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Bear with me. Every once in a while this stuff gets to the point where I need to off-load it.

 

It’s been a year and a half since we picked the sick looking black and white pup out of the pen at the rescue event, roundly ignoring his perkier Golden Retriever cell mate. The Decision was made, in part, because I had only one criterion for picking our new family member: the dog had to be smart. It could well have been an Aussie, or an Aussie Cattle Dog, both breeds that were on my List, but it turned out to be a little Border Collie, full of worms and kennel cough, found wondering on Tribal Lands in Northern Arizona. Every day since I’ve thanked the gods of chaos that set this event in motion, so many millennia ago.

 

Our last dog Bea, bless her soul, had been dumb as a sack of hammers. To say we hadn’t clicked would be stating the obvious. It’s painful to remember just how frustrated I would get when she couldn’t grasp some small bit of pack etiquette. Yet, when she had gone, the house had a dog sized hole in it and I missed her terribly. Who knew?

 

After an appropriate and agreed upon period of mourning, it was time to welcome a new family recruit; a pup to grow with our daughter. He would be Cerberus. Funny, playful, smart, willful, devious… his training soon fell to me when we realized that the laissez faire attitude that a tweener brings to such chores wouldn’t cut the patina of crap that was starting to build up. So whoosh, off to puppy class with a certified cat lover, at the lead.

 

Cerbie was a star. He was the example the trainer pointed to when others faltered. My commitment to training grew with my pride, even though Carrie was quick to point out, pointedly, that Cerb was indeed a Border Collie and his grasp of training concepts was probably little due to anything I did. I now believe it was in spite of anything I did.

 

Fast forward to today. Cerb has gone from nine to 51 pounds. From squirmy puppy, secretly pooping under the table, to a handsome, tag eared machine that can run like Secretariat. From a little ball of ears and paws, to a friend, a buddy that thinks, knows, anticipates and interpolates. A partner that gets what I mean, even if I completely fumble the command. He’s a smart dog like I wanted, but there’s something else there, unquantifiable. Some added value that, as a biologist, I would be loath to confer on any animal. And yet it’s there. My pride wants to call it a synergy of dog and handler, my realism still thanks the gods of chaos.

 

Cerb will never be “beautiful” in the way that working sheepdogs are. This is the Sonoran Desert and fat coats of wool don’t do well at 118 degrees. Cerb will have to live with herding the ducks at the dog park lake. He’ll have to wear a collar and endure the lead as we poke around at the weekend art market. He’ll be just another yuppie BC pulling up to the agility class in an SUV. But he will have a partner and co-worker, even if his job is just bringing the ball back, staying close on the trail or any of the myriad of behaviors we have asked for or he has freely offered. That’s the commitment I bring. I got my smart dog. Now, I’m happy to say, I’ll have to live with that.

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Reading this put a smile on my face :)

 

He’s a smart dog like I wanted, but there’s something else there, unquantifiable. Some added value that, as a biologist, I would be loath to confer on any animal. And yet it’s there. My pride wants to call it a synergy of dog and handler

 

I think synergy is the perfect word :). It's an amazing feeling when you just "click" with your dog and both of you know it. While things may seem to really shine as you work in partnership with your dog, there is also something pretty powerful when you just look at each other and understand.

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That was wonderful Sam! I think you hit the nail on the head with your beautiful description of your relationship with Cerb. IMHO that is why we have dogs... for that incomparable (I like your word) synergy. The fact that two species can have that type of relationship just floors me sometimes.

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Thank you for this beautifully stated post. I grinned the whole way through.

 

There is an amazing BC "spark" that only a few breeds have.

 

As a tangent: I appreciate those on this board who labor to preserve the aptitudes of this breed so that Border Collies (even those who may end up in non-stock-work homes) still have that special spark and the unique ability to almost converse with us. (I'm not convinced the confirmation bred types have this, and although my dog is "just" a companion, I choose my live-in companions carefully. ;))

 

I absolutely love that unique blend of biddability and independent thinking. I like being able to give a command that uses concepts she knows in a new way and watch while she connects the dots on her own, rather than just learning things by rote. I am honored to think that this is the dog that will grow up alongside my children. Whether playing fetch in the yard or assisting me with the laundry the unique synergy is a gift.

 

Your beautiful tribute to Cerb made me smile because it sums up what we love about our Hollie.

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^^ What everyone else said! And that last paragraph is my favorite of all - not all dogs can (or want to) be working stockdogs. But every dog can be the best dog for some person, and the best dog that he/she can be. Cerb is an outstanding example of this.

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Thank you for the kind words. Writing is often a way for me to clarify and coalesce ideas that bubble up in the cranial sludge. Cerb has been a complex experience for me. One that I had no idea was coming. Two years ago if someone had told me I'd be this involved in dogdom, I'd have laughed derisively.

Things have changed.

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A little late to this topic, but also wanted to say 'wonderfully written'.

 

I, too, have sometimes felt a little out of place when I arrive at agility class, or more often an agility trial, in my SUV (usually muddy and grimy) with a single dog rather than the more common van that contains multiple agility stars.

 

I will bet that Cerb is the best-trained dog walking around the weekend art fair - not one to pull on the leash or yap or lounge in a carrier like a few other examples I have seen at public gatherings. ;-))

 

Jovi

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A little late to this topic, but also wanted to say 'wonderfully written'.

 

I, too, have sometimes felt a little out of place when I arrive at agility class, or more often an agility trial, in my SUV (usually muddy and grimy) with a single dog rather than the more common van that contains multiple agility stars.

 

I will bet that Cerb is the best-trained dog walking around the weekend art fair - not one to pull on the leash or yap or lounge in a carrier like a few other examples I have seen at public gatherings. ;-))

 

Jovi

 

Our SUV is 11 years old and has the wheel well torn out, but it's a YTV (yuppie transport vehicle) none-the-less....

 

Cerb, like me, is still work in progress. He's only ~ 1.5 years old and hasn't settled as much as I would like. He's a happy go lucky boy and has the "gay tail" to prove it, but when he goes into work mode, the tail and head go down. It's just hard to initiate that work mode for other behaviors. I'm still sorting out the complexities of training; the "butterfly effect" of one taught behavior on others down the line; what are situation specific behaviors and what are general; how he acts at different stress levels....

In short, I can often point and tell Cerb to do something he has never done before and he'll get it first try, then he'll turn around and hit the end of the leash at the least little prospect of hearing baby talk or getting a pet.

As a freind used to say about rock climbing: "If it wasn't hard, it wasn't worth it".

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what a lovely and eloquently written post... You are able to sum up how many of us feel about the relationship we have with our dogs.

I've had a few dogs in my life.. but the bond I've developed with Sam is different.. he is a very intuitive dog.. and so smart it can be scary( in a good way) Thanks for putting into words how I feel too... synergy.. Perfect!

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