Varieties of Canine Eccentricity

February 28th, 2017 21 Comments


We have three dogs now. Bear and Daisy Mae are Australian Shepherds, which is clearly a fine and sensible name for a dog that was conceived of, bred, and perfected entirely on working ranches in the American West, a stock dog as archetypically American as the cowboy, the quarter horse, and the Colt single-action.
The American Kennel Club claims the breed goes back, genetically, to the Basque region of the Pyrenean Mountains, and that it owes its name to the Basque shepherds who came to America from Australia in the 1800’s. I suppose that’s possible—anything is possible—but I prefer to think it was a bunch of good-natured but mischievous cowboys sitting around a campfire with a bottle of Jack Daniels and talking about how ignorant city slickers are. “Hell, those New York City folks can’t tell a horse from a cow from an elk. Why, I bet we could even tell them Ol’ Blue here is an Australian dog and they’d by golly buy that.” Think Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, and Daniel Stern, amiable, gullible, out of their element and out of their league, but having a fine old time with some fine old cowboys spreading misinformation.
However it happened, the Australian shepherd couldn’t be more American. He is a firm and unwavering believer in the Constitution, and in the equal and separate balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He believes in baseball and apple pie or any other foodstuff, whether in his food bowl or fallen to the floor, and he especially believes in the rights of all American citizens to do or be or say or go where they choose, so long as he can herd them in the right direction.
Their most obvious attribute—their great beauty—is the attribute most dangerous to them. People take one look at Aussies and fall in love, and this is emphatically not a breed for everyone. They were bred to move stock over long distances in rough country all day long, and sitting around on the sofa watching Animal Planet is not going to satisfy their physical energy demands. Nor will it satisfy their intellectual demands, because this is a highly intelligent breed that needs and wants and demands a job, preferably a challenging job. If you don’t interact with your Aussie both intellectually and physically, you and the dog will both end up very, very unhappy.
That beautiful coat also sheds constantly. If you share your home with an Aussie, dog hair will become an ever changing but constant feature in every corner, on every piece of furniture, under every piece of furniture, on all your clothes, and as a condiment on the dining table competing for space with the salt and the pepper and the mustard.
Temperamentally, Aussies are pretty easy-going as long as you work them and stimulate their brains. They are very sensitive dogs who need a light touch and, in the first two years, a lot—a lot—of patience. Their formidable brain power simply does not kick in until they reach about two years of age, and until then they can be what is politely referred to as a challenging handful. I imagine my parents thought very much the same about me, if you add about twenty years or so to that two years of age. Darleen claims my pre-frontal cortex still hasn’t fully developed, but then she’s a wife, and what wife doesn’t consider her husband a challenging handful?
Another Aussie trait is that they crave, desire, demand, and need close, very close contact with their people. If your idea of a dog is as a piece of yard art, do me a favor and don’t get any living, sentient thing; just buy a pet rock. But above all, do not get an Aussie, because that will truly ruin the dog and will ruin him in a slow, sadistic way. In fact, don’t even think about getting an Australian shepherd unless you really like having a dog underfoot. Correction: make that on top of foot. Both our Aussies, but Bear especially, will lie on top of your feet the instant said feet stop moving. I have learned to gather everything I might possibly need before I sit down to eat, work, read, watch television, or anything else, because both feet will instantly be glued in place by Australian Shepherd Superglue, and getting them out from under him can be painful to my toes and to his feelings. I’ve also learned that if my feet are under the toe-kick of the kitchen sink, or under the bathroom sink where I shave, I have to look behind me and move cautiously if I don’t want to trip and go ass over teakettle, because he’ll be right there. When I do sit in the easy chair to watch television, he puts his front half in my lap—he knows he’s too big to get all of him up there—and he will stay indefinitely.
His chief eccentricity, however, is very endearing. He likes to walk up to me and thrust his head firmly between my legs, leaving only his ears visible and touchable. That’s because he loves having his ears rubbed and as long as I continue to rub, he will continue to stand. Or until he hears dinner being prepared.
Bear’s raison d’être is to keep this world safe from birds. If I turn him loose in any pasture, or take him to the dog park, he will spend his time chasing every bird he can find. It’s his calling, and he takes his duties very seriously.
On one memorable occasion, at the local dog park, a raven decided to play with him. Bear got the raven airborne, no troubles there, but the raven simply settled on a nearby fence post. Bear would duly charge said fence post and the raven would fly to the second one down, or the third one back the other way, or sometimes just far enough away to give Bear a false sense of security. Then the raven would call or flap its wings to get Bear’s attention and off they would go again. For a while, both of them were clearly having a fine old time, but I finally had to call Bear off; he was starting to trip on his tongue, and you don’t want to discourage a dog with a good and useful habit of chasing birds. Useful? Yes, because for my retirement, I’m considering renting him out as one of those dogs that keep birds off airport runways.
I’m not as knowledgeable about canine anatomy as I should be, so I’m not sure how the mouth is connected to the legs, but Daisy Mae is one of those dogs incapable of forward movement without something in her mouth. In Daisy Mae’s case, it’s almost always a Nylabone, held at a jaunty angle in one corner so that she looks for all the world as if she were smoking a stogie. She is much more frivolous and light-hearted than Bear and she smiles constantly, so between that and the stogie, she reminds me of a much prettier version of George Burns.
She likes to have her tummy rubbed, so she runs at you and at the last moment leaps into the air, turns sideways onto her back, and falls with a crash onto the floor where she will gaze up at you in a manner that no man of woman born can possibly refuse. She has one brown eye and one blue eye, and either one of them could melt the heart of a brass statue of the devil himself. In short, she has charm and she knows how to work it.

