Saturday, 29 October 2011

The dog whisperer

Thursday saw us heading North to the Corrèze, about a two hour drive from our house. The purpose was to meet some other cattle-dog and kelpie owners and give Gremlin his first try out with sheep. We found the farm using sat.nav., perched on a hillside surrounded by fields and other farms. The Correze is one of the least densely populated departements in France and the farm consisted of an old stone cottage, lived in by the grandmother, a slightly bigger house belonging to the mother and father and big farmhouse, that seemed to be occupied by various siblings and their families. We were greeted by a barking cattle dog and a yard full of border collies.

We were the first to arrive, shortly followed by Pascal (the dog whisperer), Gremlin's breeder and her Dutch friend, and an English woman from Brittainy who had driven for 9 hours in a small car with her teenage daughter and 7 dogs!

As I said earlier, the idea was to see if Gremlin and the other dogs had a natural herding instinct, and to see some of the other dogs. I was immediately struck by how much bigger Gremlin was compared to the other cattle dogs. Each dog got a chance to meet the sheep, starting by running round the ring while the owner and Pascal were inside. When Pascal felt the dog was ready he let him in and then watched what he did with the sheep, encouraging him to be interested in them. I say Pascal is a dog whisperer but he would never call himself that. He just has a natural instinct with dogs and watching him communicate with them and work with them was amazing to see. He frowned at my use of treats and said 'the way to train a dog is with the leash'; producing a 2 metre piece of fine line and demostrating how he used this to get the dogs to follow him. His 'hobby' is to rescue border collies from frustrated owners and dog pounds and train them up to be sheep dogs, selling them on at the end for no doubt less money than he spent on them.

So was gremlin any good with sheep? Well, the first time in the 'ring' he ran round like a mad thing, chased the other dogs, and then as soon as the sheep moved he got scared and jumped out of the ring! He got another chance when he was a bit calmer and then proceeded to be mostly interested in eating sheep poo rather than herding sheep. The breeder thought that all was not lost and he may improve as he ages. She managed to take this picture of him looking half interested!

Gremlin, sheep and Ian

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