Farm Shepherds Magazine

I only have two pairs of shoes with laces.  I have an old pair of black skateboard shoes with flat shoestrings, and a newer pair of brown hiking shoes with round laces.   But it doesn’t matter which pair I’m wearing. My English Shepherd Hawkeye knows how to untie them both.

The first time Hawkeye untied my shoes, I got quite a kick out of it.  There was no apparent purpose to his action, no puppy agenda.  He just walked over and looked down at my left shoe, like a child studying a puzzle for the first time.  And then he pulled the string.  He didn’t fumble with the loops or even paw at the eyelets.  No, he very directly took one of the draw strings into his big maw and pulled it straight up.  It was a precise act, as if he’d done it one hundred times.  And then he just sat down.  He tilted his head and studied his handiwork.  My untied shoe.  I laughed, causing him to look up at me with the same stoic expression he’s had since I met him.  After a second, I decided to praise him.  “Good boy,” as I scratched his furry neck.  Still laughing, I guess I had decided to encourage his talent.  After all, who doesn’t want a dog that can untie shoes?

I’m always thrilled to see one of my dogs offer a new behavior.  When it happens, I’ll usually sit and think about it for a bit.  I’ll ask myself why the dog decided to act in that manner.  I’ll think about what might have led to the presentation of the new behavior.  And finally, I’ll decide if I’m going to encourage the act, or discourage it.  In this case, I have no idea why Hawkeye decided to start untying my shoes.  I don’t even untie them myself, usually.  I just slip them on and off.  So, I really don’t know where he saw it or picked it up from.  But he did.

Since then, Hawkeye has untied my shoe several times.  Well, four times to be exact.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t keeping count.  I must admit, I’m still amazed by it.  But now he does it for a reason.  He has decided that untying my shoe is a great way to get my attention.  So now if a soft nudge or a lick on the hand doesn’t work, he just unties my shoe.  Which always works.  It is a weird feeling, to be focused on reading a book and suddenly feel your shoe being untied.  It grabs me every time.  And I think wow, what an amazing dog.   Then I re-tie my shoe, and we go play.


Hawkeye doesn’t like farm work.  He doesn’t care for it.  If he was intended to be a farm manager from birth, my three livestock guardian dogs probably helped him decide otherwise.  I don’t think they bullied him out of it or anything like that.  There just wasn’t a niche to be filled there.  “They got this”, as it were.  He may have been meant to work large livestock, but I only have small goats.  Half of my goats are smaller than he is, and none of them want to be within range of his seventy-five plus pounds or his baleful stare.  He has taught even the most stubborn of our adult male goats to respect him from a distance.  In a few weeks, Hawkeye will meet a herding clinician with the know-how to tell me more about his relationship with stock.

But for now, my one-and-a-half-year-old Hawkeye would rather be off in the woods, running from tree-to-tree and putting his nose to the ground.  He loves following scent trails from hill to valley across our acreage of woodlands. And he can’t resist lying and rolling in the spring fed, rock-bottom stream that divides our land.  Even on a cold day, he’ll lower himself down into the water and sit for a spell.  Since he was seven weeks old, Hawkeye has loved the water.  Not just splashy romps across the shallows.  As much as possible, he submerges his broad head and stout body, blowing bubbles and smiling gleefully.

But the one thing Hawkeye loves more than the woods, or the stream, or sniffing out critters, is me.  He constantly makes eye contact with me.  And aside from his adventures among the trees, he most prefers to be by my side.  Laying at my feet.  Rolling over for me to scratch his chest or neck.  Nibbling on a cow ear while I read or listen to the game.  That’s not to say he’s a pushover. Far from it.  He’s independent and strong-willed.  And Hawkeye doesn’t really like anybody else to be around.  He tolerates my wife, but that’s about it.  We’re a lone wolf, he and I.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever breed Hawkeye.  Probably not.  He’s intact and seems healthy enough.  But he’s quite a bit bigger than breed standard and frankly more dog than most people would want or need.  Maybe I’ll change my mind someday, after he saves me from drowning in a pond or heads off a wild boar from goring my leg.  But for now, he’s just my best friend. The reason I wake up before sunrise and go outside at first light.  The reason I write and read and learn as much as I can about English Shepherds.


