscrabble farm. Miss Lillian may not have had much in the way of material wealth, but she was a true matriarch in her sharecropping community, respected by everyone for her wisdom, kindness, and graciousness.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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