Sheep-Dogs

This excerpt was provided by Lisa P. Porch--Thanks Lisa!! See Lisa's Shetland Sheepdog pages at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pointe/4513/

[From Wood's Natural History Mammalia volume by the Rev. J.G Woods, circa 1862. A good engraving titled "Shepherd's Dog" accompanies the text. The subject looks like an out-of-coat sable & white Collie and it would be easy to imagine it as a near relation of early show Collies. - lbp]

The Shepherd's Dog

The most useful variety of the canine species is that sagacious creature on whose talent and energy depends the chief safety of the flock.

This animal seems to be, as far as can be judges from appearances, the original ancestor of the true British Dogs, and preserves its peculiar aspect in almost every country in Europe. It is a rather large Dog, as is necessary, in order to enable the animal to undergo the incessant labor which it is called on to perform, and is possessed of limbs sufficiently large and powerful to enable it to outrun the truant members of the flock, who, if bred on the mountain-side, are so swift and agile that they would readily baffle the efforts of any Dog less admirably fitted by nature for the task of keeping them together.

As the sheep-dog is constantly exposed to the weather, it needs the protection of very thick and closely-set fur, which, in this Dog, is rather woolly in its character, and is especially heavy about the neck and breast. The tail of the Sheep-dog is naturally long and bushy, but is generally removed in early youth, on account of the now obsolete laws, which refused to acknowledge any Dog as a Sheep-dog, or to exempt it from payment of a tax, unless it were deprived of its tail. This law, however, often defeated its own object, for many persons who liked the sport of coursing, and cared little for appearances, used to cut off the tails of their greyhounds, and evade the tax by describing them as Sheep-dogs.

The muzzle of this Dog is sharp, its head is of moderate size, its eyes are very bright and intelligent, as might be expected in an animal of so much sagacity and ready resource in time of need. Its feet are strongly made, and sufficiently well protected to endure severe work among the harsh stems of the heather on the hills, or the sharply-cutting stones of the high-road. Probably on account of its constant exercise in the open air, and the hardy manner in which it is brought up, the Sheep-dog is perhaps the most untiring of our domesticated animals.

There are many breeds of this animal, differing from each other in color and aspect, and deriving their varied forms from the Dog with which the family has been crossed. Nearly all the sporting Dogs are used for this purpose, so that some Sheep-dogs have something of the pointer nature in them, others of the foxhound, and others of the setter. This last cross is the most common. Together with the outward form the creature inherits much of the sporting predilections of its ancestry, and is capable of being trained into a capital sporting Dog.

Many of these animals are sad double-dealers in their characters, being by day most respectable Sheep-dogs, and by night most disreputable poachers. The mixed offspring of a Sheep-dog and a setter is as silently successful in discovering and marking game by night as he is openly useful in managing the flocks by day. As he spends the whole of his time in the society of his master, and learns from long companionship to comprehend the least gesture of hand or tone of voice, he is far better adapted for nocturnal poaching than the more legitimate setter or retriever, and causes far more deadly havoc among the furred and feathered game. Moreover, he often escapes the suspicion of the gamekeeper by his quiet and honorable demeanor during the daytime, and his devotion to his arduous task of guarding the fold, and reclaiming its wandering members. It seems hardly possible that an animal which works so hard during the day should be able to pass the night in beating for game.

Sometimes there is an infusion of the bull-dog blood into the Sheep-dog, but this mixture is thought to be unadvisable, as such Dogs are too apt to bite their charge, and so to alienate from themselves the confidence of the helpless creatures whom they are intended to protect, and not to injure. Unless the sheep can feel that the Dog is, next to the shepherd, their best friend, the chief value of the animal is lost.

