Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wave to Me

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So yeah, I know your dog is cool. Sit, roll-over, play dead. Very nice. But can it do this?



Haystack climbing aside, our dog Max is almost a year old and starting to earn her keep as a cow dog, despite our substantial deficits as trainers. She was raised by my cousin Wayne on the ranch next door and he takes his dogs seriously, so we didn't exactly start with a mutt. He's been trying to give us pointers, including the proper commands to be used with a working dog.

I had foolishly assumed shouting things like "Go left", "Go right", "Go fast" and "Stop, dammit!" would suffice. I was informed I was mistaken. Real dogs prefer something a bit more genteel. An entire vocabulary of commands passed down since the beginning of time back in England or Ireland or someplace where they had no choice but to herd sheep for sustenance (for those of you who weren't around in the early days of this blog, my contempt of sheep is thoroughly explored in The Will to Die).

The main four commands are as follows:

Come bye: Go around the herd in a clockwise direction.

Away to me: Go around the herd in a counter-clockwise direction.

Walk up: Move straight up to the herd in a slow, steady manner.

Down: I'm gonna assume this one is self explanatory.

Now let's talk about me. I have issues with left and right. Didn't really get them straight until I was in the fifth grade and a horse pulled back and rope-burned my left hand so bad it left a scar, which then gave me a permanent marker. Scar = left. Awesome. All these years later the scar has faded, but I've mostly got the left and right thing under control, although I occasionally have to stop and think, "Right. The hand you rope with." And now they expect me to remember "Come bye" and "Away to me"?

Yeah. Sure.

So the dog and I are usually in muddle. Me, seeing a cow taking off to the right, yells, "Come bye!" The dog goes left. I yell, "No, the other come bye!" Then the dog throws up her paws and just chases whatever's closest. (And yes, the first time I wrote this paragraph I had the lefts and rights completely backwards and had to start over.)

On top of all that, I just plain feel stupid yelling this stuff. It makes no sense. And I'm not the only one who gets confused. During shipping one fall my husband Greg, cousin Wayne and the dogs were in the big corral with two hundred head of cows and calves bawling their lungs out, making it nearly impossible to hear. Greg started a bunch of cattle toward the alley when he heard Wayne yell, "Wait!"

So he stopped. The cows and calves scattered, dodging back into the herd. Wayne gave Greg a puzzled look and gestured that they needed to bring more cattle up. Greg headed back into the herd, started a bunch toward the alley, only to hear Wayne yell, "Wait!" He stopped. The cattle scattered. Wayne marched over to where he was standing.

"Why do you keep stopping?"

"Because you yelled Wait!"

Wayne stared at him, confounded. "No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did. I heard you."

Wayne rolled his eyes, pointed at the dogs. "Not Wait. Away to me."

Oh. Whoops.

Then there was the day we were moving a bunch of uncooperative cows. Wayne had all three of his dogs along and he was sending them right, then left, then right, then left again to thwart attempted escapes. My son, riding with my mother on the four wheeler, finally turned to her, looking perplexed.

"Grandma, why does he keep yelling at those dogs to wave to him?"

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10 comments:

Cynthia D'Alba said...

Love it! Hubby says I need to take video of Mags and send. You'll be surprised how much they look alike! Plus Mags watched the video. Said she'd climb on the hay! :)

p.s. Am stealing, er, borrowing your "wait" Away to me story. It shall appear in a book!

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Cyndi: One of these days our dogs shall meet. Yours would be in puppy heaven around here.

lee said...

From one fellow sheep-hater to another, I adore your blog. And I've never been good with the 'normal' commands either--who doesn't get 'stop, dammit!'? Sounds pretty universal to me.

My family doesn't run dogs like we used to, but I can remember being befuddled by the directions. Consequently, there was always lots of angry waving and yelling going on.

By then the dogs would have already packed it to the shade under the truck to watch the show.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Lee: Oddly enough, when working cows we seem to be able to manage the angry waving and yelling without a single dog in attendance.

lee said...

You know, I think yelling at the dogs was an afterthought in my family too. When my clan gets together to work, we tend to find most immediate faults in the other two-legged--and we never miss an opportunity to express ourselves. Because, you know, good communication holds people together and all that :)

Kristen Lippert-Martin said...

Wow! Good doggie!

My Australian sheepdog mix would love to come to your place for a summer camp. Hay bale climbing sounds like dog heaven.

The sad thing is, my dog is very smart. I'm sure we haven't tapped even half her potential. She'd need actual sheep to do practice on first. All we have are these pesky children and they're very resistant to herding.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Kristen: I haven't had any luck with the kid herding either. And my dog runs MILES every day and still chews up at least one small household item a week. I can't imagine owning one in town.

Carol/RedDirtInMySoul said...

Oh, yes! Believe it or not, dogs will learn go left/go right (though I actually think they're reading my body language and which way I'm pointing my horse more) Those smart dogs do have a way of figuring things out! I, tho', am like you comebye and away never made sense and by the time I figured it out the cow was gone anyway. Besides no one else is gonna learn which was which, so to make it easy on my family... my dogs do know right from left. Kinda. Sorta. Sometimes.

Megan Coakley said...

It's true--my dog can't do that. He does like to chase the groundhogs that persist in eating everything the deer leave behind, so for that, I'm grateful.

A friend told me about a study that showed that dogs are the only animals that follow our pointed fingers to their destination. No other animals recognize it as a command, but dogs are so highly attuned to us they understand. Also, they can look at our eyes and facial expressions and tell what we're feeling. I know this to be true--when I glare at Leo like he's one of my teenagers, he sulks away in the same manner.

Crystal Posey said...

This is HILARIOUS. I love it. And I can't believe those commands work.