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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Teamwork (written 11/1/20)

As mentioned in an earlier post, it is not easy to wrangle five teenage goats.

That's something Gem has been discovering in the past few days.

Gem's journey, as detailed in my book, In My Hands, Stories of the Land and Animals I Love but Can't See, has not been an easy one. The fact that she is willing and able to work goats at all is really something of a small miracle. She has all the want-to and instinct in the world. It's the power and confidence where she comes up short.

And these five kids, two of them in particular, have figured that out.

It started with Shandy. Shandy decided that she would much rather nibble on my climbing rosebush than do anything that dumb dog told her to. When she got tired of the rosebush, her best trick was to get herself in the corner along the fence line and simply ignore Gem.

Then it was Bourbon's turn. Bourbon decided that she really didn't need to stay with the group. It was safer and more interesting to stay far away from the action. So she lagged and dragged and refused to move at all when the notion took her, and the dog left her alone. Gem just didn't have the authority to make them mind, and those two stinkers called her bluff.

My two sweet girls, Mogen and Tequila, were the exceptions. They want to be with me all the time, anyway, and they stuck to me like burrs. They never gave Gem any trouble. And Sakke seemed to think it was better to follow along. So those three Gem could handle. We got them up to the barn hunt arena without any fuss.

However, those other two were a nuisance. They needed to come up the driveway and help mow down our barn hunt arena, just like their three sisters. Five movable weed whackers can do a lot more damage than just three. Plus, I didn't want to split up the group. They had all grown up together and were most comfortable staying together.

And besides all that, it just plain irritated me. Bourbon and Shandy were not going to win. I was not going to let them cause my good dog to fail. Put simply: I wasn't gonna let them get my goat, or Gem's goat, either.

So I decided to give Tassie a chance. Tassie had shown some herding ability with the ducks. Maybe today the two dogs could tag-team it and work things out with the goats.

It took Tassie about thirty seconds to get Shandy sorted and pointed in the right direction. The most fascinating thing to me about the dogs' teamwork is how sharply it contrasts the two different herding styles of the two different breeds. Gem, being a solid border collie, works by posturing, circling, and staring the stock down. She is swift and silent. She blocks, crouches and stares, a technique very reminiscent of the way a wolf hunts.

Tassie, being a "Lassie collie" instead of a border collie, puts pressure on the livestock by lots of movement and very loud barking.

This is a herding style much more common among the collies, shelties, and some of the Nordic herding breeds, like the Finnish Lapphund and Icelandic Sheepdog. And when Tassie put that pressure on Shandy, little miss stand-in-the-corner reconsidered her approach. She joined up with the group.

Gem, who now had a confident partner that was actually bossing the goats, immediately gained confidence herself. She circled back to get Bourbon. Tassie held the other four with me, barking and darting back and forth. And here came Bourbon and Gem. Bourbon joined up with the group, Gem fell in to her running circle pattern, Tassie dashed back and forth behind us, and we headed south, taking dead aim for the barn hunt arena.

Since that triumphant day I have never tried to move the goats without both dogs to help. It's wonderful what a difference it's made. And it's wonderful what joy and purpose it has given both Gem and Tassie. I love doing that for my dogs.

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