It is well observed by Mr. Youatt, in his valuable work on these Dogs, that if the sheep do not crowd round the Dog when they are alarmed, and place themselves under his protection, there is something radically wrong in the management of the flock. He remarks that the Dog will seldom, if ever, bite a sheep, unless to do so by its master, and suggests that the shepherd should be liable to a certain fine for every tooth-mark upon his flock. Very great injury is done to the weakly sheep and tender lambs by the crowding and racing that takes place when a cruel Dog begins to run among the flock. However, the fault also lies more with the shepherd than with Dog, for as the man is, so will his Dog be. The reader must bear in mind that the barbarous treatment to which travelling flocks are so often subjected is caused by drovers and not shepherds, who, in almost every instance, know each sheep by its name, and are as careful of its well-being as if it were a member of their own family. The Dogs which so persecute the poor sheep in their bewilderments among cross-roads and the perplexity of crowded streets, are in turn treated by their masters quite as cruelly as they treat the sheep. In this, as in other instances, it is "like man and like Dog".

As a general rule, the Sheep-dog cares little for any one but his master, and so far from courting the notice or caresses of a stranger will coldly withdraw from them, and keep his distance. Even with other Dogs he rarely makes companionship, contenting himself with the society of his master alone.

The Scotch Sheep-Dog

The SCOTCH SHEEP-DOG, more familiarly called the COLLEY, is not unlike the English Sheep-Dog in character, though it rather differs from that animal in form. It is sharp of nose, bright and mild of eye, and most sagacious of aspect. Its body is heavily covered with long and woolly hair, which stands boldly out from its body, and forms a most effectual screen against the heat of the blazing sun, or the cold, sleety blasts of winter winds. The tail is exceedingly bushy, and curves upward towards the end, so as to carry the long hairs free from the ground. The color of the fur is always dark, and is sometimes variegated with a very little white. The most approved tint is black and tan; but it sometimes happens that he entire coat is of one of these colors, and in that case the dog is not so highly valued.

The "dew-claws" of the English and Scotch Sheep-dogs are generally double, and are not attached to the bone, as is the case with the other claws. At the present day it is the custom to remove these appendages, on the grounds that they are of no use to the Dog, and that they are apt to be rudely torn off by the various obstacles through which the animal is obliged to force its way, or by the many accidents to which it is liable in its laborious vocation. In the entire aspect of this creature there is a curious resemblance to the Dingo, as may be seen on reference to the account of that animal in subsequent pages.

It is hardly possible to overrate the marvellous intelligence of a well-taught Sheep-dog; for if the shepherd were deprived of the help of his Dog his office would be almost impracticable. It has been forcibly said by a competent authority that, if the work of the Dog were to be performed by men, their maintenance would more than swallow up the entire profits of the flock. They, indeed, could never direct the sheep so successfully as the Dog directs them; for the sheep understand the Dog better than they comprehend the shepherd. The Dog serves as a medium through which the instructions of the man are communicated to the flock; and being in intelligence the superior of his charge, and the inferior of his master, he is equally capable of communicating with either extreme.

One of these Dogs performed a feat which would have been, excusably, thought impossible, had it not been proved to be true. A large flock of lambs took a sudden alarm one night, as sheep are wont, unaccountably and most skittishly, to do, and dashed off among the hills in three different directions. The shepherd tried in vain to recall the fugitives; but finding all his endeavors useless, told his Dog that the lambs had all run away, and then set off himself in search of the lost flock. The remainder of the night was passed in fruitless search, and the shepherd was returning to his master to report his loss. However, as he was on the way, he saw a number of lambs standing at the bottom of a deep ravine and his faithful dog keeping watch over them. He immediately concluded that his Dog had discovered one of the three bands which had started off so inopportunely in the darkness; but on visiting the recovered truants he discovered, to his equal joy and wonder, that the entire flock was collected in the ravine, without the loss of a single lamb.

How the wonderful Dog had performed this task, not even his master could conceive. It may be that the sheep had been accustomed to place themselves under the guidance of the Dog, though they might have fled from the presence of the shepherd; and that they felt themselves bewildered in the darkness they were quite willing to entrust themselves to their well-known friend and guardian.

The memory of the Shepherd's Dog is singularly tenacious, as may appear from the fact that one of these Dogs, when assisting his master, for the first time, in conducting some sheep from Westmoreland to London, experienced very great difficulty in guiding his charge among the many cross-roads and bye-ways that intersected their route. But on the next journey he found but little hindrance, as he was able to remember the points which had caused him so much trouble on his former expedition, and to profit by the experience which he had then gained.

