There is something positively mesmerising about the sight of a giant hairy
furball bounding over clumps of heather in pursuit of a pheasant: it’s
difficult to do anything other than stand in wonderment at just how agile
35kg of dog can be.
At first it is fascinating, you can’t help but smile at the sight,
but as the shaggy ball recedes into the distance and you realise that
it is utterly deaf to your whistles and increasingly frantic calls, the
fascination quickly turns into blind panic.
great hairy lump, who can walk you into the ground and who can certainly
out-run you any day, is Out of Control. And heading, with a frightening
determination, across the heather towards a main road half a mile away.
Dora is a young Briard who has been with us about 15 months. She has the
most wonderful temperament, is the easiest creature in the world to train,
we love her to bits and she is the greatest thing to happen in our lives
for a very long time but, and it is a very big BUT, she has a switch in
her brain which flicks if she sees a rabbit, hare, pheasant, cat, sheep
or chicken. With one of these in her field of view, whether twenty feet
away or two hundred yards away, we had fractions of a second in which
to gain her attention – miss the moment and she was off like a missile,
but a missile with no control mechanism. Somehow she would switch off
those huge ears, would hear nothing, would totally ignore any command
– and though she would eventually return, it would only be when
she had lost whatever she was chasing or had come to a fence.
We did not mind so much when we walked her on our own land, we turned
a blind eye to her chasing rabbits or hares – it was “good
to give her a run” and she would always give up at the fence even
if she would not respond while she was actually chasing. However, walking
in the lanes around where we live became a different matter for she would
pursue wildlife into other peoples fields and though her breed was used
in France for herding sheep, her increasing interest in those around us
gave us serious cause for concern for it was obvious she wanted to chase,
not herd. But the final straw was the pheasant.
With very real visions of her being killed on a road – she has absolutely
no road sense – we were faced with having to permanently walk her
on a lead. This was just not an option, it would destroy the whole idea
of living in the country with a dog and in desperation we started looked
through Ness Islands, we chanced to meet a man with his dogs. Briards
are not common and people frequently stop and talk with us but this conversation
was one of those life-changing moments for the man with the dogs turned
out to be Mike. We chatted for a while for a while and could not help
but see that despite his ultra-low-key approach, this man knew what he
was talking about and when he told us who he was and what he did, it was
not long before we were scheming. Mike was interested in our problems
with Dora and asked us if we would like to walk a while with him so he
could observe Dora. True to form when in an unfamiliar place with dogs
and ducks all around she was hyper, in a world of her own, constantly
looking for whatever was out there, and Mike’s interpretation of
this behaviour was a real eye-opener to us.
A short while later Mike came and stayed in our self-catering property
on Orkney so that he could work with Dora, or rather with Dora and us.
After a week patiently teaching us what was going on inside Dora’s
mind – not just with the chasing, but with her other “inclinations”
– we had learned a lot about how to develop our relationship with
her. We learned how to stimulate her, to give her things to think about
instead of letting her just rampage around; we learned how to teach her
to treat sheep and rabbits and cats and all the rest as just things which
were around her and not things which were there for chasing.
That was two months ago and walks in the country are now a whole new experience:
a load has been lifted off our minds. Dora is as keen as ever to go walks
yet daily we see her more responsive to commands so we can relax and enjoy
the experience. It’s been a very steep learning curve for us but
it’s not a quick-fix and the mutual training will go on for some
months. But we now have a hugely more rewarding relationship with Dora,
and she with us. A rewarding dog, indeed.