Other than being charming, Daisy’s only other accomplishment of any note is herding the cats. Since “herding cats” is a metaphor for an impossible act, this is not an accomplishment to be sneered at. Unfortunately, the people Daisy shares her life with aren’t quite smart enough to figure out how to make cat-herding into a productive source of revenue, so Daisy retains strictly amateur status. Just as well, since she is only a year old and still in the prolonged impossible stage of all Australian shepherd puppies, but we have high hopes for her as she matures into professional cat herding.
Daisy’s has a serious bark like a Black & Decker masonry drill going into your skull, but she has an endearing way of greeting strangers by woofing at them. This is not barking, but—quite literally—well, woofing, a sort of quiet series of little grunts intended to indicate openness to friendly overtures, but no intention of tolerating unwanted liberties. Aussies are generally good-natured and people-loving, but they can be protective if not properly socialized.
Aussies hold it as a basic tenet of faith that they are, in fact, human beings with fur, and in this they are not far off the mark. It’s an endearing trait, but it means that they have a pronounced tendency to stand up on their hind legs. Think about every YouTube video you’ve ever seen featuring circus dogs, or dogs competing in dance competitions; there is a reason why so many of those dogs are Aussies. It also means that while you might be able to teach them not to jump up on you (be gentle and patient; you’re trying to break a normal—from the Aussie’s point of view—behavioral pattern) they will still be prone to stand up on everybody else, to lean against the kitchen counter to see what’s cooking or to request a nibble, to put their paws on the bathroom sink to supervise your shaving, and in general, act like an amiable and sociable old friend next to you at the bar. “Hey, it’s great to see you again! Let’s have a beer. How do you think Green Bay’s going to do this year?”
Basically, both our Australian shepherds are perfectly normal dogs. Not so the third member of our family.
Lola is a Cardigan Welsh corgi. In case you are unfamiliar with that breed, the Cardigan is the other corgi, the one with the tail. The Queen of England’s corgis, the ones seen on television clustering around the queen in her garden at Buckingham palace, are the smaller, tail-less variety known as Pembroke Welsh corgis. We rescued one of those once, long ago, and I can testify that Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, is well-protected. I got into a fistfight with a pit-bull who objected to us taking up space on his planet, and our other dogs, including a German shepherd from imported police and Schutzhund lines, all ran for their lives, while that little corgi managed to pull her head out of her collar, escaping from Darleen, and hit the pit-bull amidships like an express train. Of course, given her size, it had about as much effect as I would if I hit Deontay Wilder, but it distracted the pit-bull long enough for me to get back on my feet and grab him by his hind legs, incapacitating him until his owners could take him.
Cardigan Welsh corgis are supposed to be much tougher than Pembrokes. Having been owned by some of both, I can state empirically that the answer is an absolutely clear-cut yes and no. We had one very sweet and loving, but hopelessly fearful and neurotic Cardigan who used to fall apart at the slightest provocation, anything from turning on the shower to turning on the vacuum cleaner, from the faint and distant sound of far off neighbors quail hunting in a canyon a mile away from our house, to the unexpected sound of voices at our other neighbor’s house. She was a semi-rescue, but fearfulness, like aggression, is usually a sign of bad breeding.

