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Ch. 20: Some Sheep Dogs

Breaking a sheep-dog--The shepherd buys a pup--His training--He
refuses to work--He chases a swallow and is put to death--The
shepherd's remorse--Bob, the sheep-dog--How he was bitten by an
adder--Period of the dog's receptivity--Tramp, the sheep-dog--Roaming
lost about the country--A rage of hunger--Sheep-killing dogs--Dogs
running wild--Anecdotes--A Russian sheep-dog--Caleb parts with Tramp


To Caleb the proper training of a dog was a matter of the very first
importance. A man, he considered, must have not only a fair amount of
intelligence, but also experience, and an even temper, and a little
sympathy as well, to sum up the animal in hand--its special aptitudes,
its limitations, its disposition, and that something in addition, which
he called a "kink," and would probably have described as its
idiosyncrasy if he had known the word. There was as much individual
difference among dogs as there is in boys; but if the breed was right,
and you went the right way about it, you could hardly fail to get a good
servant. If a dog was not properly broken, if its trainer had not made
the most of it, he was not a "good shepherd": he lacked the
intelligence--"understanding" was his word--or else the knowledge or
patience or persistence to do his part. It was, however, possible for
the best shepherd to make mistakes, and one of the greatest to be made,
which was not uncommon, was to embark on the long and laborious business
of training an animal of mixed blood--a sheep-dog with a taint of
terrier, retriever, or some other unsuitable breed in him. In discussing
this subject with other shepherds I generally found that those who were
in perfect agreement with Caleb on this point were men who were somewhat
like him in character, and who regarded their work with the sheep as so
important that it must be done thoroughly in every detail and in the
best way. One of the best shepherds I know, who is sixty years old and
has been on the same downland sheep-farm all his life, assures me that
he has never had and never would have a dog which was trained by
another. But the shepherd of the ordinary kind says that he doesn't care
much about the animal's parentage, or that he doesn't trouble to inquire
into its pedigree: he breaks the animal, and finds that he does pretty
well, even when he has some strange blood in him; finally, that all dogs
have faults and you must put up with them. Caleb would say of such a man
that he was not a "good shepherd." One of his saddest memories was of a
dog which he bought and broke without having made the necessary
inquiries about its parentage.

It happened that a shepherd of the village, who had taken a place at a
distant farm, was anxious to dispose of a litter of pups before leaving,
and he asked Caleb to have one. Caleb refused. "My dog's old, I know,"
he said, "but I don't want a pup now and I won't have 'n."

A day or two later the man came back and said he had kept one of the
best of the five for him--he had got rid of all the others. "You can't
do better," he persisted. "No," said Caleb, "what I said I say again. I
won't have 'n, I've no money to buy a dog."

"Never mind about money," said the other. "You've got a bell I like the
sound of; give he to me and take the pup." And so the exchange was made,
a copper bell for a nice black pup with a white collar; its mother,
Bawcombe knew, was a good sheep-dog, but about the other parent he made
no inquiries.

On receiving the pup he was told that its name was Tory, and he did not
change it. It was always difficult, he explained, to find a name for a
dog--a name, that is to say, which anyone would say was a proper name
for a dog and not a foolish name. One could think of a good many proper
names--Jack and Watch, and so on--but in each case one would remember
some dog which had been called by that name, and it seemed to belong to
that particular well-remembered dog and to no other, and so in the end
because of this difficulty he allowed the name to remain.

The dog had not cost him much to buy, but as it was only a few weeks old
he had to keep it at his own cost for fully six months before beginning
the business of breaking it, which would take from three to six months
longer. A dog cannot be put to work before he is quite half a year old
unless he is exceptionally vigorous. Sheep are timid creatures, but not
unintelligent, and they can distinguish between the seasoned old
sheep-dog, whose furious onset and bite they fear, and the raw young
recruit as easily as the rook can distinguish between the man with a gun
and the man of straw with a broomstick under his arm. They will turn
upon and attack the young dog, and chase him away with his tail between
his legs. He will also work too furiously for his strength and then
collapse, with the result that he will make a cowardly sheep-dog, or, as
the shepherds say, "brokenhearted."

