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The First Week with My New Border Collie Mix

Chris enjoys photographing the places he visits. He shares these photos as travel articles and also mixes them with creative writing.

Darby at the Dog Park

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It finally happened. I’m in a relationship. This is something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. Long black hair with grey highlights caught my attention, but personality eventually topped all the reasons that led me to make my decision. As you can tell from the title of the article, I’m talking about a dog.

His name is Darby. I decided to change his name, even though he is four years old because I couldn’t live with the name he already had—Chump. The previous owners believe he is a Border Collie mixed with Australian Shepherd. This is my opinion as well because of the grey characteristic of the Australian Shepherd around his eyes and mouth as well as on the front part of his hind legs. Many of his behavior traits are Border Collie, such as the low profile herding position. I find the comparison of the Border Collie’s crouch to that of the hunting lioness to be interesting. It is a predatory trait that intimidates the sheep as the dog herds them.

Comparison of the Border Collie's Herding Technic and the Lioness's Stalking Technic

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Why do people get dogs or cats or pets of any kind? Don’t they complicate life more than is necessary? Suppose you want to go for a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most of us would not take our dog, cat or guinea pig. We have to find someone to see to all their needs including feeding and exercise. Why do we go to all this trouble?

Why Have a Pet Dog?

I want to relate the progression of Darby’s and my relationship over the first week together. On day one, it was mostly me petting him and the dog ignoring me. He would not obey a command and was oblivious to the offer of a treat.

On day three, we had made some progress, I thought. He would make eye contact with me, accepted treats, and enjoyed me petting him. I took him to secluded Kelly Island Park in Missoula, Montana between the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork Rivers before they converge a half mile downstream. I removed the leash. He wandered away, sniffing the ground. I moved toward him, and he countered my move. I continued moving to his right, pushing him toward the Clark Fork. Finally, he was caught with the river on his left and a logjam in front. He dropped to the ground and allowed me to put the leash on.

I believe it was my mistake to pursue him when I thought he was going to run away. If I had allowed him to explore, maybe all would have been well. On the other hand, our relationship changed immediately. He became more compliant to being on the leash.

The Clark Fork River, Missoula, Montana: Spring Snowmelt From the Mountains

Day four was a day of some progress as well. I took him to a dog park and let him loose to run and play with other dogs. He socialized well with humans and dogs. He came up to me several times, put his head between my knees and stood quietly.

Day six was interesting. It was Saturday, and I wanted to go camping. I gathered all my gear and off we went. I drove north and then west until I entered National Forest property. Then I turned onto a NF road and drove up for several miles to just below the snow line. There was a creek with water rushing down the mountain, a result of the spring snowmelt.

I knew it was going to be difficult to set up the tent while holding the leash. I could have turned him loose, but I didn’t want a repeat of Kelly Island. Finally, I took a knee in front of Darby and talked gently as I removed the leash. I stood and went about my business. He moved away and did his thing of sniffing everything thoroughly. He wandered a bit, but not far. I walked back to my Jeep and he followed. I began collecting firewood, and he was right there with me. For the rest of the evening, when I moved, he moved.

Campsite on a Montana Montain

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Four other things stood out to me on that camping trip. When I finished putting up the tent, I crawled inside. He marched right in and lay down beside me. This was a big deal to me because it was cold and raining. I didn’t want to leave him outside.

The second thing he did that seemed significant was that he wanted to play fetch with the ball I had bought for him. Up to this point, he had completely ignored it. He retrieved the ball after each throw and brought it back to me and dropped it. The third new thing he did was to lick my face when I was down on my knee.

The fourth behavior he exhibited requires a delicate description on my part. Remember, the dog and I were near the top of a mountain on National Forest land. There were no facilities, so when I needed to urinate, I did so away from my campsite and away from the creek. The dog saw what I was doing and came near to wait until I had finished. When I walked away, he immediately urinated on the exact spot. He did this every time. Here is a poll for you to share your thoughts about the meaning of this last example of the dog’s behavior. Keep in mind the progression of the relationship over the previous day.

Your Opinion About Darby's Behavior

While Darby and I were camping out over the weekend, we sat by the fire as darkness fell. I’ve always been a bit nervous at this point in my Montana wilderness camping experiences. Where I come from, the worst thing that could happen would be a skunk walking into my campsite looking for food. Here in the Big Sky State, the mountain lions are abundant, Grizzlies aren’t plentiful, but they cover a lot of territory. There are more than thirteen thousand black bears in the state. We sat next to the fire and I began to do one of my frequent perimeter checks with my flashlight. I looked at Darby. He was fixated on one spot in the utter darkness of the trees. He didn’t move. I watched him while he watched something else. After half a minute, he relaxed and lay down. I have a feeling in the future I’ll be doing fewer perimeter checks and looking over at Darby quite often.

Darby After a Weekend in the Montana Wilderness

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So that is the first week with my new dog, Darby. Overall, it is characterized by positive growth as we get to know and trust each other. He now obeys the commands come, sit and down. I am willing to spend the time exercising and training Darby. He is more than willing to learn and practice what I teach him.