Lola is the other extreme. Not only is she not afraid of the devil himself, but she has the kind of foolhardy courage that makes her a danger to herself. She is very prone to swaggering up to dogs that outweigh her by a factor of five, rolling up her sleeves as she goes, smacking her rolling pin against her open palm, snarling threats of violence and unwarranted comments about the other dog’s mother. She never actually does anything once she gets to the other dog, in fact she’s usually happy to play, but the menacing march up to them is someday going to inspire some dog to get his retaliation in first.
That’s with strange dogs. With strange people she responds as if each individual were her one true long-lost love, the single person she has pined to see all her life, the person she should always have lived with in any right-thinking world. “Who’s who? Oh, you mean that guy on the other end of the leash? He’s nobody, don’t worry about him. I just let him tag along with me because I feel sorry for the poor schmoo. Kiss me again.”
Her real eccentricity, however, is that she curses like a drunken sailor trying to find the red-light district. Constantly, almost nonstop. She wanders around the house, cursing under her breath and threatening anyone and everyone who comes anywhere near her even when she wants them to come near her. It’s a little hard to take this coprolalia (compulsive swearing) seriously because she does it so incessantly. When Daisy Mae helps Lola with her morning toilette, licking her eyes and ears for her, Lola issues a steady stream of hair-raising threats and obscenities that make you think she is about to pull a razor out of her garter belt. And when Lola returns the favor and grooms Daisy Mae’s eyes and ears, which she does daily because, like everyone else, she adores Daisy, the same bloody and vicious torrent of curses and threats pours out. If I pick Lola up to put her on the bed (her body is not designed for jumping up onto or down from anything higher than a bathmat) I am rewarded with promises to tear me limb from limb. If Darleen leans down to give her a kiss, Lola threatens to rip her lips off. When Darleen starts to prepare the dogs’ dinner, the threats and curses reach such a crescendo we’re always afraid the neighbors will call the police. Of course, Lola would greet the police with ecstasies of wriggling, jumping up on their uniforms, kissing them, and generally acting like her namesake in Damn Yankees: “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and little man, Lola wants you!” Of course, Gwen Verdun’s dance as she sang that song was somewhat more enticing than the gyrations of a dog built upon the lines of an overstuffed kielbasa, but at least she stops swearing when greeting strangers.
The funny thing about the swearing is that it is accompanied by steady, cheerful wagging of her tail, a sort of split personality division of canine, as if the front end were full of psychopathic danger and the back end full of Christian charity and goodwill. It can also be a little sad to see, because no one, not even the cats, takes her threats seriously. To watch the cats rub up against her as she mutters imprecations is to see the definition of hollow and meaningless posturing. She really is quite the most eccentric dog I have ever known.
She also has the most acute hearing of any dog I have ever known.

I was sitting on the sofa with Lola, one cold winter’s day, procrastinating after lunch instead of going out to do chores. I was procrastinating so successfully that I was just beginning to doze off when suddenly her ears flipped up from sleep mode (think Yoda in Star Wars) to alert mode. Then her head came up and she stared intently out the sliding glass door. She has learned to alert me when there are ground squirrels on the back hill. Ground squirrels are a very destructive pest and they harbor the flea that carries bubonic plague, so when they move in near the house, Lola tells me and I go shoot them. It’s a division of labor satisfactory to all except the ground squirrels, and their needs and wants are antithetical to mine. But Lola always runs to the sliding door when the ground squirrels are there, and this time she stayed where she was, her whole body tense with anticipation, muttering softly to herself.
Thinking we might be under attack by North Korea, I got up and peered out the door, cupping my hands against the glass. Nothing. There are a lot of trees and a lot of brush on the slope behind the house, so I took my time methodically scanning the hill. Nothing. Finally, I noticed Lola staring to the southwest and I looked over that way. Still nothing, but just as I started to turn away, on the far edge where the hill folds down into a culvert, a little buck’s head appeared, then his body, as he walked up into view. That deer was easily a hundred feet or more from the house, the house itself was buttoned up tight against the cold, and yet somehow, she had either heard or smelled or sensed that little guy. How? I have no explanation.
In theory, if you need a watch dog—and who doesn’t need a watch dog in these troubled times—a Cardigan would seem to be an ideal choice, but… But be prepared. Lola frequently alerts us to dangers that exist entirely in her own mind, as well as to actual things that don’t qualify as dangers to anyone but her. Getting our propane tank filled, for example, is something I like, I want, I need, I encourage, but Lola regards the propane guy as right up there with a Mexican drug cartel. The first time we spent the night in a hotel with her, we did not sleep, at all, because Lola evidently regarded the hotel as our new house and alerted us to every single person who walked down the hall or opened a door or closed a door or… We finally had to lock her in the bathroom with the exhaust fan on to deaden her ability to hear, but by then the sandman had gotten bored with waiting for us and had moved on to more receptive climes. In short, if you want a watchdog, be careful what you wish for.
Her other great skill (other, I mean, than barking at dangers real or imagined) is agility. Oh, stop laughing. I know she doesn’t look like an agility dog, but she has a real genius for it. She learned the obstacles with lightning speed, and can go through a course with something pretty darned close to lightning speed, or at least what passes for lightning speed from a kielbasa. The only real drawback she has is that she adores our local professional agility trainer and will frequently take time out in the middle of a run to go jump up and bestow kisses, and then go right back to where she left off as if nothing untoward had ever happened. This usually causes Darleen, who runs her, to get absolutely hysterical, and it’s hard to run while you’re laughing.
She really is the most eccentric animal I have ever known.