Another thing. He must be made to work at first with an old sheep-dog,
for though he has the impulse to fly about and do something, he does not
know what to do and does not understand his master's gestures and
commands. He must have an object-lesson, he must see the motion and hear
the word and mark how the old dog flies to this or that point and what
he does. The word of command or the gesture thus becomes associated in
his mind with a particular action on his part. But he must not be given
too many object-lessons or he will lose more than he will gain--a
something which might almost be described as a sense of individual
responsibility. That is to say, responsibility to the human master who
delegates his power to him. Instead of taking his power directly from
the man he takes it from the dog, and this becomes a fixed habit so
quickly that many shepherds say that if you give more than from three to
six lessons of this kind to a young dog you will spoil him. He will need
the mastership of the other dog, and will thereafter always be at a loss
and work in an uncertain way.

A timid or unwilling young dog is often coupled with the old dog two or
three times, but this method has its dangers too, as it may be too much
for the young dog's strength, and give him that "broken-heart" from
which he will never recover; he will never be a good sheep-dog.

To return to Tory. In due time he was trained and proved quick to learn
and willing to work, so that before long he began to be useful and was
much wanted with the sheep, as the old dog was rapidly growing stiffer
on his legs and harder of hearing.

One day the lambs were put into a field which was half clover and half
rape, and it was necessary to keep them on the clover. This the young
dog could not or would not understand; again and again he allowed the
lambs to go to the rape, which so angered Caleb that he threw his crook
at him. Tory turned and gave him a look, then came very quietly and
placed himself behind his master. From that moment he refused to obey,
and Bawcombe, after exhausting all his arts of persuasion, gave it up
and did as well as he could without his assistance.

That evening after folding-time he by chance met a shepherd he was well
acquainted with and told him of the trouble he was in over Tory.

"You tie him up for a week," said the shepherd, "and treat him well till
he forgets all about it, and he'll be the same as he was before you
offended him. He's just like old Tom--he's got his father's temper."

"What's that you say?" exclaimed Bawcombe. "Be you saying that Tory's
old Tom's son? I'd never have taken him if I'd known that. Tom's not
pure-bred--he's got retriever's blood."

"Well, 'tis known, and I could have told 'ee, if thee'd asked me," said
the shepherd. "But you do just as I tell 'ee, and it'll be all right
with the dog."

Tory was accordingly tied up at home and treated well and spoken kindly
to and patted on the head, so that there would be no unpleasantness
between master and servant, and if he was an intelligent animal he would
know that the crook had been thrown not to hurt but merely to express
disapproval of his naughtiness.

Then came a busy day for the shepherd, when the lambs were trimmed
before being taken to the Wilton sheep-fair. There was Bawcombe, his
boy, the decrepit old dog, and Tory to do the work, but when the time
came to start Tory refused to do anything.

When sent to turn the lambs he walked off to a distance of about twenty
yards, sat down and looked at his master. Caleb hoped he would come
round presently when he saw them all at work, and so they did the best
they could without him for a time; but the old dog was stiffer and
harder of hearing than ever, and as they could not get on properly Caleb
went at intervals to Tory and tried to coax him to give them his help;
and every time he was spoken to he would get up and come to his master,
then when ordered to do something he would walk off to the spot where he
had chosen to be and calmly sit down once more and look at them. Caleb
was becoming more and more incensed, but he would not show it to the
dog; he still hoped against hope; and then a curious thing happened. A
swallow came skimming along close to the earth and passed within a yard
of Tory, when up jumped the dog and gave chase, darting across the field
with such speed that he kept very near the bird until it rose and passed
over the hedge at the farther side. The joyous chase over Tory came back
to his old place, and sitting on his haunches began watching them again
struggling with the lambs. It was more than the shepherd could stand; he
went deliberately up to the dog, and taking him by the straw collar
still on his neck drew him quietly away to the hedge-side and bound him
to a bush, then getting a stout stick he came back and gave him one blow
on the head. So great was the blow that the dog made not the slightest
sound: he fell; his body quivered a moment and his legs stretched
out--he was quite dead. Bawcombe then plucked an armful of bracken and
threw it over his body to cover it, and going back to the hurdles sent
the boy home, then spreading his cloak at the hedge-side, laid himself
down on it and covered his head.

An hour later the fanner appeared on the scene. "What are you doing
here, shepherd?" he demanded in surprise. "Not trimming the lambs!"

Bawcombe, raising himself on his elbow, replied that he was not trimming
the lambs--that he would trim no lambs that day.