This is an unbiased review of the Icefang Tactical Dog Harness.  I will mention a few product accessories as well.  At the bottom of the article, I will provide links to buy these items at the same price I paid for them.  I am not incentivised or affiliated with the manufacturers or re-sellers of these products.  I paid full price for these items and I use them on a regular basis. 

Here my English Shepherd boy Hawkeye models the harness and accessories before we head out for a hike. Hawkeye only wears this heavier harness on cool mornings and during cooler seasons.  For hot weather, we'd be using a lighter weight harness.



This is a capture of the dorsal side of the Icefang harness configured as I use it on a regular basis.



And here's the dorsal side of the harness without attached accessories.  The connection points, buckles and stitching are superior to any harness I've used.  As you can see, there's a lot of velcro down the middle and a PALS attachment grid on each side.    Under the sturdy handle is a heavy duty dorsal connection point.


This photo illustrates one method of attaching MOLLE (pronounced molly) accessories to a PALS grid.


Here is a view of the underside of the harness. Again, note the two heavy duty connection points.  The metal, 'D' shaped connection rings are attached to the harness body with broad, double stitching.  


Here's the underside again, this time connected to a lead in my favorite configuration. The ability to attach to the front pull connector, but thread the leash back behind the front legs is my favorite feature of this harness.  Threaded this way, the leash comes out from under Hawkeye's side, under his ribs and behind his forelegs.  It works really well for both dog and walker.


Nearly friction-less.  Any tension in the leash rubs on the metal ring and the harness, not Hawkeye's body.  If you have a big, strong dog then both you and your best friend will really appreciate this uncommon feature.  Hawkeye does his best walking when he's wearing this harness, and I think the threaded lead configuration is why.


Here are the pair of MOLLE pouches I bought separately.


And finally, these elastic and velcro "keepers" are great for quickly connecting anything from water bottles to magazine clips onto your harness.


I'm really happy with the fit, functionality, quality and apparent durability of the Icefang Tactical Dog Harness.  Here's a list of links to buy the harness and accessories:

Icefang brand Tactical Dog Harness on Amazon (Large) for $39.99

Novemkada brand MOLLE Pouches (2 pack) on Amazon for $14.98

Condor brand Elastic Keepers (2 pack) on Amazon for $11.99


Happy hiking!


J. Richard McDuffie "invented" The Leopard Breed, McCurdy Horses, Camus Curs, and Old Time Farm Shepherds to name a few. He was a brilliant breeder and produced many good animals until his last few years. He understood genetics exceptionally well and knew what traits to look for to produce top animals. -- quote from a UKC Forums post by Richard Bailey

Reprinted with permission from Full Cry Magazine

First printed Nov, 1997, Full Cry

In 45 years I have seen many fads come and go. Most of the factors controlling the popularity of types of hunting dogs are driven by fads. There are few advantages of growing old. However, one of the advantages is being able to look at the big picture and recognize that these fads will also pass. As others have.

Few of those who raise and sell pups of any breed know much about the history of their dogs or have a long-range vision of where they want to go with a breeding program, much less how to go about getting there if they did.

The Leopard Cur breed has it's roots in the early settlement of the Carolinas and Georgia. There is no unbroken written record of their descent from the original imported stock till the present. No one knows all the influences along the way. I doubt if anyone has spent as many years, driven as many miles, done as many interviews, or read as many books researching the history of cur dogs as I have. Yet I hear from a lot of people who think they have all the answers. Most of those with all the answers haven't yet heard the question.

It is my considered opinion, based on 45 years of research and experience, that the Leopard breed descended from the farm dogs that were brought to this country from the British Isles. What were they? They were basically shepherd types. They were unlikely to have been any specific breed, but a type that couldserve as guard dog, and hunting dog. From the early seventeenth century until the end of World War II (when written records were started) we can surmise.From the mid forties we pretty well know because of oral and written records, even before registration began in 1961.

Many characteristics of farm shepherd types are evident in today's Leopard Curs. One is color. All Shepherd breeds from Great Britain have the merle color phase. In the fifties and sixties we frequently had Leopard Curs born with long hair! Steve Ingram's Old Dragon Lady female was one of the last of these. When some of her descendants have been inbred, They have produced long-haired offspring. All true leopards have two coats-- a rough outer coat of guard hairs, and a wooly undercoat. Many have a flag tail and thigh feathers. It is my opinion that July hounds and Goodman hounds got their merle genes from the same ancestry as the Leopard Cur rather than the other way around.

