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.