"Oh, but we must get on with the trimming!" cried the farmer.

Bawcombe returned that the dog had put him out, and now the dog was
dead--he had killed him in his anger, and he would trim no more lambs
that day. He had said it and would keep to what he had said.

Then the farmer got angry and said that the dog had a very good nose and
would have been useful to him to take rabbits.

"Master," said the other, "I got he when he were a pup and broke 'n to
help me with the sheep and not to catch rabbits; and now I've killed 'n
and he'll catch no rabbits."

The farmer knew his man, and swallowing his anger walked off without
another word.

Later on in the day he was severely blamed by a shepherd friend who said
that he could easily have sold the dog to one of the drovers, who were
always anxious to pick up a dog in their village, and he would have had
the money to repay him for his trouble; to which Bawcombe returned, "If
he wouldn't work for I that broke 'n he wouldn't work for another. But
I'll never again break a dog that isn't pure-bred."

But though he justified himself he had suffered remorse for what he had
done; not only at the time, when he covered the dead dog up with bracken
and refused to work any more that day, but the feeling had persisted all
his life, and he could not relate the incident without showing it very
plainly. He bitterly blamed himself for having taken the pup and for
spending long months in training him without having first taken pains to
inform himself that there was no bad blood in him. And although the dog
was perhaps unfit to live he had finally killed him in anger. If it had
not been for that sudden impetuous chase after a swallow he would have
borne with him and considered afterwards what was to be done; but that
dash after the bird was more than he could stand; for it looked as if
Tory had done it purposely, in something of a mocking spirit, to exhibit
his wonderful activity and speed to his master, sweating there at his
task, and make him see what he had lost in offending him.

The shepherd gave another instance of a mistake he once made which
caused him a good deal of pain. It was the case of a dog named Bob which
he owned when a young man. He was an exceptionally small dog, but his
quick intelligence made up for lack of strength, and he was of a very
lively disposition, so that he was a good companion to a shepherd as
well as a good servant.

One summer day at noon Caleb was going to his flock in the fields,
walking by a hedge, when he noticed Bob sniffing suspiciously at the
roots of an old holly-tree growing on the bank. It was a low but very
old tree with a thick trunk, rotten and hollow inside, the cavity being
hidden with the brushwood growing up from the roots. As he came abreast
of the tree, Bob looked up and emitted a low whine, that sound which
says so much when used by a dog to his master and which his master does
not always rightly understand. At all events he did not do so in this
case. It was August and the shooting had begun, and Caleb jumped to the
conclusion that a wounded bird had crept into the hollow tree to hide,
and so to Bob's whine, which expressed fear and asked what he was to do,
the shepherd answered, "Get him." Bob dashed in, but quickly recoiled,
whining in a piteous way, and began rubbing his face on his legs.
Bawcombe in alarm jumped down and peered into the hollow trunk and heard
a slight rustling of dead leaves, but saw nothing. His dog had been
bitten by an adder, and he at once returned to the village, bitterly
blaming himself for the mistake he had made and greatly fearing that he
would lose his dog. Arrived at the village his mother at once went off
to the down to inform Isaac of the trouble and ask him what they were to
do. Caleb had to wait some time, as none of the villagers who gathered
round could suggest a remedy, and in the meantime Bob continued rubbing
his cheek against his foreleg, twitching and whining with pain; and
before long the face and head began to swell on one side, the swelling
extending to the nape and downwards to the throat. Presently Isaac
himself, full of concern, arrived on the scene, having left his wife in
charge of the flock, and at the same time a man from a neighbouring
village came riding by and joined the group. The horseman got off and
assisted Caleb in holding the dog while Isaac made a number of incisions
with his knife in the swollen place and let out some blood, after which
they rubbed the wounds and all the swollen part with an oil used for the
purpose. The composition of this oil was a secret: it was made by a man
in one of the downland villages and sold at eighteenpence a small
bottle; Isaac was a believer in its efficacy, and always kept a bottle
hidden away somewhere in his cottage.

Bob recovered in a few days, but the hair fell out from all the part
which had been swollen, and he was a curious-looking dog with half his
face and head naked until he got his fresh coat, when it grew again. He
was as good and active a dog as ever, and lived to a good old age, but
one result of the poison he never got over: his bark had changed from a
sharp ringing sound to a low and hoarse one. "He always barked," said
the shepherd, "like a dog with a sore throat."

To go back to the subject of training a dog. Once you make a beginning
it must be carried through to a finish. You take him at the age of six
months, and the education must be fairly complete when he is a year old.
He is then lively, impressionable, exceedingly adaptive; his
intelligence at that period is most like man's; but it would be a
mistake to think that it will continue so--that to what he learns now in
this wonderful half-year, other things may be added by and by as
opportunity arises. At a year he has practically got to the end of his
capacity to learn. He has lost his human-like receptivity, but what he
has been taught will remain with him for the rest of his life. We can
hardly say that he remembers it; it is more like what is called
"inherited memory" or "lapsed intelligence."

All this is very important to a shepherd, and explains the reason an old
head-shepherd had for saying to me that he had never had, and never
would have, a dog he had not trained himself. No two men follow
precisely the same method in training, and a dog transferred from his
trainer to another man is always a little at a loss; method, voice,
gestures, personality, are all different; his new master must study him
and in a way adapt himself to the dog. The dog is still more at a loss
when transferred from one kind of country to another where the sheep are
worked in a different manner, and one instance Caleb gave me of this is
worth relating. It was, I thought, one of his best dog stories.

His dogs as a rule were bought as pups; occasionally he had had to get a
dog already trained, a painful necessity to a shepherd, seeing that the
pound or two it costs--the price of an ordinary animal--is a big sum of
money to him. And once in his life he got an old trained sheep-dog for
nothing. He was young then, and acting as under-shepherd in his native
village, when the report came one day that a great circus and menagerie
which had been exhibiting in the west was on its way to Salisbury, and
would be coming past the village about six o'clock on the following
morning. The turnpike was a little over a mile away, and thither Caleb
went with half a dozen other young men of the village at about five
o'clock to see the show pass, and sat on a gate beside a wood to wait
its coming. In due time the long procession of horses and mounted men
and women, and gorgeous vans containing lions and tigers and other
strange beasts, came by, affording them great admiration and delight.
When it had gone on and the last van had disappeared at the turning of
the road, they got down from the gate and were about to set out on their
way back when a big, shaggy sheepdog came out of the wood and running to
the road began looking up and down in a bewildered way. They had no
doubt that he belonged to the circus and had turned aside to hunt a
rabbit in the wood; then, thinking the animal would understand them,
they shouted to it and waved their arms in the direction the procession
had gone. But the dog became frightened, and turning fled back into
cover, and they saw no more of it.

Two or three days later it was rumoured that a strange dog had been seen
in the neighbourhood of Winterbourne Bishop, in the fields; and women
and children going to or coming from outlying cottages and farms had
encountered it, sometimes appearing suddenly out of the furze-bushes and
staring wildly at them; or they would meet him in some deep lane between
hedges, and after standing still a moment eyeing them he would turn and
fly in terror from their strange faces. Shepherds began to be alarmed
for the safety of their sheep, and there was a good deal of excitement
and talk about the strange dog. Two or three days later Caleb
encountered it. He was returning from his flock at the side of a large
grass field where four or five women were occupied cutting the thistles,
and the dog, which he immediately recognized as the one he had seen at
the turnpike, was following one of the women about. She was greatly
alarmed, and called to him, "Come here, Caleb, for goodness' sake, and
drive this big dog away! He do look so desprit, I'm afeared of he."

"Don't you be feared," he shouted back. "He won't hurt 'ee; he's
starving--don't you see his bones sticking out? He's asking to be fed."
Then going a little nearer he called to her to take hold of the dog by
the neck and keep him while he approached. He feared that the dog on
seeing him coming would rush away. After a little while she called the
dog, but when he went to her she shrank away from him and called out,
"No, I daren't touch he--he'll tear my hand off. I never see'd such a
desprit-looking beast!"

"'Tis hunger," repeated Caleb, and then very slowly and cautiously he
approached, the dog all the time eyeing him suspiciously, ready to rush
away on the slightest alarm. And while approaching him he began to speak
gently to him, then coming to a stand stooped and patting his legs
called the dog to him. Presently he came, sinking his body lower as he
advanced and at last crawling, and when he arrived at the shepherd's
feet he turned himself over on his back--that eloquent action which a
dog uses when humbling himself before and imploring mercy from one
mightier than himself, man or dog.

