Category Archives: Border collie herding abilities

Wolves Beat Dogs in Teamwork Test

A video in the NY Times from Wednesday, November 8, 2017 got me thinking. The video produced by James Gorman made the provocative statement that wolves may be smarter than dogs. Could this be true?  More precisely the video claims wolves are smarter than dogs at learning the rope pull test. This task is where two animals of the same species have to work cooperatively to achieve success.

The rope pull test is commonly used test to determine cooperativeness among two animals and to compare among various species. The test consists of a tray around six feet long or so that has two tasty treats in plain sight but unavailable behind a screen. The two animals must simultaneously pull on a rope, at the ends of the slide, thus pulling out the sliding tray amd making the two treats available for consumption. As it turns out wolves learn this task quickly and work cooperatively. Dogs not so much. Other species able to perform the task include elephants, parrots, monkeys, and rooks (black birds). Dogs truly struggle with this task but can eventually learn it.

The explanation provided for dogs’ slowness to learn is that they are not used to working cooperatively with other dogs. Yes, dogs work with humans exceptionally well, such as with bomb sniffing, herding sheep, riding surfboards and skateboards, protecting homes, and sniffing out corpses in forensic investigations. But these are activities dogs do with humans, not in cooperation with other dogs.

Bella on the left and Little Jack on the right

 

Wolves, on the other hand, don’t work with humans but work with members of their pack for survival. If you think about it, this all makes pretty good sense, . Adaptability is after all important for survival. Dogs must adapt to their human companions and make them happy while wolves must adapt to their  pack and become successful hunters.

But this video in the NY Times got me wondering. Are my dogs capable of working together? If so, what can they do cooperatively with each other? I have shared over the years in this blog many examples of my dogs working with me to herd cattle. But this is a task they do in combination with me who is directing them to some extent (at least that is my illusion as de facto leader).

It didn’t take me long to find an example of my dogs cooperating with another dog. Not long after viewing the video I saw Bella, my female Border collie, and Little Jack, our “Texas brown dog” take off on a spontaneous hunting mission. You see, Jack is determined to save the world from what he must see as the scourge of armadillos and squirrels. Just moments before he had spotted an armadillo. After quite a chase, the dogs caught the armadillo. Jack tried to kill it on his own but the armadillo was too strong and pulled out of his bite. Jack held onto the tail of the armadillo and proceeded to ski behind the powerful animal, dragging Jack toward its burrow.

Bella then swooped in went after its head, trying to kill it. Together they managed a successful hunt that neither one of them alone could have pulled off. This hunting duo has killed at least four or five armadillos recently, making them highly effective hunters so long as they work cooperatively. Incidentally they act incredibly proud of themselves, showing extreme excitement and rapid panting after returning from a prolonged absence in which it becomes obvious had been a hunt.

This strikes me quite clearly as cooperation in my dogs. But is it not the only example. I’ve taken to going for a walk for my health most afternoons around 4:00. Not too surprisingly at around this time when usually working at my computer, two dogs will show up at my desk. It can be any two of them.  In tandem they will nose, scratch, whine, and otherwise manipulate me out of my chair. I am then herded unceremoniously toward the door and made available for their afternoon walk.

I have a theory as to why two come at me at a time.  When previously just one dog took on this task, I assumed he/she just needed to go outside to pee and I would promptly put the dog outdoors. They quickly learned a single dog strategy was ineffective.

Well there are two examples of my dogs working cooperatively with one another. There are others I will share in a later blog piece. Please dear readers share your examples. I plan a follow up piece and may be able to share your experiences with other blog readers. Let me hear from you!

Buddy- The Slacker: Part III

This final part of Buddy the Slacker concludes when our nine month old Border collie, Buddy, races to our rescue.  Trudy and I can do nothing but stand perplexed as our bull has engaged in a ferocious battle with another bull. I hope you enjoy this concluding episode of this true story and look forward to your comments as to how to improve the piece.

