I had such high hopes when I heard my friend Fiona had border collie puppies for sale.
Fiona has been a life-long friend, raising herding dogs and professionally managing multi-million-dollar farms on the East Coast and now in Northeast Iowa. She purchased a Maremma-Great Pyrenees cross puppy from us years ago, which we fostered years later while she was between farms and needed a place for him to stay. She adored that dog and had always been a tremendous supporter of our sheep breeding program.
Needless to say, we have long been close and I have been a huge admirer of hers from Day One.
At her current job, her pack of 6 or 8 border collies moves over a thousand sheep and goats on a regular basis. I have seen videos of it; Fiona calling out one-word commands, maybe giving a light little whistle. The dogs and sheep move as if part of a well-rehearsed dance, choreographed to maintain order, sweeping animals calmly through valleys and over ridges. It is a sight to behold—and I wanted in!
When I learned I had the opportunity to get a puppy from Fiona, I imagined setting up something similar here on our farm. The dog (and I) would learn how to move sheep like my friend, and I would become a Sheep Baroness of sorts—dog moving as I commanded; sheep acquiescing to the authority of a self-assured, well-trained dog.
I pulled all sorts of strings to get the puppy from Iowa to Central New York. First was a ride from a stranger, another woman buying a pup from Fiona. She took my pup from Iowa to south-central Wisconsin, where one of my sisters would gather him up and take care of him for a week. My parents had been planning a trip to see us, so it was just a matter of convincing them to bring an 8-week-old puppy halfway across the country to us.
Once here, we made little Archie a member of the family, introducing him slowly to his flock. I bought an instructional video course on how to train him, even brought him to a woman specializing in sheep trial training. But things never quite clicked for either of us.
Fast forward two years, and our Archie has not fulfilled my dreams of becoming a Sheep Baroness. It is not for lack of trying, nor for lack of practice. While Archie has innate skills and I have sheep that need to be moved, we simply do not have that type of farm. And therefore, we do not have that type of shepherd-dog relationship.
Instead, I have a dog that will not leave my side; a dog that loves his farm life and family. He (imperfectly) helps me move sheep and goats and I have learned to be happy with the results. He loves chasing his frisbee and has discovered the joys of hunting rats in the chicken coop.
I have had a glimpse of what our lives might be like if we were not living on a farm, away from all the barn cats and our other dog, Aimee. On a recent camping trip, Archie was the perfect kayak companion, watching for fish and eyeing the dragonflies; soon lulled to sleep as we glided over sparkling clear water. He climbed Black Bear, Rocky, and Bald Mountains with us, often off-leash until we heard fellow hikers up ahead. He quickly learned to come back to us so we could re-attach the leash, often before we were aware of other hikers. He rode quietly in the truck, and slept peacefully in the tent. Archie could not have been a happier, better camper!
I may have had exceedingly high hopes when I first heard of Fiona’s puppies, but I now realize they were not grounded in reality. Instead, Archie has proven to be a far better companion than I could have anticipated. He is a really fun dog, with boundless energy. Seeing him as a member of the family, learning what he enjoys, and taking him for adventures off the farm a little more often will be my goal—rather than Sheep Baroness!