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Down. Down. Dowwwn. DOWN. DOWN!!!

Looking at the calendar, I see it’s 10 months since Ted, our Border Collie puppy, came to live with us. As that’s nearly a year of non-stop physical and mental exertion, it’s no wonder I’m running on empty. Ted’s batteries, on the other hand, are perpetually super-charged.

If you Google ‘what’s the cleverest dog breed’, you get a unanimous vote for the Border Collie. ‘Workaholic’ and ‘boundless energy’ are often given as secondary characteristics. I can readily attest to that. If Ted doesn’t have an hour-long walk followed by a maniacal rampage by 9am every morning, there’s hell to pay. A highly tensioned spring is positively relaxed by comparison.

As he comes from working parents, Ted is bred to be laser-focused on sheep. Our old Collie, Toby, loved a sheep, but Ted takes it to new levels. From the garden, he watches them when they’re lying down, stares at them when they’re eating and gives them the evil eye if they dare move without his say-so. He’s run a track along the fence and likes to slink through the bushes and give a lamb a fright. When he achieves this, he looks around (wearing an expression like an Olympic gold-medal winner) to make sure someone was there to appreciate his skill.

Clearly, channelling this instinct constructively is going to be important, and if Ted’s to become an accomplished sheepdog, I must become a sheepdog trainer. To get him ready, we’ve so far worked on general obedience, which has been going pretty well. Sit, down, stand, paw, bow, drop, spin, leave, wait, stay, here, finish and lie close are all in his repertoire. He doesn’t tuck into his supper until permission is granted and he’s even learned that barging through doors and knocking people out of the way is frowned upon.

The sticking point is focus. When Ted wants to, he can learn new skills at the drop of a hat. But holding his attention is a challenge. In a world full of distractions, he just doesn’t find me, or whatever I’m blah, blah, blah-ing on about, all that engaging. This is a dog with satellite-dish ears that tune into cars revving in the next county. His eyes can spot a gnat at fifty paces and his nose is sensitive to one-part-in-a-billion smells. Energy sizzles through his muscles while synapses in his brain constantly whizz, pop and tell him to ‘look here!’, ‘look there!’, ‘look under that!’. I’m officially the least attention-grabbing thing in his orbit. Which, if I’m honest, is a bit hurtful.

The received wisdom is that, in order to seize and hold your dog’s focus, you must make yourself impossible to ignore. You must ‘bring the party’ according to one trainer I spoke to. Cue rolling eyes. But, taking this advice on board, I make high-pitched noises, laugh wildly, crinkle plastic bags and squeak balls. I’ve even been known to baa, neigh or miaow to get Ted’s eyes on me. Eventually, having been studiously disregarded until the end of my tether is reached, I’m driven to roll out the big guns. These come in the form of either the gravelly voice or the exasperated voice.

Having watched One Man and His Dog enough times, I know that even the experts resort to this. The trick is not to over-use the special voices, for fear of diminishing their power. I only bellow ‘DOWN’ or peevishly yelp ‘just lie down!’ at moments of absolute necessity. It’s like a magic spell. This morning, with the help of a volley of growled ‘dowwwwns’, Ted (on his long lead) helped me push the ewes out of the field and into the barn. As it turns out, I’m only the world’s most ignorable woman when I talk in my normal voice. I can tell this sheepdog-training lark is going to play havoc with my throat.

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