Share Button
Follow me at:
  1. Anonymous says:

    I believe there is an old adage, or possibly tried-and-true theory, that people end up with dogs that are just like them. Whether the human and the dog through symbiotic relationship mold each other into mirror images, or the person selects a specific dog from a sense of affinity, or possibly both aspects at work. I was thinking as I read that your description of the Australian Shepherd sounded much like you comma from what you have disclosed in your writing (with the exception of shedding). I once decided resolutely from perusing an encyclopedia of dog breeds that I wanted and must desperately have a West Highland white terrier. For the first three weeks I had her, I honestly did not know who was going to survive, me or her. True to Terrier pedigree, if she decided upon something, she would not stop until it was achieved, or she passed out from exhaustion. It was only later that I realized I am the same, and why I adored her so. In her lifetime she single-handedly stopped an outdoor public event which required two policemen to chase her down, she jumped into a pool and then immediately jumped on top of a total stranger, she woke me with intense alarm one night and my flicking on the patio light revealed a gigantic owl sitting on our wall. Owls are built to fly in silence; I will never know how she knew it was there. She also alerted us to my friend’s pregnancy before it was even affirmed by a doctor. She died tragically by an NSAID drug. Her life and death changed my entire existence; I had never been so close to a living creature, and never been so deeply affected by their absence. That was almost five years ago, and I still miss her every day.

    • As I get older, I shed more and more. You should get another dog; the pain of loss is terrible, but it is more than compensated for by the joys of love and laughter.

      • Anonymous says:

        I recently reconnected with an old childhood friend that I hadn’t seen or talked to since 1991 after high school graduation. The emails we traded had more than a few paragraphs talking about our current pet dogs as well as those we had lost over the years. I recommended to my friend that he check out Amazon for your book “To Absent Friends”, for the incredibly sad and warm stories pet owner shared there. Sadly that book is no longer in publication but can be bought used. Great book, I keep it out so it can be easily seen when we have guests.

        When my wife and I lost our only pet dog a few years ago you suggested then to get another dog sooner rather than later. We took that advice and it helped in the healing, though we of course never forgot our lost pet. Horrible feeling loosing a pet.

        I always wanted an Australian Shepherd, but my wife is allergic to cats and dogs. We have to stick to breads that are hypoallergenic, like our current Yorkiepoo.

        TD Bauer

        • Thank you for the kind words. Given the degree of shedding that an Aussie does, it is almost certainly a poor choice for anyone with allergies, but the hypoallergenic breeds I’ve met, including poodles and any number of poodle-crosses, have all been delightful.

      • Anonymous says:

