Work Together:

Herding Dog Lessons

Tala & Olie work together to share the couch. You’ll notice they left very little space for a human.

Tala and Olie were sisters, littermates dumped at a shelter as soon as they were weaned. Their mother was a working Australian Cattle Dog. She needed to get back to work.

They were not quite civilized when they arrived. They were totally uninterested in people and far too interested in everything else.

If they were awake, they were in motion.

They were exhausting and I frequently felt overwhelmed. But with the help of my college age son, they grew into feisty but (mostly) well behaved  members of our pack.

They were a team. They could be counted on to always work together with each other and with the rest of the family. 

I learned a lot from them. 

Life Lesson 1: Division of Labor

Over time, they assigned themselves jobs.

One of Olie's jobs was to gather up any family member who wasn’t in bed on time and usher them to their appropriate place.

Sleeping on the couch was unacceptable. She was persuasive. Breathing in your face. Sitting on you. Leaning on you. Until you got up and went to the spot where you belonged in your bed. 

Tala helped out with domestic chores. She would alert me when the dryer completed its cycle. She let me know when the toast popped up or something on the stove started to sizzle. (Sandy had to do a lot of re-training when I became her pack.) 

Work together and you won't duplicate efforts.

Life Lesson 2: Cooperate, Don't Compete

They watched our neighbor’s Labradors play ball. The three labs did a free-for-all run to chase each and every ball. They jostled for best position, stealing the ball from one another. Great fun!

Tala & Olie watched with a mix of interest and disdain.

I bought some tennis balls and we tried it out. I quickly learned that herding dogs do not compete, they cooperate. They work together.

They decided that the first ball thrown was for Tala and the second was for Olie.

If Tala missed the throw, Olie would not retrieve it. That was Tala’s job.

If Olie missed hers, Tala would not retrieve it. That was Oli’s job.

Olie would not run after the first ball. Tala would not chase the second one.

When you work together, you count on each pack member to do their part.

They did not abandon their position to do the task of the other. That only leads to anarchy and a scattered herd.

Life Lesson 3: Take Action. Work Together.

Sometimes the best way to work together is in stealth mode. For example: 

The humans were socializing in the front yard. Tala and Olie were good about staying in the yard. Once they learned the boundaries it was rare for them to violate them. 

The next door neighbor’s dog Spot slipped out of the fence and took off up the road. The owner was yelling, calling the dog who ignored him.

The herding dog sisters went into action.

They left the yard, running to catch up with Spot. My neighbor began apologizing that now my dogs were running off too. I smiled.

Spot wagged his tail at his partners in the escape. This is a such a fun game! The sisters wag their tails too. They were on either side of him. They slowed the pace a little and Spot slowed too. He didn’t want to outrun his playmates.

Gradually, they turned him back towards home. They romped alongside him, nudging him gently forward, preventing him from going left or right. It was still a game for Spot. 

Hey what happened???

They drove Spot directly to me.

I reached down to pet Spot while his owner, dumbfounded, clipped on his dog’s leash.

Yes, the sisters got praise and treats for a job well done.

Yes, I suspect it was several hours before Spot realized what happened, if he ever did.

Yes, I tried to not be smug about how smart my dogs are. Even in stealth mode, they were able to work together.

They were herding dogs. It was their superpower. 

They aged gracefully, don't you think? 

Read more life lessons from my dogs. 

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