Monday, October 8, 2007

Caution: Border Collie at Work

One of the fun things about the New Albany Classic is that they bring in different animal entertainment each year. This year's special event was Dave Jenkins of Mansfield, Ohio, and his Border Collie, Gidget. They put on a very interesting and humorous herding demonstration.

Dave explained to us that some types of herding dogs are drovers, dogs which herd their charges by driving them from behind. Border Collies work to keep the flock between themselves and the shepherd. The key feature of a good working Border Collie is the "eye," the stare that says to the flock, "Move. Move now. Move where I want you to go."

Dave also explained some of the commands he used, both verbal and whistled signals that tell the dog what he wants it to do. If you watched the movie "Babe," you heard "Come by" and "Away to me", "Lie down" and the famous, "That'll do, Pig." All those phrases (except for "Pig," of course) are part of the actual working vocabulary of the herding team of man and dog.

The first two
commands always confused me. I couldn't figure out what these phrases meant, but Dave said that he was describing a clock face, where he was 6 o'clock and he continually shifted his position to keep the flock at 12 o'clock. "Come by" and "Away to me" tell the dog to work clockwise or counter-clockwise, respectively, when bringing the flock to him.

Gidget puts the eye on her flock, in this case, ducks, since the grounds weren't large enough to work sheep.

Dave uses Indian Runner Ducks in his demonstrations. They are an unusual breed imported from the East Indies. Because of their tall, upright bodies, they are sometimes called "Penguin Ducks," and they run rather than waddle. They were very handsome birds, and didn't seem at all distressed by their role as the herd-ees.

In an e-mail, Mr. Jenkins says he likes this breed for several reasons. One, they are "kinda cute," with their little penguin bodies and their running gait. They are very hardy, and can tolerate Ohio summers and winters with little need for housing. In fact, he said they prefer to stay outdoors rather than going into their barn when the weather is bad. He also stressed their tendency to remain as wild ducks, avoiding the shepherd instead of bunching up at his feet, which makes it harder to train the dog. This trait means they are not a good pet duck, though. Finally, he added that while he has worked with Pekin ducks, they tend to get too fat to go through the tunnels he uses.

Gidget picks up the flock of ducks and begins to move them toward Dave at the other end of the field.

"Here are your ducks, Boss.
What do you want me to do with them?"

"Send them through this tunnel, please."

Ever the showman, Dave doffs his cap as the crowd applauds their work.

The next task was to send the ducks through a different tunnel and over a little bridge.

Gidget made it look easy.
(Can you see her behind the left wing of the gate?)

The final demonstration was the most difficult - to get the ducks to climb up a ramp and then go down a slide into the pool below. The first steps were the same: Gather up the ducks and get them moving in the right direction. But, to accomplish this goal, Gidget needed all her powers of concentration.

By alternately telling Gidget "Lie down" and "On your feet," Dave helped her line the ducks up just right, so they had no choice but to move through the gate. The command "Lie down" is obvious, but "On your feet" (or "Walk up") means to get up and move up a little bit. In this most challenging task, we could watch Dave crook his finger and Gidget would literally creep up by inches in order to get the ducks to shift their position.

At the top of the ramp, the ducks hesitated. Gidget, now invisible to us behind the gate, moved just a hair more and sent them over the edge.

At the first attempt, the ducks bailed out over the side of the ramp, which made the crowd laugh, but Gidget was not amused. She gathered those ducks up and sent them around again.

"Durned ducks! Do it right."

The crowd went wild and rewarded Gidget and Dave with well-deserved applause. Gidget looked smug. She knew she did well. And Dave's final comment? "That'll do, Gidget."


Anonymous said...

Great shots! I love watching those wonderful dogs. I even watch the sheep herding contests on television. Amazing!

KGMom said...

Oh what a fun post. I love borders with their great smarts, their hardworking tendencies, and their stamina.
Most interesting that Gidget knew the ducks did the last trick wrong, and made them redo it.

Mary C said...

Border collies are so intelligent and hard-working with lots of stamina. Thanks for sharing these photos with all of us.