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The Sheep Dog
( Originally Published 1894 )
The shepherd's dog rivals, if not surpasses most other dogs in intelligence, though his intelligence is less general and more particular than that of other dogs, i.e., more special to his own profession and probably more due to training and culture. The principle of heredity operates conspicuously in the case of dogs, and shepherding being one of the oldest occupations of man, the shepherd's dog has probably been under culture for a longer period than any other,-hence his proficiency in his work. Buffon credited him with being "the parent stock of the whole species", and Colonel Smith with civilisation at a very early period. "The sheep dog," says Colonel Smith, "is seldom two feet high, but his make is muscular; the nose rather pointed; the ears erect; and the colour of the hair black and fulvous; the fur is rather long and rough. In great Britain, and more particularly in Scotland, the colours are more mixed with shades of brown, and the ears are often drooping at the tips. The sheep dog is not to be confused with the drover or cattle dog, which is larger and' still more rugged in coat, as well as manners.
The sheep dog is credited with so many stories of skilland sagacity, that those unacquainted with his habits and achievements can scarcely believe the record. He has been known to rival the St. Bernard in tracking both men and sheep who have become buried in the snow, the mastiff in defending his master's property and the Newfoundland in procuring assistance he was unable to render himself. But it is in the pursuit of his special duties that he displays the most remarkable powers; and many illustrations might be given of his extraordinary skill and fidelity. Happily for him he found in the Ettrick Shepherd an historian as well acquainted with his prowess as he was able to record its exercise; from whose writings we are able to quote several remarkable illustrations.
" My dog Sirrah," says he, "was, beyond all comparison, the best dog I ever saw: he was of a surly and unsocial temper,-disdaining all flattery, he refused to be caressed; but his attention to my commands and interests will never again, perhaps, be equalled by any of the canine race. Well as I knew him, he often astonished me; for, when hard pressed in accomplishing the task that he was put to, he had expedients of the moment that bespoke a great share of the reasoning faculty."About seven hundred lambs, which were once under my care at weaning time, broke up at midnight, and scampered off in three divisions across the hills, in spite of all that I and an assistant lad could do to keep them together. 'Sirrah, my man!' said I, in great affliction, they are awa'.' The night was so dark that I could not see Sirrah, but the faithful animal heard my words-words such as of all others were sure to set him most on the alert; and without much ado he silently set off in search of the recreant flock. Meanwhile I and my companion did not fail to do all in our power to recover our lost charge. We spent the whole night in scouring the hills for miles around, but of neither the lambs nor Sirrah could we obtain the slightest trace. It was the most extraordinary circumstance that had occurred in my pastoral life. We had nothing for it (day having dawned), but to return to our master, and inform him that we had lost his whole flock of lambs, and knew not what had become of them. On our way home, however, we discovered a body of lambs at the bottom of a deep ravine, called the Flesh Cleuch, and the indefatigable Sirrah standing in front of them, looking all around for some relief, but still standing true to his charge. The sun was then up; and when we first came in view of them, we concluded that it was one of the divisions which Sirrah had been unable to manage until he came to that commanding situation. But what was our astonishment, when we discovered by degrees that not one lamb of the whole flock was wanting! How he had got all the divisions collected in the dark, is beyond my comprehension. The charge was left entirely to himself, from midnight until the rising of the sun; and if all the shepherds in the forest had been there to have assisted him, they could not have effected it with greater propriety. All that I can farther say is, that I never felt so grateful to any creature below the sun, as I did to my honest Sirrah that morning."
"The late Mr. Steel, flesher in Peebles," says James Hogg, "had a bitch whose feats in taking sheep from the neighbouring farms into the Fleshmarket at Peebles, form innumerable anecdotes in that vicinity, all similar to one another. But there is one instance related of her, that combines so much sagacity with natural affection, that I do not think the history of the animal creation furnishes such another. Mr. Steel had such an implicit dependence on the attention of this animal to his orders, that, whenever he put a lot of sheep before her, he took a pride in leaving them to herself, and either remained to take a glass with the farmer of whom he had made the purchase, or took another road to look after bargains or other business. But one time he chanced to commit a drove to her charge at a place called Willenslee, without attending to her condi tion as he ought to have done. This farm is five miles from Peebles, over wild hills, and there is no regularly defined path to it. Whether Mr. Steel remained behind, or chose another road, I know not; but, on coming home late in the evening, he was astonished at hearing that his faithful animal had not made her appearance with the flock. He and his son, or servant, instantly prepared to set out by different paths in search of her; but, on their going out to the street, there was she coming with the drove, not one missing; and marvellous to relate, she was carrying a young pup in her mouth! She had been taken in travail on those hills; and how the poor beast had contrived to manage the drove in her state of suflering is beyond human calculation, for her road lay through sheep the whole way. Her master's heart smote him when he saw what she had suffered and effected: but she was nothing daunted; and having deposited her young one in a place of safety, she again set out full speed to the hills, and brought another and another, till she removed her whole litter one by one; but the last one was dead. The stories related of the dogs of sheep-stealers, he continues, are fairly beyond all credibility. I cannot attach credit to some of them without believing the animals to have been devils incarnate, come to the earth for the destruction both of the souls and bodies of men. I cannot mention names, for the sake of families that still remain in the country; but there have been sundry men executed, who belonged to this district of the kingdom, for that heinous crime, in my own days; and others have absconded, just in time to save their necks. There was not one of these to whom I allude who did not acknowledge his dog to be the greatest aggressor. One young man in particular, who was, I believe, overtaken by justice for his first offence, stated, that after he had folded the sheep by moonlight, and selected his number from the flock of a former master, he took them out, and set away with them towards Edinburgh. But before he had got them quite off the farm, his conscience smote him, as he said (but more likely a dread of that which soon followed), and he quitted the sheep, letting them go again to the hill. He called his dog off them; and mounting his pony, he rode away. At that time he said his dog was capering and playing around him, as if glad of having got free of a troublesome business; and he regarded him no more, till, after having rode about three miles, he thought again and again that he heard something coming up behind him. Halting, at length, to ascertain what it was, in a few minutes up came his dog with the stolen animals, driving them at a furious rate to keep up with his master. The sheep were all smoking, and hanging out their tongues, and their guide was fully warm as they. The young man was now exceedingly troubled, for the sheep having been brought so far from home, he dreaded there would be a pursuit, and he could not get them home again before day. Resolving, at all events, to keep his hands clear of them, he corrected his dog in great wrath, left the sheep once more, and taking colley with him, rode off a second time. He had not ridden above a mile, till he perceived that his assistant had again given him the slip; and suspecting for what purpose, he was terribly alarmed as well as chagrined; for daylight now approached, and he durst not make a noise calling on his dog, for fear of alarming the neighbourhood, in a place where they were both well known. He resolved therefore to abandon the animal to himself, and take a road across the country which he was sure the other did not know, and could not follow. He took that road; but being on horseback, he could not get across the enclosed fields. He at length came to a gate, which he shut behind him, and went about half a mile farther, by a zigzag course, to a farm-house where both his sister and sweetheart lived; and at that place he remained until after breakfast time. The people of this house were all examined on the trial, and no one had either seen the sheep or heard them mentioned, save one man, who came up to the aggressor as he was standing at the stable-door, and told him that his dog had the sheep safe enough down at the Crooked Yett, and he needed not hurry himself. He answered, that the sheep were not histhey were young Mr. Thomson's, who had left them to his charge, and he was in search of a man to drive them, which made him come off his road." The fidelity of this animal cost his master his life.