Sunday, July 19, 2015

House Dog vs Working Dog

There has been much discussion around these parts over the last few years about the purpose of certain dogs. We are top heavy when it comes to working dogs, and I have been a fierce activist for (what The Farmer calls) ‘lap dogs’ for as long as I can remember.

I grew up with a series of small dogs who were all much loved members of our family. My favourite one was a Jack Russell called ‘Tebo’, who I received for my birthday when I was in Year 5, and who I said goodbye to a month before I married at the age of 26. He was the dog who kept on living, and after him I couldn’t bring myself to get another small dog.

We usually run an average of about 10 dogs at any given time on The Farm. They are not all ours. Some belong to my in-laws, and others to The Farmer’s brother. Some are older and more experienced, some are better at yard work and others being out in the paddock mustering. Some are being trained up, and others are in retirement, but essentially, they are all sheep dogs and kelpies: working dogs. They all serve an important farm purpose. We love all of them, but they are not ‘curl up on your lap and have a sleep’ members of the family.

And then two years ago, after very powerful lobbying on my part, we introduced Gypsy (a Jack Russell) to the family. The Farmer was not instantly impressed. He often lamented the point of a dog that doesn’t serve a purpose. The purpose (I argued) is to teach us about true love and affection. To help us learn about loss (after she dies) and to bring us laughter and joy in the meantime.

Two years later and Gypsy is a bona fide member of our family. She is very protective, and a great snake dog. She barks when they are around and saw us through a few close calls this summer just gone. She joins us on trips in the car. She likes to be out on the property, surveying sheep and kangaroos and emus. She potters around the garden with Granny on the days when we can’t be at home with her, and she has found a special place in all of our hearts in the meantime. She’s not great at yard work, and she doesn’t have a head for mustering. But she is lovely company around the house, and that can be just as important as any other purpose a dog can serve.

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