The Leopard Cur's method of baying and fighting big game is a dead give away of their shepherd ancestry. They fight and run. The dog baying in front runs when charged but as soon as the game turns to face those eating his backside, the dog that was just running is pulling hair on the quarry's backside. Slash and run is definitely a Shepherd trait.

A third shepherd trait in Leopard Curs is voice. All pure Leopard Curs chop on track and tree. Show me one that bawls and I'll show you a hound in the pedigree, providing the pedigree is correct. While chop mouth Leopards have a much heavier and louder voice than most modern day Shepherds, My Old Time Farm Shepherd, Tank, could easily be mistaken as a Leopard, treeing.

Fourth and most convincing of all Leopard traits, is person ality, or temperament. Like farm shepherd breeds they are extremely intelligent but they are also extremely sensitive. Their greatest desire is to please their master. The only training needed is to gain a pup's confidence then show it what you want it to do. A harsh word can be as destructive as a clubbing, oftentimes.

People who are loud and boisterous seldom have much success with Leopard Curs. Their sensitivity has a negative and positive side. The same temperament that is devastated by the yelling, cursing, kicking handler is what makes them easily trained by the kind gentle, understanding handler. Those who are "rough on dogs" probably should not try a leopard. In fact there are few cur dogs of any breed that will work for that type person. Those people would probably do better with hard-headed hounds.



Since she moved to her forever home here at our ranch on Roanoke Creek, Josie has watched each morning as my boy Hawkeye and I moved our Pygmy goats from pen to pasture. But just about a week ago, Josie suddenly and almost magically went from being an uninterested, frolicky puppy to a serious, enthusiastic stock dog in training. She's currently four months, sixteen days young. Each day, she has paid attention as Hawkeye walked behind the goats with me, coaxing them up the hill, through the orchard and on to the pasture. Hawkeye stays on lead the whole time. He's too rough on the small Pygmy goats. Or rather, I'm too inexperienced of a handler to manage the interaction properly. Hawkeye and I will attend a herding clinic next month so I can get better. But, I digress.

Back to Josie. Since she started showing interest, I decided to give Josie her own opportunity with the Pygmies. So for the past three or four days, instead of Hawkeye it has been Josie on long lead, pushing the goats up the hill. Each day, she has moved the goats fine, but she has always looked back at me and complained about the leash. She looks at me as if to say, “I've got this, let me go”. I've been hesitant. She's still so young. And a year of working with Hawkeye has made me more cautious. He's a lot of dog. Mistakes with Hawkeye can mean there will be blood.

Well, today Josie wore me down. She jetted out to the end of the lead, barking at the goats to push them along the gravel path and on up the hill. I complimented her with a “good girl”. She turned her head and smiled, leaving the goats and coming back to me right away. She has an off switch! Wow, that's nice. But as usual, on her way back to me she took the opportunity to bark at me, taking the long lead in her mouth. “Let me do my job”, she seemed to growl with the flat cotton leash between her teeth.

Well, this time I relented. “OK”, I thought. “You're way too young. But, you've been doing great. I'll let you off lead for just a minute. But if this goes wrong, Caroline Betts is going to let me have it.”

So, I held my breath and detached the long, blue lead from her harness. Once I took her lead off, she was nothing short of amazing. No wasted time or energy. No messing around. Josie just knew what to do.

"It's about time", I think I heard her bark. "Watch what I was born to do."

She pushed the herd of nine goats to the exact spot I take them every morning. She used her voice mostly. The goats are dog trained, and Hawkeye has instilled plenty of respect in them. But, Josie was faster than any dog my goats have ever seen. Her methods were not just brute force. She darted in, barked to move them, and quickly darted back out before they could rear-up on her. Fast and decisive. Overwhelming.  They had no choice but to comply.

“Good girl”, I told her. I was amazed at what I had just seen. Stoically, I tried to hide the elation from my voice. It had come so easily to her.  “Now Josie, come here”, I told her. Without hesitation, she disengaged from the goats and came right back to me. I re-attached the long lead to her harness. Then I took her to get a big, crunchy dog biscuit reward. I praised her the whole walk back. Hawkeye saw it all from his kennel. And by the spring in her walk, I'm pretty sure Josie knew it.

"Look what I can do", she left unsaid.

That's OK, a little friendly competition raises all ships. Hawk may even learn a thing or two from her.  Don't feel bad for Hawkeye.  He still gets to put them back in the pen.