Ich bin Robbie Thoughts of a dog owner

Hi! Ich bin Josh!

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No. 7  

No. 5 - May 2003

» On the age of a dog «
» Doesn't anybody want to retire apart from me? «


It is the year 2003 A.D. Everybody at Palmengasse 42 is tired... Everybody? No! One dog possessed by an unshakeable will to work keeps trying to disturb the peace and so life is not easy for the others...

(Those to whom this seems familiar will have read Asterix and Obelix!) 

Yep, that's how it was on Palm Sunday, after the early-morning walk, the to-ing and fro-ing in the house and garden during the morning and the long midday walk on a sparkling spring day. We were tired and I lay down on the settee in my work room at home. Robbie found a chew toy and gnawed it contentedly. Only Josh was unhappy and with short barks tried to make us do something, to give him some work to do! In his mind my work room is a place for "work" not sleep: identification, sit and down, catching games etc. In my office, however, he is always quiet. What would you deduce from that? Well, before the jokes about civil servants start, I'll rummage around in my memories...

What did they say when Josh was 3 or 4 years old and streaking round the agility course like a lunatic? I was told, "Wait until he is 6-7 years old then he'll be quieter". Ha! - forget it!

Dear (future) owners of border collies, let me tell you that if you get your border collie from a working line, do not expect him to quieten down that quickly! Josh is now 11 and still has an unfettered will to work. He has no conception of retirement even though he is allegedly about 80 years old! He refuses to accept this and doesn't look it either. In the latest CBH club magazine there was an article on the veterans page about Josh and a picture of him. But somehow this didn't seem right to me because no way is Josh a veteran. The title of the article "Ah, how lovely. Are they brothers?" repeated the question which I am continually asked by people we meet when walking with Josh (11) and Robbie (2). Indeed, Josh is still so youthful and active that he doesn't look his age at all. He is neither grey nor slow nor stout. On the contrary, he likes to greet dogs and, when possible, play with bitches, and he is still so agile that it is often strenuous just to be with him.

When I got Robbie, Josh was already nearly 9 years old and - as an old only-dog - I didn't know how he would adapt to the new one. However, it was no problem. Last year, I took 10-year-old Josh to shepherding for the first time. As long as we stood outside the fold he showed no interest. However, once we were in the fold and the sheep started moving he woke up and it seemed as if something in his head had started to click. There was still something in there and he started moving and collected the sheep in a corner. It was fascinating for me to see how, in a 10-year-old dog, a program had apparently been called into action which had survived all the overwriting with agility, ball-games, obedience training etc. When I took him the second time, Marion Fuchs the trainer said, "I think Josh would like you to get out of the way because he knows what to do better than you do!". He was so concentrated on the work that, for the first time in his life, he had erect ears! However, this effort showed later in considerable stiffness of his muscles!

Now he herds Robbie and I still do Obedience with him in Class 3. Josh had learned that the voice command "Stand" given during a "Come" meant that he should stop. Now I have taught this to Robbie using a hand signal. Josh always watches Robbie training. Recently, I inadvertently used the hand signal with Josh and he stopped faster than he had ever done with the voice command! He had observed and retrained himself.

I believe that, like for people, it is important to continue challenging a dog mentally and physically to a certain degree even when he is old in order to keep him as fit as possible.

Naturally, there are small signs of his age. For example, when he was 9 1/2 his coat became duller so, on the advice of the vet, I changed his food to "seniors" food, and when he was moulting I gave him a biotin supplement. Now his coat is beautifully glossy again. Sometimes he has difficulty standing up if he has been "helping" in the garden. No, he still hasn't stopped his crazy circling in front of the wheelbarrow etc. For this a dose of Rhus toxicodendron helps. Once a year he gets a full checkover from the vet, including blood tests, in order to detect and deal with any health problems in good time. I hope that, with good health, Josh has many wonderful years in front of him. A short time ago, his father successfully sired a litter at the age of 13. Josh's predecessor Zim - a border collie of course - reached the age of 17.

What are 11 years for a border collie? Josh has become older but he is by no means old. When I reach the age of 80 I will certainly have retired - even after the latest political efforts. But then - I'm no border collie!



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