        (Sidebar: owned and read multiple times, To Absent Friends.)
        Indeed, I do have another dog. As a teen/early adult, I owned a poodle that was also like a kid, and when she died, I knew that I wasn’t ready for another dog. I waited 2 1/2 years to get Magnolia (the Westie). I made attempts to get a second dog in Magnolia’s youth, but they never worked out, so I decided to wait until a dog came to me. That finally happened, a 12 pound ball of nerves that looks like a poodle mix, with reddish patches (hence he had earned the moniker “Patches”) and a curly tail. I was never delusional enough to believe that Magnolia would live forever, and I knew that her death would be so hard on me, I would need another dog to get me through. If Patches’ background story is correct (you can’t ever really know with rescues), he was born a stray and taken in by an elderly gentleman who apparently let Patches do whatever he wanted (including decide where he toileted), and four years later died. No one in the man’s family wanted Patches …because he is, undoubtedly (and I say this with love and affection) the most annoying dog on earth. But his positively adorable face and his undeterred quest for snuggles eclipses this fact most of the time. Anyway … I adopted Patches, and after five months, Magnolia suddenly, tragically died. I feel sorry for and grateful to Patches, because at times (I am shameful to admit) I really didn’t want him; I wanted Magnolia. But I needed him. And now we are profoundly attached, at last. Truly, the bumper magnet “Who Rescued Who?” applies to us.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Adorable dogs…what a fun article !! Thank you for “sharing” your dogs. We have two…a beagle and a yorki terrier…both rescue pets. They are just like kids…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Mon fils avait un berger australien (même couleur que sur votre 2ème photo). Il avait également des yeux vairons. C’était un chien extraordinaire et très câlin. Son père était originaire du Texas !!!!
    Lorsque mon fils partait en déplacement, il me déposait son petit garçon et son chien. J’avais moi-même un petit chien complètement différent puisqu’il s’agissait d’un bichon maltais.
    Dès que je m’installais dans le canapé, c’était à celui qui voulait la place à côté de moi, mon petit-fils et les chiens. Je pensais pouvoir prendre un moment de repos, mais ce n’était pas possible. Le berger australien prenait toute la place. Il mettait sur moi, ses pattes, sa tête et poussait un gros soupir lorsqu’il était bien installé. Le bichon tremblait de tous ses membres en regardant ce chien beaucoup plus grand qu’elle. Et moi, je ne pouvais plus bouger !!!!
    Même si ces chiens ne sont plus là maintenant, je ne pourrai pas les oublier.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Your Canine Eccentricities post aptly describes the life my husband and I share with our two English Shepherds, Emily and August, the one-half-nuts-and-the-other-half-crazy cousins, (in some genetic fashion), to both the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd.

    For the past thirty years we’ve always had a pair of English Shepherds as our “children.” One would think three decades of owning this highly active, slightly demented breed would have caused a spark of intelligence to ignite in at least one of us, causing said person to declare, “Our next dog will be a mellow old lab who just wants 2 square meals a day and to sleep at my feet 18 hours out of 24!” Goodness knows one of us should have wised up and said that. But for reasons I can’t explain, other than my apparent love of a three mile 6 a.m. jaunt on a subzero Midwestern January morning, only to then come home after a long day at work to an invigorating game of fetch in the backyard on subzero January evenings, English Shepherds keep finding their way into our hearts, (which means they end up finding their way into my house as well.) Dogs this intelligent are capable of being trained to do a variety of household tasks, though vacuuming and dusting don’t seem to be among them. So far, I’ve had no luck in that regard, though they do roll over and play dead whenever any work needs to be done around this place….oh, and like Bear and Daisy Mae, they shed, though not on command, but quite liberally all on their own, thank you very much.

    Your descriptions of Bear and Daisy Mae mirror personality traits of Augie and Emmy. I was 50 when these two joined us as 8 week old puppies, and during the first two years of their lives I wondered who among us would survive menopause – me, them, or the farmer I’m married to, who despite my assertion that one puppy was enough this time around, thought two puppies was once again just what we needed to remain…I don’t know, physically active? Busy? Young at heart? Or perhaps insane?

    Like many a good man, my husband quickly finds a task to do in a barn….or a field several miles from the house….when he senses female unrest brewing. And there was plenty of that going around during the first two challenging years of getting herding dogs to mature from, “What’s wrong with your dogs?” to at least the somewhat more acceptable, “I’m glad they’re yours and not mine,” which I like to believe means the owner of the placid Bassett Hound down the street is acknowledging all the work I’ve put into raising these dogs, as opposed to commenting on their…..slightly energetic demeanor.

    As with your Aussies, the English is not a breed for everyone – actually, probably not a breed for most people. Or at least not those gifted with common sense. Aside from their exercise needs – both physical and mental – they can be highly territorial, excelling at keeping burglars, the Fuller Brush man, and the occasional wayward zombie from entering through the front door. However, distinguishing between friend and foe is a challenge for some of them, and our Augie falls into that category, despite many hours and many dollars spent on private training. (Though hey, all that money spent wasn’t for naught, because after 8 months of dedicated study, he did learn to welcome his trainer into our house.)

    So, we politely tell guests he “nips,” as though he has a penchant for over indulging in alcohol that’s a well kept family secret. Or that he’s a “nipper” in the way an English Lord would phrase it, with a hint of haughty tone thrown in for good measure. In reality, saying “nip” or “nipper” simply translates to our plain and simple Midwestern way of warning, “He bites,” while advising visitors to call first so he can get plenty of exercise before their arrival, and then retire to his safe place in a quiet part of the house for a nap and a little Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson on classic country radio – both of whom he seems to like since he’s never had to meet them in person. What makes him worth all the trouble is that we’ve never owned a more loving (well…loving to my husband and me, that is…oh, and to his trainer as well, whom we’re thinking of adopting just so we can have a family member share Thanksgiving dinner with us) intelligent, hard working, loyal, humorous dog.

