Along for the ride:

Monday, April 26, 2010


You would expect, after a decade and a half of life with a herding dog, that Hubby might remember that such creatures are hard-wired to herd. This instinct manifests itself most noticeably when something passes by at a speed above a walk. If the "must be herded right now" target is accompanied by rumbling wheels, engine decibels and, "What could beat that?", brushes swirling around, then the weekly street sweeper surpasses even the irresistibility of UPS or the Garbage Truck.
Diva, our good citizen, now-geriatric, collie continued to attempt a take down of the wheely beast for many years after her physical abilities waned. The occasional triumphant guided-missile run far outweighed the subsequent need for anti-inflammatories to calm the crippling aches and pains of adrenaline-induced action. Now that her hearing is completely gone she is serenely oblivious to the passing temptation.
Foster-Dog Boomer took up the gauntlet this morning. We know he's fast. He can catch cats. We know he's a herding fool. Although he obeys me now on-leash rather than lunging after cyclists, joggers, skateboards, and trucks, I am always conscious of his hyper-awareness, bouncing gait and a look that asks "Can I? Please, Please! Can I?" I have worked hard with positive reinforcement training. I never leave home with him without treats to reward his good manners but I have no illusion that off-leash he'd be willing to answer the call of hundreds of years of breeding.
Monday is street sweeper day. I was happy to conclude our walk without encountering our nemesis. Back home, as I got changed and ready for work, Boomer was half-climbing on the living room furniture to get at the window and barking fiercely as the sanitation equipment slowly went by.
Hubby was gathering his wallet, phone, shoes etc. in the entry when I reminded him "Mind the dog. Don't open the door. Today is street sweeper day."
Back in our bedroom, a few minutes later, as I bundled the laundry that I was planning to wash into my arms to take downstairs, I heard "Aghh Merde!". As I stepped toward the entry I could tell from the quality of the light that the front door was open. No dog in sight but the sound of excited barking receding into the distance gave me a pretty good clue as to what had happened. Boomer was off on a quest to herd that which was out of sight but not forgotten.
I have never before felt the need to jump into my car for dog chasing purposes, but this was obviously going to be one of those far and wide searches. I grabbed a handful of treats and my cell phone, covering the full spectrum of situations I might encounter and zoomed off in pursuit, turning off the radio and lowering the windows so that I could follow the sounds of the unseen drama.
The street sweeper leaves wet brush marks as it passes. Ear to the wind and eye to the giant tracks, I was about to turn up a cul de sac nearby when the mechanical behemoth appeared over the horizon in front of me, trundling back in my direction to clean the other side of the road.
By this time several neighbors were out to see what all the noise was about. Concerned, half-dressed and uncombed the citizenry made no impact on the driver of the vehicle. It is entirely understandable that driving something the size of a Cross Channel Ferry Boat would make one impervious to worrying about possible dangers. Insouciant in the face of a crazy canine; leaving a rudely awoken throng unwashed and untucked behind him; the driver of doom held to his mission. Boomer, meanwhile, was barking his battle cry, hair lifting in the slip-stream like a Scottish warrior's kilt as he beat the invaders back to Hadrian's Wall. Flying in circles, which any herding dog will tell you is proper herding etiquette, he was here, there and everywhere in a flash. I was pretty surprised that my voice yelling his name was heard over the motor and the barking. (More so as I apparently was unheard in the quiet of my own home a short time before). I was even more surprised that Boomer responded by running straight to me. I leaned across the seat to throw open the back door of the car. He missed that cue as he was circling my car to come back to my side. The sweeper driver finally understood that he was part of our morning scene and he slowed down to await the outcome. Boomer bounced back to me so very proud of what he had accomplished and bounded joyously into the back seat, panting wildly.
Hubby was in his car just leaving our driveway as we returned. He sheepishly handed me a leash as a peace offering as our cars passed one another. "Quelle C...!" he said, referring to the naughty, happy dog. "I counted two of them" was my reply as I went back indoors to gather my wits and the laundry I had thrown down all over the floor.


  1. Loved it, and glad it had a happy ending, despite the plural "C" words...

    Now, if you could just train one "C" to herd the other, all would be in order, in this best of all possible worlds.

    Love the bit about Hadrian's Wall...

  2. PS, just put up a beaming portrait of our mutual friend in Paris, if you have a second between urgent herding missions, do stop by...

  3. That's the kind of adventure I'd rather not have! Glad he arrived back safe and glad you're still caring for the troublesome Boomer!!

  4. Is it possible to herd a single object? Hmm. Patently it is.

    Is he any good with small children?

  5. great dog, Boomer.
    Just think, you'd have none of this excitement without him. Would you really want that.
    btw, the 'C' stands for chien ?

  6. I bow to your superior powers of holding murderous rage in check.

    Have you considered having The French Artist's hearing checked?

    I know that it won't work. I have The French Stonecarver who responds to nothing I say.

    Superlative post, ma chère.

  7. Oh the adventures of a harried herding dog owner and a selective hearing dear French husband.

  8. Great post! A story will all the right elements, ER. Great descriptive prose, lots of tension, and a great ending! Thank heavens it ended relatively well - for a little bit I was afraid it wouldn't.

    My Belgian male (not the favourite one) used to chase yellow school buses. I could never figure that out.

  9. Owen, of my two Bad Boys, the furry one with the bushy tail has better listening skills.

    Di, Boomer has a home with me until we find something better. There are so many collies coming through rescue just now, I can't begrudge them first placement. My boy has his foibles and so a match is harder.

  10. Steve, think "Prodigal Sheep". The one that needs to be rounded up and returned to the herd. That's why Boomer was so deliriously proud that the sweeper truck had turned around and was headed back. I'm sure he thought he achieved that.
    He gets over excited and bounces on small children, as they tend to squeal and run.

  11. Watercats, Hubby is always able to provide entertainment. I'm rarely bored.

    Friko, without him? Oh, you meant the dog. Cretin translates nicely into both languages. A very unappreciated word.

  12. Ms. Pliers, you know it has nothing to do with his hearing. It is his listening that is the problem.

  13. TechnoBabe, you encapsulated the story very well.

    Deborah, no real disaster, other than some embarrassment in the "Hood".

  14. Wondering...any chance there is a place Boomer can do some real herding. My friends here in NJ have a women who rents their indoor to teach agility and herding. They have sheep for the dogs to work.

    Perhaps if Boomer had a real job now and then he would curb his enthusiasm for the less animate machinery and look for real sheep instead.

    Just a practical thought. Contacting some of the agility groups in your area might give you some leads.

    Fact is, working dogs are often happier when they actually have work to do.

  15. Jean,
    There is a farm on the coast that permits sheep herding initiations. I never had time to take Diva there so it is unlikely Boomer will go whilst in my care. As to agility, he is a bit of a klutz. Obedience trials maybe. That will have to be for his future forever home.