The Drover's Dog

The DROVER'S DOG is generally produced from the sheep-dog and the mastiff or foxhound, and sometimes from the sheep-dog and the greyhound or pointer; the peculiar mixture being employed to suit the different localities in which the Dog is intended to exercise its powers. In some places the Drover's Dog is comparatively small, because the sheep are small, docile and not very active. But when the sheep are large, agile, and vigorous, and can run over a large extent of ground, a much larger and more powerful animal is needed, in order to cope with the extended powers of the sheep which are committed to its guardianship.

Although the Drover's Dog may be entrusted with the entire charge of the flock, its rightful vocation is the conveyance of the sheep from place to place. It will often learn its business os thoroughly , that it will conduct a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle to the destined point, and the deliver up its charge to the person who is appointed to receive them. Not the least extraordinary part of its performance is, that it will conduct its own flock through the midst of other sheep without permitting a single sheep under its charge to escape, or allowing a single stranger to mix with its own flock.

Such abilities as these can be applied to wrong purposes as well as good ones, and there is a well-known story of a drover who was accustomed to steal sheep through the help of his Dog. His plan was to indicate, by some expressive gesture which the Dog well understood, the particular sheep which he wished to be added to his own flock, and then to send his flock forward under the guardianship of the Dog, while he remained with his companions at the public-house bar. The clever animal would then so craftily intermingle the two flocks that it contrived to entice the coveted sheep into its own flock, and then would drive them forwards, carrying off the stolen sheep among the number. If the stratagem were not discovered, the owner of the Dog speedily changed the marks on the sheep, and thus merged them with his own legitimate property. If the fraud were detected, it was set down as an excusable mistake of the Dog, the stolen animals were restored, and the real thief escaped punishment. However, detection came at last, as it always does, sooner or later.

Cur Dogs

The true CUR DOG is produced from the sheep-dog and the terrier, and is a most useful animal to the class of persons among whom it is generally found. It is rather apt to be petulant in its temper, and is singularly suspicious of strangers; so that although it is rather an unpleasant neighbor by reason of its perpetually noisy tongue, it is of the greatest service to the person to whom it belongs. It is an admirable house-dog, and specially honest, being capable of restraining its natural instincts, and of guarding its owner's provisions, even though it may be almost perishing of hunger.

The Cur is the acknowledged pest of the passing traveller, especially if he be mounted, or is driving as it rushes out of the house at the sound of the strange footstep, and follows the supposed intruder with yelps and snaps until it flatters itself that it has completely put the enemy to flight. About the house the Cur is as useful as is the colley among the hills, for it is as ready to comprehend and execute the wishes of its master at home as is the sheep-dog on the hills. Indeed, if the two dogs were to change places for a day or two, the cur would manage better with the sheep than the sheep-dog would manage the household tasks.

One principal reason of this distinction is, that a thorough-going sheep-dog is accustomed only to one line of action, and fails to comprehend anything that has no connection with sheep, while the Cur has been constantly employed for all kinds of various tasks, and is, therefore, very quick at learning a new accomplishment. When the laborers are at their daily work they are often accustomed to take their dinners with them, in order to save themselves the trouble of returning home in the middle of the day. As, however, there are often lawless characters among the laborers, especially if many of them come from a distance, and are only hired for the work in hand, the services of the Cur Dog are brought into requisition. Mounting guard on his master's coat, and defending with the utmost honesty his master's little stock of provisions, he snarls defiance at every one who approaches the spot where he acts as sentinel, and refuses to deliver his charge into the hands of any but its owner. He then sits down, happy and proud of the caresses that await him, and perfectly contented to eat the fragments of that very meal which he might have consumed entirely had he not been restrained by his sense of honor.

Mr. Hogg, the "Ettrick Shepherd" says that he has known one of these Dogs to mount guard night and day over a dairy full of milk and cream, and never so much as break the cream with the tip of its tongue, nor permit a cat, or rat, or any creature, to touch the milk pans.

