Shooter guarded this territory like a lion. He was often seeking a place up high to survey the territory. Each evening and each morning he would make the rounds of the perimeter, checking for intruders. He was too dignified to be much of a nurturer, but he was always working to keep his charges safe. If he was a human I don't think he'd be the kind of dad who would change diapers, but he'd be the kind of dad that used the shotgun if some boy made his daughter cry.
We tried our hand at raising turkeys, which turned out to have a big learning curve. One of our main issues was predation by owls at night. Owls are so silent they rarely alert the dogs. So I started watching for them. Just after dark one November night, I went outside to peek at the turkeys and sure enough there was a huge great horned owl. I went yelling at it to chase it off and called for Dan to come and shoot toward it hoping to frighten it away for good. Shooter knew his pack was in danger. He promptly ran and gathered the cattle and put them in the barn! Ha! He was a smart dog--but he was still a dog!
One spring/early summer I was up in my office on the second floor doing bookwork. I heard the alarming "peep peep peep" of distress. I went back to the other side of the barn and found Shooter trailing this chick--still fuzzy maybe a week old. It was running around lost. My first thought was to tell the dog to leave the chick alone but I wanted to see what he was doing so I watched him, nose to the ground nudging that chick along to the other side of the barn and down the driveway to the place where the mama hen and the rest of the clutch. He had such a profound sense of order!
I think he had a very broad sense of his pack. It included us and all our charges. He might not be snuggling and licking calves, but if there was an injured cow in the pasture he would stand guard over her until help came. And one time in particular I caught him with some kittens. I am including the following screenshot from an old website to tell the story.
In AWFA, there is a letter designation of "N" which stands for hunting. Shooter was not the kind of dog that treed squirrels or chased rabbits or killed vermin. He just didn't have the desire to chase things or kill them. But he DID have a super tracking nose. He earned his "N" for his tracking ability. As a younger pup, it was often difficult to get his attention because he was super in tuned with his nose. I would often think of Copper the Hound saying, "I smell something." If he wanted to find Dan, he put his nose to the ground until he found him.
Here in the great north woods of Wisconsin, deer hunting is a religion. Hunters shoot to kill the game, but unfortunately they sometimes miss their mark and only wound. Finding these wounded deer is the responsible and humane thing to do so we always put great effort into the tracking effort. I don't think Dan ever intended to use Shooter to track the wounded deer, but he would take Shooter into the woods (often at night) to keep him company. After making this trip twice, Dan realized that Shooter had picked up on the intention of finding the deer and had begun tracking them as well. They would start at the shot site and work from there and when Shooter found the scent he took off with Dan running full bore behind. They'd come home a sweaty tired mess but more often times than not they found the wounded animal and were able to end its prolonged suffering. After a few trips out, Dan learned to strap a flashlight to Shooter's harness to he could follow along more easily.
There is a great debate about whether the English shepherd is a "natural low heeler" as stated in the breed standard. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were just beginning to see all the different types of English shepherds there were--and of course with the differences, the argument over which was the "real" English shepherd. I learned that the answer was "all of them". VARIETY!
Shooter was not a natural low heeler. He was a very results oriented dog--if he knew the end goal, he would find a way to make it happen. As I came to meet many dogs in the upper midwest, I realized that this up-in-your-face method of herding was the most effective for dairy dogs. Dairy cattle are much more domesticated than the wilder beef cattle and dairy cattle are handled daily. Therefore, dairy cattle really don't have a flight zone. Herding styles that give intense eye are not as threatening to dairy cattle. Herding styles that use teeth can cause problems with dairy cattle including lacerated teats and udder.
Shooter would often use his bark in the cattle barn. In this situation, there were 80-100 animals per group all moving up an alley and through a 10 foot gate. Where a kelpie might run across their back to urge the animals at the front of the herd to move, Shooter would stand behind them and bark. One would think that this masculine, dignified dog would use a deep low bark. No. This ear piercing high pitched bark made us all want to run...including the animals at the front of the herd!
In open pasture, Shooter was a thing of beauty. Moving 300-400 animals at a time, he would make wide sweeping passes behind the herd, driving them toward the destination. His shiny black coat gleaming against that green green grass was a gorgeous sight. If a cow moved away from the herd (holsteins don't herd for shit!) he would get after them, jumping and biting at their nose, spinning them in circles until he commanded their respect and they would rejoin the group.
When trailering cattle, he was TOUGH. He would bark at them to move them into the chute then bite them on the hock until they jumped in the trailer. I remember him getting kicked in the head repeatedly but he just hung on.
And then that same dog who commanded hundreds of cattle would come back to the house and help us move 6-8 week old broiler chickens with just the nudge of his nose. I remember shortly after his leg surgery to replace his ACL he worked with the cone on. He found he could trap escaped chicks under his cone and hold them in the corner until we could come get them.
