It’s been a while since we’ve had a puppy in the family. Although I’ve had plenty of stock dogs, this is the first time I’ve ever had a Border Collie. It wasn’t that we were actively looking for another dog; Rosie, our Catahoula Leopard/Australian Sheepdog cross, is only five. But we took the grand-kids up to the hunting club over the Labor Day weekend, and the ranch owners had a couple of pups out of a bitch the owner says is the best stock dog he’s owned in his more than 80 years. Under normal circumstances, this pup would have been very expensive, but she had a vision problem. On a 7,000-acre ranch and for a rancher who sees dogs as tools, not pets, her handicap meant that if he couldn’t find someone to take her, she would be destroyed. Hubby played with her a bit when he went up to the ranch house (I was too busy herding kids) and thought she would be OK as a pet; neither one of us wanted to see her destroyed, so three weeks later, he brought her home from another hunt club trip.
So I acquired (primarily because with hubby’s back problems, he can’t spend as much time with the dog as she needs) another dog. She was three months old, had never had any training and didn’t even have a name. The only thing she knew was to follow the ranch hands’ four-wheelers when they went out to irrigate, which is how they found out about her vision problems; she kept getting lost and couldn’t find her way back.
After watching her for a while, we’ve determined that her vision does have some limitations. For example, she couldn’t see the chicken wire around the kitchen garden and ran right into it the first couple of times. However, she quickly learned the boundaries and now has no problem. Going up and down the front steps was a challenge, and I doubt that she’ll be able to learn hand commands, but she can see well enough to run full tilt through the orchard without running into anything. I suspect she has a hereditary condition called collie eye anomaly. It’s the result of inheriting a recessive gene from both parents that affects the development of the lining inside the eye. Some dogs are completely blind, while others may have anything from a very minor visual problem to deficits of varying severity.
Stock dogs in general are very smart, and Border Collies are considered the most intelligent of all dog breeds. Having grown up with hunting dogs like Springer Spaniels, Weimeraners and Labradors, I was not ready for the quick-learning, responsive stock dog when I first got a McNabb puppy in my late 20s. My father spoke disparagingly of dogs’ intelligence, commenting that a dog really only understands about a dozen commands. He didn’t believe me when I said Breeze knew at least 32. Not only that, she understood things like, “Are you supposed to be lying in that spot?” and would heave a large sigh, get up and go plop down on the rug where she was supposed to be lying. Turns out Dad didn’t have a clue; there’s a Border Collie named Chaser who knows over 1,000 different commands.
Border Collies are also working dogs, which means they are very smart and will get themselves into trouble if you don’t keep them occupied. They will happily go all day and need LOTS of exercise. With Pip’s vision problems, she could run into trouble (and did, one day when she took off, and on her way home, scrambled down on a rock pile where she stuck, unable to see well enough to get over the downed log blocking her way). So the challenge for me is to come up with ways to keep her occupied. Can’t do fetch, as she can’t see tennis balls or sticks. I’m not sure if we can we do an obstacle course, at which Border Collies excel. I’m going to try her on “herding” an old volley ball, and for now, her basic training is keeping her busy little brain occupied. I’m also not sure how she’ll do with herding our animals, and at this point, it’s not safe to have her follow the four-wheelers because if she takes off, she’s quickly out of sight.
Still, not quite five weeks into our new relationship, we have a dog who knows her own name, has learned seven different commands and is housebroken. She and Rosie are becoming buddies, although Rosie does periodically give her the “go away, kid, you bother me,” growl. Having another dog around has been good for Rosie, who is getting more exercise because Pip chivvies, teases and hassles her into racing. The pup has also acquired a number of nicknames: The Flash (she is extremely fast); Pipsqueak (she’s a relatively small dog); Fidget Widget (she’s a busy little beggar, and the nose and ears work overtime to make up for her limited vision). The old sheep pen in the house orchard has become Pip’s place to run; otherwise she has to be on a leash, because if she misses the “Come” command, she can be a quarter-mile away before you can blink. I don’t generally like to chain dogs, but in her case, we’ve had to set up a runner so she can get some more exercise while I can be sure she’s safe. In time, we may be able to dispense with the runner when I’m outside with her, but it’s too early to take the risk. For now, we’re still getting routines down and working on those 1,000 commands!
Meanwhile, I’m remembering what it’s like to put on my shoes with a puppy lying on my feet, nibbling my toes, stealing my socks and chewing my shoelaces.