The Whistle


The whistle came and Perch hit the dirt, loosing the ewe she had been working out of the crowd.  I couldnít believe it. Yes, we were "off course", but from my view on the knoll, this young dog was doing a great job working a single through the maze of people.

It was at the Delp Ranch near the Crow Reservation in Montana.  The mid-July days were a warm 100 degrees.  The Kelpie National was again upon us.  Ben and I hadnít seen each other for several months.  The previous year he had charged me with the care and beginning training of his newest young dog.  I even got to name her.

Perch was the moniker for this black and tan bitch who preferred a lofty view of the world.  Perchís first days with me were spent learning the basics - sit, down, come, whoa, house dog and table scraps.  Some of these are not recommended within the Ben Means Training program.  But, as you will note, I made more than one alteration to this program when I committed to starting this young dog.

The Means program uses cattle.  First, I attempted to teach the ducks to moo.  Then I calculated, per duck, the correct measurements for my Ben Means training pen.  Perch and I went to work.  I was determined to start this young dog exactly as if Ben himself had.  We worked hard to achieve each rung of the Means training ladder. Perch was an apt student, as was I.  I did have the occasional counsel with Ben via the phone, but he had no idea that each step I took or direction I gave, was his.

D-Day arrived in February.  By that time, Perch and I were into the Means intermediate-sized pen.  We had extended the 60 day recommended Kelpie program to 120.  Though she had had minimal exposure to calves and sheep, the majority of our training had been on ducks that couldnít moo.  We were at a training clinic with several instructors.  Naturally, we chose our favorite fella and dog handler, Ben.

As I walked in with Perch, Ben and I stifled broad smiles.  The smiles being glad to see ya with a special one each for the other.  Ben was smiling because he was pleased I had worked with the pup. I was smiling because he had no idea what lay ahead.  This dog had been trained step-by-step by his hand.

It was pure glee when he took the rope from me and spoke to the dog.  The Means arched brow told me all I needed to know.  Perch was slightly ahead of him each step until he recovered from his astonishment.  Then came the smile thatís reserved for me.

However, these months later, I was not smiling at him when I realized the source of the whistle. We had agreed, or he had insisted, that I would run Perch in the Nursery and Encourage classes.  I had not handled her since he hauled her home the end of February.  Weíd made a good showing in the Nursery class, but this one had gone awry with the cast.  And even though I knew she needed a speed check, I was pretty miffed that he would whistle my dog down.  You see, Iím fairly stubborn and can do a good job of looking foolish without any help.

Spying the sparks from my eyes, Ben took cover before I got there.  He had forgotten that suburban farm gals are quite capable of getting in and out of difficulty all on their own.  But to this day, regardless of those happenings, that whistle stops, not only the dogs he is working, but also my heart.     - sakonnet

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