Moving pigs was difficult for him. Pigs have their front legs set so far up under their bodies that they can turn very quickly and sharply. Shooter was a very fast dog, but he was not a very agile dog. And he was not at all reactive which made him always about 3 steps behind the pigs when they decided to turn.
And he blundered with sheep a bit...his lack of prey drive made him a bit deficient in the art of finesse. Sheep just don't react in the same way as the dairy cattle but he was proficient enough to get the job done.
In the early years of the internet the English shepherd was nearly extinct. I think in one of those first years, the UKC registered only 75 litters for the whole country! It was very important to promote our breed to the right kind of buyer. Because we needed to preserve the natural habitat in order to preserve the original dog I wrote many articles for farm and ranch journals.
In these journals I told stories and gave examples of our dogs. Shooter had this easy way about him that did not frighten the stock. He would calmly hang out with us near them until we told them to move and then he was all business. "Move", he would say and he had this way about him that made them obey. It was his presence, his demeanor, his bearing that made them move. And if that didn't work, he would use his big dog voice. and finally he would bite them on the nose until they were compliant. Once the job was done, harmony returned and they would graze calmly near him.
It was a very different herding style than the border collies or kelpies or other breeds that give strong eye and keep the stock intimidated. In my articles I tried to show the differences. We were once visited by author and trial dog trainer, Donald McCaig. He was impressed most with how we were amongst the flighty Barbados cross sheep and they did not fear the dog. He was certain that the dog did not work. Then we told the sheep to move, and Shooter told the sheep to move and the sheep moved.
Sometimes English shepherds are hard to come by. In the fall/winter of 2000, Mary Peaslee in Oregon put her beloved Brighton on a plane across the country to Ohio to breed to just the right dog. That dog was Vivian Flynt's Chaz. My mom had always loved the pictures of Mary's dogs and their expressions of bossiness and order keeping. After a successful breeding and 10 weeks of excellent puppy socialization, our little Shamu was put on a plane and sent to Milwaukee to live with us here in Wisconsin. As he was not the black and white tub of lard that he had been when the Peaslee kids gave him his puppy name, I think it was our son, Lane, who was then 3, decided to name him Shooter.
Red Bank Shooter was born March 2001 he was registered UKC, IESR, NKC, ARF and later was one of the first dogs in the ESCR. He earned his AWFA letters after proving to be an accomplished farm dog. He sired many litters with many different females and each and every one of those females adored him. That may seem a bit odd, but if you've done much dog mating you know that sometimes the dog you picked is NOT the dog that your female wanted. Shooter was James Bond. He was masculine, dignified and sophisticated and the ladies loved him.
As a farm asset, he was outstanding. In the early years, we had small kids and a family dairy. We rotationally grazed our heifers--about 300-400 a year on pasture. Each morning Shooter and Dan would head out to the pasture to look at the herd, move pastures if needed, and look for which heifers were in heat and needed to be brought in to the corral for breeding. If we went of vacation, the farm had to hire two workers to replace Dan and Shooter. Shooter took the place of a hired farm hand for at least two hours of every day. I once put a pencil to this and figured that he saved us $11,000 per year in wages. Shortly after this realization I coined the phrase "faRmily dog" that I see other people using today. In later years as our kids grew, our farm branched out into sheep, pigs, and poultry. Shooter proved to be a great dog when working with all of them.
Meet Clover. Clover came back to the farm after eight months of training to be a PTSD service dog. When I was contacted about a service dog pup last fall, I was positive that I had the perfect prospect. I've learned a lot from this experience. First of all, I think I was right, Clover is the perfect service dog. BUT before this, I did not know the right questions to ask when I placed her. Clover was purchased for a veteran through Custom Canine. I assumed that training a service dog would entail the dog going to the veteran and then working with him to teach her the skills needed. I did not realize that she was going to be trained in a program with other dogs, moving from puppy trainer to skill trainer and then finally to her home. This is a wonderful way to train a retriever or a poodle but it didn't work well for this ES. All the moving and adjusting to new places and people caused her anxiety which she expressed in excessive toy obsession (could be worse!). She was ultimately returned to Custom Canine because she dug holes in her owner's garden and did things he deemed were too protective (like growl at his wife when she had a towel on her head). If you have ever raised a pup or even owned a dog you probably realize that training issues will always arise and training never stops. She is a ridiculously smart and biddable girl who is so easy to train! I can see the dilemma that these kinds of services face--when you sell a "trained" dog, the new owner might expect a "fully trained" dog as if training has an end. Today Clover found her forever home. She is working on a sheep farm in central Wisconsin with a lady who has lots of grandkids to throw her balls. Taking her back was not convenient, but learning makes us better breeders and finding her a forever home is satisfying.