    A common phrase used to describe the English Shepherd is likely worthy of the Aussie too. “A farmer’s helper, a loyal companion, a child’s shadow.” Wishing you and Darlene years of companionship, enjoyment and good health with Bear, Daisy Mae, and Lola the Cardigan Welsh corgi – who sounds like quite the little character with a big personality – similar to our Emily, who runs the show around our home.

    I’d love to trade more dog stories, but unfortunately, I need to step over the two playing dead beside my desk and run the vacuum. As another common phrase goes, “A woman’s work is never done.”

    Overworked and Underpaid in Wisconsin

    • Dear Overworked and Underpaid,
      There is a theory I have always pooh-poohed, to the effect that everyone has a mirror image, a sort of doppelganger, somewhere in the wide world. You have just convinced me this theory is true and accurate and that our doppelgangers, Darleen’s and mine, are living in Wisconsin. What a delightful account! I assume you are already writer by trade, but if not, you need to begin. It won’t raise your pay grade by a farthing, but it will give you satisfaction and your readers endless pleasure. Darleen and I laughed out loud, and that’s good medicine in these turbulent times.
      Where in Wisconsin? I went to Beloit College (something the college prefers not to admit or acknowledge) and have fond memories of Wisconsin. I am also a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, Green Bay Packers fan.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually, if I may respectfully counter, Beloit has claimed you as an alum, at least in the past. I received unsolicited application material from them when I was a high school senior, and your name was listed in their brochure as distinguished graduates (or alums).

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your kind words regarding my response submission to your blog. I’m not a writer by profession, but instead, I’ve been in the banking industry for 37 years. Unfortunately, in that line of work, the majority of my writing involves employee reviews. While I have been inspired many a time to spark some life into those mundane dirges with a good deal of witty repartee combined with a healthy dose of sarcasm, (after all, how many ways over the course of 30 plus years as a manager can you say someone is: A. Above Average. B. Average. Or C. Please do us both a favor and find another job), I likely wouldn’t be able to tell you I’d been employed 37 years if I did so. Those who dwell high up in the corporate world don’t seem to appreciate a sense of humor as refined and practiced as my own.

    I did have the opportunity to write a humor column for our local paper, the Kenosha News, for five years, and enjoyed doing so. However, the pay scale didn’t allow me to quit my day job in pursuit of writing the next great American novel.

    I live within 40 miles of Beloit. You may have heard of the city of Kenosha when you were attending college in Beloit. At the time you would have lived in the state, Kenosha was a blue color factory town, with American Motors as its big employer/auto plant. I grew up in a small town in Kenosha County, and still live in Kenosha County, where my husband and I own a hog farm. Thus, the reason we first came to know about the English Shepherd breed. The breed isn’t recognized in the U.S. as a pure bred breed, but is recognized as such in the United Kingdom. To the best of my knowledge, English Shepherds in the United States are rarely, if ever, bred and raised by anyone other than farm families. They tend to be found in the Midwest, the Northwest, on ranches in some of the Western states, and in New York state. I rarely hear of anyone but farmers or ranchers being aware of the breed, and rarely hear of anyone but farmers or ranchers owning the breed.

    I’ve been on the Beloit College campus once – about 15 years ago. It was a beautiful, small campus, the likes of which I assume is now difficult to find in our world where large and overbearing seems to be thought of as better than small and unassuming.

    Thank you again for your kind words, and for taking the time to respond to my response.


    Overworked and Underpaid – who just finished mopping floors on her day off from work, so yes, I continue to be overworked and underpaid. And now two dogs await some kind of fun because I’m getting the, “What are we doing next?” look.

    • When you have a moment (ha), and if you have the information at your fingertips, what is the difference between an English Shepherd and an American Working Farmcollie?

      • Anonymous says:

        Dear J.P. and Darlene;

        I’d never heard of an American Farm Collie, although I’m aware that the English Shepherd, during the early part of the 20th century, was commonly called the “Farmer’s Collie,” or the “Old Shep Dog.” I did some research on the American Farm Collie, only to end up confused as to whether such a breed really exists, or if that’s a term used for the variety of livestock herding dogs that are descendants of the Old Scotch Collie – English and Australian Shepherds amongst these, as well as the Border Collie, Shetland Sheep Dog, and numerous other dogs whose names possess the word collie, shepherd, sheep dog, or “I herd anything that dares to run, walk, amble, swim, crawl, or fly, including cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, sparrows, cats, skunks, and the innocent kid riding by on his bicycle. Boy, can I make him pedal fast.”

