- Virginia Johnson
In British canine agility classes, there are often two sections: Border Collies and Anything but a Border Collie. The often black-and-white Border Collies, made famous in the movie Babe, are considered among the smartest and most agile dogs in the world and are in a class by themselves. I picked up Mr. and Mrs. Dog, by Donald McCaig, hoping for a little more understanding of our Border Collie, Tess, a pull from the local pound. Despite her hard upbringing, she is joyous and full of energy, leaping about like a lamb when it’s time for a walk. But she gets down to business, too, gently making sure that everyone is in place and taken care of. Very responsive to commands, gestures, or just a hint of what’s wanted, she wants to do what’s required of her, almost obsessively. I did wonder, is this normal?
After reading Mr. and Mrs. Dog, I can say with some confidence that yes, yes, it is. Her characteristics are exactly what can be expected from this kind of dog. Author Donald McCaig moved from the city to a rundown sheep farm in the Virginia Appalachians decades ago where he became enmeshed in the rural way of life and learned first hand about working Border Collies. Some of his well-known fiction, including Nop’s Trials and Nop’s Hope, featured them and those books went on to become best-sellers nationwide. This volume is a nonfiction recounting, almost a travelogue, of his quest to bring two of his Border Collies to the World Sheepdog Trials in Wales.
Mr. McCaig had spent decades testing his dogs against others’. When finally “Mr. and Mrs Dog,” more often known as Luke and June, work their way into a spot on the American team, McCaig is determined to not bypass any opportunity to understand his dogs better and prepare them for their test. He goes around the U.S., talking to dog trainers of all kinds and trying to get Luke and June used to working as many different kinds of sheep in as many sorts of terrain as possible.
The author’s tone is often gruff and opinionated on many subjects, but this is not out of keeping with the other farmers who approach these trials with some hope and much more stoicism. It’s a rugged sport based on real need and can be very wearing in the rain, heat, and snow on both humans and dogs though the actual work time of a trial is not terribly long. He clearly loves his dogs and by the time they reach the drenched Welsh countryside we readers understand the bond he shares with them. If this title intrigues you, you might wish to check it out along with his earlier book of observations, A Useful Dog, and Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men, about his early search for a trained Border Collie to bring back to his farm from the wilds of Scotland.