 

Buddy is on the right

Buddy on the right

Appalled, Trudy and I scrambled for safety behind a large live oak tree. Once there we cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing bull fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having lost all hope of driving our bull homeward.
I felt dejected. These trying circumstances had outstripped my capacity for retrieving our bull and now I worried that our bull would end up gored by the opposing Shorthorn bull. Just on reaching my emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flashing by me. Recognition soon set in. Trudy and I gasped. Young Buddy, ignoring shouted entreaties, raced headlong toward the bullfight.
“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy slumped down next to the tree; fearful to even watch, believing our half grown dog was about to be killed.
The bulls, focusing on their fight, paid little heed to the young, yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a head-to-head clutch, Buddy circled behind our Charolais bull. Relinquishing his attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave our bull’s tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a step backward and looked behind him.
Our neophyte herder, sensing his opportunity, then circled around and sped between the then narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. By bloodying him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge,Buddy then was able to turn him slightly away from where the Charolais stood. To my amazement, our young Border collie then began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn and, at the same time, gather the remainder of the cattle herd and drive the whole lot of them out of the creek bed and up a nearby hill.
I whispered to Trudy, ” Can you believe what we’re seeing?”
“Is that vicious dog the same sweet puppy that licks my face in the morning?”
When apparently satisfied by the degree of separation between the two bulls, Buddy looped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This feint forced our bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning the bull away from the Shorthorn and then ran the pale leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.
“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy up from her sitting position.
Trudy and I scrambled from our protected site and observed what was going on from a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek bank and into a copse of trees. While lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barking marked their exact location. Soon the panicked bull emerged from the trees hurried on by our overachieving canine.

Buddy provided constant pressure, hastening the bull always forward in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and neophyte herder, soon passed through the broken blow out fence and back into our home pasture.
I yelled to Trudy who trotted alongside the opposite creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned palms heavenward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided such amazing abilities?

To this day, I stand in awe of the talents of Border collies.
Trudy turned toward me and waded into, and through the shallow creek. She climbed the bank and approached me, her head down. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed me a warm smile. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed manner.
We did not know then, but never again when the bull broke out from our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back home— such was the respect the Charolais had gained for Buddy.
With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked under a pecan tree near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, staring in the direction of our grazing bull.
“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy. Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a loving, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and at the same time, admiring our collie. Soon I would need to make repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wished to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement and enjoy my wife’s change in mood.
With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his pink tongue bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. His amber eyes still sparkled with excitement. Over several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush begin to ebb. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and fixed on me an expectant gaze.
The bond between man and dog is like no other between man  and animal. The empathy and understanding of a dog is known to slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like never before, and I felt appreciation for a very special animal like never before.
“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”
“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.” Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.
Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I realized that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with the passage of years. I felt the love especially strong that day for both my wife and for my dog.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate to present day. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart. The second consideration is that help may arrive, when least expected. It may even charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

THE END

Buddy- The Slacker: Part II

In Part I of this story, I discover a destroyed fence at a water gap and immediately suspect our wayward bull. I then mobilize my long suffering wife, Trudy, to help me round up our missing bull. Meanwhile our Border collie puppy remains behind in the back seat of my pickup, sleeping. The story continues:

 

My good friend and neighbor, Tom Norris along with his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased our bull multiple times across a good chunk of our rural county. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about in his four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had greatly enjoyed the pursuits. Tom’s grandchildren had later pleaded with him, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”
But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we were fond of calling him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was off work for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me.

And we had no choice but to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning, pure bred Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stands out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had experienced once before and for which I had felt the need to apologize to my neighbor.
These bull chases had become a fretting issue for Trudy. While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, frequency of sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where  bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

 Charolois Bull

Charolois Bull

Earlier I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie, in the pickup with the windows down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, an immature trait I assumed, but one that imparted to him a comical appearance.

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Trudy and I continued to trundle along the creek bed. Here we are busting our butts, chasing our bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time that I get rid of the bull?
Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our skin. Trudy’s arms were scraped and her hair became disheveled with twigs attaching to her curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwoods hinted at challenges that still lay ahead.
A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grass, we discovered the neighbor’s herd of cattle. We also discovered the location of our bull, Cool Spirit. Our peripatetic bull stood tall in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged from her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest.

The old saw came to mind about how after midnight the women in the bar must get better looking, and I wondered if such a sentiment might also be true for horny bulls.
Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to truly understand as lust simply trumps all logic.

Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. And this was by all accounts a very intelligent man. This is not to imply the sexual urge is not a strong one. In the case of our bull, he had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an apparently intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton had also paid his public penance as a result of his irresistible dalliances.
Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said, a note of urgency in her voice.
“Good Lord,” I yelled on spotting it. Apprehension shot through me like an electric current. By then the red bull with its head lowered was advancing in the direction of our Charolais. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire to the menacing shorthorn bull. In turn our bull lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared and snorted at each other from a distance of under thirty yards. Each weighed well over a ton apiece. My worry rocketed still higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.
Unfortunately our approach acted like a Toreador’s red cape. Just as Trudy and I edged closer, both bulls suddenly became determined to establish their dominion over the herd. They began pawing at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under massive, bulging bellies.
Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, dissuaded neither in the slightest. Their shows soon gave way to all out combat.