Caleb stooped, and after patting the dog gripped him firmly by the neck
and pulled him up, while with his free hand he undid his leather belt to
turn it into a dog's collar and leash; then, the end of the strap in his
hand, he said "Come," and started home with the dog at his side. Arrived
at the cottage he got a bucket and mixed as much meal as would make two
good feeds, the dog all the time watching him with his muscles twitching
and the water running from his mouth. The meal well mixed he emptied it
out on the turf, and what followed, he said, was an amazing thing to
see: the dog hurled himself down on the food and started devouring it as
if the mass of meal had been some living savage creature he had captured
and was frenziedly tearing to pieces. He turned round and round,
floundering on the earth, uttering strange noises like half-choking
growls and screams while gobbling down the meal; then when he had
devoured it all he began tearing up and swallowing the turf for the sake
of the little wet meal still adhering to it.

Such rage of hunger Caleb had never seen, and it was painful to him to
think of what the dog had endured during those days when it had been
roaming foodless about the neighbourhood. Yet it was among sheep all the
time--scores of flocks left folded by night at a distance from the
village; one would have imagined that the old wolf and wild-dog instinct
would have come to life in such circumstances, but the instinct was to
all appearance dead.

My belief is that the pure-bred sheep-dog is indeed the last dog to
revert to a state of nature; and that when sheep-killing by night is
traced to a sheep-dog, the animal has a bad strain in him, of retriever,
or cur, or "rabbit-dog," as the shepherds call all terriers. When I was
a boy on the pampas sheep-killing dogs were common enough, and they were
always curs, or the common dog of the country, a smooth-haired animal
about the size of a coach-dog, red, or black, or white. I recall one
instance of sheep-killing being traced to our own dogs--we had about six
or eight just then. A native neighbour, a few miles away, caught them at
it one morning; they escaped him in spite of his good horse, with lasso
and bolas also, but his sharp eyes saw them pretty well in the dim
light, and by and by he identified them, and my father had to pay him
for about thirty slain and badly injured sheep; after which a gallows
was erected and our guardians ignominiously hanged. Here we shoot dogs;
in some countries the old custom of hanging them, which is perhaps less
painful, is still followed.

To go back to our story. From that time the stray dog was Caleb's
obedient and affectionate slave, always watching his face and every
gesture, and starting up at his slightest word in readiness to do his
bidding. When put with the flock he turned out to be a useful sheep-dog,
but unfortunately he had not been trained on the Wiltshire Downs. It was
plain to see that the work was strange to him, that he had been taught
in a different school, and could never forget the old and acquire a new
method. But as to what conditions he had been reared in or in what
district or country no one could guess. Every one said that he was a
sheep-dog, but unlike any sheep-dog they had ever seen; he was not
Wiltshire, nor Welsh, nor Sussex, nor Scotch, and they could say no
more. Whenever a shepherd saw him for the first time his attention was
immediately attracted, and he would stop to speak with Caleb. "What sort
of a dog do you call that?" he would say. "I never see'd one just like
'n before."

At length one day when passing by a new building which some workmen had
been brought from a distance to erect in the village, one of the men
hailed Caleb and said, "Where did you get that dog, mate?"

"Why do you ask me that?" said the shepherd.

"Because I know where he come from: he's a Rooshian, that's what he is.
I've see'd many just like him in the Crimea when I was there. But I
never see'd one before in England."

Caleb was quite ready to believe it, and was a little proud at having a
sheep-dog from that distant country. He said that it also put something
new into his mind. He didn't know nothing about Russia before that,
though he had been hearing so much of our great war there and of all the
people that had been killed. Now he realized that Russia was a great
country, a land where there were hills and valleys and villages, where
there were flocks and herds, and shepherds and sheepdogs just as in the
Wiltshire Downs. He only wished that Tramp--that was the name he had
given his dog--could have told him his history.

Tramp, in spite of being strange to the downs and the downland
sheep-dog's work, would probably have been kept by Caleb to the end but
for his ineradicable passion for hunting rabbits. He did not neglect his
duty, but he would slip away too often, and eventually when a man who
wanted a good dog for rabbits one day offered Caleb fifteen shillings
for Tramp, he sold him, and as he was taken away to a distance by his
new master, he never saw him again.

W. H. Hudson