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.
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.