Monday, May 20, 2013
My 33-pound Teacher
At age 11, Mickey's arthritic and stiff at times. She might not hear as well as she once did. She's missing some teeth, graying in the muzzle, and certainly not as fast as she once was. But I find her amazing.
For the past 18 months, she's been the world's best teacher. For years, Mickey traveled around the country and accumulated ribbons and prizes for her very experienced sheepdog handler. On the farm, she worked sheep and helped with the sheepdog clinics.
When she arrived on our farm, she had to wonder what had gone wrong. I had yet to master a sheepdog whistle, and my commands were always late, and sometimes wrong. Many dogs would become frustrated with an inexperienced handler. Not Mickey. She gamely worked with what she had.
Maybe it was because I worked her on sheep, had her tag along on chores, let her sleep on the couch. Oh, and the popcorn nights probably helped. But she willingly and enthusiastically worked for me.
Eventually I got better. I learned my whistle commands. I became more fluid in my commands. I started watching the sheep instead of the dog.
This weekend, we competed at the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trial. It was my third outing there... and probably Mickey's ninth trip there.
As I watched every level of Border collie and handler compete, I realized how much progress I'd made. I didn't shake at the post. I didn't have to think about my next command. Mickey and I just worked the sheep, and finally, I didn't feel like a novice handler.
I can thank my human trainers who've helped along the way, but I also have to thank a wise, old dog.