The Shepherd’s Dog – 1856

Some writer remarks that when our first parents were expelled from Paradise, the dog, of all animals, was the only one that swerved not from his allegiance, but continued faithful to his master even in his disgrace.

“Faithful found amid the faithless,
Faithful only he, amongst innumerable false.”

Be this as it may, the fidelity of the whole race of dogs, from the gigantic mastiff of the Alps, or the formidable boar-dog of Hungary, equaling a Shetland pony in height and bulk, and his jaws reeking with recent slaughter, down to the timid spaniel, or the little lap-dog just emerging from the shelter of his mistress muff, is most remarkable, and seems to indicate that God formed the dog expressly for man’s solace and assistance, to be to him a true and constant friend, faithful through troubles and difficulties, giving him as hearty a wag of recognition when the storms of adversity threaten, as during the balmiest sunshine of prosperity.

Time was when the Irish Wolf Dog was one of the farmer’s most valued and most useful servants; but at the present day we must accord this honor to the Shepherd’s Dog.

There are three different descriptions of sheep dogs, the French, English and Scotch The latter, the renowned “Colley,” is considered the most valuable, as he certainly is the most beautiful. He stands about twenty inches in height; is very gracefully formed; his muzzle is narrow and pointed; ears semi-erect; coat long, but fine and silky; tail and hams fringed with hair; color usually black and tan, or sandy yellow. No dog probably possesses more sagacity than the Colley; indeed, he appears to possess an intuitive perception of his duty, and to be equally aware, with his master, of what had best be done in cases of emergency. Many anecdotes illustrating this point will occur to the mind of the reader.

In the execution of his duties the shepherd’s dog as may be supposed, does not weigh moral considerations. His purpose is to serve his master, whether right or wrong, though, when employed on guilty objects, he is probably not ignorant that his work is of a clandestine nature which it would not be faithful to disclose. Among the narratives which still entertain the fireside circle in Tweeddale, one of the most remarkable refers to an extraordinary case of sheepstealing, in which a shepherd’s dog was a subordinate though most active agent The case occurred in the year 1772.

A young farmer in the neighborhood of Innerleithen, whose circumstances were supposed to be good, had been tempted to commit some extensive depredations upon the flocks of his neighbors, in which he was assisted by his shepherd. The pastoral farms of Tweeddale, which generally consist each of a certain range of hilly ground, had in those days no inclosures; their boundaries were indicated only by the natural features of the country. The sheep were, accordingly, liable to wander, and to become intermixed with each other; and at every reckoning of a flock, a certain allowance had to be made for this, as for other contingencies. For some time Mr. William Gibson, tenant in Newby, an extensive farm stretching from the neighborhood of Peebles to the borders of Selkirkshire, had remarked a surprising increase in the amount of his annual losses. He questioned his shepherds severely, taxed them with carelessness in picking up and bringing home the dead, and plainly intimated that he conceived some unfair dealing to be in progress. The men, finding themselves exposed to suspicions of a very ptinful kind, were as much chagrined as the worthy farmer himself, and kept their minds alive to every circumstance which might tend to aflord any elucidation of the mystery. One day, while they were summering their lambs, the eye of a very acute old shepherd, named Hyslop, was caught by a black-faced ewe which they had formerly missed, (for the shepherds generally know every particular member of their flocks,) and which was now suckling its own lamb as if it had never been absent On inspecting it carefully, it was found to bear an additional birn upon its face. Every farmer, it must be mentioned, impresses with a hot iron a particular letter upon the faces of his sheep, as a means of distinguishing his own from those of his neighbors. Mr. Gibson’s Urn was the letter T, and this was found distinctly enough impressed upon the face of the ewe. But above this mark there was an 0, which was known to be the murk of the tenant of Wormiston, the individual already mentioned. It was immediately suspected that this and the other missing sheep had been abstracted by that person; a suspicion which derived strength from the reports of the neighboring shepherds, by whom, it appeared, the black-faced ewe had been tracked for a considerable way in the direction leading from Wormiston to Newby. It was indeed ascertained that instinctive affection for her lamb had led this animal across the Tweed, and over the lofty heights between Oalzie and Newby; a route of very considerable difficulty, and probably quite different from that by which she had been led away, but the most direct that could have been taken. Millar, the shephard, and his master, were taken into custody, and conducted to the prison of Peebles. On a search of the farm, no fewer than thirty-three score of sheep belonging to various individuals were found, all bearing the condemnatory O above the original birn*; and it was remarked that there was not a single ewe returned to Grieston, the farm on the opposite bank of the Tweed, which did not minny her lambs—that is, assume the character of a mother towards the offspring from which she had been separated.