        Eventually, all this baffling research as to whether an American Farm Collie really exists as its own breed, versus does my breed and your breed simply belong to a group of breeds generically known as the American Farm Collie, left me feeling like I was trying to solve a story problem, which in my opinion is the most torturous form of arithmetic exercise. I can only conclude a maniacal math teacher who was having a 4- squared-times-4 really bad day, derived amusement from making 8-year-olds figure out how long it would take them to get somewhere on a train, and how many apple slices they had to share with their schoolmates during the trip, and how fast the train must travel, but then factor in how many stops the train made, and if it’s a 12 car train or a 24 car train, and how many times does the engineer blow the whistle at each stop, and what time will you get to Chicago? Oh my gosh! Who cares? Just look at the darn train schedule, board the train on time, and make sure everyone brings their own apple.

        Because of this nightmarish arithmetic flashback, my mind wandered to David Cassidy. You might wonder how David Cassidy and the American Farm Collie are related. Well, so far they’re not. But, this came about because at 4 a.m. on Saturday, when dogs and humans come to life around my home, I turned on a rerun of Dr. Phil and found out that all of America is wondering the same thing I am: “Whatever happened to David Cassidy, and why, 45 years later, can I still remember every word to his hit song ‘I Think I Love You’, but I can’t remember what my husband said to me five minutes ago?”

        The great thing about Dr. Phil at 4 a.m. is his show is interrupted with a multitude of lengthy commercials providing solutions for hair loss, sagging skin, and excess pounds. Since I have all my hair, and my skin is still fairly taunt, and I’m on the high side of active so am grateful not to be carrying excess pounds, I have plenty of time to run the vacuum during these in-depth celebrity interviews. By the time the show ended my vacuuming was done and Dr. Phil had spent fifteen thorough minutes in-between commercials analyzing Mr. Cassidy. I got the impression that Dr. Phil, like me, wasn’t certain if Mr. Cassidy’s many issues (none of which seem to have to do with hair loss, sagging skin or excess pounds) were related solely to alcohol, or to the dementia he recently revealed he suffers from, or a combination of both, or just bad luck where the gene pool is concerned. But last night when my mind wandered away from American Farm Collies, and wandered to David Cassidy, I wandered on over to Wikipedia only to find a whole bunch of Cassidys to read about. Dr. Phil could tap into this family and easily get two weeks’ worth of shows.

        Ultimately, thanks to Wikipedia I discovered age, as in my own age, has given me a different perspective on the definition of old. When Jack Cassidy died tragically at age 49 in 1976 (like highly intoxicated, lit a cigarette, and started-the-couch-on-fire tragically) I was 14 and thought of him as an old man who’d lived a long, full life, so hey, why was his death making the evening news? And I discovered that Ryan Cassidy, the youngest amongst the four Cassidy brothers, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. How could this oversight occur? Does this make Ryan feel inferior to his three older brothers? Does he own a psychedelic bus and travel the country writing his own bubble gum pop songs in an effort to gain favor with Wikipedia? Or, is he grateful he has no page devoted to himself compiled of half truths, misinformation, and vengeful incriminations as supplied by former girlfriends, business managers, and the kid he punched on the playground for carrying a Brady Bunch lunch box as opposed to a Partridge Family one? Sadly, we may never know the answers to these intriguing questions.

        TV show lunch boxes aside, in an effort to get the American Farm Collie question answered, I’ve resorted to what I did when I was in grade school….making the choice between sneaking a look at the paper of the kid next to me, or asking the smartest kid in class with the hope she’s willing to give this slacker the answer. Since I haven’t been in school for quite a few years now, meaning my failsafe resources aren’t at the tip of my Number 2 pencil, I did the next best thing – e-mailed an expert I know when it comes to farms, herding breeds, English Shepherds, and a lot of other important stuff. Because I want her to focus only on the American Farm Collie question, I didn’t ask her about Ryan Cassidy. Anyone wanting to know more about him will have to research the subject themselves….or wait until it’s his turn to be on Dr. Phil.

        (One can only hope my expert’s response inspires no further attempts at humor or a lengthy post on my part. Straight and to the point – let’s pray for it.)


        O & U in Wisconsin

      • Anonymous says:


        In the event readers following this thread are curious about the
        answer to the difference between an English Shepherd and an
        American Working Farm Collie: an ES breeder provided me
        with the following insight:

        “The American Working Farm Collie Association was a group
        founded back in the early days of the internet as people began to search for that farm dog of their youth that they couldn’t find
        anymore. AWFA works the type of dog that is called a
        “farm collie” in many parts of the country. So in that group,
        “farm collie” is generally used as a type of dog—like a
        “retriever” or a “pointer”. So there are many farm collie types
        that are related—English Shepherd, Border Collie, Aussies,
        Shelties, Rough Collies etc.”

