Originally Published in
American Border Collie Magazine, May/June 1999. Reprinted with permission.
In the last issue I happily wrote about the pleasure & privilege I had of offering my home to and running in trials Amanda Milliken's Boy dog, whom she had bought from Jim Cropper at six months of age. Last spring, Boy who was getting on in years at almost 10, and as Amanda had younger dogs to compete with, offered him to me to run. For as she put it: "to get myself into the Open class with a dog who knew his business and could make a real handler out of me." And that was only one of the many gifts he was to give me. Thank you, Boy . . .
While Boy was known to many long time handlers both here in Ontario and the US, the first time he entered my life was only as a name on a score board. I was part of the canine entertainment at the Kingston, Ontario trial in 1994, (first sheepdog trial I had ever seen) and commented to friend that 'Boy' sure was an unusual name for a dog. Life sure can be funny in the way paths converge. As it turned out he and Amanda went on to win the day that year. They were a quite a team for some time with many other successes along the way: Oatlands, Cumberland Valley, NAILE, and the Masters in Texas to name just a couple. But as he was just "being the dog about the place" when this opportunity was presented to me, I gladly accepted. I had been around him for about 4 years at that point and knew him to be a kind and considerate dog - so what was not to like?
As I recounted in my previous article we did get to know each other more over the course of the summer as I made the jump to Open, learning with every trial. How right those handlers we saw on our southern tour were, when they commented that I was lucky to have such a dog to learn the ropes in my first Open season. The memories I have of our own successes last fall will stay with me for a long time, not to mention the many lessons he taught me. Thank you, Boy . . .
Boy was a versatile and talented sheepdog, he taught me to read the sheep better, to recognize when the stock was going turn even before it was readily visible. At first, apparent acts of disobedience to my hastily learned whistles left me confused as to what was going wrong. Then I forced myself to pay attention as to why he would sometimes react on a dime and other times not even move. I learned to watch and trust him after all he was the seasoned pro at this--myself the noviate. I saw why and when he only made a slight flank, when I was sure a big one was required; when he slowed up to be able to bring the sheep to my feet without them running me over; why he stayed out over to the side of the stock when I thought behind was correct and so on. Pretty typical behaviours of a decently bred, well-trained sheepdog just carrying out the tasks he was born to do. When I was right he rewarded me with smooth easy handling, allowing me to indulge in the immense delight of running a good dog; and when I was wrong, he would gently scold me: no, no, that's not right--this is way its done. Boy had a terrific sense of pace and instinctual reactions to the flock mentality, which I hope I have been able to absorb and use in the future. Thank you, Boy . . .
His ability to pen and shed practically by himself were remarkable, given that Amanda had told me he had not been a quick study at shedding in his initial training. Thanks for her perseverance, as I had been struggling with the entire concept of the shedding exercise with my other dogs, not knowing where to put myself or see the opening. His ability to hold and control the sheep and then come flying thru at the slightest gap turned the light bulb on for me. I even now have in a box of memories, token prizes from two trials where we won Best Shed. Thank you, Boy . . .
I had also been told Boy had not always been the easy handling gentleman I encountered. In his youth, he had been known to partake in the odd mouthful of mutton stew here and there! But with age comes wisdom and knowledge, and it was that from which I was happy to take my education. His quiet presence around the house made him an easy keeper, quick to integrate into my household. He took to living in the city, allowing for only part-time sheep work, romps in the park with noisy shelties, and more time spent on a leash than probably ever in his life with dignity and aplomb. To this end, he even seemed to thank me for keeping him employed in his later years. It is said that events, people, and in this case animals enter your life for a reason, although it may not be clear initially why. With Boy, I believe it was to be able to understand and appreciate what constitutes a decent dog in both work around the barn and on the trial field. For that I'll be ever grateful, Thank you, Boy . . .
Boy's time with me was short, little more than a year, but he left an indelible impression on me. Thankfully he will live on in his many progeny, which include both trial competitors and useful farm dogs. My own young bitch Ivy, his daughter, carries many of his admirable traits. Amanda runs two of his daughters, Eucher and Grace, with great success; Lorna Savage, a son; Werner Reitboeck, a daughter; Dave Young, a son and a daughter; Mary Lou Campbell, two sons and a daughter, one of whom carries his name; Andrea deKenedy, a son, to name just a few here in Ontario. There are many others in other parts of the country and in the US. Boy worked my sheep right up to the day before cancer ended his life, as sheepdogs are wont to do . . . just another day on the job. I'll not forget him or Amanda's generosity for allowing me to learn from such a dog.
And yes Boy, an Open handler you showed me how to be. Thank you.