Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Untapped Potential

Lady needs a job. Sometimes I forget that German Shepherds were bred to work, but then she'll do something to remind me about her genetics. It will come through in the way she checks on everyone when we're out for a hike. She'll run ahead and sniff the dog in the lead, and I can almost see the thought bubbles over her head....

"Are you okay up here in the front?"

"Okay, I'm going to drop back and check on the ones in the back."

Back and forth she'll go, checking on everyone. She falls into a normal pace for 5 minutes, but then breaks away to check on everyone again. Unfortunately, most of the time there isn't a thing in the world for her to do. Truth be told, none of us here need herding, although I would never tell her that.  

I did put her skills to use yesterday morning, when the turkeys would not properly respond to my encouragement to leave the bird feeder area. They sauntered off about 10 paces (and "saunter" really is the only way to describe how these massive turkeys move), and looked at me. Patient birds, turkeys. We've done this before. They wait until I go back inside, and then resume eating all the expensive seed I put out for the songbirds. Now granted, turkeys are technically birds. But these birds are not hurting for food. It's a wonder their skinny little legs can hold up their big fat turkey bodies.

After several failed attempts at verbal encouragement, hand waving, and foot stomping ("Shoo! Right now! I mean it!"), I let Lady out. Thrilled to be needed, she rocketed up the back stairs and within seconds had all the turkeys out of the yard. It is an amazing thing to watch a dog do what it was bred to do. She knows exactly where the property line is - even though we are rarely up on that back hill - and she knows that I don't want her to chase down the turkey and hurt it, I just want it out of OUR yard. That was impressive enough, and then there was last night.

At 6:30 pm, I was still downstairs in my office working on the computer when I heard the familiar sound of big dog feet tap-tap-tapping down the wooden stairs. I glanced over and greeted Lady as she came into the room. But no happy greeting in return, she was all business. She sat down next to my chair and fixed me with the intense "Lady stare," a look she gets when she is trying to beam some thought into my mind. It was pretty intense and since I was basically finished with work, I shut down the computer and followed her up the stairs.

I asked if they were ready for dinner, and of course they always are. But that didn't quite seem like it. I asked "Does anyone need to go out?" and yes - that was it. Only this time it wasn't just your average, okay we'll all go out. When I opened the sliding door, Katie came across the room like a speeding bullet, launching herself from the dining room and sailing over the threshold (as in, airborne). She raced to the closest grass and squatted. Lady went along to supervise, and then came back with her, while Lucky waited in the kitchen. Slowly it dawned on me. Lady came downstairs to get me because Katie had to go out. Holy cow.

It made me wonder what this dog could do, if I had a job for her and knew how to train her. Does anyone have a herd of sheep we could borrow?


  1. Lady is an awesome worker and she looks out for Katie! that was a great story, loved it! also pretty crazy you have wild turkeys roaming around. They are pretty fantastic looking, even though they are major pests, I bet.

  2. I too loved seeing those turkeys. I know our dogs would be so much happier with jobs (though for Miss M I'm thinking more Walmart Greeter, bag inspector at the airport...) I wonder what herding positions can be available for Lady. Black Friday specials lines?

    1. Walmart greeter?? LOL!!! That is too funny. Sweet Miss M would be a wonderful Walmart greeter - especially dressed in one of her charming outfits.

  3. It is amazing how some dogs always seem to be looking for work. Lady is obviously one of those dogs!

  4. This follows up nicely on your "Thelma and Louise" post, doesn't it? I especially adore herding dogs, their intelligence and drive and seeming ability to reason, it's simply fascinating. Tonka (our border collie/cattle dog mix) definitely needs a job, too. But he has channeled everything into perfecting the perfect ball catching technique!

  5. Regarding Lady looking out for Katie, following up on the "Thelma and Louise" post - yes! Lady definitely watches out for her. I have been thinking about their relationship more ever since I wrote that post.

    It makes sense that Katie, a passive and sometimes insecure dog, has hooked up with Lady, the strong, organized one. Dogs probably do what people do - find friends that "complete" them and meet their needs. I'd never thought of that until this week. When I read the descriptions of the Thelma and Louise movie characters online and realized how PERFECTLY they fit these two dogs, the pieces started clicking into place.

    So obviously Lady helps Katie feel more secure...she follows her everywhere, and does everything she does. But I've realized this week that Katie is probably meeting Lady's needs too. Lady always wants to take care of everyone. Now she has a little dog to take care of. :)

  6. What a good girl she is! And what a great picture of the turkey! Ours aren't that bold, alas.

  7. It's so great that Lady and Katie are so close friends! Love the photo of Lady so comfy on the rug.
    Just amazing you have wild turkeys roaming around your yard.
    Have a pleasant weekend.

  8. HI, just found your blog, my shepherd does the same thing...can drive you crazy somedays!! Look forward to reading more of your adventures.

  9. That's awesome!

    I often think similar thoughts about Murdoch. He is part Giant Schnauzer, which is also a working breed and I often think he would benefit from, well, working. And I also often think it would be great if I was an accomplished trainer and knew just what to do for him. Murdoch, however, unlike Lady, does not express his need to be busy in selfless ways.