Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  


     When we lost our Australian Shepherd, Rowdy, last Christmas that was difficult. “Like losing a family member,” someone said. “No,” I thought to myself. “It's not like losing a family member. It is losing family member.” But I knew what to do. Someone told me long ago...the English vet, James Herriot.
     As a practicing veterinarian, Herriot wrote his wonderful stories and he wrote about the difficulty of losing his patients. He also wrote about his pets. “When I lost my own companions, I suffered even more.” Herriot found a way to deal with the grief. “As soon as you can,” he wrote, “love again. Find another companion to replace the one you lost. Love is the only thing that can cure heartache.” And that's what my wife and I did. Three months later, a new companion came to our farm.
     He was a blue merle and because he looked like he had been in an Oklahoma bar fight with his two black eyes, we named him “Shiner.” And Herriot was right. From the day this little ball of fuzz set foot on the ranch, he brought his healing and laughter with him. I told my friends, “I don't know what kind of cow dog he might become, but he sure has a future in comedy.” And we began.
     When should you start training your dog? Ask any trainer...and most all will say, “The best time to start training your dog is today!” So that's what I did. First day he was home, I took him out in the front yard on the long line. I was excited and and reminded myself many times not to compare this pup to Rowdy because that would be unfair...because I knew he could never be like Rowdy. Sure enough, things went downhill from that first moment.
     He jumped, bit, squealed, and kicked and fought the leash that first day with everything he had. I found myself disappointed in the little fellow and thought, “Rowdy never did that.” The next day I happened to look out the window and saw Sherry with Shiner on the long line. He was prancing along beside her like one of those dogs on television in the New York Dog Show. And at that moment I could hear all my friends - who are true horsemen and have taught me so much – yelling inside my mind, “It ain't the pup, Miguel! It ain't the pup.” For the next few days I didn't work with Shiner. I just watched Sherry work with him...and I began to see.
     I noticed when she began with Shiner on the leash, she would shake the leash and call his name. “Why do you do that?” I asked.
     “To let him know we are about to do something,” she said. “You know, to help him get ready.” Sometimes when she walked off with him, he would resist and fight her, too. When that happened with me, I would just keep pulling him. (Ain't that just like a man?) But when Shiner refused to go forward, Sherry would stop and come back to him. She petted him gently and talked softly to him.
     “Why do you do that?” I asked.
     “To let him start over,” she said. “You know, sort of like to give him another try. To let him know this is not so difficult. We can try again.” And I watched and watched, and after several days, I became of aware of so many little things she did that I had failed to do. She was eliciting high cooperation without the use of force. I was eliciting almost no cooperation no matter how much force I used. I changed my ways, and after several months now, Shiner responds to me much like he does to the person we both love so. And then, there was yesterday...
     Shiner and I went to the pasture fence in the late afternoon. Some one hundred yards away stood my roping steers. I had worked with the pup on the long-line, but never with Shiner free. On this day, he stood by my side staring at the cattle.
     “Shiner?” I said to him. No response. Focused only on the steers.
     “Shiner,” I said again. “Look at me.” He turned.
     “I'm going to unsnap your leash,” I said. “I want you to go gather the steers.”
    I removed the leash and he trotted away. The pup made a wide circle behind the steers and sat down. Taking his time, he moved forward on occasion – sometimes a bit right, and sometimes a bit left – and soon all the steers were in the arena. Shiner sat down again and turned to look at me. And I thought to myself, “Rowdy never did that either.”
     I said, “Good dog, Shiner. Good dog.”
     Then I sat there and cried like a baby.






– Michael Johnson











Healing Shine

Sharon and Rowdy




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