        The above is the shortened version of her response, which was informative and interesting. To sum it up: apparently there is debate as to whether or not a breed called the American Working Farm Collie has been resurrected/recreated in recent years, or if all that’s been accomplished is breeding English Shepherds and calling
        them by a different name. My understanding
        is that it depends on who you speak with as to what
        type of answer you’ll receive in this regard. Some people land
        firmly on the side of the AWFC being its own breed, while others
        stand firm in their belief that’s not the case.

        • Thank you. If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am a firm believer in not having a closed gene pool for any breed. Nor am I alone in this; better and more knowledgeable heads than mine have long recognized the negative results of closed gene pools. The original German Pudelpointer Club (I’m talking about the one in Germany many decades ago) advocated breeding out as necessary to maintain the health of the breed. This didn’t mean allowing your Pudelpointer to breed with the bullmastiff down the lane, but rather breeding out selectively and as needed to breeds that would help improve health, ability, whatever, so it might be to a retrieving breed to improve that tendency, or to member of the hound group to improve structure or endurance or scenting ability, or to a pointer to improve that trait. I’m making up these examples, obviously, but you get the idea. I hope the people trying to recreate the old farm collie will not arbitrarily decide to fix their gene pool with what they’ve got. What made the old-fashioned farm dogs so exceptional was that they were pretty diverse and healthy in their diversity.
          Thanks again,

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    it seems I missed something. Did Pete pass away? I’m afraid so. You have my sympathy.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Our family has had a multitude of rescues – German Shepard,Border Collie,Springer Mix,Clumber Spaniel,Golden Retrievers and now Mr Redd,a black Lab mix found wandering the Canadian border- all dear family members,great friends with fur coats.

    Thanks so much for sharing,it was wonderful.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great article. The herding group is my favorite. I have an eight year old collie. I also have chickens and he is very protective of them but he has no killer instinct. A possum comes around occasionally and he will confront it but not try to kill it.

    I, too, have your book To Absent Friends. Sorry about Pete.

    I named two of my roosters Rick and AJ.

    Heather in Michigan

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, great post! Being a total canine geek, I always like yer dawg posts the BEST! I CONSTANTLY read and research breeds/types of dog, and have kept and trained mega-packs most of my life. I’ve not had an Aussie(yet), but read a bit about “Aussies”, and what I read, said that although they were developed in America(and related or simply a bloodline of those “American Farm Shepherds”), they got their misleading “Aussie” handle, as they were used–in California, if I’m remembering right– to herd newly imported SHEEP from Australia, hence the term “Australian Shepherds” since they were indeed herding Aussie sheep! Makes sense. They DO look just like the Basque shepherds, and no doubt are descended, at least in part, from them, since Basque shepherds(the human versions) immigrated and were hired as sheepherders all across the West. American Farm Shepherds and English Shepherds, I personally believe, are just varieties of the same general pioneer collie type herding dog, closely related(and no doubt sometimes crossed with) Border Collies. Another more obscure type is the “American Treeing Shepherd”, which looks just like an Aussie or English shepherd, but has been developed for HUNTING(and treeing game–hence the name) as well as herding. I used to read about them in my old “Full Cry” hunting dog magazines! But it certainly is possible that yer cowboy-’round-the-campfire origin for the name has some merit–I ALWAYS make up some bizarre, overly pretentious, as ridiculous-as-possible breed names for any mutt I have–half the fun of having mutts! The two I have now(among my 8 dog pack at the moment) are my “Former Yugoslavian Weasel Hound”(at least in the Winter; in the Summer I often refer to him as my “Venezuelan Brown Capuchin Monkey Hound”….); and my “Wire-haired Croatian Dwarf Wolfhound”(she’s only about 30 lbs. but she looks very much like a chunky, compacted miniature Irish Wolfhound!)), except when it seems more appropriate to refer to her as my “Uwharrian Wolverine Terrier”(I live in the Uwharrie National Forest). You would be amazed how often people believe these labels! But since I also have had rare and little known actual breeds, like my Azawakh, Catahoula Leopard Dog, and my present Tazis from Kazakhstan, I guess it might be understandable why. Always aggravates a dog geek like me when people lump floppy-eared Australian Shepherds with the prick-eared Australian Cattle Dogs(the Blue and Red Heelers to country folk), which actually WERE developed in Australia(with actual Dingo genetics!), and are very, very different dogs!…….L.B.

Top of Page