The bulls, like two hot rods playing chicken ran straight toward each other but then failed to dodge. They crashed head on into each other. With their muscles rippling, the huge animals strained to drive the other into a compromised position. They continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their fight by then had kicked up a thin brown cloud of dust that carried with it their rank aromas.
Their heated battle raged back and forth from bank to bank across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their combined bodies weighing close to 5000 pounds knocked over small trees, as if they were mere broomsticks. They clattered through the rocky creek bottoms. It was a frightening spectacle to observe.

TO BE CONTINUED

Buddy- The Slacker: Part I

Today I begin a three part series about Buddy, my male Border collie. I have written about him before. My story this time follows the story about Bella who acted as my reminder and is again in the vein of how our pets benefit our lives.  I think the story meanders a bit and would work better as a book chapter than as a blog post. The length alone requires it be presented serially. I would love your thoughts on this piece and how you’ve learned or benefited from your pets. I hope you enjoy my story about Buddy. Was he really a slacker?

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Wire mesh panels dangled askew from a heavy steel cable. I immediately understood what had destroyed the water gap, as our bull had previously proved an excellent breakout artist and a frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I reluctantly grabbed for my cell phone and dialed my wife at our ranch house.
“Guess what, honey? Bull is… missing again.” I heard my voice crack, as I forced these words out, words that I knew would be unwelcome.
“Oh shit, not again?” she shouted irritably into the receiver.
I flinched under the assault. Then I heard a long exhalation followed by a pause before she said, “Be there in a few minutes.” I heard her phone click off.
Within fifteen minutes Trudy and I were again hiking the rocky creek bottom at our Fredericksburg, Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation, heady juniper, and a hint of desperation. The glare in her eye told me she was displeased at being mobilized for yet another bull chase. Trudy hesitated at the damaged blowout fence, shook her head, and pivoted toward me, her eyes flashing.
“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her arms crossed, her lips tight. “What’s Francisco call him?” She knew full well what our ranch hand called him, but by reminding me, she’d already made her point.
“Hamburguesa,” I breathed the words in a barely audible voice, careful to avoid her gaze.
“Ah yes, hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, did he call him that?”
I gave a mental shrug. Since I desperately needed her assistance and was feeling trapped, I answered civilly. “Well, Francisco grumped that next time he met our bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”
Trudy’s hand shot up like that of a great orator and jabbed the air emphatically as she had probably done many times in court, “Yeah, sounds good to me too and make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! I’m watching my calories, you know.” With this she gave an exaggerated wiggle of her hips and sucked in her stomach.

Trudy with Hay bale

Trudy with Hay bale

I bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable and marched resolutely into the adjacent ranch. I had a bad feeling about the venture that lay ahead.
Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank, as I furtively glanced about in search of water moccasins. I felt inwardly embarrassed by my compulsive searching for the dreaded serpents but felt unable to resist my urgings.
Growing up in Texas, I’d heard stories about poisonous snakes. As standard a fare at Boy Scout campfires as s’mores was how nests of wriggling water moccasins could boil up unexpectedly from the depths of a creek and pull a hapless person down to an agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale, those of us in our Boy Scout troop remained convinced such horrible things must have truly happened.
Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my cogitations. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, she said with particular emphasis, “after countless breakouts, you haven’t already sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I know a practiced soliloquy when I hear one. She must be seething.
To be sure I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as she did. In the past we had scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, clomped through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides. All of left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and with Trudy barely speaking.
I had also not missed her emphasis on “COW-BOY” with the unmistakable sharpness in her tone. While stinging, I was at least relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her more scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”
“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. Once I lay hands on you it’s the one-way trip to the auction barn for you.
Trudy opened her mouth likely to harangue me further but before she could speak, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed down into the shallow creek. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible on a bad day.
I couldn’t help but smirk at her watery dilemma.
“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“
“You okay?”
She scrambled out of the chilly, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun. Needing Trudy’s help, she needed mollifying. “Well, we may sell the big guy. His escapes are happening more frequently and he’s learned how to evade us.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED