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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - 1937 Sheepdog article

The Times, London, September 5, 1937

Whether you are a dog lover or not, you cannot fail to be fascinated by this article on SHEEP DOGS.

They Think Like Men.

Are Slaves To Duty.

Have “Magic Eye”

Sometimes Go On Strike.

One Whelped Five Pups While It Drove The Flock.

This is the big month of the year for Border Collies.

Thousands will watch them competing for honours in the sheep-dog trials at Cardiff.

IT HAS BEEN ESTIMATED THAT A BORDER COLLIE RUNS UP TO A HUNDRED MILES IN THE COURSE OF HIS DAYS WORK.

You see this quite plainly when you watch a Border Collie in the course of his days work.

I see it every time I visit the sheep farm of Mr. James Wilson, who has won the supreme honours at the international sheep-dog trials oftener than any other man.

He runs about a thousand sheep on the Moorfoot hills down to-wards the Scottish Border.

They range over great precipitous “laws,” the climbing of which would daunt a man. They have to be gathered in off these hills every day, and a man, or several men, simply couldn’t accomplish the task.

You should see Roy, Mr. Wilson’s best dog, doing it.

Roy, a one-eyed dog, is the present International Champion, and he is the only dog that has won that supreme honour twice.

A word, and he is away towards Whitehope Law, like a black and white streak.

HE NEEDS NO ORDERS

Around the base of the great hillside he goes, and on up to the lofty ridge. You can scarcely see him when he gets up there, for he is nearly a mile away.

He covers the ridge from end to end, brings down every sheep on the precipitous slope, and in all that time, during which he covers many miles at top speed, he seldom receives an order.

Roy does not need orders. He knows what is wanted just as well as his master, and uses his own head.

On the hills and at the sheep-dog trials, this great dog is an artist, and like all artists he is temperamental.

He inherits from Craig, his sire, another famous International Trials Champion, a very positive dislike of young dogs.

He refuses flatly to work with them, walking of to a distance of about half a mile and going on a sit-down strike.

It isn’t canine jealousy for Roy has no need to be jealous of any dog. It is sheer dislike for young upstarts and scorn for their performances.

You can see these mixed feelings blazing out of Roy’s eyes when he is watching a young dog at work, and he just can’t get over them.

James Wilson just smiles at this display of temperament, and does nothing. He is a great handler of Border Collies and knows what they can do.

CAUGHT IN A BLIZZARD

At the tail end of last winter a terrific blizzard swept across the Scottish Borders.

Snow drifted right over cottages in the hills, so that lamps had to be used in the day-time until the windows were cleared.

Gullies in the Moorfoot and Lammermoor hills were filled with snow to a great depth.

Hundreds of sheep were caught and smothered to death, one man lost 300 in a gully.

Mr. Wilson got his sheep down off the hill and collected behind a wood before the storm broke, but the drifts covered them and many had to be dug out.

One sheep was missing and Roy “pointed” it on a smooth drift.

His master probed with his long crook and at a depth of seven foot the crook jumped back at him.

The ewe was down there, sure enough, and when dug out was none the worse for her experience.

Sheep, of course, can live under snow for weeks, but not if they pile up on each other.

Day after day, Mr. Wilson hauled feed to his snowbound flock, a distance of a mile and a half, but the drifts became so bad that he decided to move the flock to the feed.

He pointed to forty of the lustiest sheep, one after another, and they were cut out from the flock and kept apart by Nell and Fly, Mr. Wilson’s famous little bitches.

Then he began to break a trail through the deep snow, and Nell and Fly forced the forty trail breaking sheep to follow him.

It took Mr. Wilson five and a half hours to break that trail of a mile and a half, so the going wasn’t easy, but he never had to speak to Nell and Fly.

They worked like little demons all through the afternoon and got the forty trail-breakers through safely.

You are probably wondering what became of the balance of the flock, numbering about 900.

Well, Roy and Craig handled them, without any orders at all, ands they had them at the end of the trail just as soon as Mr. Wilson could handle them - and not one sheep was missing or injured.

The capacity of the Border Collie to control sheep with its eyes is probably its most notable characteristic, and the spectacle of a good dog “holding” a big wild cross-bred ewe by the mesmeric power of its eyes is certainly thrilling.

DOGS WITH “THE EYE”

Every good dog possesses what the shepherds call ‘The Eye’ and a “loose eyed” dog is never satisfactory , for he generally lacks the power of concentration.

Some people say that “the eye” in the Border Collie is a modern development and it first dogs that possessed it came from Northumberland.

I can’t find any evidence which bears out that belief, but there is evidence to suggest that Border Collies which possessed “the eye” were taken fro granted in the Border country of Scotland nearly two centuries ago.

My authority is no less a personage than James Hogg, “The Ettick Shepherd”.

Hogg, of course, was a good poet as well as being a great shepherd, and he wrote numerous articles about his Border Collies and those of his farther.

He tells us about Hector, who, when he was in the house, spent every minute of his time “pointing” the cat, which he hated like poison.

There is no question about this dog’s possession of “the eye,” and it was taken for granted in the Hogg household.

Another amusing illustration of this dogs possession of “the eye” was related by Hogg.

Every night the family got down on their knees behind their chairs with their faces bowed on their hands, while the elder Hogg said prayers, in the old Scottish manner.

He never used the same payer twice, and they were pretty long, but always, just before he concluded, the dog Hector would leap up and bark furiously, almost destroying the piety of the homely scene.

James Hogg finally solved the mystery of the dog’s behaviour - it though the Hogg family were all sitting in a circle “pointing” the hated cat and, knowing in some way when the prayer was about to end, it wanted to be the first to lead the attack on puss.

The most poignant story of a Border Collie that I have ever read came from the pen of James Hogg and I shall conclude my article by retelling it, very briefly, for it shows that the cleverness of the Border Collie is no new thing.

It illustrates the sagacity, fidelity and courage of these little hill dogs.

A butcher that lived in Peebles (where the Scottish National Sheepdog Trials were held last month) had a Border Collie bitch of notable ability.

He went around the rough country in the vicinity of Peebles, buying sheep, and when he bought a batch it was his habit simply to turn them over to the little bitch, telling her to take them home. Then he went on to other business, knowing that when he got home at night his faithful dog would have the sheep there before him and safely folded.

NOT ONE MISSING

Everybody in the countryside knew how clever this little bitch was, and her owner was very proud of her accomplishments.

One day, miles up in the hills, he turned a flock over to her and then went on to another remote farm to do some more buying.

When he got home that night he discovered, to his astonishment and alarm, that the dog had not shown up with the sheep. It had never happened before.

He started out to look for her, but before he got to the end of the village street he met the missing sheep, and they were being driven by the bitch as usual, only she was carrying a new-born pup in her mouth.

The poor little thing folded the sheep, and a count showed that not one was missing, although, unaided, she had had to bring them over some of the wildest hills around Peebles, though other flocks of sheep.

When her work was done, and not till then, she found a nest for the new-born puppy, then made off into the darkness.

She came back with another living puppy in her mouth.

Three more trips she made into the hills, going God knows how far, but the last of the five puppies was dead when she got it home.

James Hogg, a good and tender-hearted man, mentions the feeling of remorse that came over the owner of the bitch when he realised what had happened.

The faithful little thing had whelped out in the hills, with a flock of wild sheep on her hands, but she had carried on in spite of her anguish, putting her duty to he flock first and discharging it to the full.

That is the Border Collie for you - the slave of duty.

By John Herries Mc Culloch.

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Border Collie Rescue is a UK based charity, working Internationally to Rescue and Re-home Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs and promote a better understanding of the breed and its Welfare.

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