as a Working Dog THE OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG Photo © k9 images
by kristine B. LoLanD with gaLe Fitzsimmons
P lease don’t be fooled by the cute, fuzzy look. Th is is a working— speci fi cally, a herding—breed and an immensely physical one at that. Th ey have no reservations about get- ting up close and personal. Very personal. Th e body slam is their trademark, be it stock, other dogs or—unless persuaded otherwise, also known as training—their people. I’m a little surprised this characteristic is not mentioned in our breed standard and still shudder recalling one of my puppies pick- ing up speed on the “back” part of a down and back in the breed ring, aiming directly for the digni fi ed, very mature judge whom she was convinced was her new best friend and whom would no doubt appreciate her special brand of a ff ection, also known as the quick stop, turn of body and hind-quarter slam into the recipient’s knees. Disaster nar- rowly averted by reading her intentions and taking countermeasures. Th e truth is that many OES have an almost deliberate disre- gard for their body—and yours. Th at said, by no means is this breed all brawn and no brains. To the contrary, this is a thinking breed. And what they think is that they know everything better than their handler. Most of the time, they are probably right. By herding breed standards —their typically in fi nite love of humanity
notwithstanding—they are nonetheless probably more independent minded than most and inherently intelligent enough to carry it o ff . Th is may have served them well as an all-around, dependable, take-care- of-basic-business farm dog. But in the modern world, with few job openings for excessively shaggy farm dogs, most fi nd employment as pets and the occasional companion/performance competitor. I’ll be honest... their independent, know-it-all outlook on life adds an additional degree of challenge when competing in perfor- mance and companion events. For one thing, few, if any, have ever read the organizing body’s regulations. Th is in no way dissuades them from believing to the core of their being that they know better and from adding their own inter- pretations to performance standards and requirements. As an Old English Sheepdog handler, you must quickly learn basic sur- vival skills, such as humility and instant improvisational skills, or you are bet- ter served going with a more predictable breed. A prerequisite well-developed sense of humor goes without saying. If you’re exceptionally lucky, the judges in your venue of choice are similarly well-endowed in the humor department.
I don’t mean to imply that you will not observe Old English Sheepdog perfor- mances that will take your breath away. I’ve competed in multiple venues with OES that could do no wrong one moment, yet look like they had never been trained a day in their lives the next, sometimes only minutes later. Better OES trainers and handlers than I—and there are many— inevitably concede that even when you have the best trained OES, with the most exquisite aptitude, you can never be com- pletely complacent about what they may do one moment to the next. Attending my fi rst AKC agility invi- tational my usually dependable (if not fl ashy by Old English standards) OES bitch refused to start round three until she had thoroughly thanked the timer for volunteering his time, kisses and all. Once she had fi nished her lovefest with the kind volunteer, she responded to my request to start our run—you ask an Old English; you demand at your peril—and turned in a near fl awless run on a highly technical course, which thrilled me to no end. Especially as this is a breed not thought to excel on this type of challenge and under an English judge at that, which I felt was especially fi tting. With many thanks to our instructor, a Terv breeder/
176 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , M ARCH 2015
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