Child minding?


It has to be said that Sal, for all her many excellent points, is not the dog that old Jess was. For those of you who know your Terry Pratchett, Jess worked on the Granny Weatherwax principle of, ‘If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.’ Thus I’d go so far as to say that every animal on the farm knew that Jess was in charge. Indeed I suspect that there’s another Granny Weatherwax quote that suited her. “She’d never mastered the talent for apologizing, but she appreciated it in other people.”

Sal on the other hand is a dog who is distinctly less dominant. In fact there are times when she seems noticeably nervous. She has no problem with sheep in the normal run of things. She has the sort of canine profile which every sheep recognises. Indeed judging from their attitude to her, she fits somewhere into the wolf category. So they treat her with a reserved respect.

When it comes to ewes with young lambs, all bets are off and the ewes regard her as a serious threat. Thus they treat her with a truculence that Sal seems to find somewhat hurtful. It’s one thing when the ewe stamps her foot at you and glares; when you are merely going about your business attempting to move sheep. But it’s a very low blow when you are just bimbling about minding your own business and a ewe comes thundering in from stage left with her head lowered.

Then there is the cattle problem. Sal was introduced to cattle after several years of working with sheep. She wasn’t actually called upon to work with cattle, it was winter and they were just in pens around the yard. So she would just go into the pens as part of her normal ‘making sure everything is as it should be’ patrols. The cattle would regard her with interest, I’ve seen her standing there with heifers clustered round her, sniffing her.

This is excellent for community relations, but it isn’t good for discipline. So on the occasions when Sal has been called upon to work with cattle, they often ignore her. Or alternatively they walk across to renew the acquaintanceship. Still provided she doesn’t get in the way they’re perfectly happy to walk quietly home and let her drift along behind them giving the impression that she’s in charge.

Except that the other day, one cow, wandering along at the back, suddenly looked up, saw Sal and for some reason this irritated her. So she put her head down and lumbered towards Sal who decided that discretion was the better part of valour and swiftly left. Had the shade of old Jess been watching at that point, she would be shaking her head in disbelief! In Jess’s day the cow wouldn’t even have considered that course of action. Strange cattle who didn’t know her were given a brisk lesson in courtesy.

But yesterday Sal met her first toddler. The toddler was utterly smitten with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely delighted by the toddler. The toddler wanted to play with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely happy to play with the toddler.

Now obviously I was a little nervous. Even when playing, a dog could give to the child a painful nip, even if it didn’t draw blood. Hence I was watching this like a hawk. The toddler would creep up behind Sal, shout boo, and run off shouting nerr nerr nerr nerr. Sal would dance after him, and overtake him. They played together happily for nearly an hour as mum, grandma and I walked round the estate. At one point the toddler was referring to Sal as ‘my dog’.

I wonder if it’s worth registering Sal as a child minder?


Then what do I know? Ask the dog…..

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

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46 thoughts on “Child minding?

  1. Stevie Turner May 8, 2019 at 4:44 pm Reply

    Enjoyed this story, Jim. If I ever had a dog it would be a border collie. They’re intelligent, aren’t they?

    • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:16 pm Reply

      They are. And farm dogs aren’t so much domesticated as brought into the partnership 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 8, 2019 at 5:36 pm

        So Sal doesn’t go into your house?

      • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:38 pm

        She will occasionally come in, but she has her own place to sleep. If winter is particularly cold or wet she comes in, but she’s not entirely sold on the idea because she cannot keep an eye on what is going on. She lives opposite the house and can see up onto the road as well as into the yard with the cattle 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 8, 2019 at 5:39 pm

        A valuable and useful working dog…

      • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:44 pm

        Yes, working dogs are not pets, they’re partners 🙂

  2. Scottie May 8, 2019 at 4:48 pm Reply

    Hello Jim. Is herding sheep much different than herding small kids? Or should I ask is caring for sheep that much different than caring for small kids? Seems to me Sal is doing great at both jobs. Grand for her. Hugs

    • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:15 pm Reply

      Some of it depends on the Dog. Old Jess started her working life with cattle and so was probably firmer with sheep than Sal is
      Some of it is the owner and environment. If the owner is stressed and a bit rough, the dog will probably pick up on it

      • Scottie May 8, 2019 at 5:21 pm

        Hello Jim. I knew an old farm dog on a dairy farm who would simply walk out to the cattle, turn around and walk back to the barn and all the cattle would follow him. He could get between to cows pushing each other around and they would stop. Never seen him have to do much other than just be around them. They seemed to be totally taken with the old dog. Hugs

      • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:36 pm

        One dog we had, Boz, was a bit like that. He wandered into the field and it was as if the cattle looked at their watches, exclaiming, “Old Boz is here, is that the time!” They would then amble home 🙂

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 8, 2019 at 5:07 pm Reply

    Smart of you to supervise – too many dogs have paid for a toddlers curiosity. Does Sal recognize ‘baby human’ as a protected category? Many dogs make great baby minders, but a new baby is a delicate operation in a family which has spoiled the dogs. But dogs do understand hierarchy, and in a wolf pack the leaders’ cubs have priority.

    Cute mental picture of them playing for a long time.

    • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm Reply

      I think some of it is that Sal hasn’t really been spoiled as such. So she doesn’t seem to feel threatened when somebody new appears. She seems to regard them as another potential friend 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 8, 2019 at 9:16 pm

        Makes sense. The friend with the new baby and two golden retrievers they had been calling babies until then (I wish people didn’t do that, but I guess you get attached) seemed to have settled in, and the baby is older. I don’t know how careful they are, but the dogs probably settle into the new hierarchy and then stay there. None of our friends’ dogs ate their children.

      • jwebster2 May 8, 2019 at 9:58 pm

        I wish they wouldn’t do it as well, it devalues the dogs 😦

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 9, 2019 at 7:05 am

        It’s kind of ridiculous. And isn’t a dog’s mother a b*tch?

      • jwebster2 May 9, 2019 at 7:09 am

        don’t worry, this blog is English and you can say Bitch without ‘* ‘ 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 9, 2019 at 7:12 am

        Yeah, but it’s a comment with my name attached to it for the rest of eternity on the internet. I try to maintain SOME standards. Don’t know why. Grandchildren maybe some day?

      • jwebster2 May 9, 2019 at 7:20 am

        That’s the funny thing. After all you don’t worry about calling a female bovine a ‘cow’ but in English English, cow is no more or less an insult than bitch 🙂
        But in Sal’s case, bitch is a technical term rather than a term of abuse 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 9, 2019 at 8:03 am

        People call a woman a cow, meaning it as an insult.

      • jwebster2 May 9, 2019 at 9:00 am

        It is in the UK but context is everything
        Anyway the English can make an insult out of anything 🙂

  4. M T McGuire May 8, 2019 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Sal sounds like an excellent dog when if perhaps she comes over as more of an Agnes than an Esmee if you get my drift. 😁

  5. patriciaruthsusan May 12, 2019 at 12:14 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, amusing and educational information about sheepdogs, even as childminders. Next, a book on offer by Jim Webster about working with a sheepdog. A good review by a pleased reader follows.

    • jwebster2 May 12, 2019 at 12:22 pm Reply

      interestingly she’s not had a lot of experience with small children.

  6. patriciaruthsusan May 12, 2019 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Could it be a small child seems to have something in common with a lamb? 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 May 12, 2019 at 2:26 pm Reply

      Mind you she was far more gentle with the child 🙂
      Perhaps children are less exasperating?

  7. patriciaruthsusan May 13, 2019 at 7:00 am Reply

    I’m guessing it depends on the child. 😀 — Suzanne

  8. jenanita01 May 20, 2019 at 9:21 am Reply

    Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.

    • jwebster2 May 20, 2019 at 9:35 am Reply

      Given child care costs I could be in with a winner here 🙂

  9. jenanita01 May 20, 2019 at 9:23 am Reply

    You have to know and trust a dog, to understand their boundaries. I really miss having one to keep me company…

    • jwebster2 May 20, 2019 at 9:36 am Reply

      Yes, and even when you know them, you still have to watch because you never know what a child might do which even the nicest of dogs regards as utterly unreasonable.

      • jenanita01 May 20, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        Of course, dogs and small children are both unpredictable…

      • jwebster2 May 20, 2019 at 9:36 pm

        Yes, and frankly the dogs are the most reasonable 🙂

      • jenanita01 May 21, 2019 at 9:36 am

        Quite… and with fewer tantrums…

      • jwebster2 May 21, 2019 at 9:49 am

        Border collies do not do tantrums 🙂

      • jenanita01 May 21, 2019 at 6:23 pm

        Is that right?

      • jwebster2 May 21, 2019 at 7:41 pm

        I’ve never seen one do anything like a toddler’s tantrum, but they can get really wound up if they’re fastened up and witness potential work they’re not involved in. Let them go and they’ll hurtle across to take part

      • jenanita01 May 22, 2019 at 7:47 am

        I have also heard that collies can be very intelligent and driven, probably what makes them good at their job…

      • jwebster2 May 22, 2019 at 9:15 am

        yes I think Intelligent and Driven does sum them up nicely 🙂

  10. tidalscribe May 20, 2019 at 11:58 am Reply

    Hello Jim, I posted a review of Fancy Meeting You Here on Goodreads and also on my blog – Amazon rejected it!
    When I was very young my aunt and uncle returned from holiday in Wales to their 1930’s London terrace house ( tiny ) with a border collie puppy, calling her Taffy! That dog never let anyone except my aunt and uncle touch her and when I went to stay she was always rounding me up and snapping at my heels – the only safe place in the garden was up on the coal bunker. Lucky they had plenty of parks nearby as she needed a lot of exercise.

    • jwebster2 May 20, 2019 at 12:22 pm Reply

      I’ve shared the blog on Facebook 🙂
      I confess I wouldn’t recommend a Border Collie for town life. But if you’re willing to give them the exercise it can work. The other thing is they do have a very small ‘pack size’
      So I can understand why Taffy would only accept aunt and uncle 🙂

      • tidalscribe May 20, 2019 at 11:07 pm

        Thanks Jim. Border Collies are always sheep dogs. We watched with amusement at Hengistbury Head as a couple kept calling for their dog – not seeing that it was carefully crouching, circling, rounding them up!

      • jwebster2 May 21, 2019 at 5:26 am

        I suspect it may have got bored and decided to organise its own time 🙂

  11. Tim Connolly June 18, 2019 at 6:25 am Reply

    What a interesting and enjoyable story.. Keep on sharing such an interesting stuff in future..

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