The most surprising part of the tale is the extent to which it appears that the instinct of dumb animals had been instrumental both in the crime and in its detection. While tie farmer seemed to have deputed the business chiefly to his shepherd, the shepherd seemed to have deputed it again, in many instances, to a dog of extraordinary sagacity, which served him in his customary and lawful business. This animal, which bore the name of Yarrow, would not only act under his immediute direction in cutting off a portion of a flock, and bringing It home to Wormiston, but to said to have been able to proceed solitarily, and by night, to a sheep-walk, and there detach certain individuals previously pointed out by its master, which it would drive home by secret ways, without allowing one to straggle. It is mentioned that while returning home with their stolen droves, they avoided, even in the night, the roads along the banks of the river, or those that descend to the valley through the adjoining glens. They chose rather to come along the ridge of mountains that separate the small river Leithcn from the Tweed. But even here there was sometimes danger; for the shepherds occasionally visit their flocks even before day; and often when Millar had driven his prey from a distance, and vrhile he was yet miles from home, and the weather gleam of the eastern hills began to be tinged with the brig.tening dawn, he has left them to the charge of his dog, and descended himself to the banks of the Leithen, off his way, that he might not be seen connected with their company. Yarrow, although between three and four miles from his master, would continue, with care and silence, to bring the sheep onward to Wormiston, where his master’s appearance could be neither a matter of question or surprise.

The farmer and his servant were tried at Edinburgh in January 1773. The evidence was so complete, that both culprits were found guilty, and according to the barbarous policy of those times, they expiated their crime on the scaffold.

An instance of shrewd discrimination in the shepherd’s dog, almost as remarkable as that of poor Yarrow, was mentioned a few years ago in a Greenock newspaper. In the course of last summer, it chanced that the sheep on the farm of a friend of ours were partially affected with that common disease, maggots in the skin, to cure which distemper it is sometimes necessary to cut off the wool over the part affected. For this purpose the shepherd set off to the hill one morning, accompanied by his faithful canine assistant, Ladie. Arrived among the flock, the shepherd pointed out a diseased animal, and making the accustomed signal for the dog to capture it, ” poor Mailie” was speedily sprawlin on her back, and gently held down by the dog till the arrival of her keeper, who proceeded to clip off a portion of her wool, and apply the healing balsam. During the operation, Ladie continued to gaze on the operator with close attention; and the sheep having been released, he was directed to capture two or three more of the flock, which underwent similar treatment. The sagacious animal had now become initiated into the mysteries of his master’s vocation, for off he set, unbidden, through the flock, and picked out with unerring precision those sheep which were affected with maggots in their skin, and held them down uutil the arrival of his master, who was thus, by the extraordinary instinct of Ladie, saved a world of trouble, while the operation of clipping and smearing was also greatly facilitated.

Hundreds of such anecdotes, we believe, could bo told of the shepherd’s dog, but we shall content ourselves with the following, as an instance of sagacity and maternal tenderness in the animal: “In October, 1843, a shepherd had purchased at Falkirk, for his master in Perthshire, four score of sheep. Having occasion to stop a day in the town, and confident of the sagacity of his ” collie,” which was a female, he committed the drove to her care, with orders to drive them home, a distance of about seventeen miles. The poor animal, when a few miles on the road, dropped two whelps; but laithful to her charge, she drove the sbeep on a mile or two farther; then allowing them to stop, returned for her pups, which she carried for about two miles in advance of the sheep. Leaving her pups, the collie again returned for the sheep, and drove them onwards for a few miles. This shejjontinued to do, alternately carrying her own ywing ones and taking charge of the flock till she reached home.”

A shepherd once, to prove the quickness of his dog, which was lying in the house where he was talking with a friend, said, in the middle of a sentence concerning something else, ” I’m thinking, sir, the cow is in the potatoes.” Though he purposely laid no stress on these words, and said them in a quiet, unconcerned tone of voice, the dog, who appeared to be asleep, immediately jumped up, and leaping through the open window, scrambled up to the turf roof of the house, from which he could see the potato field. He then, not seeing the cow there, ran and looked into the bam where she was, and finding that all was right came back to the house. After a short time the shepherd said the same words again, and the dog repeated his look-out; but on the false alarm being a third time given, the dog got up and wagged his tail, looked his master in the face with so comical an expression of interrogation, that he could not help laughing aloud at him, on which with a slight growl he laid himself down in his warm corner with an offendedair, as if determined not to be made a fool of again.

Excerpted from Genesee Farmer, Volume 17, 1856

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