Ultimo aggiornamento:  04.11.2019 16.11
April 26, 2014

the collie as a worker

By  E. Bjorkeland

written for The Montreal Collie Club (1905). Courtesy of National Library of New Zealand


In my attempt to describe the pure-bred Collie as a worker I much regret my inability as a writer, but perhaps with my inborn love for dogs and my handling of live stock for twentyfive years, it follows that I must have had workers more or less useful.

Before going into the subject at hand I may remark that some men are able to get the best work out of almost any dog where others utterly fail. The whole secret lies in our ability to get the dog's unbounded confidence, then the dog's working is only limited by his intelligence or his aptitude to understand what is wanted.

As to what is wanted of a worker there seems to be some difference of opinion, and in too many cases I have heard a dog called a worker if he can bring home the cows and drive the neighbour's sheep off the field, the whole education consisting in teaching the dog to understand the meaning of "Sic-em". This learned, the dog will run at the cows, bark and bite, drive the cows to the far end of the pasture, where they must turn or jump the fence; the dog follows, and as the cows have no other way of getting rid of their tormentor they naturally run for the barn. In this case it is the cows that are trained to run home when the dog comes.

Personally, I require a dog of a different education and ability. He must bring home the cows, but do it gently without exciting them. He must also pen a flock of sheep at any place when required; drive cattle or sheep on the road and keep them there; and furthermore, to be a farmer's dog he must handle pig's, the most troublesome of all animals to drive and all of this requires, as you can readily see, the very highest intelligence, besides an inborn aptitude for such work.

I will pass over the various breeds of mongrels I have had and come to my first pure-bred Collie. Fanny I got as a pup in the winter of 1896, from Robert Allan, Mt. Royal Vale, and began to work her at six months of age. The first time I brought her into the pasture with young cattle, Fanny rounded up and drove the cattle to me and held them there, wheeling about and turning back anyone attempting to stray. This very thing I, with more or less success, had tried to teach dogs of various breeds the driving to me. This was a natural instinct in her, training she had none. She learned obedience as all my dogs must do, and to understand hand motions winch indicated to drive to right or left, forward or back, and I fear I shall never find her equal.

As proof of her intelligence, I may relate one instance. In the fall of '97 we had twenty-five or thirty half-grown pigs running in a pasture; they got out one day and into a cornfield unknown to me, but Fanny, on her own responsibility, drove the pigs out of the cornfield over to the pasture gate, which was closed. I was told by one who saw her that she ran up to the locked gate, then sat down and seemed to turn matters over in her mind, then with a few lively jumps and bites ran the pigs together, then off to find me, then by excited barking she tried to make me understand that something was wrong, and when I followed her she went ahead and had all the pigs at the gate ready to turn in. I could name many other Collies of great merit as workers, they being descended from Fanny, and may possibly have derived their working ability from her.

We will take up my last acquisition, Ben Davis, whose sire is Woodmansterne Conrad, dam Logan's Apple Blossom, a pedigree that is well known to Collie breeders, and it is equally well known that none of Ben's ancestors have been workers for many generations. I purchased this dog from Mr Robert McEwan, qualities were aroused and he showed an expression that would gladden the heart of any Collie man. Knowing Ben's gentle disposition and that he would not chase sheep or anything else, I tried to make him understand the word "fetch." Ben started slowly at first, gradually increasing in speed, every vital fibre in his body and brain working in harmony, and rounding up those sheep drove them to the middle of the field, heading off and turning any strays, neither barking nor biting, just galloping along close up to the sheep and throwing his body against them to turn them. I realize my inability to properly describe this. I have often watched a Pointer or a Setter on his first day in the field, and any gunning man knows the excitement when such a dog finds his first game, but this is nothing compared to to the sight of a good Collie rounding up his first sheep.

I had no right to start off with another man's sheep, but right or wrong I headed for the gate and Ben followed with the sheep slowly but surely, turning them into a narrow lane leading to the farm. Now I did not want to take the sheep down to the farm, so after keeping them there for a short time, I started to turn them back. The sheep, however, did not feel inclined to go back, and when 200 sheep stop in a narrow lane they form a blockade that is not easily broken, and here I had another agreeable surprise, showing plainly the instinct there is in the pure bred Collie, although it may be dormant.

Twice Ben jumped the fence and tried to stop them, but could not then without word or sign from me he ran along the backs of the flock to the foremost, barked, and with his head tried to separate them. He got them started, and again when the sheep were passing the pasture gate Ben ran over the sheep, headed them off, and turned them into the pasture. I cannot say who was the prouder, the dog or his master, but there was not enough money in Canada to buy Ben Davis that day. Since then I have had no trouble in getting- Ben to work on cattle, sheep or pigs, and today I can truly say that few dogs will equal him in working ability or general intelligence.

How do we train the Collie? I have no rules for this; each dog may require different handling. One rule I have equally for all, and the same for Pointers and Setters — if they do not point naturally they are not worth training. So with the Collie if he does not head the flock towards me he is not worth training.

My dogs always follow me, but I only let one dog work at a time, they must learn obedience to word, whistle, or hand motion. I do not let my dogs work for fun, and get off when half done. When I give the order the work must be done, and if the dogs cannot do it, I must and let the dogs see that it can and must be done.

My dogs have perfect confidence in me, and generally this confidence becomes mutual. A Collie cannot be trained in a month nor a year it takes a lifetime, as there is always something new to learn. Be on the look -out that he does not learn bad habits, which he is as liable to as his master.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without reminding you of the duty which rests on you - "The Only Collie Club in Canada". It is in your power to guard this, our favourite breed, from taint. Do not lose the working quality for a mere imaginary beauty.