Archives for posts with tag: working dogs

Years ago, we went to the farm where the sire and dam of the puppy who would be my first Border collie lived and got to photograph them working sheep for Dog Training in Ten Minutes, the book I was working on at the time.  First the sire was sent and moved the sheep around the field as instructed by whistle commands.  When I began to move to where I could get the shot I wanted, the breeder asked me what I was after and signaled the dog to move the sheep in such a way that I could get the shot from where I was.  I was very impressed.

At some point, the sheep got very close to the fence.  In fact, they were pressed up against the fence.  The male, commanded with the whistle to move them, hesitated for just a split second.  The breeder called him off and sent the female, heavy with pups which were due in a week or two.  She ran to the sheep and in a quick, sure move, poked her long nose between the first sheep and the fence, effectively and quickly sending the whole flock back into the field.  It was a graceful move, executed with confidence.  I was pleased to get the shot, a picture of my first Border collie working sheep in utero.

That pup, Flash, plied his trade in New York City,and wherever in the world he went with me, becoming my service dog.  My gamble was that, like the German Shepherd, the Border collie could take his inborn skills and apply them to tasks other than sheepherding.  Luckily for me, that was true and Flash became an outstanding worker, doing the work he was assigned rather than the work he was bred to do.

Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.

Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.

The other day, walking with my Border collie, Sky, on the totally crowded High Line, the elevated park made from the area where the trains brought produce into the city, I was reminded of the Flash’s mother, moving the sheep off the fence.  I was able, because of Sky’s skill, something passed down to her from her mother and her mother’s mother and all the working collies who came before her, to walk at a good speed despite the fact that the path was jammed with people. Sky took her pointy nose and moved ahead at full speed, inserting it between strolling tourists, the way Flash’s mom had inserted hers between the fence and the sheep. This neatly opened the way for her and for me, at the far end of the leash, to follow.  I always find it interesting to watch a dog work, whether she is using her skills to do the job her breed was designed for, or whether those same skills come in handy for doing something totally different, but equally as useful.

Sky and her sister, May, working sheep, with Denise Wall.

Sky and her sister, May, working sheep, with Denise Wall. And below, looking out the window of our Alaska Airlines flight home.



As some of you already know, someone asked not to pet my service dog because she was working replied, She doesn’t look very busy to me.  As many service dogs do with their partners, Sky watches me to see when I need her.  Even from several feet away, she can dowse for pain.  Because she watches me, particularly when we are out away from home, she’s there when I need her without my asking for help.  She’s there, sometimes, before I know I need her help.  One might say she’s thinking all the time. Thinking.  But she doesn’t look busy, at least not to the uneducated eye.


A seizure alert dog just looks like any other dog, like anyone’s pet dog, even a minute before he detects an oncoming seizure and offers a life-saving alert.  Distract him with chit chat or handling and he may miss the chance to give his person enough time to find a safe place and/or take medication.

The dog who alerts low blood sugar, who helps with balance, who monitors the human heart, who can stop an autistic child from running into the street, the dog who warns against allergens, the dog who helps a partner to get up out of a chair or up off the couch, these dogs may not look busy when, in fact, they are.  Because thinking doesn’t show the way, say, paving a driveway does, or herding sheep.

Makes me wonder if I look busy when I’m thinking about what I want to write. Because most of my thinking is done away from the desk, on a walk, sitting  in front of and ignoring the TV set or just watching the clouds roll by, my dog at my side.

Scan a girl and her dog

I know some people don’t understand that dogs think, and certainly not that they think of anything other than when their next meal is coming and when someone might throw a ball.  But if you aren’t busy, you might sometimes notice how thoughtful and intelligent our dear dog friends can be. Sometimes they reveal their intelligence by their response to a suggestion or the environment, to a crying baby or a lamb buried under the snow.  Other times, their thinking doesn’t show.  They’re doing it alright, but they just don’t look busy – unless you assess the situation and give it a little thought on your own.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Scan Busted


Most naughty dogs, and face it, most dogs are naughty sometimes, do not know the difference between stealing a defrosting steak and stealing something potentially lethal.  Most good dogs, and face it, most dogs are good most of the time, do not understand what exuberantly running across the street to greet a canine or human friend could do to them.  Untrained and unmonitored, dogs will pick up food from the street, walk on broken glass, try to pull something hot off the stove, steal chocolate, eat poisonous plants, stick their head into a hole which happens to be the den of some biting creature, have a tussle with a porcupine.  Since you are the one to keep your dog safe, the way you’d keep your children safe, doesn’t this make you your dog’s parent?

Many dogs, even dogs without official jobs, work alongside humans and help them with chores or all kinds, moving the sheep, finding the lost child, fetching the downed duck, detecting an explosive device.  They help people feel well, too, alerting them to potential problems, assuaging pain, letting them know the phone is ringing or taking them where they need to go.  Doesn’t this make the dog your partner?

And more than likely, even if you adopted your dog at a shelter, you paid your money and signed some papers.  Doesn’t this make you your dog’s owner?  Or the more PC term, your dog’s guardian?

What do words matter?  We take care of our dogs, they take care of us.  But words are powerful.  So perhaps they do matter.  Perhaps what you call yourself deeply colors how you view your dog and your role in his life.  Perhaps parent and guardian guide you to seeing the dog as a puppy, forever infantilized, the child who never grows up.  Perhaps the word owner inspires you to see the dog as a thing, something you can discard when you tire of him.  Perhaps the word partner helps you recognize that even without an official job, your dog will stay close and comfort you when you are sick, will let you know there’s someone at the door even if you know that anyway, will offer you a reason to take a long walk, play a game or do other things that are social and keep you young.  Perhaps the word partner, my choice, will remind you that sometimes the dog knows best and sometimes you do, but since you supply the food, the warm bed, shelter from the weather, since you watch out for traffic and broken glass and put your medicine away carefully and take him to the veterinarian when he needs a check-up, that you are the senior partner, but even so, there are occasions to swap roles, because he knows some things you don’t, and maybe the word partner will help you keep that in mind, letting you think about when to be in charge and when to just be.