Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
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
“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
BLUE and MIGUEL
Sharon and Rowdy