The Cur Dog has - as all animals have - its little defects. It is sadly given to poaching on its own account, and is very destructive to the young game. It is too fond of provoking a combat with any strange Dog, and if its antagonist should move away, as is generally the case with high-bred Dogs, when they feel themselves intruding upon territories not their own, takes advantage of the supposed pusillanimity of the stranger, and annoys him to the best of its power; but if the stranger should not feel inclined to brook such treatment, and should turn upon its persecutor, the Cur is rather apt to invoke discretion instead of valor, and to seek the shelter of its own home, from whence it launches its angry yelpings, as if it would tear its throat in pieces.

Lurchers

Possessing many of the elements of the sheep-dog, but employed for different purposes, the Lurcher has fallen into great disrepute, being seldom seen as the companion of respectable persons. It is bred from the greyhound and sheep-dog, and is supposed to be most valuable when its parents are the rough Scotch greyhound [Scottish Deerhound] and the Scotch colley.

It is a matter of some regret that the Dog should bear so bad a character, as it is a remarkably handsome animal, combining the best attributes of both parents, and being equally eminent in speed, scent, and intelligence. As, however, it is usually the companion of poachers and other disreputable characters, the gamekeeper bears a deadly hatred towards the Lurcher, and is sure to shoot the poor animal at the earliest opportunity. For this conduct there is some pretext, as the creature is so admirably adapted for the pursuit and capture of game that a single poacher is enabled, by the aid of his four-legged assistant, to secure at least twice as much game as could be taken by any two men without the help of the Dog.

That punishment generally falls on the wrong shoulders is proverbially true, and holds good in the present instance. For the poor Dog is only doing his duty when he is engaged in marking or capturing game, and ought not to be subjected to the penalty of wounds or death for obeying the order which he has received. If any one is to be punished, the penalty ought to fall on the master, and not on the Dog, which is only acting under his orders, and carrying out his intentions.

The sagacity of this Dog is really wonderful. It learns to comprehend the unspoken commands of its master, and appreciates quite as fully as himself the necessity for lying concealed when foes are near, and, in every case of moving as stealthily as possible. It is even trained to pioneer the way for its owner, and to give him timely warning of hidden enemies. Destructive to all game, whether winged or furred, the Lurcher is especially so in the rabbit warren, or in any locality where hares abound. Its delicate sense of smell permits it to perceive its prey at a distance, and its very great speed enables it to pounce upon the hare or rabbit before it can shelter itself in the accustomed place of refuge. As soon as the Lurcher has caught its prey it brings it to its master, deposits it in his hands, and silently renews its search after another victim. Even pheasants and partridges are often caught by this crafty and agile animal.

Sometimes the game-destroying instincts of the Lurcher take a wrong turn , and lead the animal to hunt sheep, instead of confining itself to ordinary game. When it becomes thus perverted it is a most dangerous foe to the flocks, and commits sad havoc among them. One farmer, living in Cornwall, lost no less than fifteen sheep in one month, all of which were killed by Lurchers.

There are many breeds of the Lurcher, on account of the various Dogs of which the parentage is formed. The greyhound and sheep-dog are the original progenitors, but their offspring is crossed with various other Dogs, in order to obtain the desired qualifications. Thus, the grey-hound is used on account of its speedy foot and silent tongue, and the sheep-dog on account of its hardiness, its sagacity, and its readiness in obeying its master. The spaniel is often made to take part in the pedigree, in order to give its well-known predilection for questing game, and the hound is employed for a similar purpose. But in all these crossings the grey-hound must morally predominate, although its form is barely to be traced under the rough lineaments of the Lurcher.

As the Lurcher causes such suspicion in the minds of the gamekeeper or the landlord, the owners of these Dogs are accustomed to cut off their tails, in order to make them look like honorable sheep-dogs, and so to escape the tax which presses upon sporting Dogs, and to elude the suspicious glance of the game-preserving landlord and his emissaries. So swift is this animal that it has been frequently used for the purpose of coursing the hare, and is said to perform this task to the satisfaction of its owner. It can also be entrusted with the guardianship of the house, and watches over the property committed to its charge with vigilance and fidelity. Or it can take upon itself that character in reality which its cropped tail too often falsely indicates, and can watch a fold, keep the sheep in order, or conduct them from one place to another, nearly if not quite as well as the true sheep-dog from which it sprang.


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